When Your Illness Makes You Run on Auto Pilot


Begrudgingly, my eyes open after I lay awake for several minutes. Scanning my body for pain and energy, I determine that it’s going to be another hard day. I just want to stay in bed and fall back to sleep again.

Today I drag myself through the motions. I start in several different directions, then pull my brain out of its fog long enough to stay focused on one. The order isn’t always logical. I find myself outside weeding the garden only to realize that I hadn’t made my coffee yet, and that would make my morning so much more manageable.

I’m on auto pilot again.

“I need to weed before it gets too hot outside.”

“I’m not hungry, I just can’t bring myself to eat yet.”

“I need to put on my sunscreen and bug repellent.”

“Why don’t I have socks on?”

Before I realize it, I’m watering another garden bed and have to steer myself back inside the house to take care of my basic needs. I sit down and read the news and catch up on social media while drinking my coffee. It feels like precious time is being wasted, I need to do as much as I can before I crash. Slowly I set my phone down, swing my feet up and allow myself fall limp onto the cushions of the couch. Within minutes I fall into a hard sleep.

Forcing myself awake, I stumble into my shoes. I have to get to my studio to work on a painting and some writing before it gets too hot. There’s no air conditioning, and heat is the worst thing for my condition.

After a couple of hours of work I’m satisfied with my accomplishments. Outside is an oven and the waves have crept in, so I’m done for the day there. Next door, my partner has been working all morning with the oil press, processing sunflowers into oil. It’s dusty and sticky and I help to move a truck that’s loaded with processed sunflower meal. I tell him that I need to go home and rest before I can help with our next project. He suggests that I spend the afternoon resting, but I assure him that his air conditioned shop will be fine.

A picture of the writer's art studio.

As I drive back to our farm, I contemplate what to have for lunch. My mind keeps drifting and I can’t hold on to a thought, other than keeping the pickup on the road and noticing the little birds by the roadside. “Meadowlark, mourning doves, a prairie chicken…I need to eat something healthy. I don’t have the energy to prepare anything. Oh, look at the cute little quails.” After eating leftovers, I lay down in bed and fall straight to sleep. Every once in a while I drift into consciousness, thinking that I need to get to work. I give myself permission to sleep again, and off I drift.

After a few hours I wake up and, for the third time today, force my eyes open. “Get up! You’ve got to go work!”

Stumbling through the fog again. A big serving of caffeine, and I get myself out the door with my phone and water bottle.

We spend two hours working in the shop, repairing the broken parts of a monstrous machine used to remove dust from the air when we clean grain. It feels good to move my body, to have something to do that isn’t too strenuous or complicated. I need that forward momentum, no matter how tired I am physically. I can’t stand sitting inside all day, I need to be in motion. A sign on the wall says, “If it’s impossible, it will take longer.” That sums up my being at this point.

On the way home, my body wants nothing more than to crash on the couch again, and I fantasize about how wonderful that will feel when I get there. But then I start to think about the things I need to take care of. Two blackberry bushes didn’t get water from the irrigation system, and they are fading quickly in the infernal wind. I resolve to just drive past and have a look, and take care of them later. As soon as I see them I decide that they shouldn’t be stressed through the hot afternoon, so I drag the hose out and start watering.

While I’m at it, I head down the hill and check out the vegetable garden, since the wind is brutal today. The other beds need more water, too. Finally I go in the house and take a shower. Apparently the caffeine hasn’t worn off yet, because instead of plopping down, I’m out the door again to move the hose. And while I’m there, the flowers really need weeding. And how can I resist a visit to the pond, wading in and letting the tadpoles tickle my feet? It’s such a beautiful and peaceful afternoon out here.

When I get back inside I feel like I haven’t accomplished enough today, so I sit down to write. In an hour, there’s a phone call from my partner as he pulls into the farm in the waning light. “Are you up to walking up the drive to the road? I need a long handled knife.” I walk toward the headlights of the car, where a four foot long rattler is writhing and trying to coil although it’s immobilized beneath a front tire. I feel like that snake. Pinned and helpless by my illness, but still struggling to keep going on. It’s not impossible. But it will take me a little longer.

Image Credits: Karrie Steely

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