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As Someone With Chronic Illness, I Just Can't Give '110 Percent'

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We were preparing for the forms competition: I wasn’t what you’d call technically “good” at the martial arts, but I had practiced unflaggingly. If you’re not familiar with forms, it’s a sort of scripted solo fight, where you imagine waves of attackers from every direction. It looks awesome when you do it right; it looks ridiculous when you do it wrong. There’s a relatively low margin for error before you start looking like a dork prancing in their pajamas.

The team – a consummate group of professionals –practiced until the last minute. Midnight on the tennis courts? Practicing. Got work the next day? Practicing until bedtime. Bored, anxious, hungry, contemplative? Well, I got one thing that’ll clear your mind, and it rhymes with schm-actice.

I tried to join the practice, albeit it with less gusto. If something required me to bend or hit the ground, I called out the name of the technique. “Floor sweep, floor sweep,” I muttered, while twirling like a participant in a zombie barn dance. I tried to solidify the pattern to muscle memory. That way, if my brain fog kicked in and I forgot where I was, my body would carry on without me.

I – new to the idea of spoons and my condition as a whole – somehow spent the last of mine the day before the competition. That morning, an exhaustion-based migraine kicked in, and brought with it its host of gastric disturbances. I could break the migraine, but before I know it, it’s 1:00 p.m. and I still haven’t eaten.

“You’re just nervous,” someone commented. My muscles ached as though I had run a marathon, and I don’t remember anxiety attacks with that much wallop.

Trying to help, another friend urged me to try my best. And I thought, “Isn’t that what I’ve been doing this whole time?”

“Trying my best” wears me out. My body can go as far as I push it, but the results are catastrophic. As I write this, I’m on pajama protocol, because my flight came in late two days ago. I also remember the halcyon days of pushing myself with little consequence, and my mind is slowly adjusting to my new abilities.

This is where I developed the 70 percent rule: you offer 70 percent of your energy reserves to any important task, and leave the extra 30 for the little things, like walking away from the event or eating.

I bombed my event. Didn’t even place. But we had another event months out, and my team was anxious at the meet. I told them, “Look, let’s all give it a solid 70 percent; we don’t need 110 or whatever. Save the remaining 30 for chilling out.” They thought about it and accepted the premise. They took a deep breath.

And we won.

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Thinkstock photo via master1305.

Originally published: May 17, 2017
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