If you have never seen an inch worm, I would imagine you have seen a child’s toy that looks like one and captures the same odd forward motion of one. They have a way of thrusting forward slightly then humping their mid-sections, then straightening out and bringing their rear sections forward; therefore moving their bodies in a forward motion. They always remind me of a Slinky, children’s toy. They may not travel far but they get their eventually, wherever it is they are going. Much like the ant, the turtle and many of God’s creatures, their mission and destination are clear to them but slowly accomplished. They must think, these creatures, if they think about us at all, that we move at the speed of sound and often don’t reach our destination but they do unless thwarted by some outside force. The point is to get where you want to go or need to be.
Those of us who live with chronic pain each day of our lives still have living to do, things to do, places to go. How to accomplish all of that is often a question that brings us to our knees in thought and question. I find much wisdom from comparing my daily activities to that of the lowly inch worm. Perhaps, he is not so lowly after all since he does have a rather clever way of achieving his goals in life.
Most of us are accustomed to moving at a much faster pace than we are now able to and there is much frustration in that fact. We are handicapped by fatigue, pain in our joints or organs but also in our need for caution. Most of us meet the floor more often with parts of our bodies other than our feet; far more often than we used to. More frustration is experienced as we seek to make the transition from rabbit to inch worm.
There are days I look around the nooks and crannies of my life and wonder how I will ever accomplish any of the chores, errands or goals I want to. Those are the times when one, two or all of my joints are crying out, my fatigue is at an all-time high and I am riddled with doubts. Since my stubbornness and the lack of readily available funds and housekeepers makes it impossible to hire help, when my husband already has more than he can do at work, then I face a conundrum. Who? What? How will my life continue at a clean, safe and quality pace? Truthfully, I don’t like the idea of strangers being all over my beautiful home and handling my possessions, etc. This all evolves into some of the days I have absolutely no answers in my life, only problems. Eventually, I have to go back to some tried and true solutions that have worked for me in the past and haul them out for review. I confess I slip back into the old ways of worry and depression far too easily, sucked in by daily pain.
I have to remind myself to look at the small inch worm and the smaller picture of life. I know we’re always admonished to look at the “big picture” but there are times in one’s life when that bigger view is too big. Sometimes the laundry list of chores, wishes, duties is so long it’s formidable and frankly, overwhelming. I read the list or go over the one in my mind and just give up. It’s too much and I’m defeated before I begin. That’s always a good time to pick out one chore or trip and accomplish it. Sometimes it’s a load of laundry or a simple meal. It may be a trip to the grocery store or the druggist. All of those long lists are comprised of smaller challenges and to see them, tackle them and accomplish them one at a time is so much more satisfying than fooling myself into believing I can get them all done when I know I cannot.
Inch worm, inch worm, you seem so content with your life I envy you. We humans who are in transition, and that includes almost everyone, are constantly in a state of frustration because we don’t like to change. However, change is often thrust upon us by our bodies, our families and life’s little surprises. Perhaps, we need to learn from our tiny friend and accomplish one inch at a time and learn to be content with that because the overwhelming quality of the big list can often cause a state of motionless inertia. For instance, today I am feeling sore from too much cooking yesterday. I made the first apple pie I have made in a year and it didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. I usually make a very good apple pie full of apples, cinnamon and raisins but this one, well, not so much. I also cooked a nice dinner for us. Today I feel the fatigue of that action and had a very fitful night with pain in my back and shoulders. Today, my goals are much smaller yet I know I must accomplish something therefore I am going to sweep up the fallen blossoms from a spent Christmas cactus, put on a jacket and go out to the porch and trim back a couple of limp geraniums, fold one load of towels and that will be it. Accomplishment! I know it’s a pathetic list in some eyes but it will keep me from sinking into the doldrums and letting this body win the battle of today. Then I will feel I have earned a rest, can read a book or chat with friends online. Inch worm, inch worm, I’m learning.
I know how difficult it is to overcome the fear that often accompanies chronic illness and pain. We end up counting the ways we hurt, the locations of every painful spot and when our list becomes too long we are tempted to give up, to stop making an effort. It’s happened to me hundreds of times but each time I have to slap myself in the face, open the curtains and let in the sunshine of reason. If I’m not dying then I must be living. If I’m living then, what am I doing with my life? Is life all about leaps, bounds and major accomplishments? No, it’s about the little things that are the building blocks of your life and mine.
One of the reasons I have more fatigue and pain is the slippage in exercising. I know. We all hate to exercise when we hurt but those muscles and sad joints aren’t going to get any better when left alone. They slip into weakness and that doesn’t keep us strong. You and I may not be able to do what we once did when it comes to exercise but we can do something. For me it is often a simple leg exercise and for the arms and shoulders simply lifting a 3 lb. weight a few times, trying to build the number of repetitions without causing more damage. When it starts to hurt, I stop or wait a day in between sessions. It’s often a balancing act of hurting and helping. Doing nothing should never be an option unless you’ve had a fresh surgery or are advised to rest by your doctor.
One of the pitfalls we inch worms need to avoid are those ruts in the road that can interrupt our progress. One of those ruts is comparing ourselves to others or putting up with them comparing us to them. Each of us has to stand or sit on our own inch of space. It doesn’t matter if we’re judged by others nor should we judge ourselves too harshly. Life is what we make it. The events that happened to us and our bodies we did not usually make. They just happened but what we do about them, well now, that part is up to us.
Another rut we inch worms can fall into is the oldest one of all and that is self-pity. It’s very dark down in that rut, it serves little purpose except to make the rut deeper and it’s very lonely. Without the sunlight of accomplishment, tolerance for ourselves and our faith in tomorrow it is dark indeed. You and I want to crawl out of that hole as quickly as possible, even if it is just one inch at a time.
Inch worm, inch worm, wait for me I’ve got to put on some shoes and a jacket and prune back some geraniums in between bursts of rain. By the way, thanks for your example my tiny friend.