The 2012 Act Three Journey of an Actress/Coach/Writer.

Day 19 Progress

Posted by themirrenlee on 19/01/2012


Is your life progressing along as much as you want it to?

What about 2012 so far – is it turning out to be full of the kind of progress you’re looking for?

I’m wondering because this website carries a heading that it’s about my journey in 2012 as I enter what I think of as The Third Act of my life. A journey implies progress of some kind, whether forward or backward, so the subject in general interests me.

I remember a motivational saying that I used in all my goal setting sessions with students when referring to their progress: “Are you making measurable progress in reasonable time?”

This is such a simple, elegant way to put it. It’s only asking if you feel you’re going forward at all, not putting pressure on you to reach all your goals tomorrow!

(I think I heard it first from the late Jim Rohn, a great motivational coach who Anthony Robbins credits with being his mentor. Do yourself a favor and get hold of Jim’s books/tapes. He’s especially wonderful to listen to as his speaking style is funny, folksy and soothing.)

The concept of progress was bubbling around in my head today because one of my commitments to myself this year is to keep looking for better and better ways to manage my chronic health issues (under the umbrella of the horrible condition known as fibromyalgia), so that my life becomes my own again. When “The Hell of Menopause” (my doctor and I joke about that being the technical term) hit me over 5 years ago everything rapidly started deteriorating until I was almost bed bound. I stopped being able to sleep (I think it was karma – when I was young I used to be so smug about insomnia, always wondering why people “couldn’t just fall asleep if they were tired.”), which, of course, helped turn my chronic fatigue into acute fatigue. Muscles need sleep to repair and rejuvenate themselves. Every day I would wake up feeling like I’d been hit by a truck because I didn’t get the deep sleep that they needed. It’s been compared to the same feeling as being tortured with sleep deprivation, and that’s exactly what it felt like: torture.

I became a Type A personality living a Type Z life.

I had to start curtailing my dialect coaching, especially on TVCs (TV commercials) which were my specialty. I loved the speed I had to work at to make an actor “talk like me” here in Australia on American productions. Unlike film shoots, TVCs take days, not weeks, to make, so speed is of the essence, and that suits my hyperactive personality. However, the downside is that the days are very long and start very early, so beginning at 6am and finishing at 9pm was not unusual. Unfortunately, this got harder and harder for me to do, until I had to retreat to only coaching classes and my private students, with the shorter sessions and the timing I could control. I was still able to coach acting, voice, creativity and motivational sessions, so I thought I was compensating well. Then I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t even manage those, with my stamina giving out and the pain kicking in long before a day was over.

It was very clear that my health problems were the ones making the measurable progress, and not in a reasonable amount of time, either, but very rapidly! This last year, 2011, was the worst one yet for me. I had tried everything under the sun to help myself (which I’ll cover in detail when I open my Category for those with chronic conditions), and not only was nothing really working, I felt I was actually starting to go backwards.

Those were dark days. I got so depressed at the thoughts that this was it, the rest of my life was going to be filled with nothing but pain and fatigue, and I would never be able to experience creative productivity again in any area, that I really felt myself giving up. Even my counselling wasn’t helping (I believe having a counsellor to help with your mind/body connection, pain management and cognitive behavioral therapy is vital for people with chronic conditions). I was so fed up with my physical self; I was so fed up with constantly telling people I felt like shit; and I was REALLY fed up with spending my life exploring options that weren’t working. It’s exhausting trying to get well!

Then a breakthrough. I was just too sick to get back to Sydney where my wonderful doctor is (I’m now in Melbourne), who has patiently been on the journey with me all these years, trying everything possible, whether medical or alternative. I couldn’t have asked for more from her, but we still hadn’t found the key. So I had to see a new doctor, who ordered a CAT scan of my back, among other tests, and told me that I had something new that explained my increased pain: osteoarthritis in my lower back. This happened in December. “Oh, okay, I said, so what can I do to help it?” I asked.

He looked at me and said, “Nothing really. It’s normal degeneration for a woman of your age. (On January 29th I will turn 61, which, as everyone knows, is the new 41!) Just take ibuprofen and codeine every 4 hours.”

I sat and looked at him, stunned into silence. My brain was working overtime, but nothing was coming out of my mouth. “Oh really,” I was thinking, “normal for a woman of my age? It’s fucking “normal” for every woman of my age to have so much pain that she can’t sit OR stand OR walk for longer than 15 minutes? And the fucking answer is to keep taking codeine forever until my poor stomach and/or bowels decide they’ve had enough?”

I couldn’t seem to ask him these questions, though. I just felt defeated. So I started to cry.

I told him that without the ability to sit at the computer (forget standing or walking) I wouldn’t be able to write my coaching books that I hoped would help me to “make money while I slept,” so that I didn’t have to try and find the energy to coach in person. I asked him if basically he was saying there was no hope, that I was simply destined to suffer this much pain and fatigue (exacerbated, of course, by chronic pain) forever?

He just looked at me. His silence was my answer. (See my blog on Empathy. He was lacking any.)

I left his office, went home to bed, and stayed there for a week, crying the whole time. Seriously. I gave up. I’d “hit my wall” many times before, and always managed to go around it, but this time it was made out of triple brick and I was out of strength. (If you’ve seen the movie, “Run, Fat Boy, Run”, and watched Simon Pegg trying to crash through a brick wall while running a marathon, that’s exactly how I felt.)

Then my daughter gave me a great insight. Towards the end of the week, she came over and asked me a really important question:

“What happened to your anger?”

During my whole life, through a “beyond dysfunctional” childhood that carried all the way into adulthood with endless responsibilities and challenges, anger was the passion that fueled my strength and stamina. I had discovered early on that it was anger that helped me cope and find the energy to solve every problem that cropped up. When I got angry I felt I could do anything. In fact, I loved it when I was challenged and told that I “couldn’t” do something because it made me angry enough to find the power to accomplish whatever it was!

In counselling I uncovered, not surprisingly, rage issues that I didn’t realize I was holding onto. Not healthy, motivating anger, but crippling, depressing rage. Unfortunately, I had worked so hard, and successfully, to let go of my rage, that it seemed I had also lost the ability to get angry!

My daughter knew what I was like – she knew that I needed my anger so I wouldn’t give up and become a victim. I needed to maintain my anger at my condition, at my apparent lack of progress, and at anyone who wasn’t helping me to get better. She knew that without my anger I wouldn’t be able to make any progress in my life. It’s just the way I am – it works for me. It was a big “Ah Ha!” moment. (In Gestalt therapy, it’s the “Ah ha’s” that help us to make the changes we need.)

I got mad, went back to Sydney and saw my “real” doctor. She listened (with empathy), we tried some new things, and then she sent me to a guy who I hate to call just a chiropractor because he’s so much more than that. He doesn’t only crack you and say goodbye. He’s dedicated as a sports specialist to getting his patients mobile and functioning. I call him a miracle guy. Again, details later in another section, but let me just say that, in a nutshell, between the two of them, I am starting to get my life back and am making hugely measurable progress in a rapid amount of time. We finally found the keys! This blog is part of that progress – the fact that I can sit at the computer for several hours at a time now, AND commit to something without being afraid that I won’t be able to keep it up due to fatigue/pain.

I am controlling my health issues, they’re not controlling me. And it’s only 19 days into 2012! Now THAT’S progress.

Progress in anything gives a sense of possible achievement, and in case you don’t know, that is THE biggest motivator of all. It motivates people more than money, prestige, power or fame. Surprising, isn’t it? But it’s true. Because a sense of achievement fills us with a sense of purpose, and what’s the opposite of that? An existential void. A feeling of emptiness. You start questioning why you exist, what’s the point in living, etc. If I asked you to pull a lever for 8 hours “just because”, you’d go crazy and not want to do it. But if I told you it was a slot machine and you might win a million bucks by pulling it, you would keep doing it knowing there’s a possibility that you might achieve something. A simple, almost silly analogy, but it’s a good example of how our brains work.

If you feel you aren’t making progress towards what you want to achieve, or don’t feel you need to achieve anything because everything’s been handed to you and there are no challenges left, then my bet is you aren’t real happy. The good news: you can change that. Spend some time thinking about either how you can make more progress, or what challenges you’d like to undertake all on your own.

I have spent the last 5 years not making the progress I so desperately wanted. I went forwards, then backwards, then stagnated. Oh god, isn’t stagnation just a living hell?

Today, now, I feel a sense of great hope and excitement about the progress I’ve made so far this year, and the continuing progress I plan to make with all the commitments I’ve worked out for myself. Talk about a new lease on life – I feel like it’s been renewed for another hundred years!

I wish the same for you. I’ll tell you a secret: the answer lies in PERSISTENCE. As Winston Churchill said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

That “enemy” might be your health, your job or financial situation, your career prospects, your family/friends, your own sense of inadequacy. It could be anything. Fight it. Get angry. Persist in finding a way to make the progress you want, the progress you need to feel fulfilled and happy in your life.

If I can do it, so can you. Start today, one step at a time, and make your measurable progress in reasonable time. Just persist, even when you feel you can’t, and NEVER give up. That’s the recipe for it – and believe me, progress is a wonderful feeling!

I’m just progressin’ …

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