Year’s End Failures

We spend too much time judging ourselves. I love all of the ways I have to measure what I do, but the measurements themselves make me feel inadequate.

My Fitbit has been sitting in a drawer for the past couple of months because I’ve been struggling with illness, and I can’t stand to look at the numbers day after day when I know I’m not winning.

In January of this year, I set my reading goal on Goodreads at 52 books. A couple of weeks ago, I changed the goal to 20 books when it became clear that I would not complete the reading challenge. Thanks to Goodreads, I know that in a typical year, I read about 80 books. I’ve hit between 80 and 85 more years than not. I’ve wanted to reach 100 because that sounds like more of an accomplishment, but I never do. I believe I will start hitting the 100 mark after I retire, but as long as I’m grading big stacks of essays, there will be weeks when I don’t read a book at all.

This year was not a typical year. I’ve spent the past two years in a cycle of chronic pain and illness, attempting to find the right combination of medications, dealing with the side effects of medications, dealing with the emotional ups and downs of chronic pain and illness. Last year was one of my toughest years ever in terms of just making it through the school year, and on the last day that I went to the office at the end of the school year, my dad fell and hit his head, and the summer months were taken up with coping and helping and struggling and surviving.

My head has been fragmented, my thinking chaotic. The more I push myself physically just to keep going, the more stress hormones I have in my system, and the more stress hormones I have in my system, the more my head spins with dozens of ideas at once. Try finishing a 500 page novel when you have 80 essays to grade and your mind refuses to land on one thought at a time. It wasn’t my year for novels.

That’s why I drifted toward fairy tales. They are therapy for me in more than one way. They are short enough that even a fragmented mind can focus on them. They are about so many things that all of those swirling thoughts can start to converge in one place. They are a place for not thinking about pain, struggle, loss, chaos, despair–at least not in terms of the self and the self alone.

I’ve probably read the first five chapters of a 100 books this year, but I will finish maybe 20 books and some of them very short. I read a lot of fairy tales and short stories, though. I’ve coped. I’ve survived. I’ve kept going. I’ve kept myself in a state of mind where I’m excited for the next semester rather than dreading the next round of struggle.

I have a chronic illness. I was born this way. Some years are pretty good, and some years are pretty hard. I went through several good years in a row, but then my friend got sick, and I went through the stress of helping him through his last few months and the grief of losing him, and my own illness flared up again under the weight of it all. There was no time to recover before more life stressors piled up on top of everything else.

I’ve survived. I’ve prevailed in many ways and merely coped in others. I’ve kept going. Coping in itself is an accomplishment.

But I look at my blank Fitbit app, and I look at my low numbers on Goodreads, and I compare myself to others and to myself in past years, and I think I have failed.

It’s true. I have failed, but not every failure is all it’s made out to be.

It’s unlikely that 2019 will be my year to finally reach 100 books on my Goodreads list or to consistently reach my Fitbit goals. That will just have to be okay. Instead, I will read a lot of fairy tales and short stories. I will read the first five chapters of some very good novels. I will finish some and abandon others. Life will throw me curves and struggles and grief, but somehow I will get through it all, and it will be okay that all I do is get through.