Friday, 24 June 2011

That's just how I am: the wisdom of the sloth

One of the joys of having a child is rediscovering classics of children's literature, and also finding new favourites.  I am especially fond one particular story, which we stumbled across recently in a charity shop.  It is "Slowly, Slowly, Slowly", Said the Sloth by Eric Carle (of Hungry Caterpillar fame).  The sloth does everything slowly, slowly, slowly - eating, sleeping, waking, crawling along his branch and back again, and just hanging.  The other animals ask him why he is so slow, so quiet, so boring - and finally, so lazy.  He formulates his answer slowly too, but when it comes, it is wonderful:

"It is true that I am slow, quiet and boring.  I am lackadaisical, I dawdle and I dillydally.  I am also unflappable, languid, stoic, impassive, sluggish, lethargic, placid, calm, mellow, laid-back and, well, slothful!  I am relaxed and tranquil, and I like to live in peace.  But I am not lazy...That's just how I amI like to do things slowly, slowly, slowly." [my emphasis]

I think the reason that this delights me so much, is because it encapsulates the struggle I have had redefining and asserting the principles by which I choose to live, and fighting off both implied and overt criticism, from others and from myself.  While I have been writing this post, an ex-colleague and friend has got in touch and invitated me to meet for lunch.  This is OK from the point of view of pacing myself - it would be local, and would not overfill my schedule.  This is someone I get on well with, and want to see.  But I would be lying if I said I wasn't still slightly apprehensive about answering the innevitable question, 'so what have you been doing?'

In the Spring of this year, when I was in the early stages of my latest rough patch, I added greatly to my own predicament by getting deeply frustrated about what I could not do.  I could not launch myself into the professional activity that I had wanted to, I could not be as active with my daughter as I wanted to be, I could not keep up with the housework, I could not make plans and move my life forward.  I berated myself for this - my body for putting me in this position, and my mind for not dragging me through in spite of myself.  And all this did was waste what energy I did have and compound my physical symptoms.

I have come to accept my current reality - that the fatigue associated with my inflammatory arthritis is what it is.  I can try to avoid exacerbating it, I can treat it with medication that I hope will have an effect, I can listen to my body and look after myself, but there is no knowing if or when the situation will change, for better or for worse. I cannot judge myself by the frenetic standards of the rest of the world, and I cannot force myself to comply with them.  Nor do I want to.

So what would I say now to the accusation of laziness?

'I respect the needs of my body, and I rest when I need to. I prioritise the things that really matter to me, and I schedule my activity carefully.  I do what I can, and I don't do what I can't.'

I too am relaxed and tranquil, and like to live in peace. It has taken a while, but I am now almost as content as the sloth to say 'That's just how I am.'


  1. OK, I have to honestly say that sloth was not something I wanted to compare myself to but found your blog to ring sooo true. I have taken the turtle stance these past 12 years in my journey with ra and often imagine I am the turtle in the turtle and the hare story (I love children's stories also). You have elevated this little critter on my respect meter :-)

  2. Ha ha, it's not an obvious role model, is it?! I do like your turtle analogy too, though I often feel more like the hare - a quick burst of energy and activity and then a long nap! But I guess that's the example of how not to do it...