Respecting My Limits

volunteerism, group activities, life lessons

The hair nets were an extra special bonus!

Swallowing four uncoated Advil without water was a bad idea, but I was desperate. An hour into our family’s volunteer shift at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, I’d already lost my battle with back pain and wasn’t about to admit I couldn’t keep going. Apparently those peeps who wrote the Proverbs verse “Pride goeth before a fall” knew what they were talking about.

Our task at the Food Depository was straightforward:  box up endless husks of corn to be sent to area food pantries and soup kitchens. Along with 50 other volunteers, we scooped up armfuls of corn and carried them over to boxes lining a nearby conveyer belt.

Our efforts would ensure hundreds of local families had fresh corn to eat over the next few days. Two hours of bending and lifting would ensure I’d be in traction for the same.

The assembly line work was fun at first. I started off in my natural “can do” enthusiast mode, chatting up the other volunteers and striving to be a good team player. While my older daughter rolled her eyes at my eagerness, I felt proud of myself – “Look at me in a group, being a people person.” I enjoyed watching how other people approached our joint task and admired the power of a group in action.

An hour later, I’d lost my joy. My team spirit and positive attitude quickly followed. My neurons screamed for me to stop bending and lifting. I felt cranky and old, yet we still had another hour left to our shift.

My patience with teamwork disappeared like the memory of a sexy dream and soon I was picking people apart in my mind, no longer appreciating our varied humanity, instead fantasizing about who I could lose my shizz at first.

Would it be the sweaty man next to me who grunted like a over-muscled gym rat every time he bent into the corn bin? Or the woman who spent all her time straightening the corn instead of boxing it?

I needed an attitude adjustment and the ibuprofen burning my esophagus wasn’t going to cut it.  I was done but didn’t want to admit it.

I hate having limits. In my mind, I’m still as lithe and supple as the twelve year old across the bin from me who bent over at her waist repeatedly like a deranged drinking bird. Doesn’t she know she has a limited lifetime allotment of pain-free hinges, and she used up at least seven years worth that day?

drinking bird via scientificonline

“For the love of god, girl, bend at your knees!”

Looking over at my husband and daughters working diligently, I tried to convince myself that I’d done enough and had nothing to prove. I could stop whenever I wanted. Right?

But where would we be if everyone stopped whenever they wanted? Don’t we need people who push through pain to accomplishment, Annie Warbucks-style?

I had a choice. I could save face by ignoring the signals my mind and body were sending and pay the price later. Or, I could respect my limits and sit my ass down. Hiding in the bathroom was an option too.

Have I mentioned how much I hate limits? After picturing all the starving homeless people who would be denied corn if I stopped and swallowing my pride (it stuck in my throat right next to the Advil), this time I chose to honor my limits and not hurt myself to prove my worth. Instead I spent the rest of my time handing out hair nets and hand sanitizer. My pride took a beating, but my back appreciated the loving choice.

29 thoughts on “Respecting My Limits

  1. The lesson, the writing, the truth. Your truth, my truth, The fact that I hate that I have limits, both physically and emotionally, and would rather ignore them ANY DAY instead of honor them, oh, how I SO get that. Maybe today is the day I manage things a little differently thanks to your post. Maybe. PS – I have been waiting with bated breath for you to blog again. You nail it ever time.

    • And your comments make my day – every time! I hear you on hating emotional limits too. I hate that my process with writing and with life is so messy and non-linear. Here’s to acceptance of ourselves as we are today. xoxo

  2. I am right there with you, sistah. I hate, hate, hate having limits, and I admire you for listening to yourself and honoring them. It’s a lesson I’m still learning, for sure!

  3. getting older kind of sucks, but of course it’s better than the alternative. i have a hard time accepting limits as well. but we do have to be kind to ourselves, right? and you helped out! hair nets are sanitizer are very very important! can’t have can’t have contaminated corn, can we?

  4. The image of the bird made me laugh out loud. Great analogy! Feeling your pain, I hate having limits at my age too. My problem is I tend to push through longer than I should and pay in the end. I spent 18 years working in retail and it kind of wrecked my body… or at least I blame it on that, maybe it’s just that I’m 46. Tonight I will go play basketball with a bunch of old guys and will feel it tomorrow! Good for you for helping out. Every little bit of giving back makes this world a better place! 🙂

  5. I am proud of you for listening and honoring your body!!! You were productive and served in a MIGHTY way and in YOUR way. That is a blessing. We MUST set limits- or there will be nothing left to give of ourselves. Amen? And yeah- those peeps, they got it ‘down’ RIGHT… 😉

  6. Oh, I just relate to this completely. As we get older, you find yourself having limits that you wish you didn’t. Sometimes it takes me awhile to even acknowledge them. I think it’s great that you respected what your body was telling you…and you were *still* able to keep helping. That’s the way to do it!!

  7. This is an intimate post! thank you for sharing! doesn’t it feel good when your listen to your body? is not really about the right choice is about listing to the signals your body and mind give you.


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