Living in a Body
Living in a Body
No More Striving

No More Striving

Episode 10 - The Hal Walker Enterprise Faces Closing

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No More Striving

There I go striving again.

In the Fall of 2021, I had a very clear realization. When it wants, ME/CFS doesn’t allow for striving. For six weeks last fall, I lived in the dark and accomplished almost nothing. The shades were drawn, I wore silencing headphones and I asked all my visitors to speak in a whisper. I didn’t have the strength to sit up and create. In fear of more crashes, I wore blue-light glasses for the brief periods that I risked looking at my phone. I spent all day, every day monitoring my heartbeat and my breathing. (see I Love Crying) Even just the thought of writing a Facebook post would get my heart palpitating through my whole body for the rest of the afternoon. I hired a friend to sit at my bedside to make essential phone calls and send important emails. In hopes of protecting my volatile nervous system, I made vows to let go of all striving. I was desperate and willing to do anything to survive.

If you talked to me last fall, you might have heard me say something like this,  “If I could do the last year and a half of my life over again, I would do more sitting under a tree, practicing quiet and calming my nerves.” If I had known what was ahead, I would have done a lot less striving and a lot more being.

Sitting under a tree.

But there I go striving again.

January came, the downward spiral finally leveled off and I got busy. This time it was in the form of my latest passion called Substack. “Living in a Body” is a 1200 word every Saturday publication in the form of a podcast. Then on Tuesdays, I alternate between gathering my life’s portfolio in “A Body of Work,” and inviting the community to participate in “What’s Your Story.” Some people write an occasional Facebook post when they get inspired, I prefer to create a community… or build an enterprise.

I’m a striver. I’ve been pushing and striving most of my adult life. When I’m speaking metaphorically, I refer to it as “building the Hal Walker enterprise.” In reality, it’s a constant urge to create and to produce. In the past, it’s felt like I’m running out of time and there just aren’t enough hours in the day or years in a life to master the tools and create everything that’s inside of me. Having floundered in addiction in my youth (see Stolen Quarters), I’ve often felt a sense of urgency to make up for lost time.

For many years, I’ve joked that I’m the most energetic guy you’ll ever meet who’s living with chronic fatigue syndrome. I mean, you shoulda seen me in front of a gymnasium full of 4th graders — the way my energy fed off the multitude of delighted eyes in the audience. You shoulda seen me in front of my choir — the way we were like a family pushing and carrying each other along. You shoulda seen how I prepped banakula supplies and how we’d make hundreds of pairs of the instrument in a two day residency at an elementary school. You shoulda seen how when the pandemic hit, within days, I was launching a three times a week live interview show called “This Moment in Music.” Because three times a week just wasn’t enough, I added a fourth — a Sunday sing-along complete with lyrics on the screen for your singing convenience. You shoulda seen me on the table tennis court in 2019 — living my lifelong dream of being an athlete. For 29 years of living with ME/CFS, I was always in search of a place to lie down somewhere. But when I needed it, my energy resources would fire up and I would come alive. I’m sorry to say my limitations today are far more severe.

One of my favorite places in the whole world — SDTTA.

I don’t think I’ve said it out loud here yet, but I hate this illness. Living in this body with so much passion to create is at times unbearable. Having experienced so much loss, I’m been grieving for months. After 26 years of being the music director at the UU Church of Kent, I’m surrendering my position to the church’s current interview process.  And after 20 years as the choir director at our beloved Summer Institute, I’m passing the baton on to a new choir director this year.   Most likely soon, I’ll be removing my name from the rosters of the Ohio arts organizations that have provided me with the best jobs a musician like me could ever have wished for. To add to the grief, I’m doubting whether I’ll be able to travel to Austin to see my daughter perform in her career lauching role in the Zach Theatre’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

On top of it all, I’ve made a bit of a mess in my life recently.  I was dishonest, self-serving and uncaring.  I’m sorry to say that I hurt people along the way and right now, I’m living with the painful consequences of my actions. On Wednesday, I called my mom over to my house and I cried in her arms for about 20 minutes.  We cried together and it was good.  It was the most connected I’ve felt with my mom in a while. I’m glad that I don’t have to face these life challenges alone. Thanks, Ma.

Sometimes, I’ve wondered if my posts in “Living in a Body” are satisfactorily portraying the devastation of this illness. My intention today is to assure you that I am adequately devastated. After last week’s episode no. 9, I questioned whether I had any stories left in me. This business of being a writer is not easy and this week, I’m getting a real taste of the challenge of a weekly deadline. I’m trying to dial it back a little bit. I wanna be just a little more humble, a little more real and a little less driven.

Sometimes I like to blame all my life’s problems on the circumstances of this illness.  I mean having experienced so much loss, how else is a guy supposed to be but scared, self-centered and seeking comfort. But the wise part of me knows that I have a choice. Joy is an attitude. Reality unfolds and the gifts are abundant.

When I’m willing to follow some simple suggestions, the solution is laid out quite nicely in the 12-step program that I follow. We say, acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. Gratitude is an action. One day at a time is a way of life. Reaching out and asking for help is not easy but it’s worth it. Practicing radical self-care is the best way to be there for others. Feel your feelings but don't let them make your decisions and living with rigorous honesty is always the best policy. Easy Does it.

The artwork that hangs on my wall.

Thank you so much for your support here. I so appreciate that you’ve read this far. I’ll end now with some more affirmations for myself. Please feel free to edit and use them for yourself:

  • Healing is possible.

  • I have just the right number of Substack subscribers.

  • If I can touch one person in my writing today, I’ve done my job.

  • It’s ok to miss a week of this publication… or even several weeks.

  • It’s even ok to close up shop and just go sit under a tree.

  • I’m enough. You’re enough. This day is enough.

  • Life is a wild adventure and I don’t have to face it alone. I’m not alone.

Thank you, everybody. I miss you and I love you. Have a good Saturday. Enjoy living in that body of yours. I’ll try to do the same. Hal

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Living in a Body
Living in a Body
Hal Walker, Ohio musician and writer living with severe ME/CFS, weaves music, stories and community from his bed.
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