Coping with Bone Tired

I am learning that colourful similes really do describe fatigue

Have you ever felt bone-tired, held a heavy burden, could hardly drag your head from the pillow or felt like death?

There is some colourful language to describe fatigue. When I used these terms in the past, I thought they described how I felt. Perhaps when I was drinking alcohol I would raise my head and groan, feeling like death. To be honest booze does make me feel so rough I gave it up. But now I know, I was being dramatic on those days. Even after a tougher week with my son’s sleep, I would feel particularly sluggish and use these similes. But it wasn’t until I experienced this fatigue that I really understood these phrases.

Words can be inadequate, even for someone who enjoys writing, to describe how our body can give up on us. What I am finding helpful, as well as now understanding completely the term bone-tired, is to listen to my body. I mean really I have no choice as there are days when I have to just stop. Whatever my aches and pains are, I have to pay attention much more than I have in the past because I know enough now of the boom and bust cycle to not push through aches, pains or tiredness.

This week I made it to the office, promptly to be laid up in bed again. I am suddenly getting leg cramps added to the aches in my arms. A sluggish existence. No really, like a slug, more able to move horizontally than vertically. And that’s all part of the game of learning to live with fatigue. Listening to your body and learning that when you have to stop like this, you took it too far.

And I am learning to cope. I have already written about using things that soothe me. This weekend it’s a Sherlock Holmes audiobook, familiar, satisfying and funny they have helped as I lie down. But here are a few other things I am using to help:

1. MEDITATION I have used meditation for years to help with anxiety. I love the Mindful in Minutes and Hay House podcasts and an album Growing Mindfulness by Michelle Duval, free with my Spotify membership.

2. SHAKTI MAT A new acquisition, a small spiky yoga mat. You lie on it for 20 mins and it is supposed to release pain-relieving dopamine. I am a bit obsessed and confused that I find it so relieving.

Me, but less glamorous

3. MEDICATION While holistic practices help, taking my medication and being on top of having it at certain times of day is got to be one of the best things I can do for myself. I have built new medicine into my routine by pairing it, for example taking my inhaler then brushing my teeth. This is a technique Gretchen Ruben recommends for habit change and it helps my foggy brain remember this crucial step.

4. TA-DA LISTS! It’s hard not to focus on what you haven’t achieved when you are lying down a lot. But instead I am trying to list what I have managed at the end of each day.

5. NAPS I think I have to be honest because I am sounding like I manage to do a lot despite being laid up but the most obvious way I am coping is by sleeping more, including naps. Too simple to say really but I wanted to acknowledge that to cope with fatigue, you really have to others around you. Support from work that you do shorter days, support from someone else to look after your child, the TV as a babysitter.

I feel lucky that it’s not as bad as it could be. I am really very tired but hoping that I will learn what works for me and build up more energy each day that I rest. Eventually I will learn to cope.

Reuniting is the best Self-Care

Real life is returning

I am a little late updating the blog this week because real life is on the return. For now, restrictions have lifted a second time and we have been allowed to travel to see family outside and go back to shops. I have been busier than I have been for a while and had to work hard to get the balance right as I am still managing fatigue.

I think it is interesting to reflect on the very first things I wanted to do now that life can return somewhat. As well as getting my hair cut for the first time for seven months, I did wander into town. It was so busy and I had little desire to shop (a cardigan may have slipped into my bag, I confess.) But I did feel the need to see people I know so I visited my old work place to catch up with friends who work there. Reconnecting, even if it is just the casual trips to cafes or seeing a familiar faces, felt like such a tonic.

I recently took a self -care assessment from Therapist Aids. I could identify a few areas where I had a deficit at the moment but by far my lowest score was in the socialising category. There’s a great explanation on the Get Self Help website about how many elements feed into self-care, and interacting with others is part of the picture. It’s surprising but studies show that social contact, even if it’s the everyday pleasantries with people in your community, can improve your life. An article in the Washington Post about the studies show it is “psychologically protective” to have casual daily interactions. And all of this we have been missing a lot of the last year.

Socialising can be simple interactions (but with masks of course) Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Missing people has become a difficult part of the year. And so the most important part of the week were the two separate trips we arranged to see family. On neither occasion could we manage long walks, what with my fatigue and my son struggling to be back in a busy environment, but to be together as soon as we could was so important. Even though with kids around you can barely finish a sentence together, there is a calmness that comes with being around people who “get you”. I have always enjoyed visiting with my closest family members, but there is an added layer of appreciation after we have been forced apart for so long.

I think that given the busy week I would expect to be very tired this weekend but so far I have been alright. I think it reminds us that doing the things that nourishes us, boosts our happiness, really does have an impact even when there is an actual physical problem that causes our tiredness. In amongst I have managed two 45 minute sessions of writing. So not only does self-care allow me to manage my fatigue, it is helping with my creativity too. Despite it all, I really can see the glimmer of normal.

How to give your brain a break

Seeking soothing activities recently, I have found some things are much gentler on the brain than others

I was writing recently about how important audiobooks have been over the last year. It has been really important to give myself permission to ‘count’ these books as reading. It motivates me to have a reading goal but the realistic picture has been I can concentrate much less at the moment. Since getting ill in January, I have had post viral fatigue to manage. And this includes giving my brain a break.

In fact I haven’t had much choice about giving it a break as I often find apart from first thing in the morning, my brain is sluggish. Learning more about pacing to cope with fatigue, I am realising that this early morning burst of reading or writing is most likely impacting my ability to do more the rest of the day. Reading is an activity. Sounds such a simple thing to say but until you realise it has an impact on your cognitive functioning, you may not appreciate lying on your bed reading is doing something!

Another revelation that may be of no surprise to anyone else, you have to relearn how to rest. Again, at times, I have no choice but to rest. Lots of lying down at the moment! But we are so used to being busy, cramming in our friendships through social media, using any spare time to read or listen to podcasts to learn something. Stopping it all and prioritizing what you want to spend your energy on is a real skill.

Find What Soothes You

So, to give my brain a break, I am becoming very aware of what soothes me and also what takes too much brain power. Here are some ideas of my soothing swaps:

  1. Audiobooks: A lot of relistening. I have recently started the complete collection of Jeeves and Wooster read by Stephen Fry, not only do I know the stories, they are light fippery that I can enjoy without worrying too much about concentrating. Gentle humour keeps it light but means I am not bored.
  2. Classical music: there are a lot of soothing playlists readymade on Spotify and Classical Chillout has helped me relax. Sometimes even lyrics are too distracting. Short pieces of classical music often whisk you away somewhere.
  3. Short bursts of reading: where I can manage reading, I try to tead from my “comfort reading” list such as a Maisie Dobbs mystery which though often tender, have also a cosiness about them. It’s the perfect time to revisit old friends.
  4. Beautiful costume drama. I enjoyed the steamy romp of Bridgerton earlier this year, but honestly right now I am more in the mood for the gentler stuff. Rewatching, like relistening and rereading is very soothing because there are no suprises. You can’t beat the BBCs Pride and Prejudice or the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility.
  5. Doodling in a sketch book. I am even finding colouring in detailed patterns in a colouring book too much at times. I have been doing warm up drawing exercises in a sketch book, shading and drawing circles. Circles are actually a zen practice and I can see the appeal as you never truly know until you finish how well you have drawn it.

What I discover as I write a list of what helps me is that I am looking for comfort in familiarity. But also, that my brain is one that still has to be entertained. As I find this balance of what does and doesn’t work for me, I wonder if I will ever find I can just do nothing?

It may be time to revisit the Bored and Brilliant project again and consider Manoush Zomorodi advice that “Boredom makes people keen to engage in activities that they find more meaningful than those at hand.”

Do you ever just do nothing?

Pacing

My body can’t keep pace with life at the moment

I thought I knew tired because of sleep disturbance and anxiety brain etc. But I didn’t know fatigue. It makes me achy, it has me forgetting words and it’s got me lying down every afternoon. I am sharing this because I think life is also what happens to you.

I have tried to explain this before, to friends who were finishing their degrees and worried about what next. That question doesn’t get easier, nor does it always go to plan. I don’t mean we have to be passive, just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round; it means to expect life to throw you curveballs more often than not. My metaphors are so mixed there but I am going to put it down to brain fog and move on. Change is the only constant. And however ambitious you may be, you may have to change your plans.

So weeks on now since my initial infection of covid19 and I am still struggling to manage the fatigue. I had a giddy few days where I felt stronger and I gaily went a-walking across Richmond Park. A gentle walk with lots of stopping to read, meditate and chat on the phone. But still, a long, luxurious walk. And then a meeting. By the end of the same week I was done-in. Come Monday after, I was sleeping most the day. I full-on crashed.

So my body is demanding that I slow down. That I pace myself. This includes how I spend my time. Less writing, only short walks, maybe even fewer hours at work.

I have been listening to podcasts about slow living and gathering ideas here on Pinterest. Because of course I can’t just slow down, I have to do research too. So, I have started to gather all the advice to me. I have to focus on one activity at once. And prioritise where I spend my energy. I also have to be realistic that I won’t get the pace right straight away.

Fatigue is a metaphor for my writing life in some ways; sometimes you do go slower than others but because you have no choice. What is most important is to go at your own pace.

Never a good time

What has 2020 taught you about planning life?

Like a lot of fans of Gretchen Rubin’s, I made a list of 20 for 2020 last December. It had already been a challenging time but during my Happiness Project I identified areas that I could spend more time on: friendship, writing, wellness. So in 2019 I made a list of things to do, things to achieve.

I had already identified that it was a challenge for me to keep on track with goals my post in 2019 I had goals so I don’t know if I was setting myself up to fail with the new list for 2020. I know that I had tried to be more specific ie. write first three chapters of my new project, rather than arbitary time goals. I didn’t know of course what challenges 2020 were about to throw me.

Like many making resolutions, I started quite well. Reconnecting with a friend in London, blogging more and having specific targets for my writing. And then, out of the blue, I became my son’s teacher as well as working from home. I got the worst bout of anxiety I have probably ever experienced (I mean who didn’t) and then a snowball of personal circumstances changed. Out of control and uncertainty being the main themes of the year.

Slowly, writing targets went way down the list. So did healthy habits like swimming and actually using gym – hello lockdown. Now I could have reviewed those goals when we first went into lockdown. Adjusted the schedule, used the million online workouts or free classes. I could have done a lot of things. But I didn’t.

I certainly have friends who were able to achieve a lot. In fact I have friends in many different boats, as I wrote about last year. For some their lockdown life seemed to bring out their drive to embrace life: friends who learnt languages, rededicated themselves to keyboard playing, made renovations or wrote books (hmm). It is hard not to judge myself harshly that I didn’t complete my list when there are these examples of productivity around me.

I learnt in a wellness seminar this year that in times of stress we all have a window of tolerance. Dan Siegel‘s term means that we have a zone that we are most effective but in difficult times some people will go more towards over-action or hyper-arousal, others will gravitate towards inaction or hypo-arousal. So in some ways this may explain how I could lack motivation when others seemed to be doing so much. We all cope in different ways. While setting goals may give some people a sense of control over their lives, for me it has often served to mark how little I have achieved and in 2020 that feeling was very apparent.

So, it may come as a surprise that I have once again set about to make a list 21 for 2021. The categories were very similar to last year and it was easy to see what would be important this year. Reconnection after months apart from love ones was a big theme. As was health after my recent brush with mild covid. But what I have also done is divide these goals into subsections under each theme, and started a bullet journal to track certain habits like reading and yoga. I have tried to break down the goals in specific and I am going to focus on each by what I can achieve month by month.

This first month is all about trying to feel well again. It is about not pushing myself too hard as I am dealing with post-viral fatigue (a few weeks in and my body is demanding I go slow.) I will try and report back on each month’s achievements here. I will also try and not beat myself up. Goals shouldn’t be punishments but a way of making our lives, as Rubin would say, “a little happier.”