Autumnal Ambitions

Planning to be a bit more productive in my favourite season

As soon as I get a sense of the sharper cold of autumn in the air, I get excited. I have written before there is really no better season to get inspired. A time of finding inspiration in nature and curling up in warm socks to write. But this year, Autumn feels even more important. My life is shifting to our new patterns, my husband back to full time in the office and for me managing my condition knowing I have little help for childcare. I am seeking now to establish the baseline level of energy I have, in the hopes that soon I will not crash every weekend and feel able to socialise a bit again.

I am getting asked a lot how is my “long covid” but like many invisible conditions, it’s just there, in the background and for now part of my life. Usually when people ask you about illness they want you to say you are better but instead of saying “I’m getting there” with the usual passive politeness. I am respecting the condition and fatigue “I am learning to manage it.” I am more comfortable with this honest answer even if most people what want you to say is you are fine. Coming in the next few months I have some medical appointments which may help but in the meantime, Autumn will be the time for me to work out what works for me. I need to continue to listen to my body, but also listen to my mind which is calling out to be more creative.

For now it may be more quiet craft sessions though there are added issues I didn’t have to think about before: my markers now trigger asthma, planning out a card to make can be surprisingly fatiguing, I don’t want to add to my tidying up duties by making a mess. Being more aware of what is tiring is interesting. I know my Mum has said to me a number of times that it is very similar to ageing. Simple day-to-day tasks like taking a shower are just more noticably tiring than before. Equally you have to make plans to build in rests more often even if you do manage a busy day.

As I sit to my journal and make some Autumn goals I try and identify what exactly has held me back from writing. I then have tried to add in the element that might make the task easier in my current condition.

Plan a few research trips. It will need to be a Friday so have the weekend to recover. I love exploring the Newspaper Archives for the historical elements of my work in progress. At the British Library, there is free access and I just find being closeted amongst the books so inspiring. I know already that I probably have to build in a rest if not a sleep to travel into London so I may choose to make my next trip on a day my husband could help out.

Continue mindful walks These have helped so much whilst I recover. Getting out in nature continues to be good research particularly as I have gradually been teaching myself about the wildflowers and plants. Finding bright spots of nature nourish part of me that rejects my urban lifestyle and gives me much needed alone time.

Carry a notebook around I noticed that I have written less in notebooks in the recent years. I find that writing by hand really helps. In addition it means I can do just a little work, sketch out ideas and not feel like I have to sit and edit work in the same way because as I type up whatever I have written, I polish the words.

Re-read my work-in-progress It’s been so long since I have been working on my longest, unwieldiest project that I can use this as a chance to look at it all with fresh eyes.

It probably doesn’t sound like I am pushing myself much in the next few months. I haven’t set word counts or minutes per week. Instead I have defined the things that can help me gradually build up to doing more. Knowing that I adding a few things into my life in a realistic way is far more helpful as I recover. It feels like the right next step to get back to what I love.

How do you make progress when life gets in your way?

Life Post Covid

Six months on from getting infected, I pause to reflect on what life looks like now

As I wrote back in January, I was lucky to contract a mild case of covid. I still consider that I was lucky to have had a relatively easy time. I was at home and managed my symptoms with help of tablets and extra asthma inhalers. I even managed to work at first though I was mildly weary. It lasted about ten days and, for a few days after, I thought that was that.

But like many people who have had covid-19, I have ended up with a much longer, more complicated picture and at six months I can’t help but consider how it has completely changed my life. I have what is colloquially called Long Covid or Post-Covid Viral Fatigue. It has meant learning and managing fatigue far beyond the tiredness I have been experiencing before now. It has stopped me and forced me to do things differently in a number of ways.

Not everyday, but on a bad day I block out the world. I have had to strip back what I do, prioritising my activities and often managing to work for a few hours or maybe play for short bursts with my son. If I socialise I can be thrown off for days because I am getting post exertional malaise that knocks me off my feet, leaves me achy and able to do little. Never has the feeling of being hit by a bus felt so accurate.

I often spend hours on my bed although I now try and meditate not just nap. I have had to reduce exercise to the point of tracking that I don’t do too many steps, rather than counting them up, on my Fitbit. All of these changes are hard-won lessons I am still learning. Trying to find what I can and cannot handle has become my preoccupation. I am reading and watching a lot about the condition (and related advice for people with chronic fatigue syndrome) trying to get the game of pacing right.

I have had to tune into my body much more. Listening to a podcast or watching the tennis I may discover suddenly it’s far too intense. My tolerance for stress, even the pleasurable kind of tension we choose to put ourselves through for entertainment like a thriller, overwhelms me. Instead I look for things that are light, funny or soothing. And use the meditation practices that help me listen to my body more clearly.

Really doing these things has been a lesson in what I wasn’t doing for myself before. Like a lot people, my stress increased in pandemic times. I became more anxious and felt some of the losses of not seeing family, feeling isolated, very keenly. Now I am seeking help both medically and for my mental health. Actually I don’t really have a choice.

The whole world stopped for a while in 2020 and that was a lesson about how we cope with modern life. Everything too fast, too consumerist, not to mention too close, stopped and stripped back to what was essential. Well, it seems I still have to learn this lesson. My body has chosen to stop me in my tracks. I can’t be grateful for every difficult moment in the last six months, nor for all the sadness and loss in this pandemic, but I am starting to get very grateful for the chance to assess what is really important to me. To spend my energy where I can, doing what I most value. To reassess and prioritise.

And top of my list, for the first time in a long time, I am having to look after me.

Creating on Little Sleep

As always, little sleep leaves me grumpy and less creative.

I have written before about trying to be creative and a parent. When I don’t get the chance of a decent night’s sleep, much time to be quiet or alone it effects my mood a lot. But if I can’t have a creative outlet, I’m downright grumpy.

I accepted a few years back that my time to create write or play at crafts, have Artist’s Dates would be in short snatches. Built in deadlines help me anyway so that is a bonus if anything. But what is also clear is in these weeks where my mood has been effected, my creativity gets a bit stilted.

Adding in brain fog I have developed since my January run-in with covid, I am literally and figuratively struggling to find the words to write. Dragging the idea out feels like squelching through mud. According to Elizabeth Gilbert this can give you a creative fear. As I wrote recently, I worry that the idea is running away.

So along with resting when I can, I have been trying to find ways to lift myself into a better mood so I can get creative, even just a little. Mostly I have been trying to improve my mood by getting out in the early light and using meditation. All the things I know help. They do enough that I dare to open my work in progress a couple of times this week.

So how have I helped myself? More sleep is not possible, though that would certainly help. Instead, I listened to music:, sometimes to pump me up, sometimes to rouse emotions, sometimes to float away. I have often worked with music on. Sometimes it provides inspiration in itself. A character who is obsessive about 70s singer song writers comes to mind, as does The Rites of Spring and the folklore that has inspired me. These moments listening often spark a story.

I tried to take more walks. On my walks I take photos of things that inspire or I sit and look at the trees a while trying to identify a tree. It was a hawthorn I discovered later. Not only do the places provide background for my woodland work-in-progress, but having time in nature can soothe my mood too.

Finally, I am try to forgive myself for taking a little time away from creative work. It’s hard, I want to blog every week and write creatively three or four times too. But really I have to be realistic about what I am able to do right now. Hopefully I will get a bit more sleep now my son is back at school and in a routine and it will inspire me to take time out to be more creative again.

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.