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.

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.

Living in Isolation

This week I got to be alone for once, it wasn’t as fun as I hoped.

It is not without irony that I note I have written many times about wanting time alone. Well be careful what you wish for because this week I have been almost completely alone. Like far too many, I have had covid since last week. I wouldn’t say I am completely out of the woods but I am hoping that I have got away with a very mild case. My family of course have been here too but I am in my room in quarantine and today is the first day I have had the energy to write about what it’s been like.

I haven’t the level of fatigue as yet that many have been reporting, though I am tired because it is hard to sleep when your chest is bad, but a malaise has settled over me and a dullness in my thought. I think my mood might be related to the fact that I have been so careful and cautious this whole time. And it’s happened anyway.

Shock was my first reaction when I got the result. I was lucky in a way that I had a pretty clear cough as many people I know do not develop this symptom and in the UK we can only test for loss of smell or taste, a cough and/or fever despite the fact it often presents with other symptoms. As an asthmatic I am pretty aware of that specific tight sensation in my chest and so I knew I was a little unwell but I honestly couldn’t imagine after all the caution, I would have got it.

Despite feeling quite lousy and worried I might pass it on I have done some things that have really helped in my first week of covid. I wanted to share my list in hope they might help others.

Preparing food. I have some jars of overnight oats in my fridge which is really good to get slow-release energy and filling too. Unlike the rest of lockdown, I have not been able to go back and forth to the kitchen. (I guess that’s one positive!) I have needed less to eat anyway but not having to think too hard has been a great help.

Going second. In order to remember to clean down in the bathroom or kitchen after using it I have contrived the routine to go second so that I clean up with wipes or zoflora every time I use anything. (Having a disinfectant habit has really come in handy!) We can’t be a hundred percent sure that my boys won’t also succumb at some point but we are doing our best to follow the cleaning advice and kept my towels separate. It’s given the day structure which helps when you are literally hours in the same room.

Doing my best: Those who have had this horrible condition may be surprised that I have worked. As I said, I haven’t had anything like the levels of fatigue I thought I would, as yet. I had been working from home as much as I can anyway so had taken on some different tasks than usual, swapping out some tasks that are based in the office. This week, I have been working slowly through the grunt work of spreadsheet and record-keeping that inevitably comes with working with children’s health records. I haven’t done that much, but having a methodical task has been good for my dulled brain. I have also asked to stop early on both days so that I don’t take it too far. Work have been supportive and there is no question that if I felt worse that I would take leave.

Being mindful: I have decided to do what I can, when I can. So the first morning when I felt rough I took a shower in case I got worse and couldn’t. Probably a mix of the steam that released my cough and the fact I was looking after myself- it really made me feel better. The biggest area that I have been mindful of is enjoying my food. I have many friends now whose taste or smell has been affected and so I have been trying to appreciate the joy of eating when I could, in case this happens to me too.

Meditation and audiobooks: My concentration is shocking which may be the brain fog others have spoken about but I think probably more to do with my anxiety brain trying to work on overtime. All this time alone has given me chance to do an hour of a guided meditation, dozing a little no doubt. I have also listened to audiobooks in short bursts. Belgravia with its sumptuous Regency setting has washed over me as I lay here. There something about romantic escapism that soothes you.

Reaching out: I have told friends and family many of whom are checking in with texts. I have accepted help from people dropping off prescriptions, to knowing who to ask to get milk. I know a lot have felt they can’t do anything because they are far away but knowing they are checking on you and thinking of you helps.

Accepting uncertainty: We have all had to deal with uncertainty this year much more, or at least been far more aware that this is the state of life. You really don’t know what life will throw your way. As such, I know I don’t know the long term impact of covid yet but I think that as always, taking small, positive steps has helped me and I can only take it day-by-day.

I hope everyone out there is well, being ill as always helps us remember not to take our health for granted. And also reminds us most to rest and take it very easy on ourselves.

In 2019 I had goals…

Any fans of the Gretchen Rubin Happier Podcast know Elizabeth and Gretchen reset every year with a list of goal. But instead of over-arching vague ideas, they get you to be specifoc. In 2019 I did it all: I set a word of the year, I set new goals 19 for 2019 and I started a Happiness Project. Habits were changed: more time was spent reading, blogging and cleaning. But despite that I am struggling to feel the sense of achievement I ought to. So I thought it was time to review what I had achieved.

CAREER GOALS

Writing goals: I plotted the first three chapters of my comedic novel and I blogged almost every week but did I complete my first draft of my novel? Reader, I think you may know by now I did not. I am 24 days off my first post on this blog: could I get it in on time for my Blogeversary?

Work Goals: Within months of starting the year, I started a new job. Thank you Universe for finding me flexible, interesting work. I have a lot to learn but I just found out I passed probation and I am a permanent staff member. There’s lots of training coming up in the New Year so this is one thing I can tick off my 19 for 2019.

Blog Goals: It was part way through the year before I started to get a hang of this blogging stuff. I have set up a Pinterest page and I am planning to develop in this area to make my content more. professional in future. This one will go to next year’s list.

A bit more time for me

HEALTH AND WELLBEING GOALS

Selfcare Goals: Are yoga and swimming part of my weekly life? No, they are not. Upholding these goals have been a very long term struggle. The few hours I have to do it, I do not get up and go. Lets be honest, this one will always have to be on my list but I am working on how to make it a habit.

Friendship Goals: I have completed some of my goals to see people more though scraping them in at the last minute by seeing Movies the last couple of weekends of the year. We are yet to have people for dinner but I know we had friends for brunch once, so that counts. I think I need to combine the exercise and friends goals probably to fit it all in.

Activity Goals: I didn’t manage to see three musicals but I did see two and the Tutankhamun exhibit so I am putting this down as a win. I know expensive activities can’t be everyday, but I am glad that the practice of Artist’s Dates is opening me up to a more creative life.

FAMILY LIFE

Education Goals: I am still stuck in the quagmire or applying for the right support for my son. This is a difficult one to have as a goal because I am at the mercy of other people. Despite not being through with this part of the process, I can say I have given this my all, dedicating a lot of time and often too much of my energy to a broken system. So, a win for me if not yet for him.

Relationship Goals: I can’t really tick off these goals but I can move them to the next list as aspirations. My husband’s work has been all-consuming but, just maybe, the light is coming at the end of the tunnel. I think we will see a lot more of each other in 2020.

BETTER HABITS

Phone time: Maybe because these goals were concrete and achievable. I have halved my time of social media. I have been better at saving my photos to the cloud though I need to share them more often with family members still.

A little less time online

Eat lunch at home: The past few months, I have been buying lunch out again but one plus of my new job is a I have a coffee machine at work which reduced my eating out costs. This one is to reestablish habits of earlier in the year.

So overall, I completed 10/19 goals and made some good new habits along the way. My housework goals were separate so I think I will give myself some extra points.

What I have learned is to be specific where I can to help me get that sense of achievement. I also need to review goals more frequently- some I had forgotten I had set! I must order them by priority so that I make time for crucial things like exercise or big things, like finishing the damn draft.

Seems like it’s finally time. Now I need more than goals, going to make my 2020 vision…!