Anniversaries are a time to reflect

It is certainly a big year in my life to reflect upon and find a way forward from this week on

With an unnerving sense of head-shaking disbelief, I am about to meet two anniversaries this week.  They feel both momentous and give me a short burst of existential depression. I have experienced these waves of insignificance since I was a child, and it took me until a few years back to find out what it is called. The New Year and birthdays are particularly bad for me : feeling a true sense of time and my existence and my irrelevance in the universe.  The coming week I am commemorating two anniversaries and I can’t help feel a little strange about it.

My blog is three years old, it has been growing slowly and steadily and I have plan to make it more of a place to talk about writing, as I had originally intended, as 2022 continues. But as I reflect on what I have achieved, I also reflect on how much of my life has been swallowed up by the pandemic years, it has become both my blogging topic and also invaded my home and time in ways we could never have known when I first wrote about my anxieties in March 2020.

This leads me to the other anniversary that I have to mark in this coming week. It is a year since I caught covid. At times, I still can’t fathom that I have not yet got over the infection. I have been recently taking an online course Pamela Rose’ Fatigue Rescue and one important part of a journey to recovery is to understand and accept your condition. The main thing that I have been doing (in addition to seeing doctors, attending therapy and a variety of wellness helpers) has been that I have believed myself. I do have a fatigue condition. I will get better. It will take time.

And it’s the time that feels so unbelievable to look back on, this anniversary will probably not be one that I have to look back on again (it might be, but this time next year…) But despite doing a lot of work around mindset and taking this condition seriously, I have some sadness to be marking a year this week. I am seeing it as an opportunity to change my life and prioritise what is important. But in doing so, I have to acknowledge that there is loss too. The loss is not as momentous as that many have experienced and I still say that I have been lucky. But it is ok for a moment to grieve a little of what has been lost in the last year.

I am looking forward

What I want to do now is get through this week and then look forward. I have been working out the kinks in a story that has taken my interest and will report more often about how that is going. I have planned some more reviews to share on the blog as these remain my most popular posts. I will probably write a little less about my health journey from this point. But for now I want to acknowledge that this is a moment where I can reset Mum Write Now, a little and look forward to what I expect to be a much better year.

In defence of audiobooks

As an English grad, I am horrified that I hardly read a physical book this year but audiobooks have been an essential in my life this year

Earlier this year, I shared how I have started to count audiobooks as reading. It still seems wrong to say but despite the fatigue and brain fog of long covid, I have read just shy of 50 books this year. Most of them are listens rather than read and some are also re-reads. But I have now fully convinced this is the best way to really appreciate a text and I am sad I have waited so long to consume books in this way.

The main reason I want to defend the audiobook is this is the year I finally “read” Anna Karenina. Now, I have battled through most of War and Peace and knew that I liked Tolstoy’s knowing narration, grand settings but until this year, I never made it through Anna Karenina. And I must admit I had missed out. The first modern novel, obsessed with it’s own modernity, attempting to understand the psychology of it’s tragic heroes as well of of course the new age dawning with trains and the death of feudal farming, I find this a deeply fascinating novel. I did know the ending, but I was deeply shocked when I got there. The depth of my investment in the relationships and the complexity are so rewarding for the reader. When I am reading a novel twenty minutes at a time, holding all the characters in my head, switching between the town and countryside is confusing to follow, particularly when my brain is fogged. Having a voice actor peform the audiobook, we gain so much in their characterisation and can more easily follow the changes in voice and place in the novel.

Finally read Anna Karenina

It has also been an amazing way to reread books. I’ve listed before books that I think it is worth rereading. I have enjoyed the comfort of revisiting Jane Austen and the Northern Lights series by Phillip Pullman. Though I know these books so well, you pick up extra elements on each reread and this was very much part of my enjoyment of revisiting these books on audio. The performance is adding to the nuances that you pick up on as you revisit favourite places like Pemberley or characters like the villainous Mrs Coulter

A friend recently asked me how I concentrate on audiobooks as she tends to realise she has drifted off. Well this is a danger and with the relistens is matters less because you know the story but as I have managed brand new books this year too, I think I must be able to concentrate. My secret if anything is that listening to the book is the activity rather than have it on in the background. With my fatigue condition I have been bone tired enough to rest for great parts of the day. Not always thankfully but I lot of the time I have needed to give my brain a break and as I wrote before, audiobooks have formed an important part of my active resting.

So as I go forward with a bit more energy and a lot of hope, it may be that audiobooks were just the thing that got me through 2021 and ill-health. But even if I don’t get this time again to rest and “read” I will forever now advocate for audiobooks as a great way to tackle books, particularly ones that you have put off for years.

Are you an audiobook fan?

Christmas in the (Brain) Fog

I am looking forward to the Christmas holidays and working out how to see through the fog

I can feel the pressure of making Christmas magic rising as I write. As a parent, I have a strong desire to make the young ones’ Christmas a special, sparkly time but what do you do when your brain is not at it’s shiniest best. Last year we couldn’t even see our families, so now we hopefully can socialise there is an expectation that this will be the best year. But amongst all that pressure I am trying to manage the planning and preparation with brain fog and fatigue. Here is what I have worked out may work for us this year.

A foggy winter ahead, photo in the public domain

Reduce your workload: We have planned to go to my mother-in-law so I do know already that I don’t need to cook, a lot of labour is saved and I think that having the main work on the big day taken from me will be a massive help, as well as being extra delicious that we can actually be together this year. In addition the familiar surroundings help me and my son and for that part of Christmas we will stay at home though go over on several days. This is really helpful to keep parts of the routine which keeps my soon’s energy a bit more regulated which helps us all feel a bit calmer.

Pace yourself: I know now that I need to pace myself, leaving a few days between each social gathering and taking it much more slowly on those days. I am so thankful to be back together with people this year but that doesn’t mean I can throw my pacing plans out of the window. January is depressing enough without having a massive crash. When I do socialise, I know already I might need to leave earlier than I might like to or take a little break part way through so that I can join in. It’s tradition to fall asleep after the turkey anyway, so won’t be too much of a surprise if I insist on a rest this year. I may also have some tougher days afterwards but I know if I do things that lift me, like being around people that I love, this will be worth it for me if I don’t go too far.

Buy online: When it comes to planning presents, I am doing tiny chunks and using a lot of lists on my phone so hopefully I don’t forget things. I have to say that I have seen statistics like 42% of people will buy their presents off Amazon this year and though I don’t like it, that will most likely be me. I know already that going to shops involves so many elements that are tiring, this time I need those items to come on delivery. I have been also trying to support a few friends with their Etsy crafts that I love but when it come to the plastic tat my son demands, it’s back to the five minutes ordering on my phone and along comes my friendly delivery lady the next day (who I am quite chummy with now.) Let’s hope that by next Christmas, I can be well enough to face the shops (and they are still there) but for now I have to be realistic about what I can do for us all.

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com – probably less baking this year

Ask for help: Learning to ask for help has been a massive learning curve with managing fatigue. I have worked out what is more tiring now by listening to my body carefully and I have tried to ask for help in these areas. A friend came over this week to get the decorations out of our loft for us, she was lovely about it and though it seems a bit silly with my breathing issues and fatigue it is a massive load off me and I will be very slowly starting to decorate. In addition to asking for physical help, I have set my Mum the mission to find the impossible toy that my son has asked for. I was going round in circles online to try and find this “must have” and in the end I realised the brain strain is too much.

Keep it simple: The final thing is to avoid too much online content that drives me to want to make the magic so much. It is possible that I did “do a Pinterest” in previous year and make cards, bake mince pines with my son and make a Nutella Christmas tree for breakfast on Christmas morning. But it might be that this year is not that year. The Christmas tree may end up less trimmed – though it is one of my favourite things so I may choose to spend my energy on it – But really, what my fatigue is telling me right now, is that these things that seem so important are an image we get sold about what a perfect life can look like.

But if a chronic condition can teach us anything, there is no need for perfect, in fact pushing yourself is the worst thing you could do. After the year we have had personally and the pandemic era we have all gone through, I can only say that what is most important is to savour the time to rest and have fun together.  

Weird Wellness Trends That Might Work

In the pursuit of increased energy I have tried out a few trends and I think they actually work

In addition to being a regular but fidgety meditator, I have been trying out anything that might help my fatigue. Whether they claim to help with energy production or stress relief, I have given a number of weird wellness treatments a go. Although I must stress I have no medical qualification, I have a list now of great things that seem to do some good. Or make me feel better anyway. Here’s the things I recommend trying:

GREEN JUICE: I have been drinking spinach and other veggies blitzed together for a while. By upping vitamins, particularly eating raw with all the fibre included it feels like having juice several times a week has got to help with your health.

Does anyone else’s green juice look a bit brown?!

Unsubstantiated claim: drinking juice is easier to digest so takes less energy. I am not sure whether this is true but sometimes had juice midday when I am drooping. It takes less energy to make than a meal and I will have it before a rest.

VERDICT: As I see it a veggie rich juice is ultimately just like having soup cold so it does give you something healthy to have quickly. I also drink loads of water with the juice so the fibre doesn’t (um) overload the system. I can’t confirm that this actually provides more energy but I can at least say it suits my lifestyle at the moment and more vitamins is never a bad thing.

COLD SHOWERS: I now blast cold water at the end of every shower or will go to the gym to use the steam room and choose to blast the cold shower.

Unsubstantiated claims: Along with the Wim Hof breathing system, immersing yourself in cold water helps your cells repair and gives you more energy.

VERDICT: While I am not sure if the practice helps at a cellular level, I know that I do feel very energised by the experience. Particularly that contrast from hot to cold. Because I use the breathing techniques to I think this is helping me recover as I do have to work on breathing exercises anyway to help my lung health. This is one that is simple to do but feels like it pays me off, even if it just givea me a little jolt.

FACE ROLLING: This is another case of the internet made me do it. I have been using a face roller for a few months. My under-eye bags seem even darker than usual so using the jade roller on my face along with the various serums, oils and eye cream seems like a good act of self-care if nothing else

Unsubstantiated claim: The roller is supposed to reduce puffiness and improve skin tone. A lot of people find it very relaxing

VERDICT: While I remain dubious that my eye bags have improved, this is one certainly find relaxing. Hitting my later thirties, my skincare routine has developed into a multi-step act of desperation against ageing and I have doubts if any of it does work. However spending time and effort on my skin each day has become an important act of self-care which is why I recommend the roller despite my scepticism.

MAGNESIUM SALTS: A bath can be great for body aches. Relaxing back, particularly if you are finally getting time alone has often been my cure-all but magnesium salts have been an essential addition this year.

Unsubstantiated claims: A short bath in Magnesium Salts (about 20 minutes) allows the magnesium to enter your body and increased magnesium can really help your energy levels. A hair test showed my magnesium levels were low and I already add in foods to help with this.

VERDICT: One reason that the magnesium baths have been so important for me this year is that the suggested benefits come from having quite short baths. As a lot of people with fatigue know, bathing or showering is suprisingly tiring. By keeping a time limit to taking bath it is relaxing but not over-taxing most of the time. In addition to all the usual benefits of relaxing by having a bath, sometimes it will be a way of taking a break without actually napping in the day and seems to help in that way with my sleep.

It is possible I am just buying into wellness trends. However of all the things I have tried, these ideas are relatively inexpensive and achieveable. Often the boost comes from feeling like I am doing something to help myself. Which I think probably is the most important point of all. When our bodies go into fatigue or burnout, it does feel we are out of control. Using these props, whether they are proven to help or not, has given me practical steps to take care of myself more.

What wellness practices have helped you feel better? Anything I should try?

How to Change Your Life

The plan changed so I had to change the plan

If you have read my blog this year, you will know I have had fatigue since January and it has taken a while for me to establish a reasonable baseline of energy management so that I can do a bit more each week and gradually get back to my creative practices. But what I am really having to do is change my life and not necessarily by choice.

Listen to Your Body

The first way I have had to change is by listening to my body more. This used to mean realising I am stressed out because the world irritates me, getting angry, getting a migraine or both were a sign to do less. These things might hold me back but I would try and use this stress. And adrenaline would keep me going.

I know now I have been living on the edge of burnout . Before this year though, my body never fully told me to stop.Now, when my body tells me it’s too much I really have no choice but to listen. It aches like I have been in a car crash and leaves me so tired I can do very little. Without a choice, it has made me reflect on just how often I pushed through on little sleep and frazzled nerves.

Put systems in place

I have always tried routines and to do lists to keep on track of my life. It’s not something that comes easily to me. But this year my mind, like my body, has insisted I pay more attention. It is essential for me to work to systems to get anything done now. With brain fog I have to use the systems and more importantly I have no choice but to write it down.

Keep your Boundaries

This one I am only managing to change with the help of a therapist. Sometimes it is the boundary that my body or mind insists on. But sometimes it’s the really difficult one for many of us, saying no to people. It might also include the no to something you want to do. I am learning to sometimes say the hard no but also say I may not have that energy, explain the boundaries relate to the condition.

Quit Your Day Job

I suppose all artists, writers and creatives have toyed with the idea of quitting their job to follow their passion, pursue their bliss and other dream-life rhetoric. Sadly, the reasons I have for quitting are little more prosaic. In addition to work, I have caring responsibilities and my fatigue condition has become more difficult to manage. I have been trying to decide whether I can continue working but my temporary reduction of hours hasn’t quite been enough to get me back on my feet. I didn’t quite mean to join the great resignation but I know also that I am making the biggest step now.

This year has taught me a lot, not least that a lot has to change.

Feel Hopeful for the Future

Although managing fatigue is a tough task for me, it’s made easier by having the right mindset. Whilst that might sound like I could think my way out of fatigue, that isn’t really what I mean. What you can do is pay attention. By listening to my body I know even on a tough day or week, that I have had better days and they will come another day.

Have you had to change your life before? Have you realised you should have done it a long time ago?

Watch this space for more updates about all the changes I am making in the next months!