Sunday, June 19, 2011

Forwards, Backwards and Sideways...

I'm old enough that I went to home economics in junior high and high school, but young enough that there was an equal mix of guys in the class. In there, I learned that my mother's way of ironing was completely backwards. But in a way it made more sense: she had me start with the more difficult parts of ironing first, then move on to the large, easy parts. Over the years, I've found that both ways are useful depending on the situation.

If the situation is scary or unfamiliar, it's better for me to start with the easy and work my way up to more difficult tasks. That way my early successes bolster me for the harder push on the more difficult tasks.

If the situation is familiar or familiar but overwhelming, I'll start with the biggest piece first. If I can get what's troubling me most out of the way, then it's a downhill coast as the rest of the pieces fall more easily into place.

Other times, neither of these approaches works. Those situations are usually ones where circumstance require I do things in a certain order, regardless of difficulty. Then it's just a roller coaster. These situations take delicate self management. The easy times can also end up being tedious and boring. The difficult times can come so often as to be exhausting and overwhelming. That's where pacing, whenever I can manage it, is vital. If the situation is going to be a roller coaster, my best bet is to try and counter that keeping myself calm and steady. That way, I keep my wits about me.

One tool I have found extremely useful is a health log. This can be done on paper or online (there are even health trackers that send you reminder emails). When I track my symptoms, I can see where the roller coaster has been. I can then allow myself the time I need to recover. When I've strung enough good days together, then it's safe to start taking on larger tasks.

I use this because I have a tendency to forget, as the body wants to forget, the bad days. But then I can easily fall into the trap of pushing myself to far too fast and causing a bad day. I can forget that my rest is recouperation and start to feel guilty because it's technically a good day, but I'm still not yet up to "doing stuff." It's not often that I can "do stuff" on a regular basis, so it's easy for my mind to think I'm squanderring an opportunity.

Wisdom, however, has taught me that I'm not a light switch. It makes sense: even if a normal person is over the flu, they can still have a lingering cough for a month. Just because the offending symptoms have gone away, doesn't mean I'm ready to get up and go. I've just been thoroughly beaten up. I need some time to heal. Only because all my injuries are internal, from the outside that can look like needing a vacation to recover from my vacation.

But if it was a vacation, don't you think I'd be out enjoying myself rather than chained to the couch or bed? TV is not that interesting, and I caught up on my netflix queue years ago. I'm desperate for good entertainment on my bad days so much so that I'm usually jugging TV the computer (i.e., sedentary work) and a book.

When I feel good and rested, I do physical work, spend time with friends, and am out at social gatherings. I go to the library to do research I can't do at home. I hang out at the coffee shop. I run errands to stock up on groceries and take care of household projects beyond the necessary chores. I become engaged in life again, rather than simply being an observer. It's marvelous.

Whether I'm able to tackle a situation head on, whether I have to ease into it, or whether I just have to hold on is all up to the needs of the situation. My goal is to have as many ways to do things (forwards, backwards, sideways, white-knuckling) as possible. In that way I avoid situations where I need a phillips head screwdriver but all I have is a hammer.

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