how to accomplish things when you're tired and in pain

fatigued and in pain

Ironically, I started writing this post before my two trips to Texas, 2 weeks in March and 4 weeks in April, that have left me very fatigued again through May, and thus quite late with this post!

There's 3 important reasons for me to continue to do as much as I can in spite of my disability:

  • the feeling of accomplishment
  • to retain and regain abilities
  • to avoid boredom

One of the big tricks of being able to do things while disabled has been to break tasks down into the smallest steps. This is why I can grow a garden of tomatoes, make sauce and can it, but risotto is hard for me. Risotto has a half hour where I have to stand and stir constantly, I can't break that down any further. But almost everything else, I can break down into small 5-10 minute steps.

I am going to illustrate what I mean with the simple task of doing the dishes:

  1. Sort stack of dishes, and put silverware in bottom of basin with cups and glasses on top. Fill with hot soapy water.
  2. Wash and rinse glasses and cups and silverware and put in dish drainer. Add plates and bowls to dishwater.
  3. Wash and rinse plates and bowls and put in dish drainer. Put pots in dishwater.
  4. Wash pots and put in dish drainer. Dump and clean basin.

The thing to understand about each of these steps is that you can sit down and rest between them. In fact, leaving the dishes soaking makes them easier to clean, so a rest break actually makes the chore easier.

I might not need a break and keep going. I might sit for 5-10 minutes, and I might sit for a half hour. Depends on how interesting Facebook is right then! ;) It doesn't matter how long I rest, eventually the dishes get done.

I break many, many chores up like this. I could not garden without this basic way of doing things. I could not cook most of our food from scratch. I could not put up food for the long term. Breaking the chores down like this is why I can accomplish things.

I have a home health aid (HHA) here several hours a week to assist me, yet I do the vast majority of the dishes around here. It's not that I am so terribly fond of doing dishes. But I am fond of feeling like I accomplished something.

If I were healthy and wealthy, I'd have no problem having servants wait on me hand and foot! However, there is a big difference between not having to do something versus not being able to.

Aging and disability can feel very demoralizing sometimes. Needing assistance with a task you first accomplished when you were a toddler is humiliating. And if you let yourself, it's real easy to feel like you're a burden to others, and that really dark thought can occur: that they might be better off without you.

Doing what I can do, no matter how long it takes me, is good for my morale. I am in charge of food here: I do the meal planning, make the shopping list, do the shopping, make most of the meals. I keep the fruit bowl stocked. I garden and I raise chickens. I dehydrate, ferment, can and freeze. I provide us really good food really cheap, thus am still making a genuine contribution to my family (in addition to my wisdom, sick sense of humor and sparkling personality).

In addition, I've never stopped hoping to get well, and while I have both good days and bad days, overall I've improved in the years since I became disabled. And I very strongly believe that doing what I can do is part of why I improve. If I can't do dishes today, if I need my husband or HHA to help me out, I don't beat myself up over it. But I also don't give up, I'll try again tomorrow. I feel if I don't do what I can do, over time, I might lose the ability to do it.

Finally, while we all have fantasies about the life of leisure we'd indulge in if we won the lottery or such, being disabled is not at all the same thing. Yes, you have lots of free time, but you're broke, so don't have the resources to sit on a beach drinking things with paper umbrellas in them.

There was a time in my life that my ultimate vacation fantasy was just to be able to spend an entire week reading. While I do still love curling up with a good book, the fact is that once I became bedridden and could do nothing but read as much as I wanted, after the 30th or 40th novel, I got pretty bored with that.

Gardening and cooking are not biochemistry, nor programming, nor even my final career, truck driving. However, both require intelligence, creativity and problem-solving and keep me from being bored.

The trick to being able to accomplish things is to break them up into small bits and take as many breaks as I need. And novels have become much more interesting again when read on my Kindle while taking a break in the garden.

Breaking things down into really small bits means I can feel good about accomplishing things, thus keeping and even expanding my abilities, and it keeps boredom at bay. And now and then, I can even make risotto.

Image credit: Adapted from Headache by savyriku on deviantART.