Taking a chance and hoping it works

June 17, 2021

I’m exhausted. I’m so tired that I just want to fall asleep right now, sitting in my chair. That’s not like me. Sure, I have chronic fatigue, but the exhaustion usually causes me to feel unable to do things, but not to feel sleepy quite like this. This week is different, though. And the reason is my new temporary 4-legged roommate.

If you’re been reading this blog for a while, you know that I want a dog. I have wanted a dog my entire adult life. First I worked and travelled too much, and then I was too sick. Recently, though, my health has improved and stabilized. It’s not great, and I know that a lot of the stability comes from being home during the pandemic. Without spending energy on seeing friends, going to events, running errands, or seeing most doctors in person, I had less fatigue, less pain, and generally better health. Was it great? No, of course not. But it was better. It allowed me to think, not for the first time, about getting a dog.

I’ll skip the details, but basically I have a temporary canine friend here for a while. It will probably be for a month or two, but could be a bit less or a bit more. I’ve done dog sitting before, but this is different. Harder.

For starters, with most dog sitting there’s a known end date, and my dog sitting has never been for more than two weeks. This time there isn’t an end date, and it will definitely be more than two weeks. Also, the dog is usually well trained and this guy isn’t. He’s somewhat trained, which is great (no accidents!) but not entirely. I have had to take him for more walks than with other dogs. I have to watch him carefully to make sure he doesn’t get into things that he shouldn’t (he tried to chew the edge of my carpet.) He’s just over a year and has puppy energy. He naps, but then wants to take a long walk and play.

Thankfully, he sleeps through the night, because I’m not sure how well I’d be functioning if he didn’t. And it’s in the 70s and not humid, which is the best weather I could hope for at this time of year. Still, I’m worn down. Yesterday, during our 86th walk (ok, maybe only the fifth of the day, but it felt like more!), I began asking myself what each of my doctors would say about my current state. My guesses:

  • Therapist: Keep at it, you can do this. But be sure to rest and don’t overstress your adrenals.
  • Rheumatologist: Are you resting enough? Do the best you can, and we’ll see how you do, then talk about it as things progress.
  • Naturopath: I think you’re doing too much. You need to slow down.

Of course, I could be way off. Maybe they’d each say something completely different. Not that it matters, because I’m going to keep at it. I know things will get easier as we get to know each other, form routines, and settle into patterns. And it’s short term. I’m not going to have him for the next ten years, only for a matter of weeks or months. And he’s so cute! I have to admit that when I’m exhausted and then look at that adorable face and pet that soft fur, it does help me to feel better. But then I remember that I need to wash the dishes, and I’m just so tired. I’ve even been eating less the last couple of days because I’m just too tired to eat and digest, and to get up for more food.

I knew the first days and weeks would be the hardest. I’m hoping that he’s with me for long enough that I get to discover if things will get easier. Maybe they will, and I’ll learn that I really can manage having a dog. I hope. Because if not, then I’m going to have a hard time recovering from this, both physically (omg, I’m so exhausted) and emotionally, because I would need to give up on the hope of getting a dog, at least for a while. Only time will tell. I’m really hoping this works. But either way, at least I’m trying. And I feel good about that.


Feeling overwhelmed by All The Things

May 20, 2021

I have a bad habit of doing too much. The problem is that I want to do All The Things. Something looks interesting or exciting and I add it to my long list of things to do, which I know I’ll never complete. Then something looks extra interesting and I decide to do it now. Or I notice a thing from my ever-growing list and think, I should really do that now. It seems like a good idea in the moment. But then…. Yeah.

I keep adding new things without taking anything away, and you know what happens? Predictably, I get completely overwhelmed. Of course. It’s so obvious right now, but when I’m in the moment, I don’t realize it’s happening. This time, it got to the point where I realized I didn’t feel like I had time in the middle of the day to read a book or enjoy a spontaneous phone call with a friend. I’m disabled and unable to work full time, but I’m trying to work or be “productive” during as many hours as I can. And sometimes that’s too many hours for my own good. Plus, even my current level is too much, but starting next week I’ll be adding a new, big thing. (It’s so exciting! I’ll tell you all about it after I start.) So last week I decided that enough was enough, and I pulled out a pen and paper and wrote down everything I’ve been doing.

It’s not like I didn’t already know what’s been filling my time, but I need to see it all listed out. I went through the last few weeks and the next few weeks in my calendar. I went through my weekly to-do list. I wrote down the obvious things like paid work and medical appointments. I included my volunteer work and time I’m spending on a book I’m writing. I added in social time with friends. I noted the less-obvious-but-completely-necessary things like cooking, cleaning, daily exercise, and not-daily-but-should-be-daily physical therapy. And then I looked at the list, shook my head, and said out loud, “No wonder I’m so stressed out and overwhelmed.”

The question was, what to do about it? Nothing in that list on its own was burdensome, but it added up to too much. We all have limits on our time and energy. We have limits from our health, jobs, families, and the number of hours in a day, among other things. For me, it’s mainly my health that limits me. I needed to get within my limits.

Everything on my list is important to me, but something’s gotta give. I eventually decided that I care enough about it all that I won’t remove anything, but I will reduce. That volunteer work is too much. So I talked to the other volunteers and one of them is happy to have me hand over several projects to them. That not only reduces the time I’ll spend overall, but also my stress levels and overwhelm, since I’ll have less responsibility there. (I’ll still be volunteering there, but on a lot fewer projects.) Instead of working on my book every week, I’m going to work on it every other week. I hate to cut back on paid work, especially since I have so little of it, but I have to prioritize health appointments and exercise, home stuff (like cooking and laundry), and social time with friends. To make room for those, I’ll be cutting back a little bit on paid work.

I want to do more more more. Always. But my brain is writing checks that my body can’t cash, and that’s no way to live. This past week I’ve been making an effort to take more breaks. I read a little more and worked a little less. That means that some things are getting done more slowly than I’d like. I had to order a supplement that was running low. I also wanted to add a new B vitamin when I placed the order. The week before I had researched several B vitamins online and then called a few companies to ask about their vitamins’ ingredients, and they either said the items contain gluten and/or corn, or they couldn’t tell me. It was stressing me out, and taking way too much time. I was running low on the necessary supplement. So you know what I did? I ordered that supplement and decided the B vitamin has waited this long and it’s ok if it waits a bit longer. Was I happy about it? No. But did I have less stress and a little more time to relax? Yes. And that makes me happier now that it’s done.

I am making a huge effort to not fill every minute. If I have half an hour free before a Zoom call I could try to catch up on email, but usually I just feel overwhelmed and end up scrolling Facebook, which doesn’t help at all. Instead, I am now trying to use that half hour to take a walk, call or text a friend, read a book, or pick up my knitting. Or I check in with my body and realize I’m tired and just need to rest. This is so much better than continuing to do things and not realizing until it’s too late that I overdid it.

The key now will be to keep it up, and to stop trying to squeeze so much stuff into my non-rest time. Just because I am not resting at this minute does not mean I have to “do something.” Ok, maybe at this moment I’m busy typing out a blog post. But you know what I mean. I’ve felt bad about writing on here so much less often, but I knew it was what needed to happen. Then I felt inspired to write on this topic, because it’s one that I’m pretty sure many of you can relate to and I knew I had something to say, and here we are. I had the time and I’m not feeling rushed.

I now have exactly 2.5 hours before I need to do a particular thing later. I have been making a big effort to have fewer items on my to-do list each day, and today I managed it. In those 2.5 hours I don’t have to do anything except take a walk and eat dinner. It would be nice if I could do a few physical therapy exercises, too, but it’s a gorgeous day outside and I might try to sit outside and read a book for a bit. That’s it. Sure, I did lots of things this morning. That happens. I dealt with some paperwork for a medical appointment. I finished filling out a 28 page form for my moderate-income housing and pulled together the accompanying 35 documents (seriously, WTF?!?), which I need to do each year. I took a walk. I spoke to my mom (while I walked – bonus for multitasking!) I ate lunch. I answered some emails and did a little client work and a little volunteer work (just a few minutes of each, but still.) I got advice from a friend. And now I am typing this. Seriously, that is already such a full day! And I feel the need to do more than that?!? That really has to change.

This has been a problem for me for many years. I do too much, cut back, feel like things are going better, add in some new things that strike my interest, and get overwhelmed again. I don’t believe I’ve broken the cycle completely, but if I can be in the “doing better” stage for a little while, I’ll be happy. And for now, that will be enough.

So tell me in the comments, do you struggle with this too? How do you handle it? How do you cut back when you want to do All The Things? I’d love any tips you can share!


Struggling with enough

January 22, 2021

This is far from a new topic, for me or for anyone with disabling chronic illnesses. Still, after so many years, I would like to say that I have finally figured out how to do less. I would like to say that, but I would be lying. But hey, at least I’m making progress, and that’s the important part, right?

I feel like a very productive, active, adventurous, exciting person trapped in a body that can’t do all of those things that I want to do. Granted, even folks without chronic illnesses often can’t do all of the things that they want to do. Just because you don’t have a disabling chronic illness doesn’t mean you have the time, money, or capacity to everything you want to do. Still, being disabled makes certain things impossible.

Let’s ignore for a minute the bigger things that I want to do but can’t: skydiving, backpacking around the world, eating new foods in different countries, going on road trips, reading all of the books that interest me (ok, this would be impossible no matter how healthy I was), exercising regularly and getting strong, owning a dog. Let’s focus on the simple day-to-day tasks like cooking meals, doing laundry, writing, knitting, and working on personal projects. Even with only these, I get overwhelmed.

Every day I write out what I want to do, and every day the list is too long. I can never complete it. I have been making a huge effort to cut that list down and so far it seems to be working. Many times there are only 3 or 5 incomplete tasks instead of the 12 or more that remained several weeks ago. But that’s still too much. I need to be able to finish everything and have time to relax without feeling like I should be doing something more. The problem is simply that I want to do it all! I look at the list and think, that’s too much, I should remove something. But there’s nothing on there that isn’t entirely necessary and that I want to remove, so I keep it all. Then I don’t finish it and I feel stressed out. If I could just make myself attempt less, I would get the same amount down, but probably with less stress, right?

I recently wrote my first book and I want to write another one. I want to help friends with their projects. I want to clean out my closets. I want to spend more time on my volunteer work without feeling rushed or overwhelmed every time. I want to go on more dates (via Zoom these days). I want to have more social time with friends (also via Zoom these days). I want to spend more time reading. I want to do so many things, but there are only so many hours in a day, and of those, there are only a certain number of hours that I’m able to do things.

On a good day I might be able to do things from 10am-5:30pm. That’s a long time. But somewhere in there I need to get dressed. I might need to shower. Meals need to be cooked, dishes need to be washed, laundry needs to be done, cleaning needs to happen. I need to take walks and do my physical therapy. I need to eat. There’s a lot of rest time built into those hours, too; I definitely can’t be engaged the entire time. Some of that time can be used for active activities but some of it must be sitting and working at my computer on a less physical project. At various times I will be answering emails and text messages, too. What most people do in 16 hours must get squashed into those 7.5 hours, and that’s on a good day. On a less good day I have fewer hours, and on a bad day I hardly have any hours at all. Plus, each thing simply takes longer than it used to. Cooking a meal that used to take me 45 minutes now takes me an hour and a half. Getting dressed takes longer. Answering each email takes longer. Between my brain working more slowly and my body’s decreased abilities, many things have slowed down. That means that not only do I have fewer hours, but I can do less in those hours. But I’m guessing this is familiar to you.

The thing is, I still want to do so much! My ambitions and desires are still there, even if my abilities have diminished. I look at my list of goals for the year and it feels so doable, but then I want to work on everything at once and that’s not doable at all. I look around my apartment and want to do ALL THE THINGS. I want to clean the shower, knit a few more rows of that blanket, put together that shelf thing for my shower that’s been sitting in the corner, watch that dvd sitting next to the tv…. A hobby here, a task there, a new project, an old favorite – somehow there’s simultaneously too much and not enough.

The only solution, of course, is to adjust my expectations. I know this, I know it very well, but I still struggle. My plan was to finish this piece with a list of the steps I would take to improve the situation. Or maybe I would discuss a new mindset. The truth, though, is that I have known the answer all along, and I bet you have, too: I can not do it all, and must stop trying to do it all. At least, for now. I must focus on what I can do, and try to be content with that. And who knows? Maybe I will still be able to do some of those other things down the road? After all, if you only write one page each day you will, at the end of a year, have written a book. So if I only write a few sentences, knit a few rows, clean one countertop, sooner or later, in theory, I should be able to do at least some of what I want to do. It’s not enough, but it will have to be enough for now.


Burned out and needing to reprioritize

November 16, 2020

I noticed it after the election, though in hindsight it started long before. I tried to ignore it, but I should have known that was a mistake. Still, it gave me the wake-up call I’ve been needing.

For a while I was feeling better than I had in ages. The crisp fall air was delightful, and with the cooler air I had less inflammation. I enjoyed better sleep with the fresh autumn air coming through my open bedroom windows. I was taking 2 walks every day, and one of them was longer than my previous once-a-day walks had been. I was doing pretty well, and thought it would continue at least through the fall and winter.

Then on that beautiful Saturday, we got the election results. It was like I had been holding my breath for months, and I could finally exhale. What a relief! I was having a socially distanced visit with a friend, our first time seeing each other since this had all begun. We had met up in a suburb between where we each live, and had taken a walk. We got the news after the walk, as we stood across the street from each other, chatting. First there was stunned disbelief, then jumping up and down (her), texting everyone I could think of (me) and dancing in the street, literally (both of us.) I was excited all day long.

But here’s the thing about adrenal fatigue: any type of stress on the body can’t be handled. Bad stress causes problems, but good stress also causes problems. I explain it like this: winning the lottery would probably have the same physical impact as the death of a loved one.

So, after many months of the pandemic, a lot of isolation (I live alone and have no one I can be in a bubble with, so I haven’t had any non-medical human contact, even a hug, in 8 months), fear over the election, and then election-related celebration, my body couldn’t take any more. The good thing is that I didn’t have the kind of fatigue “crash” that I have had in the past. Maybe the medication is helping or maybe it was something else, but I’m grateful for that. Still, I felt it, but I pushed myself anyway to keep doing things. I did stuff around my home. I brought my car in for work. Each day, I felt it coming on more and more. Then on Wednesday I had a sore throat and a slight cough. Uh oh.

I’ll interrupt myself here to say that I know fatigue, sore throat, and cough are Covid-19 symptoms, but I was 99.9% sure it wasn’t Covid-19. These are the exact symptoms I get whenever I have adrenal fatigue issues. The cough wasn’t regular – it was one cough every hour or two, a small one, and it had nothing to do with chest congestion. The sore throat has more to do, I think, with my thyroid getting inflamed. So while Covid crossed my mind, it was hours after I’d already assumed this was my usual adrenal stuff. These are the warning signs, the “I better rest NOW or else I’ll get really sick” signs. That’s what I was paying attention to.

So by Thursday I knew I had to rest, and I did. I felt sort of gross and forced myself to shower, which took far more energy than I’d have liked. Aside from that, I rested all day. I ate leftovers. I watched lots of YouTube knitting videos. I crocheted and knit, read a book, watched tv, barely left the couch. It was just what I needed.

On Friday I was still a bit tired, so I spent another day watching YouTube videos, this time about decluttering (something I have been working on.) I felt inspired, so I put away a few things, and made notes about other things I would do when I had more energy. That little bit of activity felt good, so I figured I would be ok the next day. Usually I only need to rest for a couple of days if I listen to the warning signs. (If I ignore the warning signs, I end up sick for about a week and a half, so it’s worth paying attention.)

But then Saturday rolled around. I was still a bit fatigued. No problem, I could put off the world for another day. I watched fewer videos, but still rested. I thought about taking a walk. After several days of rain the sun was out, but the idea of expending that much energy was too much, so I stayed in. Watching videos and reading a book felt like such a luxurious treat! I cleaned up around my apartment a bit, finally clearing the crap off my coffee table for the first time in ages and putting away the clutter that had accumulated in a corner of my living room. This felt good.

Then it was Sunday, and I knew I was ok and should go back to “normal.” The thing is, I didn’t want to do normal. Normal for me felt like a job. And for the first time, I realized that normal had become a job! I was spending so much time on volunteer work and some small bits of paid work, and feeling the rest of the time like I needed to check off items on my personal to-do list, that I wasn’t taking time to relax. Watching a knitting video felt like a luxury I had to squeeze in, and spending time on that instead of on something that was supposedly “productive” was stressful. WTF? I’m disabled. I’m unable to work. So what am I doing? I’m pushing myself to work as much as possible anyway. Hmm. Not good.

Granted, I’m not “working” that many hours. I don’t have many “good” hours in a day, and I have to spend a lot of time cooking, cleaning, exercising, doing physical therapy, etc. Still, I am trying to do too much with my remaining hours. That’s why I have multiple posts I have been wanting to write for this blog for weeks, but haven’t been able to find the time to write any of them. I am writing this now only because I haven’t quite returned to my “normal” routine yet. Even so, my list for today has way too many items on it: a video call with my mom, a video call with someone who wants to pay me for some work that I don’t have time for but don’t want to turn down, taking care of some financial stuff, working on a book that I want to write, doing laundry, decluttering around the house a bit, watering the plants, writing this post, taking a walk, doing my physical therapy… that’s already way more than I have the time or energy for. Plus, I should really shower and leave time and energy for meals. I am trying to do too much, and it’s leaving me burned out.

Taking four days away from the world has done me so much good. It gave me the physical rest that I have so badly needed. It gave me emotional rest. But it also gave me insight. What I am doing is not working, and something has to change. I have always had a lot of drive. When I was in graduate school, working towards a PhD, at one point I worked as a teaching assistant and also the manager of my apartment building, while also volunteering as vice chair for the university’s Americans with Disabilities compliance board. Sure, I was young and still had energy, but YIKES! That was a lot! I’m not good at doing things part way.

On top of that, there’s the problem that while my body doesn’t function the way I want it to, my brain does, and my brain wants to do lots of things. I have a lot of interests, and I keep adding more and more, but not taking things away. During the pandemic I have added one new hobby, one new volunteer job, and one new paid job (the paid job is short-term and very little time, but still takes mental energy.) The thing is, I didn’t remove any of my old activities. Sure, I am no longer driving to doctors or doing any in-person socializing. I am not dating or going to family dinners. But while those things took up time, they also gave my life balance. Now I am lacking that balance. I am all work and little play, and that’s not sustainable.

I knew this before. I’ve been aware of it for at least a month or two, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I didn’t want to give anything up, so I kept going. I was managing ok, after all, so that meant I could continue, right? Obviously not. Because typically after this kind of fatigue, I take a few days to rest and then jump right back into things. I never feel this kind of mental and emotional resistance. Things couldn’t be more clear: it’s time to reprioritize. I am not sure what that will look like, but I know it needs to happen.

This is not the first time this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I know this is something that many of us struggle with. So as I take some time to figure out how to better balance my life, I hope that you will do the same. It’s so much better to reprioritize before we get burned out, after all. But since it’s too late for that this time, I’m going to listen to my body and do it now.


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