Bad nights are inevitable when you have certain illnesses, and ME/CFS is definitely one of them. It is crucial that I see these as just something that happens. Even if it IS a moral failing, there is no point in working under that assumption: it just interferes with regaining control. (This is a post in a series: first part here; second part here, third part here.)
The basics of recovery
Recovery is a fragile thing. The higher I go, the farther – and harder – I fall. But – I don’t have much choice: eventually I will have to gather the shreds up, do something positive, and get back on that darned rocking horse.
I don’t do anything HARD – once I’ve declared a recovery day, the most important part is getting my confidence back. I give myself a whole bunch of tiny successes, in the three areas of my life:
- what I want to do,
- what I need to do for myself,
- and what I need to do for others.
‘Need’ is defined here as things on my ‘should’ list.
I also need to plan for a better night: I am still tired, and I am still fragile.
Success helps recovery: TINY THINGS – and the 5-minute rule
It helps immeasurably to get a bunch of quick successes under my belt, to do something – anything – that I can call positive. Making these tiny in scope and short in duration means I can have a lot of them happen – as soon as I’m able – and they won’t be horribly taxing. They will prove to me I am doing something to regain control:
• Take care of live things first: Gizzy (my chinchilla), plants, and, in this Indian summer of sudden heat and no rain, watering the transplants and volunteers and plants on the edge – which will be the first to go if I don’t do something.
• Write something on the WIP – not text, but a quick jotting down of ideas for what’s next into the notes file for the current scene. Since writing keeps me sane, I need to fit a little bit of writing in.
• Call a friend – keep it short.
• Walk around yard – 4 times, not 6 (1 time yesterday)
• Pull a FEW weeds.
• Do a tiny amount of yoga stretching.
• Naps, naps, naps – extra rest somehow (okay, these may take more than 5 minutes, but GETTING to bed is a short decision)
• Do some small housekeeping thing: drain, put away dishes, wash tiny pile of stuff from picnic; fill ice cube tray.
• Figure out the most critical thing pending – find a way to do it: the new Verizon wireless bill.
• Mend fences: email a quick apology.
• Deal with something new: make decision about a poster I need to approve for someone else to finish her job.
I turn around and, by keeping to the 5-minute rule, I have accomplished an amazing array of things that needed doing.
A sense of recovery
I made no commitment to myself or anyone else that I would exercise forever, or take care of ALL the bills and paperwork, or finish the current scene. That would have been a very bad idea on a recovery day.
I don’t know how any of this would have worked without the tiny bit of extra energy – so I don’t know if it will work for other people – but I think the technique of committing 5 minutes or less to a task (stolen from Alan Lakein’s book How to get control of your time and your life) makes it possible for even a tired fogged brain to think ‘I CAN do this,’ and be right.
The key: no recriminations
The most useful technique:
• Take 5 minutes for guilt and recrimination and feeling stupid – and keep it to just 5 minutes.
Like most people of my generation, I was brought up with a work ethic, and deeply regret that I can’t get done the things I should be contributing to my family and the world.
‘Should’ is the danger word here: who I am comparing myself to is the problem. It is my younger self, my well self, and my engrained notion of what I would do in a perfect world. I have to keep from telling myself that if I just gritted my teeth and did what I’m ‘supposed’ to do, all of this CFS nonsense and all of my backlogs would become easy to deal with.
It isn’t true.
Even I, in recovery from a bad night, can see that flogging myself can’t possibly help, and takes energy away from doing other things that CAN help. The 5-minute guilt trip both allows for the regrets – and limits their power.
And now, having finished, I am going to put myself down for a nap – it’s literally the least I can do for myself.