I haven’t felt like blogging much lately. Or rather, I haven’t felt the need to blog. What started out as me not writing often due to fatigue seems to have blossomed into another phase of my life where I feel able to just get on with things and take care of myself without needing to talk about my mental health so much.
I spent the first week in December filling out an activity and fatigue diary, as recommended by my book on pacing and grading. It’s basically a record of every activity you do (including resting) and for how long, together with fatigue scores from 0 to 10. At the end of the week, you highlight low fatigue scores in yellow, high scores in blue, low/medium/high-energy activities in green/orange/red, and pleasurable ones in pink. This is supposed to help you spot certain patterns that can worsen fatigue or keep it going: for example, taking on too much when you feel all right then crashing (‘boom and bust’), or using up all your energy on things you ‘should’ do and not taking any time for activities you enjoy – which can actually improve energy levels, particularly if your fatigue is linked to a mental health problem.
To my surprise, my diary didn’t show either of those patterns. What it did show was:
- All my pleasurable activities were also high-energy ones (this caused some conflicts with the highlighting pen). Granted, it’s a busy time of year for choir, but it shouldn’t be my only way of enjoying myself.
- Checking Twitter, Facebook and my RSS reader on my phone drained an awful lot of time and (presumably) energy.
- The week I chose to fill out the diary turned out to be an exceptionally bad one for fatigue.
They may seem like small things, and at first I felt disheartened that I didn’t have much to work with, but I think they’re important. You can probably guess my response to the first two items. I’ve started rereading the Harry Potter books for fun relaxation and I’m spending less time cycling from app to app on my phone. I’m actually planning a bit of a cull for the New Year where I will try to keep only people I connect with in a meaningful way and non-personal blogs/accounts I find genuinely helpful. Of course, that’s only half the battle and won’t stop me from constantly checking Twitter et al or adding 10,000 new people to follow, but I’m hoping I can stay out of the habit and find more meaningful ways to spend my time.
As for having a particularly bad week, I don’t think this was coincidence. There’s nothing like constantly focusing on your symptoms to make you feel rubbish, or keeping an exact record of your activities (if you’re me) to make you feel you’re not using your time productively enough. What’s really surprised me, though, is that when I stopped keeping the diary I didn’t just return to pre-diary levels of fatigue – my fatigue went away almost completely. Until I came down with a cold after Christmas, I’ve been absolutely fine for weeks, and I don’t feel excessively tired now for someone who is slightly ill. Of course, there are many possible reasons for this – it could be a result of the little changes I’ve made, or my brain chemistry finally getting back to ‘normal’ after the let’s-reduce-the-mirtazapine experiment, but it’s reminded me once again that there is a balance. Ignoring my symptoms and feelings and ploughing on regardless is bad, but so is focusing on my symptoms too much, especially if that means living in the moment to the extent of never taking a step back and engaging my ‘rational’ mind. Sometimes, the things you need to do for recovery are counter-intuitive, like steering into the skid on an icy road, and you’re not going to find them by listening only to what your body and mind tell you you need.
Over the past couple of weeks, an idea has been forming in my head. I’d like to make a New Year’s resolution for 2012. It’s been a while since I did this, but what I like to do and what has worked well in the past is to have a central focus that I can keep returning to, no matter how many times I wobble off course, throughout the year. For example, eight years ago, when I was severely depressed and finding it almost impossible to function in the ‘real’ world, I decided the time had come to make my mental health top priority and that was what guided my often difficult decisions in 2004.
So for 2012, my resolution will be:
FOCUS ON SELF-CARE
For too long I’ve been using my mental health problems and my career as twin excuses to neglect my own self-care. I may have good reasons (depression/childhood trauma) for self-destructing, and I may have good reasons (financial ones) for taking on too much work, but I can’t keep cycling between the two like this. It’s exhausting and only makes things worse in the long run. I need to focus on what works, not on what keeps me stuck or makes me relapse.
I have some more specific goals within that overall aim. I’d like to get more exercise, and in particular find nice places to go for daily walks. I’d like to eat more healthily and get back into the habit of a weekly supermarket shop and planning meals. I’d like to decide what to do about therapy (actually, I wouldn’t because thinking about it bloody terrifies me. Let’s rephrase that: I need to decide what to do about therapy). But the important thing is that I keep coming back to my focus. I am not always good at balance, and this is something that can help centre me.