I’m sure most of you are aware by now that I suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The extreme tiredness wrought by this illness has impacted all aspects of my life – I spend most of my time in bed, I had to quit my job, and my social life is lacking (to say the least). It’s about as awful as it sounds, but after a while I found myself developing handy coping mechanisms and energy conservation techniques that have allowed me maximum energy to focus on the things that are important to me and lead a productive life.
1. The ‘Exhausted’ Routine
On days I’m exhausted from the second I wake up, but still have to face the world, my ‘exhausted’ routine is a life saver. Having a specific routine for these days minimises the need to think too much about things or make decisions that use up the little energy I have.
I have an easy breakfast, I wear my ‘uniform’ – something that makes me feel good but is still comfortable – and I do the most basic hair and make up I can. A minimal wardrobe concept will really help here.
I don’t try to clean or tidy until the important tasks of the day have been done. I will leave mess where it is if I have to, and tidy up when I get home or when I next have energy. The tiniest little shortcuts make all the difference and ensure you have maximum energy for what needs to be done.
Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise!
2. Convenience is Key
Make life easier for yourself: move everything you need throughout the day as close to you as possible. Not having to get up continuously for little essentials really helps conserve energy. I keep things like water, hair ties, moisturiser, lip balm, a candle, books, and medicine within arm’s reach. Usually I will get up for food because I like to have some movement in my day.
If you find yourself regularly getting up for certain things, just move them closer to you. That’s really all there is to it. You: 1. Chronic Fatigue: 0.
3. Don’t Schedule or Plan
… Too much. By all means, keep your goals in place, but if your energy is unreliable you need to learn how to be flexible. Having set plans that involve very specific schedules can work if you know yourself well and factor in things like rest times, but a “go with the flow” mindset is worth getting used to. I’m not always the most flexible so I personally found not planning too much the best approach, and to base everything on how I feel, but everyone is different! You might be a genius at scheduling and have no issue with this.
I usually plan week-to-week, and only plan further ahead for big events. When making plans I warn people from the beginning I might have to cancel or change plans at the last minute. You don’t have to go into detail about your health (don’t ever let yourself feel pressured to talk about the details – it’s completely your choice what you share); simply mention that your health hasn’t been so great lately, and that there’s a chance you may have to cancel. Easy and polite!
However it’s still your responsibility to know how to ration your energy! Don’t make plans with the idea that you can just bail out last minute. It’s very dishonest and rude! I got better at figuring out how much I could do per week as I went along. The key thing I’ve learned is not to be afraid of losing energy through plans! It’s easy to become anxious about energy loss and avoid doing things because of it, but in my opinion having a good time is always worth the days or weeks I might have to spend in bed in the aftermath.
4. Listen To Your Body!
This is the most important thing you can do. Learn to listen to your body and stop fighting it – it only wants what’s best for you. Your body sends you hints about what it wants, but a lot of us ignore it and do whatever we had “planned” instead. I know from experience that this isn’t wise – the amount of times I’ve disabled myself for a week or more by doing something I knew I shouldn’t is too many.
Listen, be gentle, experiment. Discover the limits of your body – how much exercise, if any, can you do before you exhaust yourself? How long can you spend out of the house (or out of bed) before the tiredness caused by today’s activity carries over into the next day? Do these numbers change based on how tired you already are that day? If you listen, you will be rewarded with more energy to spend on the things that are important to you.
5. Express those emotions
Chronic fatigue is horrible. It has bought a lot of misery to my life, I won’t deny it. But by committing myself to a positive attitude and environment I have been able to control the inevitable bouts of depression and hopelessness that I often face. I can have all the coping mechanisms in the world but I still get upset regularly, I get angry and frustrated, resentful and jealous… I’ve cried rather hysterically a fair few times, to my mother, to my doctor, and there have been times when I felt on the brink of giving up and not bothering to even try anymore. However, at the end of the day, I don’t want to give up. I still want to dream and hope and try.
So I try to keep a positive outlook. I complain when I need to, but I don’t go overboard (don’t trap yourself in the negativity, just let it out and let it go). I watch a lot of comedy television shows & movies (be careful of dramas, they are an energy drain), listen to uplifting songs, and make sure I have a few fun, light-hearted books to read in between the “serious” ones. A gentle yoga routine has been very helpful, too.
However, there’s also nothing wrong with struggling to find the positives either. If it gets too much, seeing a professional is a good first step to monitoring your mood and how you are coping. In fact, even if you are feeling good, a counsellor or psychologist is a great relationship and resource to have in your “coping repertoire”!