When I started writing this in mid January, the papers were still publishing stuff about resolutions. Like this one from the Guardian on “habit stacking” and one from the Washington Post on resolutions in a pandemic, and the need to be kind to yourself and set small goals. These both argue that the big resolution is a recipe for failure, both in general and also in specific times of great stress. You know, like pandemics.
So, this makes them more applicable than normal to the spoonie. But still not entirely. I was looking at that one about habit stacking, and I believe I have already done that. I needed to make some new habits to cope with being sick, and I have succeeded in managing changes to keep myself reasonably clean. And I did it with the habit stacking method: add just one small thing to a routine.
Action: She advises tying the new habit into an established routine that won’t change – such as meditating in the morning (new habit) before you brush your teeth (old habit).
“If you set up a habit based on something that may change – such as exercising in the middle of the day, then when you go back to the office, you may not be able to keep up that change. Best keep it small and tie the habit into something that won’t change, like getting up in the morning.”(Dr Breanna Wright, a behavioural change expert from Monash University, via that Guardian article.)
It works well as a concept, but there are limits to the amount you can stack. And I think I’ve hit mine for the morning routine. This is how it goes:
- Wake up. Check time to see if I should try for more sleep, or start getting up.
- Contemplate dreams and emotions, maybe do a couple of minutes of emotional experience & de-escalation exercises that my counsellor taught me.
- Stretch. Consider if I feel well enough for some strength exercises. Do from zero to 4 rounds of different types, depending how I feel.
- Bathroom. Check feet for fungus (common in the immune compromised); check eyes for blood (my own amyloid issue, a daily reminder that I’m not actually dying after a very serious scare); check peak flow (asthma). Use creams, eyedrops, inhalers or not as required.
- Wash face, and moisturise.
- Comb hair if it’s got long enough to need it.
- Put on day lounge PJs or presentable loungewear, depending on plans. (Plans may very well fall through, but at least I’ll be prepared with an unstained T-shirt and pants with no holes. I won’t have to get changed to go out. SPOONIE LIFE HACK!)
- Sit on edge of bed, maybe do another strength exercise or two if I can and if I haven’t already.
- Take daily meds.
- Maybe tidy a thing. I’m trying to add this one in. It’s going kind of so-so.
- Leave bedroom!
- Feed cats and start coffee, unless the Bloke has already done this. Maybe do another strength exercise or stretch if I haven’t already. Alternatively, take two minutes to tidy kitchen and/or start dinner prep – get out pans, veg, chopping board etc. Alternatively again, slump exhaustedly against the kitchen counter while the water boils or coffee reheats.
- Crash on couch with coffee. Make some journal notes.
- Sip coffee and start a game. I am SO VERY DONE now. I am not leaving this couch unless the house catches fire. If the Bloke speaks to me, it’s maybe 65% odds that I can actually still use words to reply.
- After an hour’s rest minimum, get up and get breakfast. Once the second mug of coffee is down, consider if I need panadol.
The advice is to hang your new habits onto old ones, and really, my getting up in the morning routine is pretty full. Some of these things already lapse some of the time, because I have no energy. I’ve been vaguely contemplating growing my hair back (reclaim something I lost to this illness!), but would I have the energy to brush it often enough? So maybe I can’t add another thing and this is full to capacity. But the method works: even if I miss a thing, at least I’m aware of it. They’re all in the automatic memory bank, so I don’t need checklists and reminders.
This reminds me of another quick SPOONIE LIFE HACK!: alternative locations. If I skip the moisturiser and eyedrops, I have some in a tray next to my couch nest. And I’ve already noted that some exercise can happen at different times – before getting up, before leaving the bedroom, while the kettle boils. Weights live in the bedroom, and I don’t keep spares of those, but I have alternative options for things to do.
Since I’m “retired hurt”, I don’t have a work routine to hang things on. It’s more like biological routines – bathroom breaks, meals, sleep. The day from 10:30am to 4pm can be vaguely decent, or filled with exhaustion, headaches, PEM symptoms, and sheer donwannas – which may or may not be my brain rationalising feeling too exhausted to stand up into a preference rather than a necessity. Nope nope nope not moving. I make sure to space out my commitments and appointments to give me a rest day beforehand so the odds of a good day are better, but there’s still no guarantee. I’ve tried hanging habits on these – like, “whenever I go to the bathroom, I will also do X thing” – but it just doesn’t work. My energy levels are so unreliable.
The evening is more reliable, and I have a routine there that includes enough time to recover from the effort of it before trying to get to sleep. I won’t go into the detail of that; I’ve bored you quite enough with the morning. These things are not interesting. Sorry.
Anyway, January was going reasonably well for a bit. I bought some storage containers and started reorganising my yarn stash. I was especially hoping to get stuff out of the dreaded pile at the end of the couch. But then I managed to hurt myself, cunningly tearing a calf muscle by dint of standing up funny or twisted or something. So there went those plans. I’ve spent the last week on crutches and now I have to put my physiotherapy exercises somewhere into the mix.
SPOONIE ADVICE: do not injure your leg. I think I gave myself PEM from all the extra movement required. There’s using different muscles, having pain and avoiding pain, and just actually moving more than usual because of the injury. You’d think it would be less, but if you have to hold a crutch in one arm, you have to go back and forth to get a plate, and then a glass or mug instead of only one trip to the kitchen and back. The Bloke has been very helpful, but he’s not here 24/7 and for all his Igor impressions, he is not my servant.