Monday, November 25, 2013

How to be a Productivity Hedgehog

The other day I read an article entitled How to be a Productivity Unicorn. Just for kicks really, because there’s not much hope of me becoming a Productivity Unicorn any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, the advice in the article was sound, it just wasn’t aimed at people with health problems who need to count spoons and take naps a lot.

But, just because I’m not a Productivity Unicorn doesn’t mean I don’t get stuff done. I move pretty slowly, need to have periods of hibernation between productive times, and occasionally I get overwhelmed and have to stop what I’m doing to curl up in a ball for a while. I’m a Productivity Hedgehog.

Productivity Hedgehog - getting stuff done.
So here’s my guide on how to be a Productivity Hedgehog.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t let yourself off too easily either

I regularly don’t manage to finish all the tasks on my to-do list for the day, but I realised pretty quickly that beating myself up about this, or feeling guilty, would just leave me feeling defeated and unmotivated. If you don’t manage to get everything done, give yourself a break – with autoimmune disorders, your body is running on overdrive anyway, so you’re doing a lot even if you’re just sitting still. 

However, it can be very easy to slip into a pattern of not getting things done or putting things off. A few years ago, poet Glen Colquhoun came to speak to my writing group. One of the things he said that really stuck with me (highly paraphrased!) was that everyone will be on your case if you drop out of medical school, but no-one really cares if you drop out of writing. The only person who does care is you, and therefore you have to be your own cheerleader and motivator. When you’re living with chronic illness, it can be really easy to start “dropping out” of things, and people are likely not to call you on it because they’re worried about being insensitive. The only person who can truly keep you on track is you. 

For example, I try to write in the mornings. Some days I wake up and know that I’m in too much pain, too nauseated, or just generally not well enough to do it. On those days, I go back to bed, or do whatever it is I need to keep myself well, and forget about writing for that day. On the contrary, some days I wake up and feel uninspired or unmotivated. It would be easy for me to not write on those days either, and just blame it on my illness, but I know that what I really need to do is employ a bit of “bum-glue,” stick myself to my chair and write my way through whatever’s blocking me. As my old school principal used to say “the best way to get motivated about a task is to start doing it.” 

Learning the difference between “I really can’t do this right now, because I’m sick” and “I don’t feel like doing this, but I can if I push myself a bit” can be a huge step towards not only surviving chronic illness but thriving despite it.  

Stop multi-tasking

This might sound counter-intuitive, but I became much more productive when I stopped trying to multi-task. Trying to do too many things at once left me feeling stressed out, and ultimately meant I stopped trying to do anything. I started out simply by making a rule for myself that if the TV was on, the laptop was off and vice versa (full disclosure, I do have the TV on while I’m writing this but that’s just because I got bored with the film I was watching but couldn’t find the remote!) This simple change meant that I was more present in what I was doing, got tasks done in a shorter space of time meaning less energy expenditure, but also got more quality relaxation time in too. 

Add rest, relaxation and fun things to your to-do lists

If you’re someone who feels guilty about taking time for yourself, adding rest and fun things to your to-do lists can be a good way to get over that psychological hurdle – it’s on the list so you have to do it! This is also something that has helped me to build daily routines as, if you’re not working full-time, days can start to stretch out. It’s easy to end up pottering around for hours and not remembering until the end of the day that you’d meant to watch a certain TV programme, bake cookies, or whatever it is that’s a fun thing for you!  

Routines can sound like scary things that involve a lot of boring tasks and early wake up times, but building a routine around what you like doing, when you naturally wake up and go to bed, and what you actually have energy for, can have just as good an effect on your productivity and over-all well-being.

Do the simple tasks now

I try to make a point of not letting any small tasks end up on my to-do list. For example, dealing with pieces of mail that require a response, such as bills or surveys, straight after opening them, rather than putting them aside for later, means a much simpler and less-overwhelming to-do list. When I’m tired which, let’s face it, is pretty much all the time, it can be hard to feel motivated to do these kinds of things. But realistically, they usually take less than five minutes, and completing tasks, even small ones, feels pretty good.

Similarly, finding ways to cut down on miscellaneous daily tasks can also help save energy. For example, I eat home-made food nearly every day, but I don’t have the energy to cook every night. Every time I do cook, I make extra portions, so I have a supply of left overs. Not having to spend time in the kitchen every night leaves me more time and energy for other (hedgehog) tasks. 

Don’t think too much about tasks before you do them

A few weeks ago, I had several weeks where my diary was absolutely packed. I was going from appointment to appointment, and in between I had to fit in all the everyday stuff. In general, I start to feel a bit panicky if I don’t have at least one or two empty days for rest in my week, but this had gone beyond that into I didn’t even have any days where I had less than two things to do. The more I thought about it, the more stressed I felt, so eventually I stopped thinking about anything beyond the task I was doing, or was about to do, and got through the weeks that way.

Though it’s clich├ęd, “take things one step at a time” is good advice. Being present in what you’re doing, rather than stressing about what you have to do later, is considerably easier to say than to do but attempting to gently redirect your thoughts every time worries start creeping in is worth trying. I would have been shocked to hear myself say this a few years ago, when I was doing everything I could to get out of doing relaxation/meditation, but it really does get easier. 

Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune 

This post was cross-posted over at Systemically Connected

Monday, November 18, 2013

Changing Seasons and Blood Pressure

People often ask me whether my symptoms get better in Summer. I think this idea probably comes from the common belief that people with osteo-arthritis only get joint pain in the cold or when it rains. I'm not really sure if there's any truth to this for osteo-arthritis; it certainly isn't true for forms autoimmune arthritis, but still the common belief lives on. My answer to the question varies, depending on how well I know the person asking, and if I think they're really interested or just making conversation. The honest answer? Some things get better in summer, some things get worse, but overall I don't think my condition has ever been stable for long enough for me to say for sure whether it's the season or something else making a difference.

I'm sure many meteorologists will disagree with this statement, but in my opinion New Zealand only has two seasons. We go straight from winter into summer (then sometimes back again the next day.) In Wellington it's windy all year around, and it's not that uncommon for people to get hayfever all year not just in Summer. 

The worst times for me tend to be the points of season-change. I somehow manage to be surprised by the weather change every year, and find myself completely unprepared. In Summer balancing long sleeves for sun-protection against not getting over-heated, usually leaves me one kind of sick or another, and going into winter I just about always find myself in the middle of Raynaud's or asthma attacks at least once after going out without adequately warm clothing.

A few weeks ago, I "blood pressured" myself by forgetting that when it's hot I need to be a bit more careful about managing my low blood pressure and low electrolytes. I got straight out of bed, reached up to take the clothes peg holding my curtains together down... and woke up on the floor a bit later. It was stupid and totally avoidable, so after a chat to the lovely ambulance staff (yep, had to press the medical alarm) I stuck this up beside my bed: 

This is the first thing I see in the morning, and so far following it is working. I've decided the "official" name for my blood pressure issues is loop-de-loop blood pressure as the problems come from it dropping sharply when I stand up, then over-compensating into the high range after a few seconds, causing short-lived but blinding headaches. Following this routine and taking things slowly helps it to stay a bit more on the level. On bad days, I have to switch tap water for electrolyte water and add in some black coffee (which personally I can't stand!) but all in all the floor and I have managed to keep our distance from each other.

Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Drunk or sick?

New Zealand is a place with many contradictions. People are friendly and often willing to help out complete strangers - I've blogged many times about the kind, wonderful parts of our culture - but there are some awful parts too. Those of you in New Zealand will likely know what I'm referring to. Everyone has been chipping in their two cents about it. I've been thankful to find that most of the people I interact with in real life, and on social media have perspectives on this issue that I respect and understand.

But of course, that's not the case everywhere. Comments around the theme "Drunk girls get what they deserve" have been popping up, and it made me think of a situation from my own teenage years (don't worry - it's a happy story.)

I'd gone to a party. I wasn't drinking, because I'd just started on a medication for an ovarian cyst, and wasn't sure how it would affect me. I remember having a great time at the start of the night, but after that things get a bit blurry. When I asked people who didn't know the full story about it later, they remembered it as I was very drunk that night. But I hadn't had any alcohol. 

I didn't know it at the time, but I was actually having an allergic reaction to the medication. As the night went on, the reaction got worse and I got "drunker." 

I remember talking to a guy I didn't know, and that he kept asking me if I was okay and how much I'd had to drink. Then after a while he asked if I wanted to be left alone, to which I think I must have said yes.

I pieced together later, that he did leave me, but was concerned enough about the state I was in to go and find the girl who was throwing the party. She knew I hadn't been drinking, so figured out I needed help and called my parents. I don't remember anything beyond this point, but apparently I fell over, then screamed obscenities at several people. A friend carried me down the stairs, because I was too out of it to walk, and the girl left her own party to wait outside with me until my parents arrived. I spent the rest of the weekend in hospital having convulsions as the medication worked it's way out of my system.

The experience left me feeling incredibly lucky that I had good people around me who had looked after me, when I needed help. It makes me sad that this isn't a more common story though. 

Rape culture tells us that "drunk girls get what they deserve." Would I have deserved to be assaulted in this situation? Would anyone who took advantage have not been responsible, because I was out of it? I wasn't drunk, but most of the people there that night genuinely believed I was and, when my behaviour was described to me afterwards, I could certainly see why.

I don't like to think about it too much, but that night could have ended very differently for me. I could have been around people who were indifferent, or worse people who had malicious intentions. I might not have got the medical attention I needed, just as someone who was "just drunk" and had alcohol poisoning might not have got the help they needed.  

There have been a number of times where I've been mistaken for being drunk because of the effects of my illnesses. We've all heard stories of people collapsing with some kind of illness of injury, and people ignoring them because they think they're "just drunk." So what if they didn't ignore them, but assaulted them instead? Would we blame the victim in those instances? I think most people would agree that taking advantage of someone who is seriously ill is absolutely abhorrent, so how can you honestly believe any different for someone who is drunk if the effects can be so similar? 

So my point here really is, if you see someone in trouble then help them if you can, even if you think it's just alcohol induced. My guess is, most of the people who helped me have long forgotten about that night, but I'll be forever grateful to them anyway.

Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune