Where I’ve Been – Where I’m Going

For years and years now, I’ve suffered from S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder). Since discovering it had both a name and a diagnosis, I’m keenly aware of its possibility beginning in late September. By preparing for that possibility, I’ve been able to train my mind that it may cause some low swings in mood but is combatable with extra sun, a mild depressant and just kindness and tolerance towards myself when (if) it happens.

I’ve also struggled with depression over the years, which has a large effect on my mood and can send me into a very “F it all” place if it gets bad enough. Again, having suffered from those attacks, I’m usually aware of their onset and quickly reach out to loved ones to let them know I’m headed there, more to forewarn them that I may disappear from my activity in their lives than for any other reason,

Well, this year – yesterday, to be exact – I’ve learned that depression can manifest itself in physical symptoms. For several months now, I’ve been suffering from serious fatigue and exhaustion, sleep patterns that are worse than what is “normal” for me ( which aren’t good patterns) and a loss of appetite. I’ve been tired mentally as well. I’ve been chalking it up to this crappy aging process and just accepting of it being what it is without much thought. When you’re overweight and diabetic, you tend to look at loss of appetite as a positive, right???!!! Less sugar plus less calories equals lower blood sugar levels and burning fat for energy, right???!!!

Well, apparently, all of these symptoms are also classified as being physically depressed. I didn’t even know there WAS such a thing! I am always keenly aware of my mental and emotional changes, and honestly, was actually pleased that, with the crappy year we’ve all been going through, I’ve remained in positive spirits except for the frustration of being always fatigued and yet, not able to sleep well enough to erase the fatigue. Now, according to my doctor and some additional research on the Internet (what did we do before we had access to information on anything available at our fingertips?), these physical symptoms all point to depression.

On one hand, that finding eases my concerns a bit – knowing that I’m suffering through something and it’s not just aging that’s causing it. On the other hand, I am uncomfortable with the thought that I’m apparently depressed nonetheless. It is apparently more common in people in my age bracket, and women more than men, so it helps to know I’m not alone in the experience. Exacerbators to the onset are both less sunlight and the fact that, due to wearing masks, our bodies take in less oxygen whenever we are forced to don one.

But while I’m accepting of all of these facts, I’m still working through physical therapy for my shoulder, the last little bit of the problem with it seems impossible to conquer, and I have exercises to help that I just don’t have the energy to do. I’m finding myself having to really push myself to accomplish basic chores, and some of them get pushed down the priority list more than they should. When you start choosing what to wear based on what’s in the clean clothes basket because you haven’t found the energy to hang up or put the clothing away properly, when the stench of your trash finally forces you to tie up the bag and put it outside to be taken to the bin, when you let dirty dishes pile up in your sink for more than three days, when you can’t even read more than a few pages of a book because your eyelids are tired, well, that’s a problem!

So, where I’ve been is struggling – – and where I’m going is apparently going to be the same place I’ve been. I’ve done some ‘nesting’, not as much as usual, but some. I’m now forcing myself to eat twice a day, no matter how little, simply because some of my medications need food in my stomach in order to work properly. I’m deriving a plan of setting a small amount of chores on my to-do list every day and accomplishing them, no matter how tired I am. I’m pretty much trying to train my body and mind into adapting a survival code and giving myself permission to accept that I’m not going to do all of the things I want to do but adamantly going to damned well do all of the things I need to do. And the biggest one for me is that I’m going to learn to be okay with the fact that what I do may not be enough in other people’s eyes and they can think poorly about me all they like!

My focus is going to be taking care of myself as best as I am able, and being there for others as I can. Putting myself #1 in my life is going to be a challenge, and I know I’ll stumble along the way, but I’m beyond the ability right now to have the energy to worry about anyone who thinks I’m being greedy.

So, readers, forgive me if my blog posts continue to be sporadic.

It is what it is!

Spoon Theory

Yesterday (May 21st) was Global Awareness Day to facilitate awareness for people who are both physically challenged as well as mentally challenged. I was fortunate enough to have a sweet online friend who hosted a charity event for an association dealing with chronic illnesses. While not life-threatening, I suffer from several chronic illnesses. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, most are not visible to the naked eye. I say fortunately because I don’t appear any different on the outside, so I don’t get bullied or stared at or made fun of. I say unfortunately because I can be suffering and no one knows it unless I choose to share it. And, to be honest, it’s difficult to share when people have no concept of how you are feeling, so the best you can hope for is some momentary sympathy. During that fund-raising event, the host shared some of her chronic disease issues, all of which are invisible to the naked eye (although, at one time, she was wheelchair bound). I mentioned that people who don’t suffer from chronic illnesses don’t understand how those illnesses affect them in other ways physically, as well as mentally. One of the common physical effects is fatigue – both physical and mental. The host also mentioned using the ‘spoon theory’ for dealing with fatigue and shared its basic facts. I also did a search for it later and read a more in-depth article on the what, the why and the how of the theory. After reading the article, I decided that I needed to adopt this theory for my own use.

This theory is good for anyone who suffers from fatigue, regardless of the reason. In a nutshell, each spoon equals one unit of energy. You have to think about everything you do daily – shower, get dressed, work, make meals, etc. and allot how many units of energy you spend on these daily routines. The suggestion is that you give yourself 10 spoons each day. Whatever you have left after those daily routines are for other things you need to do – like cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. You do those things until your allotment of spoons is spent, and then you’re done doing for the day!

Because I suffer from a sleeping disorder of some kind, I’ve decided to adapt my spoon allotment to one spoon for each hour of quality sleep I get the night before. This forces me to be more flexible in my “to-do” list, but it also allows me to get more done when I’ve slept well! For example, I slept really well last night (hey, sometimes it happens!) so I can plan to do more today! Because I’m well-rested, writing and posting this blog article will probably take me less than 2 spoons. I’m planning a load of laundry, which, because I have to go up and down the stairs three times to complete the wash and dry before putting it all away, will easily use up 4 spoons. I have a few dishes to wash up (1 spoon), some general straightening up to do in my kitchen, living room and bedroom (2 spoons). That’s already 9 spoons! I, based on my sleep last night, am giving myself 2 or 3 more for today. I have some little projects I may tackle, a billing dispute to handle by email and then, I may read a little.

I’ve mentioned on and off here that I have a shoulder problem that has been ongoing for several weeks. Basically, I have soft-tissue and ulnar nerve inflammation, which means I can’t raise or reach with my right hand/arm without causing pain. It is getting better, but too slowly for my liking. The inability to do so many things without pain is also mentally fatiguing… I get easily frustrated, which pushes me towards depression, and I fight every day to stay away from sinking there. The spoon theory, in essence, mentally eases that frustration, because I realize I can’t do all of the things I want to be done even if I didn’t have that issue!

I’m sharing all of this because maybe one (or more) of my readers suffer from fatigue and are struggling with it. I’m also going to practice “saving up” spoons for time when I know the next day holds something that will require extra energy. I’m also giving myself permission to take naps without feeling guilty because I can understand those naps give me more spoons to spend when I wake up!

Again, I hope that some of you out there can benefit from this, or know other people to share the theory with. Give it a try! After all, what have you got to lose?