Saturday, December 14, 2013

Learning To Pause Helps Me Cope With MS Symptoms

In an effort to live a full, productive and enjoyable life, I’m finding that I need to learn to read my body’s signals and rest.  Resting is an activity I’m learning.  You’d think it would be easy.  Just stop what you’re doing and watch TV, sleep or whatever.  If only it were that simple.
I was moving slow this week with low, low energy.  For the past few days everything has been taking an inordinate amount of effort.  Just showering, grooming, dressing and eating breakfast today were cause to lie down for an hour to recharge.   I thought I would go to work a couple hours later than usual in order to budget my energy.  I took a short walk – just two blocks! – to get a latte, and while waiting I realized my body was tingly numb from the waist down.  Okay, I get the message.  I need more than a couple hours extra rest this time. 
I called my boss, told him I’d be taking the day off and explained my Pause Approach.  My intent is to take breaks in my schedule intermittently with the hope that I won’t reach a point of having a full exacerbation leading to a week or more off from work.  Oh, and possibly temporary or permanent damage to my health and mobility.  Funny how my focus is on work first!  Perhaps that’s why I struggle with learning to pause…
I’m learning the importance of sharing my experience with people that care about me or rely on me.  I know sharing a health diagnosis with employers isn’t always the right path for everyone.  For me though, it’s been an opportunity for support.  My coworkers and bosses have been highly supportive of my efforts to attend to my health.  Whether it’s because they care about me or just want me back at work at 100% quickly really doesn’t matter to me.  I do suspect it’s the former though.
My friends and work colleagues express worry when I don’t go to work.  They’ve said they know I must not be doing well if I miss work.  I’ve found their worry adds a layer of stress for me.  I feel pressure to assure them I’m okay and to get better soon so they’ll stop worrying about me.  So I’m proposing to them that I will proactively let them know whether I’m just doing what’s best for my health as normal maintenance or whether I’m experiencing something new and noteworthy.
Today’s efforts to practice and maximize Pause Approach effectiveness led me to create the following guidelines for myself:
  1. Look into yourself.  What do you need most right now?  The answer will be different from moment to moment.  Check in frequently.
  2. Rally the troops on standby.  Let people know who care that you’re managing your health and this is a normal part of your life.  Promise to let them know if there becomes cause for worry or a need for assistance.
  3. Reduce input.  Focus on one thing at a time.  Limit technology as it can make your eyes tired and tax your brain. 
  4. Wear comfortable clothes, but still get dressed and groomed if possible.  You’re not sick; you’re maintaining your health!
  5. Move your body.  Stretch, do a single yoga sun salutation if possible.  A slow sun salutation can stretch most muscles in the body, raise your heart rate and lift your spirit.  It takes energy, but the physical and emotional reward is tremendous.  If you don’t feel up to much movement, just move from the bed to the sofa or a chair.  Any movement helps!
  6. Don’t move your body.  Lay down.  Close your eyes.  Meditate.  Make yourself so comfortable that there is nothing else you’d rather be doing in this moment.
  7. Nap only if necessary.  Maintaining a regular sleep cycle is important, and napping can disrupt nighttime sleep for days to come. 
  8. Open the drapes or blinds.  Let in the daylight.  Rest somewhere other than bed if possible.
  9. Stick to regular routines for meals and snacking if possible. 
  10. Do something productive.  Journal, learn something new, research a topic, declutter, organize, write a thank you note, or make a healthy dish.  Limit it to the level of your energy, and don’t push too hard.  Intersperse these activities with doing absolutely nothing.
  11. Be responsible and responsive.  Know your work and social commitments so you may cancel or postpone them proactively.  Or go in to work for an hour or so and do the absolute minimum that can’t be postponed or canceled.  Leaving colleagues and friends scrambling to cover for your commitments will understandably cause frustration and resentment on their part, guilt on yours, and more tension in your life.
  12. Seize opportunities to pause.  An unscheduled hour or two during your work day may be ideal for taking some personal time off from work.  This may help reduce the instances of needing to take a full day off from work and the impact to your colleagues.
  13. Congratulate yourself for having the strength and good sense to listen to your body’s signals and adapt your schedule to accommodate them!