Spring is flourishing here in New Zealand. The days are warm, the skies are blue, the birds have plenty to say for themselves and our feijoa trees are full with red promises of the fruit to come.
Some days though, the weather likes to remind us that the season isn’t all sunshine and glamour. This afternoon we watched clouds of every shade of grey from donkey through to smudged charcoal, loom over the hills and spears of lightning slice through the sky.
Out of the cornucopia of symptoms my conditions deliver, crap body heat control puts in a frequent appearance. Although it’s muggy, the rain in the air dropped the temperatute by a degree or so – enough to make my bare feet think they’ve time-travelled back to the middle of winter.
All I needed was socks. Two socks were easy enough to find, but a matching pair – not a chance. When my feet are cold, all I want is to get warm, so if I have a sports sock on one foot and a hand-knit stripy sock on the other, I really don’t care what they look like.
As my feet warmed up, I remembered a blog post I wrote a few years ago. My laptop at the time was falling apart. Half the keys on the keyboard weren’t working if I typed faster than a one-finger plod, so anything I typed required a PhD in code-cracking.
During a Facebook conversation with a friend, after one particularly incomprehensible comment from me, she told me ‘It’s like washing socks. You put seven pairs in the machine and get two pairs and three singles out.’
So I wrote a blog post about socks and fatigue. I figured it’s worth updating and including on my new blog here.
Life with chronic health conditions/chronic pain is just like those socks. Each sock is like an uncalibrated burst of energy. I’ve never had seven complete pairs since my conditions started to kick off six years ago. But some days I might have four pairs and two singles, others I might have only two pairs, or only singles. I never know in advance how many socks a day will bring me.
Sometimes I start the day with enough socks to take a shower, make the breakfast and empty the dishwasher, before I need to sit down for an hour. And sometimes even getting out of bed and putting on real socks is enough to empty the drawer all in one go.
When I first wrote about this, I had had a good day. After the shower, breakfast and dishwasher routine, I’d still had socks left in the drawer for later. Later then was plastering a small hole in the bedroom wall, and driving to the hardware store five minutes away for a tin of paint. Later ended up including meeting my daughter and two small grandchildren for coffee.
None of that sounds demanding, but when you have chronic health conditions, fatigue is a major player, and even just talking to people, smiling and laughing, can make your socks unravel. After we’d finished our coffees and the little ones had shown us paintings from kindy and pointed out giraffes made of wire, red wire, Oma, look, all my pairs of socks were used up.
When I do laundry, I always turn jeans legs inside out to look for lurkers stuck in the ankles, or fish around inside the duvet cover. But you always know, however hard you look, when you only have odd singles left it’s time for home and another rest.
Once all your socks, pairs and singles, have been used up, fatigue wraps you in a straitjacket. Then even simple tasks like getting a glass of water become monumental hurdles. Not only because fatigue makes the body seize up like a frozen turkey, but because it attacks the brain too. My mind has to make a conscious effort to remember where the glasses are kept, which way the cupboard door opens, and how to turn on the… the… that thing the water comes out of.
That day had been a good day though. So after another rest when I got home, I was able to get my own glass from the cupboard and fill it with water from the tap before I sat down to write about socks. Typing one finger at a time.
In the end, the laptop ran out of socks too and I had to get a new one. Sometimes I like to think I could just get a new body and be the me who didn’t know about sock counting. But the reality is, getting a random number of pairs and single socks out of the drawer on any given day is how things are for me.
Here’s a thought though. At least I have socks at all. Who says I have to count in matching pairs?
Suggestions for managing fatigue
+ Showers are typically exhausting for people with chronic health conditions. Have a shower the day before you plan to go out anywhere or before bed at night.
+ Break tasks/activities into small time slots. Ten minutes, then a sit down for a while before doing another ten minutes.
+ Still time-limit activities on good days, just take shorter rests in between. It’s always tempting to push to your limits, but is it worth it if it takes days to recover?
+ Delegate. Make sure children and partners pull their weight with tasks.
+ Take naps when you need them.
+ Listen to your body – don’t keep going until you’ve finished something. If you start feeling tired, stop, and go back to it later.