Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Managing an illness and recovery.

 This is an extended* column, first published in the York Press on Tuesday, February 14th, 2017


 How was your January? Did you cough your way through it? I did and it appears that there were many others who did too. *Coughed through February too, my commiserations to others who have experienced this persistent bug.

 I was mostly housebound for ten days. After a couple of days of feeling ‘proper poorly’ and becoming bored with daytime television, I knew that my daily routine needed to be reassessed. Television is a useful distraction at times, but it can also lead to apathy and be a delayer of recovery. *I witnessed this on a psychiatric ward.

 What was needed were some daily targets and a reason to get up and dressed. It is surprising what an effort it can take to get washed and dressed, if there is no real incentive to do so. This became my four point plan.
1. A purpose. Gentle de-cluttering. I spent 60 - 90 minutes a day completing a light de-cluttering task. Most homes can benefit from de-cluttering drawers, cupboards and paperwork. In my case it was boxes of paperwork, acquired from clearing my father’s house four years ago. I had some plastic storage boxes, bin liners and an audio book to listen to for distraction. Satisfaction from a task completed each day felt good.
2. Small steps. Each de-clutter or other small task would last around an hour. I recovered slowly, but now, can reflect on fourteen hours spent completing jobs I didn’t want to do and would have stayed not done, if I had I been well.
                    3. Task and treat. I would reward myself after any task 
             that was completed. Sitting on the sofa with a magazine 
             and a hot drink had to be earned. The same with a TV 
             programme. Resting was important too.

4. Gentle exercise. My family gave me an exercise wristband last year. There was no hope of achieving the usual 10,000 steps a day, it was 2-3,000 most days. My target was another figure on the band, 250 steps an hour between 9am - 5pm.This encouraged me get up and move around much more than I would have done without a visible target. These four points can be adapted for most people in a variety of circumstances. It is much better than doing little and feeling even sorrier for oneself.

*After writing this article, some thirty year old memories came to mind. In 1985, after having a cold, I developed aching limbs, brain fog and a very weak body. It was ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalopathy/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), but in those days, very little was known about the illness. Thirty years later the diagnosis is still controversial and leads to debate. After many tests, no-one could say what the problem was, but by chance I read a magazine article by the round the world sailor, Claire Frances and recognised her symptoms of ME/CFS. The GP was minded to agree.

Because there was nothing medical that could be done, I kept going - just. I lay on the sofa for most of the day, but just about cooked a family meal each evening.  I seem to recall only one day defeated me. This meant I had a purpose and had to move.

In the end, I recovered slowly. I firmly believe that having to move and cook a meal every day led to a faster recovery than if I had done nothing. Nowadays the thinking is that minimal movement is a good idea, though at the time, ones mind is screaming not to make things worse. It was really quite frightening and even now, if I'm overtired, a leg muscle can ache in the way it did all those years ago and make me stop and think. I wrote about my experiences in 2011.