I’ve been a little short on spoons over the past few weeks. Once the working day is over, and my children have got as much out of me as they need, my brain hasn’t had sufficient processing power for me to blog, and I’ve struggled, even, with many everyday tasks. I’m all used up.
I now feel that there’s sufficient chronological distance between my formal diagnosis and the present time for me to start being a little more objective, a little more practical. Ideally, I would have more hours in the week for myself, and only me; practically, though, it isn’t possible for me to make spare time – and spare mental space – where there isn’t room. But having had a number of meltdowns at home in response to near-constant overload, I’ve recognised the need to look after myself a little more.
As I write this, I’m enjoying the post-exercise muscular ache of the gym class I undertook yesterday – my first attendance in over a year. ‘Body Max’ is a weights class, set to music, that works, sequentially, each of the major muscle groups in the entire body – the reps are performed at varying speeds in time to a beat; you adjust the weights according to the requirements of each exercise, your own abilities, and the muscle group being used. There’s no confusing choreography to worry about, it’s one exercise at a time, and the nature of resistance work means plenty of opportunity for proprioceptive feedback. The speed of the reps satisfies my need for movement. Doing the class was, as my husband termed it, just the “shot in the arm” I needed to make me feel a little more human. I’m not me when I have no opportunity to exercise. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover I wasn’t quite as out of shape as I’d expected to be.
Often, for me, physical activity is more restorative than rest. My body needs movement for me to self-regulate, but fidgeting and stimming are not often enough. Walking is pleasurable and, as a public transport-hating non-driver, I do lots of it, but it doesn’t increase my heart race enough to release endorphins, or to allow me to exist purely in the moment. I enjoy the intense focus of far more vigorous exercise.
Other things restore. Green spaces restore. Watching trees being gently blown in the wind; examining, close up, the structure of leaves or blades of grass; breathing in the aroma of roses; noticing the seasonal changes to foliage, flowers, fruits and seeds – these things feel essential to me. I said above that walking doesn’t allow me to exist purely in the moment, but perhaps it does, if I allow myself to walk mindfully through a park, garden, field, or forest.
And so I’m trying to ensure that I make green spaces a part of my day. A walk in the park at lunchtime; a few moments watching the tree brances quiver in the wind through my office window; using the five minutes of a Pomodoro break to go outside and inspect the planting in the borders outside my work building.
The other day I took myself to the local park at lunchtime, and brought my iPad with me. Not something I would ordinarily countenance to myself. But I used it to start to make a plan, typed up, for how I might better look after myself, and came up with a few workable ideas:
- Avoiding television in the evening (I never really concentrate on it anyway, and the news makes me upset and anxious);
- Setting aside 20 minutes or so, once both children are asleep, to do a few yoga stretches, core exercises, or perform a short ‘breathing space’ meditation exercise – counting in-breaths slowly up to 10, and then doing the same with out-breaths (I can also do this on an ad hoc basis during the day, when needed);
- Getting out for a walk every lunchtime during the working week, no matter what the weather;
- Try and do one gym session per week – no more is obligatory, but any additional sessions are a bonus;
- Have a long bath, to myself, once a week;
- Once evening teaching sessions begin at work again, set aside accrued time for additional gym visits, or a short run; and
- Wear earplugs on my walks to and from work to minimise the effects of construction noise, and consider wearing them for an hour or so once I arrive home – when the children tend to be at their noisiest!
After I’d made my plans, I stayed in the park, and looked closely at the grass beneath me, absorbing myself totally for a while in the inspection of the individual blades, the tiny jewel-like dewdrops, and the miniscule fronds of moss embedded deep within the grass forest-in-miniature.
I’ve also started to implement a few changes at work, and to the technology I use both at work and at home:
- I’ve used add-ons to block Facebook in the browsers I use on my work PC (Leechblocker for Mozilla Firefox, and StayFocused for Chrome). Not visiting it during the day has had the pleasant effect of breaking the habit for me outside of work. I’ve realised I’m not actually missing much by not being on it all the time. I’ve turned off all Facebook notifications on my mobile phone and iPad, with the exception of emails. I can still access it if I need to (I am a member of a few groups, and I want to be able to share my blog posts on the associated Facebook page), but I’m increasingly finding myself freer by not repeatedly doing so each day.
- I’ve restricted Twitter and LinkedIn access – I do use both of these for work, but I’ve set the blockers in my browsers to only allow me in for a short time before, during, and after lunch. I have to regulate myself with iPad use of these, but I’m gradually learning to do so.
- Pomodoro. I have a range of ergonomic hardware to accommodate a number of nerve problems I have with my hands – the software accompanying my vertical mouse includes the facility for setting reminders to take regular breaks, and so I’ve set these to 25 minutes of work/5 minutes break. I’m trying to be strict with myself about getting up and stretching, or doing some form of self-soothing but discreet stim (watching the moving glitter in my lava lamp, staring out of the window at the trees), during the breaks.
- GTD Methodology, as a way of aiding my executive functioning – I attended a day’s training, through work, on how to use this technique a few years ago, and I’ve always found it useful, but now I’m trying to be a bit more rigorous with its application.
- Noise-cancelling headphones, with a looped sample of white noise played through them. I find white noise better at aiding me in blocking out background sounds than music, which would distract me far too much.
It’s early days with all of this. But I’m starting to notice that, despite the fact I still have limited downtime, I am getting better at controlling the amount of information I am having to take in, process, and deal with.
In the longer term, other things will have to change. But in the meantime, little bits of self-care can make a huge difference. After a period of alarm, fear, anxiety, and overwhelm, I’m beginning to feel more positive.