When the going gets tough

…the tough go to bed. It’s been one of those weeks when it all got too much and I had to admit defeat.
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Last weekend I went out for dinner at my boss’s house. I met her husband and kids and her mother who lives with them. It was a really nice evening, lots of conversation and laughter and delicious food. It wasn’t a late evening – I was in bed by about 9:30pm.

But, and there is always a but, for all that it was enjoyable, it took a lot out of me.I was very tired the next day but pushed myself to Do Stuff because that’s what you do on the weekend.

It all backfired of course. By Wednesday I was exhausted and couldn’t get out of bed. I made it back to work for Thursday and Friday, but Saturday was again bed day.

This really is not a life. My weekends are now for recuperating sufficiently to send me back out to work. I feel like I’m working in some kind of sweat shop.

Recently I read an article reporting on some research into the fatigue of rheumatoid arthritis, that suggested it is not related to the level of inflammation as was previously believed. This certainly has been my experience. My blood tests show that inflammation is well controlled, but the fatigue is an entirely different beast with a mind of its own. It’s incredibly debilitating, and it’s also completely misunderstood by almost everyone who doesn’t suffer from it. Fatigue isn’t like being tired. When you’re tired, you know that you can sleep and you’ll wake up feeling fine again. Fatigue is like waking up realising you’ve got the flu. Every day.

Some mornings, I wake up and have an inverse adrenaline rush: instead of a rush of energy I get a sudden draining away of energy that leaves me feeling almost paralysed.  When that happens, I know I’m going nowhere that day.

That’s why, when the going gets tough, I go to bed. I don’t have any choice.

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Asking for help to be independent

INDEPENDENCE

It is possible to believe too much in the virtue of independence.

Exhibit 1: my father. He wants to believe he is completely independent, and resists almost every offer of help. But he is 85, and at that age, there are quite simply a lot of things you should not do on your own, and many you should not attempt to do even in company. Such as anything involving a ladder, and most things involving motorised vehicles.

The challenge is that for most of his life, doing things around the house and driving were part of his idea of self sufficiency. He would naturally prefer not to acknowledge his limitations, and to retain his belief in his own independence. Because he believes that if he can’t replace a lightbulb without asking for help, and if he can no longer drive, he may as well give up and move into the old folks’ home.

The thing is, accepting help would mean he could stay in his home longer. Instead of falling off a ladder and ending up in hospital from where it is a fast track to assisted living, he could get someone in (me, for example) to get up that ladder and change the lightbulb for him. Giving up driving doesn’t mean being housebound, it means taking taxis and no longer having to worry about parking and not ending up in front of a JP for not noticing that pedestrian on the crossing. In refusing to make changes, he is confusing the symbols of independence with actual independence.

Accepting help is a skill that needs to be developed right alongside learning to take care of yourself. Independence is great, but it can’t always be achieved alone. By judiciously accepting help, he’d retain real independence.

 

 

Live like no one is coming

I’ve talked before about the trap of thinking that being alone is a temporary state, a hiatus between relationships. I was reading over a journal entry I’d made back in 2012 and came across a goal I’d written down:

 Live like no one is coming

This was good advice to myself then and still is now. Because truly, no one is coming. Sure, they might, but you don’t know that. So don’t wait, just go do it.

Waiting — for a knight in shining armour, a prince on a white horse, Godot — is procrastination. If you’ve got things you want to do, whether it’s travel or buying a house or learning to waterski, get on and do them. None require a life partner.

I’m not going to pretend, however, that I fearlessly take on new adventures without a backward glance. If I were that kind of person, I’d be too busy jumping out of planes and Instagramming it to write about it. I’m as reluctant to embark on major new adventures as the next person.

In my case, it’s not about waiting for Mr/Ms Right to come along before I feel I can legitimately do whatever it is I’m thinking about doing. I am a naturally (or more likely, given my mother’s life was ruled by fear, I learned it at her knee) cautious person. I am risk averse, I like to be well prepared, I don’t like feeling uncomfortably out of my depth, and I fear looking like an idiot. That’s why I hesitate.

But if you’re hesitating because you think you’ll wait until you have someone to do it with, maybe the mantra “live like no one is coming” is for you.

You can put off doing what you want until you find a partner, but all that means is you don’t get to enjoy what you want to do. And if you keep waiting, you may never get to do it.

Feeling sorry for myself

I was listening to some podcasts that were talking in passing about life coaching, and I thought that might be a worthwhile thing for me to do. Life coaching differs from therapy (and this is purely a layperson’s view, so forgive me) in that therapy is more about addressing emotional issues where life coaching has a more practical focus on what you do and whether it’s getting you to where you want to be.

This isn’t to suggest I wouldn’t benefit from therapy. It’s pretty certain I would. But fixing my emotional issues, which are legion, will take a while and I was thinking life coaching might be a way to kick start me into action on the theory that action precedes motivation.

So I started rehearsing what I might say to the life coach by way of laying out my goals for the sessions. I’m just guessing here but I’m pretty sure “what do you want to get from coaching?” is going to be near the top of their list of questions. (Maybe I could coach myself by asking myself all the questions I expect from them.)

My rehearsal didn’t go so well: I came unstuck pretty much straight away. Primarily what I wanted, I discovered, was to complain to someone about all the things I was feeling annoyed, frustrated, sad or hopeless about, and get a nice cup of tea and some sympathy.

This is a major downside to the life lived solo: there is no one there to listen to you rail at the manifest injustice that is your life and make you a cup of tea. On the up side, when you live alone you can complain and wallow in self pity whenever you like.

The current fashion is to be relentlessly upbeat and perky at all times. To feel anything less than super-duper positive about every aspect of your life is to have Failed with a very capital F. If, like me, you are of a melancholic disposition, this can be problematic.

In spite of this generation’s efforts to banish the darker shadows of life as if that were either possible or desirable, feeling miserable or despondent from time to time is just a part of life and it’s not something we should be trying to avoid at all costs. Attempts to avoid, ignore or deny the things that cause us pain, grief, anger and suffering may only make things worse.

In the right setting and circumstances, giving expression to those feelings can be very helpful. Sometimes, just unloading onto someone you trust and being allowed, for a few minutes, to give voice to your frustrations without being mature about it, can be just the tonic. Then it’s back on with the Big Girl Pants and normal adult behaviour resumes.

When there is no one there to listen, or no one you trust to show that side of yourself to safely, it can be difficult. I will often write it down and then destroy what I wrote because, let’s face it, it’s embarrassing seeing your lowest self in print. I’ve experimented with voice recording too: whine into your iPhone voice memo app,  play it back (excruciating but surprisingly revealing) then hit delete.

In the absence of anyone else, you may need to be your own trusted confidante. The good thing about that is you’re unlikely to blab, and if you do, you have only yourself to blame.

Motivating yourself

Many people think the reason they don’t get things done is because they aren’t motivated, so they spend a lot of time looking for ways to get motivated.

This is a waste of time. Motivation is a nice to have, not a need to have. What we need is action. Here’s the truth about motivation:

Action precedes motivation

Motivation requires decision making and energy and willpower and manufactured feelings of joy and engagement and drive and all those things  that are in chronically short supply. Action simply requires, well, action. You don’t have to feel like it, you just have to do it. And once you’re doing it, motivation may appear and make it easier to continue, but if not, it’s irrelevant, because you’re already doing what needs doing.

There are two ways we can use this. We can make action inevitable by making things non negotiable. These are habits. Or we can make agreements with ourselves and stick to them, which is self discipline.

I’m a big fan of both. Frankly, I think they’re both essential if you’re going to make a go of living alone. You cannot rely on motivation when you live alone, because motivating yourself is incredibly hard work and there’s no-one there to cheer you on and encourage you. So we need good habits, and we need some self discipline.

We do need to be careful about what we establish as habits precisely because they are things we no longer choose to do. We lose sight of why we do them, which is the point, but it’s also dangerous because we stop being aware that we’re doing them. So we must choose them carefully, and periodically review them to make sure they’re still serving us well.

We also need to foster some kind of self discipline to establish and maintain habits. Self discipline is different from motivation. Motivation is wanting to feel like doing something, whereas discipline is about committing to doing things regardless of how you feel.

Self discipline is a more reliable companion than motivation. Self discipline is part of the story you tell yourself about the kind of person you are. It’s the dos and don’ts rather than the musts and mustn’ts. For example: “I don’t eat chocolate for breakfast” is a statement about how I live, a rule I live by. “I mustn’t eat chocolate for breakfast” is a statement about a battle raging between the forces of good and evil that I am relying on willpower to win.

By self discipline I don’t mean a constant diet of hair shirts and flagellation. I mean setting some rules for ourselves that feel right and honest, and that focus us on the bigger direction of our life. For example, I know that eating 5 servings of veg a day makes a world of difference to my mental and physical health. I want to feel healthy and happy, and I don’t want to spiral down into depression, so I follow some self-imposed rules when I shop for groceries and I don’t come home with a trolley’s worth of processed junk that will make me sick and depressed. And when it comes to making dinner, I cook up those Brussels sprouts. Why? Not because I felt like it or am “motivated” to eat Brussels sprouts. I’m not a holier-than-thou masochist, I don’t love Brussels sprouts, but they’re in season, inexpensive and good for me and all those things are part of my bigger choices about eating 5 veg daily and not living extravagantly. Besides, they’re not as bad as you thought they were when you were a kid.

Self discipline and habits are essentially about putting long term good ahead of short term pleasure. While that sounds drearily self denying, in the bigger scheme of things it’s about setting ourselves up for the win.

Relying on motivation to get us there is bound to fail. Instead, to quote that athletics company: just do it.