Recovery ~ time and money issues

Recovery times are immensely variable.  Some people are able to bounce back after a brief interval while for others may be in it for the long haul.  Sometimes it's possible to understand why things affect us deeply and at other times it isn't.  If you're reading this, you are very likely casting about for ways to cope with the longer version.

From what I've been able to find out there is no fixed time frame or definable route for recovery of this sort.  This is another aspect of Wasteland experience which can be immensely frustrating and humiliating.

The important thing is to be realistic and not to expect to be 'back to normal' within a schedule that you think should be sufficient.  If you do so you may be setting yourself up for defeat and the sooner such expectations are relinquished the better.  Take it as it comes: if you get back on track in short order, great; if you don't, you won't be beating yourself up about it.

Time is money, especially when we are deprived of our usual income.  My strenuous advice it to take all possible steps to protect capital and assets by reducing costs and getting as much welfare aid and concessions for yourself as early as possible.  Do what you can to seek out ways of living within the confines of whatever your new circumstances happen to be.

No one intends to be unable to work for long stretches and it certainly is humiliating to have to ask for help with income and cost concessions but in the long run taking these steps earlier rather than later may mean you are considerably better off in the long run.

Another reason for getting assistance is that it will help reduce the stress that comes with worrying about how to make ends meet - and of watching valuable assets melt away with the passing of time.

Without an income that is comparable with the usual wage one is on another footing in society altogether.  At the beginning of the recent recession the media was full of reports of people being fearful of losing their jobs and their incomes, but it's not the end of the world, not in New Zealand anyway.  It's a challenge to manage but not impossible.

I've had to learn to live and run a household on a greatly reduced income and to also shift my focus and hobbies to a whole different level.  In the other Rushleigh Chronicles I share some of how I've achieved this which I hope will be helpful to others.  Good luck with it.

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The acute phase of convalescence ~ dealing with practicalities

The acute phase of convalescence ~ dealing with practicalities

A convalescence of any length is likely to be a dull and trying time, all the more so if it is linked to crisis or trauma.

During the course of my own gradual recovery I found that some things worked better than others and offer some of those here in the hope that among them may perhaps be a few ideas that are helpful to others.

Because I'm drawing on my own experience I won't attempt to generalise statements.  What I'm offering here had value for me whereas others may find that what works for them is quite different.

When our worlds get tipped upside down it can be a severely disturbing time.  When I got sick both physical and emotional overload made me hyper-sensitive to a degree that was way outside my usual range.  Noise, light and anything at all jarring was almost more than I could bear.  Sensory overload resulted from almost everything I did however quiet.  Even music, which I usually love, was too much.  What did work?

Black-out strength curtains for the bedroom
I pinned dark sheets over my own ones until I got dark linings organised.

Ear plugs
I've never had much luck with these and hope that readers who need them have more success.  When I've been really desperate I've warmed a little vegetable oil, and dropped a little into each ear and kept it in with cotton wool.  Blissful silence.  Probably not the best scheme for a regular basis.  Your chemist may have better advice.

A good reclining chair and a footstool
During the daytime this mostly proved much more restful than lying in bed.

Gazing at nature
At a time when watching television was impossible, reading an effort and sleep uncomfortable I found I did feel rested and soothed by sitting looking out at nature.  Gazing into the big trees that surrounded the house, watching them change as the day progressed and watching the birds brought a measure of peace and I suppose a sense of natural rhythms.  Some people find the sound of fountains restful.  I also like to have water to look at in the form of a stream or pond.  If you don't have any of these, even a pot plant or goldfish can be restful to watch and have nearby.

Good ones were essential.

Hats and scarves
Since it was my head that gave me such a lot of trouble, I often used to wear a hat or scarf when I went out and even sometimes at home.  It felt like good insulation and a degree of protection.   

This was usually too difficult, but if I did read I usually re-read something I already knew and liked.  I still do this a lot.

Most music became unsuitable producing overload of one sort or another, but some music worked very well indeed.  I have a collection of perhaps four or five discs which I listen to repeatedly which might best be described as ambient music.  Baroque music also worked well and Handel is a favourite.  I find the sound of acoustic instruments and repetitive phrasing soothing.  And although it has good feeling tone, that's somehow nicely contained rather than being overtly emotional. 

I got into the way of having loads of pillows, and still find them comforting.  I tuck them in around me which feels reassuring.  If lying on my back I put a pillow behind my knees - much better.  When I had to spend a lot of time resting during the day I found it good to partially make up the bed into what I would call a day bed, so that I wasn't between the sheets all the time - that was for the night time.  I have a rather nice wool-rest which is meant for under the bottom sheet but which is wonderfully comfy to lie on directly during the day.  Bed can feel very stale if we have to be there a lot.

Separating night clothes and day clothes
It worked well to get out of my night clothes in the morning and put on something soft and comfy that was suitable for resting in, but day wear all the same, such as leggings and a soft cotton top and maybe a soft pullover.  Wearing night clothes a lot can make one feel frumpy even if they're nice ones.

Sleep generally
The usual advice for getting a good nights sleep is to wind down in the evening from doing anything mentally stimulating and to avoid stimulating drinks such as coffee.  I've found that tea is also a stimulant for me.  Herbal teas such as chamomile work well for some people.  The idea is to relax.  The difficulty with this if one is dealing with trauma is that it can feel like letting one's guard down, which may make us more anxious...  I found that what worked best for me was as much fresh air as possible during the day, contact with nature which soothes me, and a little exercise if possible.  That and maybe the quiet distraction at bedtime of a favourite passage of a familiar book.  Once the bed is cosy I often throw off the top quilt or blankets.  I read somewhere that one sleeps better if slightly cool, which surprised me at the time but I have found to be true.

Dealing with nightmares
There are no easy answers to this problem which routinely pervaded my sleep.  However, it was helpful to recognise that these were probably as much the result of my brain being in severe overload as anything else at a time when it wasn't able to process properly.  At times I've found dream content has provided insight and food for thought, but looking too deeply into anything when ones brain is so stressed can simply add to the overload.  My suggestion is to write them down if you feel strongly about them, then you can look at them later if you still want to and you don't need to carry them around in your head.  Dating them can provide a useful reference for later on.

Sleep-time vision disturbance
There are times when I wake from nightmares to see geometrically radiating patterns of light in the dark.  They disappear when I turn on the bedside light.  I'm sure these are an indicator of my brain being in a particularly bad state which has given rise to the nightmares in the first place.  Normally I can't sleep with even with a night light on, but at such times I'm able to go back to sleep with the bedside light on without the same level of disturbance recurring.  I hardly ever get these now.

Writing things down
Even for those who are unaccustomed to writing I highly recommend doing so.  Research shows that those suffering from depression and trauma are greatly helped by writing about what has been troubling them, by making a coherent story of it.  After I heard this I started writing down everything I could remember about what had upset me, just as it crossed my mind.  This meant that I didn't need to remember it mentally.  I could go and read it later if I wanted to.  It was a huge relief.  For me, going over and over everything surrounding what had gone so badly wrong was part of keeping my defences up, of retaining the evidence.  I've found that while such writing can be a big effort, it needn't be coherent at all since it's purely for my own reference, and I suggest that readers who consider taking up this idea don't worry about the story aspect of things.  Some writings are going to be more coherent than others.  The whole point of it is to reduce strain, not make more of it, so putting it into story form can wait, and may not be necessary to your process.  It's the 'downloading' aspect of writing that I heartily recommend.  Repeat the same old bits again and again if it helps.  I found some interesting themes came up with mine, as well strong feelings and some unlooked for clarity. I always date each piece which I've found a useful point of reference for later re-reading.

One excellent and very kindly doctor who went on to run a specialist sleep clinic, suggested that at the end of each day I wrote down, by hand and in full sentences, all that was still going on for me from during the day.  This proved to be completely hopeless as once I got started I went on and on and then began critiquing what I had written, so what was meant to be relaxing proved to be vastly, the complete opposite of what was intended.  Each of us has to pick from other people's advice and experience what works for us! 

For suggestions about setting social and other boundaries as well as dealing with health issues you may wish to refer to my earlier articles in Part One and Two.  This is a very delicate time and I do encourage you to get proper medical help in finding effective treatments and medications.  Above all rest and safety are of the essence.  Paying attention to these needs early on may make a big difference to the timing and extent of your recovery.  I wasn't able to do this and I think it made things much harder than might otherwise have been the case.

I'll go on to share suggestions of what may be helpful during the next phase of recovery in the following article.

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Practicalities about the road to recovery ~ or living with disability 

Practicalities about the road to recovery ~ or living with disability

While it's a relief to progress from the acute phase to something more normal, an under-functioning system or set of constraints can be most frustrating, especially when one looks and sounds fairly normal.  In my case I'm not well enough to be working but certainly don't need to spend my days in bed.  This is confusing, both for me as well as those I know, and living with limitations of energy and stamina has been a big challenge.  However, one does what is necessary.  And within these constraints one lives as well as one can and as creatively as possible.

As in the previous article I offer suggestions here about ways I've found to cope in case any of it is useful to others.  Since they are from my immediate experience I won't attempt to generalise.  If anyone finds any of it useful, good, if not, fine.  We all have to find our own way.

Routine and structure:
When things were at their worst I could not accept or work with any structure at all, but when things had settled down a bit I did find it helpful to have at least the gist of a routine to aim for.  Even though I never manage to stick to routines they can provide a focus which is steadying and practical, a good counterbalance to the upsets within which can seem overwhelming.  Also if I do a few practical things I have something to show for the day.

Looking passable:
When I get up I get dressed.  Wearing a dressing gown, even a good one, makes me feel frumpy if I'm in it longer than a short time, and then I have to get dressed anyway.

If I'm looking pale and shapeless I put on a little make-up even if I'm at home on my own.  Seeing my own white wan face in the mirror when I wash my hands is depressing, and a touch of make up at least makes me look a bit less dire!  

I try to keep my hair nice.  I get it cut cheaply by a local suburban hairdresser who does a simple dry cut for about half of what I would pay in town.  I do feel and look much more presentable when I get it cut. 

I always feel better when the house is clean and tidy.  Often it isn't particularly, but I do aim to keep it in at least a moderately orderly state.

I have a range of things I like to do after breakfast if I'm up to it such as clearing the kitchen bench, changing the hand towels, putting the washing though, making my bed, and straightening the living room.

I like to air the house too, weather permitting.  Not being able to get all that much exercise makes having at least a change of air in the house important.

I can see the value of doing one sort of housework each day of the week in that once one has done that particular chore, such as vacuuming the floors, one can then cheerfully ignore them until the following week.  But since I'm fairly hopeless at routine I've never achieved this.

If one aspect of housework has piled up and is too much to do in one go, I break the task down into separate achievable parts so that where ever I stop, that part is complete and put away, until I can get back to it another time.

I tend to be uncomfortable about visitors coming into the house if it's messy and needs a clean.  However, I've had to learn that allowing people who are important to me to call in is far more important, and it's just possible that they accept me as I am!  Anyway, it's not house inspection.

Similarly, I like to have some baking to offer.  I have to keep reminding myself that while it's nice it's not vital and it's not my job to feed people who fancy dropping in especially if I'm unwell. 

Shopping for groceries:
If I'm at least halfway organised I like to restrict this to once a week so that I know I won't have to do it again until next week.  I pay my bills at the same time.

There are short cuts which I don't use such as internet supermarket shopping.  In New Zealand Woolworths offers this service for which it charges a small delivery fee.  This charge is substantially less than it would cost for a taxi fare there and back so it can be a very worthwhile choice.

Similarly, internet and phone banking can make bill payments and related tasks fast and easy.

General economy:
A time of illness or disability is often a time when money is in short supply, so thrifty housekeeping can be essential.  I've found that often food I prepare myself or grow in the garden greatly reduces costs.  I've put some of my recipes and ideas in my Rushleigh site "The At Home Chronicle"

Second hand goods:
I have found shopping for second hand clothing and household items surprisingly successful.  We are fortunate in having two very good charity shops nearby and have done wonderfully well from them.  It's a good system: people donate things they have finished with to these charities who then sell them to raise money for their other services, so everyone wins.  We do the same with our things when we have finished them if they are still good, so we continue to contribute to these other services as well, which is great!  It can make shopping fun instead of worrying and has helped me take pleasure in the small things I've been able to do to make this place nicer and more our own.  It has also made it possible for me to dress much better than I could otherwise afford. 

For me gardening is an essential activity, and I often feel better for doing even a very small amount of it.  It can also help provide good fresh food.

Those who don't have gardens as such may find pleasure and economy in growing veggies in a pack of tub mix or planter box.  Good staff at garden supplies shops should be able to give simple practical advice as to how to start.

When we're sick exercise can be impossible or unwise, but as improvement is gradually achieved a little exercise can be satisfying and helpful.  'Sustained rhythmic exercise' seems to be the thing to aim for - if we can, to get the blood moving and the oxygen through our systems.

My state fluctuates a lot so sometimes I'm much more capable of exercising than others.  I try to get a decent leg stretch in when I can even if it's only around the block.

Yoga and tai chi have also been recommended.  Local classes and groups are relatively common and inexpensive to attend.  Simple exercise equipment such as an exercycle and stretchy band for resistance exercise can also be helpful.

Giving back:
I tend to feel awkward about asking for as well as accepting help or gifts, even if they're things that other people are simply casting off.  I was brought up to contribute to society, and don't want to be seen to be on the take, as it were, so I have a rule about this: if someone does something for me for free I find a way of giving them something back so that it's an exchange - maybe some greens from the garden, or some baking, or perhaps doing something for them that they don't have time for.  It needn't be big or match what has been given, but it is something that helps them.  That way I affirm that I'm still contributing to others and can better enjoy the plenty that has flowed my way.  And hopefully we each then feel happy about having another exchange another time.

Readers may find this book helpful:
"Living Well With a Hidden Disability: Transcending Doubt and Shame and Reclaiming Your Life" by Stacy and Taylor and Robert Epstein.

To go to the next article click on this link:

Convalescence ~ keeping stimulated and finding things to do

It can be so dull being stuck at home or otherwise limited in what one can do!  There are lots of things I'd love to do but simply can't manage, either because I'm not up to it, or because of the cost.  I'm sure many others in similar situations feel the same way.  I've had to find other ways to making my time enjoyable, worthwhile or creative.  Sometimes I have to settle for simply being practical, which isn't necessarily what I want but is worthwhile in its own way.  It's very important for our sense of well-being to keep occupied with whatever it is that gives our lives meaning and pleasure.

I share here some of the ways I've worked out of how to stay active enough to keep things interesting.  Please excuse this repeated reference to my own experience - I don't wish to speak for others. 

Social outings: I always try to accept invitations.  I keep them manageable by saying that I'd love to come, but would like to confirm that I'm able to do so nearer the time to be sure that it's going to be possible.  I also say that it will probably be for a fairly brief time and check that that is going to fit in.  That way, when I begin to conk out I can quietly excuse myself without awkwardness.

I do drive a car and in the past have got into complications with being expected to help others with transport.  I've learnt to say that I can help with transport one way, if the person wanting a lift can manage to get themselves the other way.  Taking responsibility for both is too much, and besides, it should be a schedule that suits me, not the other way around.  

Reading and libraries: Reading can be a great way of taking time out.  I have a collection of favourite books which I read and re-read.

The local library is also good.  I've never been much good at choosing books from the shelves though, and it can be worth asking one of the staff for help or recommendations.  They often have handy lists of authors who write similar sorts of novels, which can be useful if we've read all the novels we like by a particular author.

Taking pot luck from a shelf of books that are waiting to be put away narrows the possibilities and can make choosing easier.  In any case if you are fortunate enough to have a free library service provided by your local council it won't be costing anything to try something different to usual.

Some people enjoy book discussion groups.  Librarians may know of local ones or even run their own.    

Music: As I've said elsewhere the range of music I was able to listen to when I was most unwell was very limited, but I've gradually been able to take in and enjoy more.  I enjoy the music talent shows on television and then go away to YouTube to look up the musicians as well as the original artists which has expanded my horizons considerably.

The local library also has CDs available for loan for a small charge and this can be a good way of trying out new things as well as enjoying the old.   

Television and movies: When I was most unwell, I couldn't watch television at all - it was too much to take in, far too violent, and left me exhausted.  However, since I've been sufficiently better I've found it good value, not for many programmes but for some.

If you can afford a DVD player this can be a really good way of seeing films that are worthwhile for fresh input and entertainment.  I've reviewed ones I've found enjoyable on my Rushleigh site "The Movies and Television Chronicle".  A DVD recorder can be an added bonus if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford one.  Then you can watch what you want when you feel like it.

In New Zealand we have Freeview, which for the cost of installation gives satellite access to a wider range of channels.  No doubt other countries have their own schemes.  I find this very worthwhile.  The Sky network is also available but I've never bothered with it as I'm not interested in sport and it does require a subscription payment.  I can see why lots of people have it though, especially those who can't get out and about.    

Internet broadband and good telephone deals: We have come to find these essential.  Since we are at home a lot being able to keep easily in touch with others and with what's going on in the world is more important than it would be otherwise.  We don't go out for meals or entertainment so these costs are relatively minimal and fill an important need.

General domesticity: Since being off work I've learnt much more about various household tasks and practised applying them: preserving fruit, making jam, growing vegetables and other plants, doing up old furniture, and sewing.  I've talked about some of these activities in  my Rushleigh site "The At Home Chronicle".  At one point I spent quite a lot of time supervising the neighbours little girls and helping them with art work and making dolls clothes.  I was surprised I enjoyed doing so.  

Sometimes unexpected impulses spur us to do things which can turn out to be really valuable: Rather surprisingly one of the first things I took up after I got sick was teaching myself to touch-type.  It was an inspired impulse which I've been grateful for ever since as it's made writing using the computer keyboard relatively stress free!  In years gone by I'd tried unsuccessfully to learn not just once, but three times.  This time I sat down with an old electric typewriter and a nearly prehistoric tuition guide and plugged away at it by myself.  I'm hopeless with any kind of repetition exercises which in this case made me falter well before I was able to type the requisite number of lines of simple finger exercises, so when I started to reach saturation point I'd simply stop for a time or go on to the next exercise.  Then I graduated to doing laboriously careful copy-typing of any text that would lie flat on the table next to me and practised with that - very slowly at first.  But I got better at it and now I hardly think about it at all.  Since then I've become a keen writer and this enables me to think about what I want to say without having to consider what my fingers are doing.  I highly recommend it.

Getting to know the neighbours has been helpful in reducing isolation and in providing a sense of belonging.  When I was working I didn't have much time for this although I always made a point of exchanging names and being on greeting terms.  Now that I'm home a lot this has become much more important.  I often wish we lived in a quieter setting with more space around us, but have to say that living at fairly close quarters has been rewarding and reassuring.  When I look out the window I can see who's home or gone to work, what the neighbourhood pets are up to, and many other things.  Working in the garden often brings me into conversation with a number of the neighbours mostly just in casual greetings but often for a chat as well.  From time to time we help each other and I value and enjoy all of that.

Even when we are severely restricted it may be possible to find new interests, new perspectives and new ways of doing things which can be unexpected: A place we lived in some years ago had a small stream running along one boundary.  On the other side of it there was a secluded bank which was the responsibility of the local council.  It was a neglected area and I could see how pretty it could be.  I ended up gradually weeding it out and developing it into a minor woodland area with a path running through it.  No one asked me to do it or gave me permission.  I just did it, and then talked to the council about it later to see if they could take away the rubbish.  They were very happy with what I had done, which had not cost anyone a cent, only the time and care that I'd put into it.  I found it deeply satisfying.  At the time I could hardly cope with people at all, but I could cope with the plants and potter there in my own time, largely undisturbed.

The photographs included in this chronicle date from that time and place.  That setting inspired me to once more take up a keen interest in photography which I'd had from an early age.  I took hundreds of photographs of that setting which were all from from within a radius of perhaps a couple of hundred yards and not from the park-like setting which is how they appear!    

In retrospect I can see that the time when I was so incapacitated and steeped in suffering was also richly creative.  You may well find that when you look back on difficulties experienced at various times, that good things did come of them.  They may even be times of transformation.  

Carl Jung, the great psychiatrist, experienced a breakdown after his split with his colleague and mentor, Sigmund Freud.  He was at that time in mid-life.  He  re-discovered a childhood pleasure of building little model houses, castles and such-like which he described as a turning point.  He none-the-less remarked: 
...but I gave in only after endless resistance and with a sense of resignation.  For it was a painfully humiliating experience to realize that there was nothing to be done except play childish games. 
(page 45-46 of "Carl Jung: wounded healer of the soul" by Claire Dunne.  I have reviewed this book in a separate article in this chronicle) 

Noticing energy shifts can be useful: In her excellent book, "The joy of burnout", Dina Glouberman makes the valuable point that noticing when our energy picks up can provide important clues as to what's going to be worth pursuing.  If we don't have much energy generally, this is makes a lot of sense.  If we patiently follow these leads they can help us gradually find new direction in our lives.  And if it's something that causes your energy to pick up then it's likely that you're enjoying yourself, which is great!  I mention Dina's book in greater detail in a separate article in this chronicle.

Other possibilities I haven't mentioned are clubs, night classes, artwork and handicrafts, and very likely you will think of others.  All these are good and need not be costly.  If you're not sure what's available in your area again the local library may be a source of good information, or your local Citizen's Advice Bureau, or the Internet.  

In the next article I will share some ideas about other things that may be helpful in establishing new foundations and a modicum of self-esteem.

Book store links for interested readers:
"Carl Jung: wounded healer of the soul" by Claire Dunne

"The Joy of Burnout" by Dina Glouberman

"The Joy of Burnout: How the End of the World Can be a New Beginning"

This is the final article of Part 4. To go to Part 5 click this link:
Part 5 ~