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.

To go to the next article click on this link:
Practicalities about the road to recovery ~ or living with disability 

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