Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Energy Management

It's timely that I should be writing this post today as I've had to reevaluate and reprioritise my use of energy lately and come to some decisions.  But more on that later...

Energy management is not an easy skill and to a degree everyone needs it and learns it, but it becomes vastly more important when you have a disability that directly affects your energy levels.  Here are a few lessons I've learnt (some the hard way) over the years.  Also note, I'm no expert and sometimes need to follow my own advice, but here goes.

Learning Your Limits

This will undoubtedly be by trial and error, and sometimes you'll push yourself to the detriment of your comfort the next day for a worthy cause or occasion.  Everyone's mileage varies and there really is no easy way to learn your limits, especially if your limits are somewhat elusive shifting goalposts as mine tend to be.  I cannot really offer any tips for finding your boundaries but it is an obvious step in managing your energy usage.


[Image: photo of a piece of note paper with the words 'To do
list' underlined and then the bulleted word 'EVERYTHING!'
listed underneath and the top half of a stick figure with a
flustered expression on its face.  A pen lies on the paper]
[Source: John Schultz]
If your energy is limited then you're not going to be able to do everything in a day, especially if doing so is going to cause you unnecessary pain.  Figuring out what you need to do, spacing it out over the day can work, but often you'll need to decide what's most important to focus on, and will it matter if other stuff gets waylaid for a while.  I often stress about stuff I can't get around to doing (I have an anxiety disorder which really doesn't help in this respect!) but as I keep finding, the world doesn't generally fall apart if I don't get around to washing my hair on the day I planned to or I didn't make it to that lecture because my back was too sore and pain medication wasn't kicking in.

Finding Shortcuts

You quickly learn various "lifehacks" that work for you.  Dry shampoo for example is brilliant and a godsend on days where my hair is starting to need a wash (which is no easy feat for me with my long thick hair and arms that can only raise slightly) and I don't have 40 minutes and copious amounts of energy to spare washing it.  Dressing yourself by putting your pants on and then sitting while you dress your top half.  Undressing by pulling all the layers off at once.  Freezer meals.  Drinking from a large drink bottle all day so you don't spend energy going back and forth to the tap.  Sleeping in your underwear so you don't have to take anything off in the morning when you go to get dressed.  Only putting mascara, blush and lipstick on instead of a whole face of makeup, or none at all!  There are always ways to cut down your time and energy expenditure.  If you live with patient and wonderful people like I do, asking them to grab you stuff you need if you're low on energy [Thanks you guys if you're reading this! xx ].  Certainly a lot of equipment is available around the place to help in this respect.  Exciting for me is that I will hopefully be getting an electric wheelchair in the near future which will make a big difference for me in not expending so much energy in getting myself around the place.  As it is, I get exhausted getting from my car to my class.

Lowering Expectations

This is particularly important if you're newly disabled or affected by lowered energy levels.  It's disappointing and difficult, I know, but you simply can't do all the things you used to do within a day anymore.  Though I have been disabled all my life, my scoliosis is the disability that has really affected my life in terms of ability to do things and my energy levels.  My back started curving when I was 14 and by the time I was 16 it was very much affecting me in causing a great deal of pain and restricting my lung capacity which consequently affected my energy levels.  I speak from experience when I talk about dealing with a somewhat sudden drop in energy and the difficulty in accepting that.  But the more I tried to push myself beyond my new limits, the worse off I was.  Lowering my expectations of what could manage to a level I could actually achieve made a huge difference - especially to my self esteem and sense of self-worth.

Be Kind to Yourself

[Image: a foot in a bubble bath with a running tap in the
background.  Pink filter over the photo.]
Source: wikimedia commons
Kind of related to the above point.  It's ok that you can't manage everything.  It's ok that you can't get out of bed and need to take a day to yourself.  It bothers me that so much emphasis is put on productivity in our society so when disabled people can't keep up, we feel pretty crap about ourselves even though others may not expect us to be able to meet those expectations.  You're not any less deserving of respect or support because your energy levels don't allow you to work fulltime or go out clubbing or take part in volunteer groups.  So when you have to cancel plans or miss an important function, don't punish yourself.  Also don't push your body beyond its limits unnecessarily (again I speak from experience - more than once I've had to pay dearly for my own stubbornness), sit on the couch for a while and restore yourself for a bit.  Take a bubble bath (if you have one) instead of a shower.

Making Tough Decisions

Probably the hardest lesson I've had to learn.  Time and again, I've realised I've overcommitted myself and had rethink my plans, often bailing on plans with friends.  It's an awful feeling, but for the most part, it's just not worth pushing myself over.  I have lost a few friends this way because they didn't really understand why I kept having to cancel plans, and that was tough.  But in the end, the friends that have stuck by are the ones worth spending my limited energy on.  It's an inevitability that you will have to make some tough choices along the way.

And on that note, I've had to make a tough decision relating to this blog.  I've really been enjoying posting so regularly, but I've realised that posting and maintaining the blog takes a lot more of my time than I expected, and university has just started back.  I've thus had to prioritise and I've come to the decision that I will have to cut back to one post per week.  In particular some of the issues I have been writing about have been very personally pertinent to me and a fair amount of emotional energy has been expended, so it's probably also necessary to cut back for my own mental health.  Geekery of the Weekery posts will thus be every other week (yay misnomers!).  I will be posting on Saturdays from now on and may pick back up to two posts per week at the end of the semester.  And of course I'll be around on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr, maybe even Instagram in the near future? so you can always follow me on one or more of those to keep updated :)

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