Personal Energy Use

Early in my chronic illness life, I wrote an introductory article, Pacing for Beginners. More recently, I wrote about Pacing THRU, Pacing UP, Pacing DOWN.

Pacing, balancing my life, has become even more critical since starting a full-time job. The earlier articles talk about the spoon theory and the battery analogy. Today I’m going to stick with the battery analogy as we all understand what happens when our mobile phone battery dies. That’s it. The screen is dead. You can’t make a call. The only option you have is to recharge the battery.

I find energy difficult to write about. I can’t quantify it like I can quantify calories or steps or weights. Energy seems elusive, hard to pin down. Even though I am using the battery analogy, I don’t have a charge meter on my arm. I can’t tell how much battery I have left at any given point in time. So if it seems like I’m pondering as I write, it is because I am pondering as I write.

Many of us with chronic conditions are a bit like a mobile phone. The battery has a limited capacity. I’ve written about fatigue/lethargy before too, in When was the Last Time You Yawned? Working full-time hours again, I have had to revisit my condition management plan to ensure I avoid the dreaded Boom/Bust Cycle. So far, I’ve managed, although my weight training has taken a bit of a back step, sadly.

The difference between me and my phone is if my phone goes flat, I can plug it into power, turn it on and make a call. If my battery goes flat, that is it. Coffee is not going to help. A sugar hit is not going to help. In fact, either might make the situation worse. Imagine if that phone battery could actually go negative and had to be charged back up to zero before use, even when connected to power. THAT is how we can be (not how we can feel, how we can BE) if we are not careful, if we break the rules.

While I was working part-time, I had everything worked out beautifully for me. I got the exercise I needed, the sleep I needed, I did my job well. I never let myself get a flat battery.

While I was not working in the early part of 2020 my plan was to pace up my exercise to build physical resilience in readiness for a new job. With the success of my new treatment, I could do this. There were some interruptions! A knee put me in hospital, then Covid-19 lockdowns followed by a total knee replacement meant things were a bit stop-start, but I was way ahead of where I had been at, say, the end of 2016.

Working full-time has changed how I can arrange my time and also shone a light on the fact the boom/bust cycle is still very much a risk. There have been times at the end of the work day where I quite simply feel my brain shut down. It goes from 90 miles an hour to a dead stop. Nothing I can do about it. The battery is dead. It isn’t just about physical activity, this battery also runs our brain.

It is challenging for people who have no prior experience of these sorts of conditions to understand what happens. After all, many of us, myself included, LOOK fine! It took my daughter some time to come to grips with it, but she now asks “Do you have enough spoons, Mum?” when suggesting something.

I’ve become better at declining social invitations – no, not on an evening before a work day, or no, not two events on one day.

Every activity we do uses battery power. Showering, drying our hair, driving, working, exercising, cooking. In my experience some things use more battery power depending on the time of day: driving is a classic example. Driving for one hour in the morning is not nearly as tiring as driving for one hour in the evening after a day at work. It is almost as if once the battery gets low, it depletes faster. We have to be aware of all these things. I don’t want to cause a fatal car accident because I lose concentration because I haven’t paid heed to my battery level. Look at the pace column of my walks in the image above. the first walk of the day is the fastest, the last is the slowest. This is a constant pattern.

Early in my journey, I would have been unable to do a weight training session and grocery shopping on the same day. That would have used way too much of my battery. Even now, I shower in the evenings. Why? Because I can do it at a slower pace in the evenings and I am not using up vital battery life I need for the work day.

A good night’s sleep should recharge us, you say? We wish that were true. In many cases it is true – unless we have drained too much – then we end up in that negative charge scenario. Not good. However, disrupted sleep is often a symptom experienced by those with chronic conditions. Imagine trying to charge your flat phone, but the charger plug keeps falling out of the phone overnight. In the morning your phone battery is still at only 50%. That can be us.

Strength can fluctuate as well. I happily did 32 kilogram chest press sets one day with every intention of increasing next visit. Next visit I struggled with 25 kilograms. Why? No idea. By no idea, I mean no rational “healthy” explanation. Just that day my body said, “No, not today”.

Endurance is linked to our battery too. Some days I can walk two kilometres easily in one walk – other days I have to stick to three separate one kilometre walks. I’ll feel exactly the same at the start of any walk – then sometimes the body just says, “No, not today”. Part of this is linked to my not having the time available at the moment to consistently Pace UP. Between work and weather I have been limited to grabbing my walks in a somewhat patchy manner which breaks all the rules of pacing. Consistency is key. I’m not getting consistency. I suspect similar applies to the weights.

It is very hard to explain to people what this whole energy thing is like. How we constantly have to be aware of how much battery we’ve used. Healthy people would not, for example, think of having a shower as using energy, or should I say using any great amount of energy. I can assure you, many of the chronic illness community will attest to having to rest after a shower.

In my last article I raved, quite rightly, about the medication I am on. I also stated it hadn’t completely solved the energy/lethargy/fatigue aspect, or the “brain fog”. Despite my writing about energy today, these aspects are still much improved from where I was three years ago. To give some sense of measurement, three years ago I was working 24 hours a week and Saturday morning would always be a recovery morning – I’d do nothing until at least noon. Now I am working 38 or more hours a week and I’m actively doing something by 10 am on Saturdays. I might be at the gym, grocery shopping, doing laundry: I’m active. So a major improvement. And some quantification, which makes me happy!

However, I’ve had to cut my second weight session a week because the energy required to drive to the gym, do weights, drive back and then shower is more than I can manage at the end of a work day. I rarely write any more because usually by the end of the work day my brain has said, “No, not today”. I started this article on December 31, it is now January 16 and I still feel this is very scrappy writing. On the other hand it is a very scrappy topic: as I said I can’t quantify it very well. My thoughts about it come and go: after all, we learn, over time, to live with it. It becomes our new normal. At the same time we recognise that our healthy friends, family and co-workers can be baffled by something they have no experience of and it is not visible.

When I wake up in the morning, assuming I haven’t overdone it the day before, I feel perfectly “normal” just as I did before I became a chronic condition patient. The main difference is at the end of the day I will NOT feel as I did at the end of a day back then. Furthermore, depending how much “charge” I use during the day, I could hit that flat battery state earlier in the day. Other patients will not be as fortunate as I am, I am aware of that. So readers, just because I say I can do something, DO NOT, please do not, assume your mother, father, sibling, friend or co-worker can. They may be “better” or “worse” that I. I am simply n=1 – I’m not a study, I’m just one example trying to explain what it can be like!

As I write, at the beginning of 2021, I am very concerned for the long haul Covid-19 patients, many of whom cite fatigue as an ongoing issue. While the studies of this phenomenon may shed scientific light on ME/CFS, we will also have more chronic patients. My thoughts on society and chronic conditions are expressed in Society and Chronic Health Conditions. As communities, we have challenges ahead.

Coping With Christmas!

Christmas is a time of family get-togethers, great food, fun, laughter, presents and perhaps a glass or two, or three of wine or other festive cheer of your choice. Often there are lunches with one family, then travel to dinner with another. There may be picnics and BBQs on days either side. Excited children waking early to open presents.

During the month of December there is shopping to be done, decorations to be hung, the tree has to look perfect.

SLOW DOWN!!!!

Chronic conditions don’t take a holiday over Christmas and New Year – they have this remarkable ability to keep on keeping on.

Here are my tips for keeping on track during the holidays. Click on the links provided for more information!

Avoid the Boom Bust Cycle

This is the very time of the year you want to ensure you avoid the boom bust cycle.

This is the very time of the year I hope your friends and family understand the activity limits you set for self-preservation.

Don’t try to do EVERYTHING, don’t try to be perfect or to meet social expectations. You know your limits, adhere to them.

It goes without saying not to leave things to the last minute – plan out the month of December carefully so you don’t overdo on some days.

Watch the Calories!

Ensure you pay attention to your calorie intake. The festive season is one where we can easily indulge and spend the next month paying for the privilege by increased pain levels in our joints.

Keep Moving!

While it might be difficult to keep up all your exercise routines every day, please ensure you maintain your daily stretching.

Sun Protection is a MUST!

Remember to slip, slop, slap! It can be easy to forget your sun protection when partying. Don’t!

Have Fun

There is no link for this tip – just have fun, enjoy your friends and family.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Festive Season.

If you aren’t exercising yet, you are still working up the courage, make a New Year’s resolution to call or email me in January.

driving

When Treatment Throws Rocks on the Road

Maintaining our upward trajectory in managing our conditions can run into obstacles every now and then, one of those rocks in the road can be a change of treatment. We need to ensure we don’t let our progress to date slide away while at the same time ensuring we give ourselves physical and emotional space to deal with the bumps in the road.

What I have learnt from my own recent experience of changing treatment, is this.

Triple Check Any Timing Advice

You may get different advice from different practitioners involved in the treatment, if there is more than one practitioner (as is so often the case). If you have to make plans, such as time off work or someone else to care for your children, triple check! My example is I was originally told I would need to be isolated for ten days. I made plans around that advice, such as leave from work. A week before the treatment, I discovered it was five days for work, fourteen days for family/friends over five years of age who were not pregnant, and twenty-eight days for under-fives and pregnant women (which of course can affect working arrangements depending on your job). My isolation specifications are all around time and proximity: preferably not closer than two metres for more than 15 minutes a day.

The point is, when we plan for child care or time off work well in advance, we need to be confident we are planning correctly. I haven’t got to the root cause of why the patient gets different advice from different parties, just warning it is possible, so watch out for it!

Ask About Your Specific Activities

While there were pages of frequently asked questions provided, not one of them addressed swimming or going to the gym! In my case I was allowed to swim on Day 3 and go to the gym on Day 5, provided I took my own towel and kept two metres away from children. I needed to specifically ask about exercise related activities though – something I think is an improvement that could be made in the documentation!

The medical profession are certainly quick to tell us exercise is important medicine (obviously I agree) but then leave all mention of exercise activities out of the FAQs.

Make Sure You Are Advised Of Any Possible Health Effects

Perhaps due to my own naivety I expected my change of treatment to be relatively smooth. In reality, it really has been smooth, I certainly can’t complain too much! Let’s say the effects can be disruptive to your normal routines. I had a period of feeling, as an English friend says, “rough”. Rather a good description, really, rough!  While every situation is different because there are a myriad treatments out there for a myriad of conditions, I found I had an increase in nausea/lightheadedness attacks (which are quite debilitating) and I started to feel RA pain in my hands – this I believe due to the fact my thyroid was having a field day running wild while waiting for the radioactive iodine to work its magic. A thyroid on a binge can exacerbate RA symptoms. Lethargy/fatigue reared its ugly head as well for a few days.

This is being resolved by my going back on my old thyroid medication at a half dose – not an unusual recommendation in my situation, but every case is different. This is an EXAMPLE only!

A stroke survivor friend of mine recently ended up in hospital as his body adjusts to a change in medication. Very different medical cases, he and I, but similar results in that a change of treatment lead to a changed health experience, albeit temporary.

Make sure you are aware of what you might expect and the steps to take to mitigate any unpleasant effects. I knew I could call my endocrinologist for directions, I knew what to watch out for and my GP is watching over me.

Keep Moving As Much As You Can

I will be the first to admit when the nausea/lightheadedness kicks in, there is not much moving of any sort to be done. I am still constantly surprised at how debilitating it is: there is NOTHING I can do when it hits. Apart from take anti-nausea medication. Other patients I have spoken to say similar. No pain, just the awful, all-consuming feeling of utter “OMG, I have to lay down”.

In my case, the overactive thyroid, probably in conjunction with the low iron (lots of chicken and egg stuff here, I have to say) definitely affected my muscle strength/tone. I was very keen to get back in the gym as soon as possible as I know my conditions result in the loss of previous strength gains very quickly.  I’ve worked very hard to be able to do what I do now, I don’t want a ” one step forward, five steps back” situation! I actually haven’t made it to the gym since the treatment change. I was heading to the gym yesterday, but I got waylaid buying a dress – not the advice I would give my clients, but I’m excusing myself on the basis I did walk 8,295 steps in the process of said retail therapy! So back into it today!

I have been swimming, although that was before I started back on the medications and I could only manage 500 or 600 metres before I felt completely wiped out. The point is – do as much as you can, while at the same time being cognisant of the fact your body is going through an internal adjustment. Making the judgement of how much is not enough or too much is a skill that needs to be developed – if this is a first time experience for you, you may need some professional help in making the right choices. Listening to your body and common sense are pretty good decision making aids. Just don’t fall into the trap of using any side-effects of the treatment change as an escape clause, because you will likely regret it later.

I did definitely find I was getting stiffer over the worst few days – reminded me very clearly of WHY I started all this exercise stuff in the first place! I don’t like that stiffness one little bit. Very glad to be getting back to my definition of normal now!

Summary

A change of treatment is often recommended for a variety of reasons. I had a change of RA medication in 2016 with no rocks on the road. This time has been a bit different. I am sure over the coming years I may have other treatment adjustments or changes.

Each change may or may not bring temporary changes to our experience. Our goal during these times is to minimise any reversal of our quality of life gains to date.

As mentioned above I felt stiffness starting to return over a few days of relative inactivity. I was stiff getting out of bed, stiff getting off chairs and was finding getting out of my car a bit of a challenge. THAT, if nothing else, is enough of a trigger for me to GET MOVING! The last thing I want is to be unable to get in and out of my car!

Be prepared, plan well, use the medical support available and most of all KEEP MOVING!

Good luck!