Monday, 19 November 2018

My condition travels with me, but does it take the driving seat?

Finding your way to live well with a long term health condition is tough.

The condition is a part of every aspect of your life - always present. Something you must constantly take into account, and that might often stop you doing things you want to do. For me, this felt like it was taking over - that the condition was taking control and running (and ruining) my life.

Society often praises doing things despite having a condition - encouraging people to 'push through' and 'fight'. While there might be some conditions that 'push through' works for, in my case that only made me worse. And feel awful. As I got worse my condition dictated more and more of my life. Everything I wanted to do my condition stopped me - or made it horribly unpleasant. I felt a huge pressure to live as if I didn't have the conditions I do have - and it nearly broke me. Because I mistakenly thought living differently meant I'd given in.

Carla Spear, a friend with similar condition to me, said "It's like a bus - my conditions have to travel with me, but I am in the driving seat."

I loved the concept so much it became a poster.
Cartoon of a bus with a driver labelled 'choice', 3 passengers: skills, positives, & talents, and 'medical stuff on a trailer behind. Main text reads: My condition may travel with me, but I'm taking the driving seat. (c) Hannah Ensor 2013

To me it means:
- Not doing things just because someone else says I should.
- Not doing things just because I feel it's expected of me.
- When I want to do something, instead of trying to bulldoze my way through I (the driver) step back and ask myself: is there anything that will make this more doable? What do I want out of this? How do I get that without messing my symptoms up? I take control.
- I pace (Have a look at this blog for a bit more on pacing. here, and here)
- If I know something will cause loads of symptoms but I think it's worth it anyway, then I will do it - BUT - be prepared for the fall-out. Schedule in recovery time.

I find taking a planned couple of rest days is emotionally/mentally very different from unplanned crashes. An unplanned crash is full of 'I was supposed to be doing x, I ought to be doing y, I can't do z' and often feeling to exhausted to work out what I need to do to help myself. Whereas a planned recovery is full of 'I did it, paying for it now, but so worth it', and it carries with it the recognition that my rest is valid, important and empowering. The planned recharge means I've already planned some things to do to help me recover - ranging from gentle stretching and cross stitch to heat packs and takeaway meals. And it's DECIDED. By me. Not by my condition. By me. My condition made it necessary, but I chose to do it on my terms.

I used to switch between trying to insist my conditions weren't travelling with me and me allowing them to take the wheel. Now I am in the driving seat and they are travelling with me, but not in control. I might need to adjust my driving style to take my conditions into account, but it's still me making the decisions.

It doesn't mean I can do everything. Sometimes I decide the symptoms/rsk isn't worth it - but that is my decision. My life is definitely shaped by my conditions, but it is no longer dictated by them - instead I take my conditions into account when I make my decisions. As a result I am happier and healthier than ever.