Having a chronic illness can have its limitations on what you can and can’t do, but knowing how to maximise what you can do within those limits is what gets you to where you can be.
Knowing these limitations also means knowing when you are at the top of your game.
This can even be for people who don’t have a chronic illness. Some people are more functional in the early morning, while others are night owls. Some people start falling asleep around 3 pm, while others can keep going until early evening, then head to bed early. Chronic illness takes a lot in the beginning to chart your ups and downs. When trying to diagnose an illness, keeping track of symptoms and events around the times that symptoms appear can also help.
Work During Your Optimal Time(s)
For example, mornings when I wake up starting around 7 am are usually painful. Then between 1 pm and 2 pm is the next wave of pain followed by between 7 pm and 9 pm at night. This means that I have to work around these times and there’s usually about up to 3 hours out of the day where I wait for medication to start working and have to stop doing any work until I’m able to continue. On a day off, I’ll be up late at night when the pain seems to be minimal and that’s when I really get stuff done.
If you have chronic pain, you may have noticed that certain times of the day and events can have negative affects. If you haven’t given it much thought or think you notice a pattern, chart for a week or two when you’re having pain that prevents you from doing what you need to do.
Structure your day to work around times when you are more alert/focused and times when you’re not able to work due to pain or fatigue.
If 2 pm is your weak time of the day, plan for it and do less or the minimum for that hour. If 11 am is your power hour, plan the more difficult tasks of the day during that time. More tired around 4 pm? Time to wrap up any loose ends of the day and not start anything new or time consuming.
Work with your natural rhythms and cycles.
Fibromyalgia is unpredictable for the most part, but there are some patterns that become more noticeable. For example, if you also suffer from chronic pain and work a full time job, you may notice that by the end of the week you’re not able to keep up the same level of energy that you had in the beginning of the week. Keeping track of sick days and days that are more painful than usual can help chart if there’s a pattern that may be due to your life schedule.
The key is to work with your own rhythms that with having a chronic illness don’t follow the normal conventional expectations of North America’s work force of 35-hour work weeks (more or less).
This reminds me of the Queen of Pentacles mentality: work smarter, not harder. The Queen of Pentacles uses her resources wisely, plants her seeds and roots strategically to get the best results possible. She tends to her projects attentively, nurtures them and has enough time to enjoy them.
While the Empress is all about abundance and creativity, “giving birth” to these new projects, the Queen of Pentacles put the strategy to work and utilizes her resources to make it happen. Together, they can get it done – working in unison to get work and future endeavours off the ground with the creativity and self-care to follow.
Know When to Step Back
I work full time in a regular job and do tarot/oracle readings, this blog and social media upkeep on the side. It’s a lot of work to maintain, I’ll admit that. But, keeping everything in balance to devote the right amount of time to each is important.
Daytime can be difficult, especially if you have a chronic illness and your work requires you to be stationary in one place for a long period of time, or it’s labour intensive, requiring physical work such as lifting or even walking.
Sometimes we need to know when to step back from the amount of responsibility put upon ourselves. For myself, it took myself a few years to realise I can’t do the same level of work in the same amount of time that I used to do 5 or 10 years ago.
It took friends, family and colleagues even longer to realise that I’m not exactly the same able-bodied person that I was 5 years ago, although everyone expected me to perform at the same level that I did previously. People couldn’t understand why I made mistakes on things that seemed obvious that I knew how to do before or that it took me longer to get places due to my mobility. I tried to keep up at the same pace as before, but I would make mistakes because of it.
Know when to step back and reassess what you are able to do without overexertion. Admitting this can be difficult.
Having a chronic illness means that likely you’re never feeling 100%, but there are sometimes good days when it might feel pretty close. That’s when people start to think you’re “getting better” and then the next hour or day, you’re worse off then you’ve ever been and people can’t understand how you went from “good” to “worse” in less than 24 hours. That’s the life of chronic illness with no cure. It ebbs and flows with good days and bad.
Knowing how much you can do on a “bad” day and how much on a “good” day can help to keep some sort of consistency, even if it just means treading water for a while until you’re able to do more on a better day.
This is the Four of Swords sending its message. Sometimes we have to step back and take a break. It’s difficult to admit when we’re falling behind in something and can’t keep up. Today’s society expects everyone to be quick, to keep up the fast pace and work has to be done yesterday. Sometimes we have to pause, take a break and reassess everything to see what’s working and what we can or can’t do.
Quality over quantity. It’s better to do a few things well rather than several things poorly. Do your best, even if it means less than others.
The few things that you can do will be more appreciated rather than several things done badly. Don’t feel you have to always keep up if you can’t, know your limitations on good days and bad days, knowing you’ve done the best you can do at the end of the day.
Keep Busy (Long Enough) to Stay Focused
When I first started having chronic pain, I mostly just lived for my day job then came home and laid on the reclining sofa or sat on a bench in the shower and just recovered from the day until I had to do it all over again. That’s mostly what I did for two years, having a very limited life.
Then I got back into tarot.
Prior to tarot, I started studying Korean. I practiced every day and night studying Korean which kept my mind off the pain and helped me to combat brain fog (the medical term that is used for mental confusion that is caused by chronic pain. It can cause memory problems and concentration problems.) I had brain fog for almost two years, but fought my way through it by memorising and studying.
Something drew me to study tarot again. Now, most people abhor memorizing the cards, but that’s how I started. It helped improve my memory and gave me something to focus on. It helped me with my day job that I could remember what I needed to know in my job, passwords, etc. Once I memorised the majority of all 78 cards, then I started to work from intuition since I had the memorised keywords to fall back on and act as triggers.
This meant I had to fight the brain fog and boredom of being limited. Tarot helped me with that.
I couldn’t physically be active, so reading books on tarot and working with tarot kept me motivated and busy outside my day job to prevent me from sitting in front of the TV and just thinking how much I hurt. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes the pain is way too overwhelming where that’s all I think about and there’s no way I can even think about anything else, far less tarot. Yet, tarot gives me a purpose and when I’ve been away from it for a couple of days due to pain, I feel lost without it.
So whether you study tarot, languages, read books, knit, or whatever, staying focused on something that you love gives motivation to keep active in some way within your limitations of what you are physically or mentally able to do.
It’s been almost 5 years since I’ve had chronic pain and I’m still learning how to manage it as many people with chronic illness learn on a daily basis how to manage and care for their symptoms. I hope this helps anyone who is also dealing with a chronic illness to know it’s OK to take a step back and revaluate how things are working.
Reassess, revaluate, change if you must. If it’s not working, it may be time to review.
What works this month or this season might not work in the next month or season or even in a year from now. Our bodies change and adapt to the constant stress of illness and pain.
Revaluating what our schedules are like is a constant process to make sure we can get consistency on a reliable basis so that we can be dependable when we need to be, but still there may be some days that are unbearable and days when getting out of bed is not a possibility.
By reassessing on a regular basis there can be some progress and success to get the things we want to achieve and accomplish.
Having chronic illness may mean the methods that we get these things done may be unconventional and different from those who don’t suffer from the same conditions, but nonetheless we can still produce some amazing results with the determination many of us have to succeed despite the hand that we were dealt.
So take your time, scale back if you must, reassess your schedule, work during your optimal times, take down time when you must. Chronic illness may have its limitations, but we can define what we can do within them and push it to its limit.
If your illness sets boundaries, then use all the space you have and can work with. Use everything to your advantage. Like the saying goes, it’s not just a “disability”, it’s being “differently abled.” Do whatever is your personal best on any given day, no matter if it’s a little or more. We are all differently abled.
Card images from Rider Waite Tarot ©1971 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.; Tarot of the Cat People ©1984,2004 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.; Black Cats Tarot ©2013 by Lo Scarabeo.