I’ve been really tired and sore the past few weeks but this weekend I started to feel a little better. I think we were on vacation a few weeks ago and I overdid the hiking (hiked 20 miles one day, more than I intended, and hiked/biked every other day for several hours each day) then ended my vacation two days early to fly out to client meetings and which required me to get by 3 days in a row with less than 5 hours of sleep (not good when I have chronic illness). Then on top of that, Wife M was prepping for the MCAT and I think it was a heavy stress hanging in the house for several weeks. At any rate, her test is done, I got an extra day of rest, I even took a couple of naps between social events on Sunday, and I just starting to feel a little less achy and a little less exhausted. In a word, phew. It is truly awful feeling exhausted.
A little over a week ago, I thought I might have a pimple on my elbow. Unfortunately, within a day my elbow was fairly red and swollen and within three days my arm below the bicep was starting to look like a balloon. Wife M forced me to the doctor (I was hoping it would pass), who said “whoa” when I showed him. He put me on two strong antibiotics and has me resting my arm. Within 5 days, my arm is much better although there is still fluid on the elbow. He wants me to continue on the antibiotics and if the fluid doesn’t resolve during that time he wants me to see a specialist for the elbow. In the meantime, still no gym but I cant help feeling I dodged a bit of a bullet with that fast moving staph infection! I’m grateful to my doctor.
For me, there are many crummy things about chronic illness, but the second worst of them all — after fatigue — is brain fog, i.e. the much harder challenge of keeping a clear thought.
Time was before my illness that my brain would whir to life and I could quickly motor off anything I needed to. Ask me the strategy to something, and I’d leap up on the whiteboard and starting jotting ideas down. But now, keeping clear thoughts is difficult. Answering any question that requires me to go into the memory bank is a challenge, and anything with some uncertainty or complexity is a challenge unless I have time to process. Spelling? I used to be great, because I would literally picture the word in my head and recite what I saw, but now I don’t see the word and am kind of stabbing in the dark.
Needless to say, this has made my job as an analytical sales person in a cutthroat industry hell. But I think I’ve developed a list over the past few years that has helped. I’m not 100%, or even 90%, but I’m getting better and I’v adapted.
Checklist in OneNote. OneNote is good because it’s free and I can access it from my computer, iPad or iPhone. What I do is make a checklist of each item at the office I have to get down, then I break it down to how much time to spend on it. For example: Answer emails – respond during morning coffee. Send out follow up reports from yesterday – 30 minutes. Send out status check note to 500 customers – 20 customers a day… I’ve noticed this is important – I’ll lose paper lists, or I start moving things around until it gets messy (I can cut and paste); also, I can keep a template that I copy and paste into a new Tab every day so every day I am starting with a fresh checklist. Plus, my razor sharp memory no where I was on a task has evaporated, so now I can search in OneNote to find out what I’ve done on something.
Stick with the Checklist. It is tempting that if I come to complexity in my checklist to pass it off until later. For example, if “Respond to email” includes an email that involves research, my temptation is to push it aside until later the day. But I’ve learned I need to take a short break, grab another cup of coffee, return and take the steps needed to complete that email. If I push it off, I start to get overwhelmed and fight the urge to shut down. So even it means taking a pause while I gather my energy, I do nothing else until complete that next task.
One Thing At A Time. My days of answering email while on a conference call, or making a phone call while waiting for my computer to re-boot, are over. So I have to focus on one thing at a time.
Take Breaks. The days of crazy 12 hour days are over. I have to take several breaks during the day to make sure I maintain the energy needed to keep brain fog at bay.
Accept the Inevitable. I will never be as crisp, sharp and productive as I once was. I can’t compare myself to the old me, which thankfully was 200% of most people (honestly). Instead, I have to focus on doing the best I can with what I have now. I this were a five-card poker me, the old me had six cards to choose from, the new me has 4 cards to work with (versus everyone else’s 5). I can’t worry that I used to have 6 or that some have 5, I just have to do the best I can with 4 and realize that I won’t win as much as I used to. That takes some pressure off.
Lots and lots of coffee. There is no way of getting around the fact that coffee is the new normal for me at the workplace. If there are side effects so be it, but I have to have the energy needed to keep my job and pay my bills. On the days where I need an extra burst of energy, I take a caffeine pill and pray for a “good” day.
My two cents. Since life gave me lemons, I’m doing the best i can to make a decent lemonade. (I’ve had to relearn how to do my to do list – I used to do it mostly by memory and prioritization, but that’s not possible anymore, and too long of a checklist is overwhelming 🙂 ).
The past week and a half I’ve been exhausted. I hate getting out of bed in the morning, and dread looking for work during the day. Why? I don’t know. I just am. It might be a cycle in my chronic health issues and fatigue, or it might not be – I just have to continue to fight through it, althought it is exhausting fighting through exhaustion 🙂
Before my lung-disease diagnosis, I could do 140-pound bicep curls. Six months later, after treatment for lung disease, I was so weak I had to literally use two hands to shave. Yesterday, after 5 years of self-physical-therapy and very slow progress, I did 140 pound bicep curls again (without straining). It felt great to return to my old gym strength (although my every-day strength is far weaker than 5 years ago. There is no chance of me getting into a street fight 🙂 ).
I also was able to do 5 *slow, easy* reps of 4 sets of 405 pound (the entire stack) of leg presses. For some reason, my legs – which have always been strong for my weight/size — are suddenly freakishly strong, and I’ve gone from sets of 4 300 pound to 5 400 pound presses (with no straining) in just a couple of months. Anyway, strength isn’t that important to me, but it is nice to reach my pre-illness strength and it is fun to watch the numbers climb a little. I do have to be careful though – I need to keep my heart rate at a reasonable level and not get too into the additional reps and heavier weights.
Current numbers for my future reference:
- Honest assessment of appearance: thin, fit or trim. Up from borderline gaunt/skinny 3 years ago.
- Age: 48
- Weight: 159 pounds
- Bicep Curl (4 reps): 140 pounds.
- Leg Presses (5 reps, but need to go down to 4 to keep my heart rate low): 405 pounds.
- Bench Press (2 reps): 200 pounds.
- Shoulder Pull Down (or whatever it is called) (4 reps) 200 pounds or 220 pounds (3 reps).
15 or so days into Shingles, the sores are healing but sheesh they hurt. IT feels like a combination of a bad scrape, bad sunburn and pulled muscles. It hurst to move and it hurts to wear clothes – unfortunately, both of those are necessary 🙂
I had fairly mild cases of Shingles twice before, but this stronger bout of Shingles is teaching me a few things about Shingles:
- It can cover a lot of the chest and back (not just a spot or two, but quite a few spots).
- It can spread to the face.
- It hurts to wear clothes over the Shingles area – like wearing winter clothing on a severe sunburn.
- The infected areas feel like I pulled muscles in those areas, so in addition to having a sunburn it feels like I pulled something in my back, chest and arm.
- It hurts to style my hair (literally, running my hand through my hair hurts my head).
- There are random shooting pains (like someone is stabbing a knife) at random spots in my body that last for a few minutes or more, move to another spot, then return again. The worst of these is in my ear, which makes me wince involuntarily.
- I am sweating profusely. I literally had sweat dripping from my ear just from standing for 15 minutes.
- I want to sleep.
- After 8 days, it is still going strong (the blisters have stopped growing and spreading but otherwise 8 days in I still feel the same I did on Day 1).
On the plus side, I always have aches and pains and fatigue, so in some ways Shingles impacts me less that way than it otherwise would.