Housework – definitely gets onto the list of most people’s least favourite things to do. I can tell you it’s on mine. But I also like to have a clean house, so it needs to be done.
I’ve mentioned before that my Knight in Tarnished Armour is fantastic. He is my main support person and does so much around the house for the general running of the house and in taking care of me – especially when I’m flaring.
However, it simply isn’t possible for him to work full-time, take care of me, do all of the household chores and have time for his own leisure and self-care. I’m a big believer in self-care and if the Knight gets too run down and sick, then we are both screwed, so giving that up is not an option. So I do what I can.
When I was first diagnosed, I was told I had to learn to pace myself and “stop before I got tired”. Honestly, that was, at the same time, both the most helpful and unhelpful piece of advice I have received in regards to my Fibromyalgia.
It sounds simple right? Quit while you’re ahead, that sort of thing. Except that it’s not. When the FibroTroll can come out of no-where and smack you with his extreme exhaustion club in the space of two minutes from feeling relatively fine, it’s very difficult to know when to stop. Doing nothing at all is not helpful either, because the less you do, the more muscle tone and strength you lose and the more unfit you become, so you get tired faster.
We tried having a cleaner come once a week or a fortnight. That seemed like a great idea, except that they wanted everything to be “tidy” before they started. So I had to pick up the baskets of laundry off the floor, wash and put away all the dishes in the kitchen, put away the random things that accumulate on bathroom sinks, or table tops or – let’s be honest here – any horizontal surface, and generally have the place tidy so they could clean. If I was having a bad run the day/s before, then that would use up all of my energy and some of the next day’s. If the knight had to work late the day before, then he couldn’t do it either. Then I found that their cleaning products gave me headaches – so I had to make them use my own. I also couldn’t relax while they were here. They would have questions, or I would need to move when they were vacuuming or any number of things. Yes, I had a clean house, but I ended up using just as much energy in preparation and tension that it simply wasn’t worth it.
So instead I’ve learnt to pace myself. This was (and still is) difficult to do. I have learned to listen to my body. Little hints, that the FibroTroll is waking up. You would think that pain and exhaustion would be obvious. But when you live with pain and fatigue every single hour of every single day, it can be a bit harder to determine.
For me, dropping things is an early warning sign. If I drop more than one piece of food on the floor while making dinner, it’s a pretty good sign that I need to get the knight to take over. Noise sensitivity and difficultly staying focused are other early signs. Dizziness, difficulty finding words, muscle twitches and shakiness are even bigger indicators that I need to stop. And of course, increased pain and fatigue. It’s best if I stop before any of those later warning signs start to happen. The only way I have been able to do this, is to pace myself or use a timer.
Sometimes I’ll break the chore down into smaller pieces. For example the bathroom. I break it down into: toilet, toilet sink, big sink, bath/shower, mirrors and shelves, and the floor. As I generally do the toilet twice a week, I can just do one section a day if I need to. The bathroom cleaning products all live in the bathroom, so I can just do a little bit when I need to. Sometimes I can get it all done in a day, broken up. Other times, it takes me all week. It can be frustrating to not have a bathroom that is completely clean in one go, but at least I know that every bit has been cleaned so it’s hygienic.
Not every chore can be broken down into small bits like that. So most of the time I use an actual timer – the oven clock, on my phone or any other timer that counts down. If it’s physical and a task that is likely to take more than 10 mins, then I set a timer. The biggest challenge to this, is to actually STOP when the timer goes off. This is hard to do. I usually don’t feel too bad while I’m doing the task and I just want to get it done. But I have learnt that if I do this, I actually get more done.
I’ll give you an example. We needed to oil our deck. This involved giving it a good scrub, letting it dry and then painting on the decking oil in two coats. Now we have a huge deck. It’s about 8 m x 6 m minus the stairs and a bit where the kitchen juts out. To help you imagine this, our 12 seater table takes up less than half of the space. It also has wooden rails and privacy screening on both the short sides. It was a big job. So the knight and I got to work. I set a timer for 10 minutes and when it went off I lay down for 20. Then I got up again and did 10 more minutes. I did this over the course of the project. When I did, I found that I could do an hour or two of work a day and not trigger a flare. If I tried to do an hour of physical work like that in one go, I would have managed one hour and triggered a flare and been in bed for three days afterwards. I would do a couple of bouts of 10 or 20 minutes each day when the knight was at work and on his days off, he would do a few hours in a row and I would do my 10 minutes on, 20 minutes off routine. We got it done. Could we have done it quicker? Probably. I could have pushed myself and worked through the pain and fatigue and halved the number of days it took us to do it. Then I would have spent a week or more in bed, the knight would have had to do everything else, including coming home at lunch time to make sure I got lunch. For me, this system works.
I use it when gardening, cleaning, bulk cooking, sorting paperwork, etc. Basically any chore where I there’s a chance I’ll start and try to just get it all done in one go, I try to remember to set a timer. Sometimes, that timer is super annoying and I want to ignore it and just finish the job I was doing. But at the very least it forces me to be aware. If it goes off and I don’t have much left, I might finish off the job. Or I’ll stand for a moment and really tune into my body. Sometimes, stopping even just for that 10 seconds is enough to realise that the warning signs are there and I was just not feeling them. I have to remember that the pot that needs scrubbing is not that big a deal. Maybe soaking it will mean that in 30 mins it will take half the energy to clean. But pushing might mean that I don’t have the energy to shower myself later. So, I’ve had to learn to stop.
I’ve found a system that mostly works for me, but I’d love to hear what your tips are. Please let me know!