How to recuperate my life
February 28, 2009 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Beginning to feel better after 6 months of chronic illness. How do I begin leading a "normal" life again?

I have a chronic autoimmune illness and the last 6 months have been tough. About all I've been able to do is work and then come home, lie on the couch, and go to bed. Weekends are spent recuperating from the work week, doing enough laundry and buying enough groceries to get through the next week. After 6 months of trying various medications and ramping up my treatments, I'm beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel; however, my social life is nonexistent, my creative and entertainment life is nonexistent, my household is in chaos and my stamina and energy to change all these things is still very very low.

I've checked around various bulletin boards and forums for chronic illness in general and my condition in specific, and don't seem to have much in common with most of those folks. A generalization, I know, but they seem to very much embrace and identify with their condition(s), while I want to distance myself as far as possible from being "sick" (while still taking my medications and doing what I must).

Although the desire is there, I'm overwhelmed by all I need to do to pick up the threads of my "normal" life. I need to build my energy and physical stamina levels, declutter and clean my house (and then keep it that way), begin socializing and creating and seeking entertainment again. Any tips, suggestions or, even better, personal anecdotes about how you resumed your usual life after a period out of commission? MeFi, help me recoup my life!
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
What about getting someone in to thoroughly clean your house? I know when I've let things get away from me, due to illness or laziness or just plain lack of time, paying someone to clean the hell out my house and starting over with a clean slate is really nice. I also find it easier to declutter and get rid of stuff when I know someone is coming over to clean. Having one of the two tasks done is less overwhelming.
posted by sugarfish at 9:43 AM on February 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Another way to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed is set time limits. Set your microwave timer to 20 minutes, and tackle what ever you can in that time with a roll of paper towels, a mop, and spray cleaner. Do this 2 or 3 times a day until the kitchen looks the way you want and then move onto the next room. Set small goals and work your way up.

Building up your physical well being is just another case of setting small goals. Start with: walk 15 minutes, do 5 push-ups and 5 crunches. Add a little every day. Work towards a long range goal-- do you want to be able to run 5 miles? Play a round of golf? Mountain bike for an hour?

Set priorities and figure out what is most important to you. Do you want to make friends? Volunteering is a great way to meet people. Educate yourself? Look into continuing education classes. Have fun? Figure out what you enjoy doing and find others who feel the same such as a book club or pottery work shop or local theater group. Improve your appearance? Start with a good haircut and then try a free make-over at your favorite department store.

I would get a little notebook, write down a list of things you want to accomplish and then make notes as you work towards those goals. Bear in mind that sometimes you will backslide but you should forgive yourself and move on. Good luck!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm still struggling with this, so I might not be the best person to give you advice. But I've found that I get overwhelmed if I aim too high, so it's good to start small. I got my apartment in order by taking one task at a time. One day, all I did was shred the pile of junk mail that had been accumulating on my coffee table. One day, all I did was take out the piles of recycling I'd allowed to accumulate. One day, I did nothing but file. I basically tackled my apartment in hour or half-hour-long increments. It took a couple of weeks to get it anything like tidy, but it did get done.

I think the socializing situation depends a lot on your particular circumstances. Do you have friends locally who you can reconnect with? And did your pre-illness socializing involve a lot of strenuous stuff that might be difficult now? If it's just a matter of re-connecting, I would bit the bullet and be honest. Call people or drop them an email and explain that you've been out of commission for a while but are feeling a lot better now and would love to get together for lunch and catch up.
posted by craichead at 10:19 AM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Personally, I'd start with your creative/entertainment/nice for yourself and find an hour in the week to do something simple, whether it's taking a couple of nice pictures and putting some flowers on your table, stretching for an hour. Mainly remind yourself why it's nice to take time for yourself (without taking so much energy you can't do the other stuff).

If I haven't seen people in awhile, Sunday lunch/early dinner works well in my circle of friends. And if they're not available, sometimes just going to a local coffee shop to read for a bit can be nice.

I have an odd tendency to buy new music when I need to get a lot of cleaning done. Also, remember that a lot of people of all energy levels have a hard time keeping up on cleaning. (I'll let others tackle that one. The closest I've come to getting that right is tackling a specific room on a specific day, but lately work/grad school has taken over.)
posted by ejaned8 at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Be realistic in what you can accomplish and don't set yourself up for failure. Your friends will be thrilled to see you again, any close friends willing to come over and help you clean or do the creative things you miss so you kill two birds with one stone?
posted by saucysault at 11:31 AM on February 28, 2009

You need energy. Other people bring energy, so draw them to you. Throw a party, celebrate, ask for help. Parties make life worthwhile.

Call up a long-time friend or family who's good at organizing these things . Tell him/her you need help with something extremely important : you need to throw a party at your place to celebrate life. Explain that you'll need to invite old and new friends, clean up/decorate, and prepare food.

Give yourself weeks to plan. Now would be a good time to call on dear friends and fam you haven't seen in a long time. An admonition to come to a serious party is the sort of favor that returns itself. Send out invitations a few weeks in advance.

Have a preparty the day before to clean up and organize. Take the day off. Have people come cook and clean the kitchen the day of. [Even if you don't know people who can help with some of this, your party organizer will.] Set as a focus of the party setting a future social calendar / finding things to do outside. The organizers should help clean up as well. When you're done, your house should be clean, your calendar filling out, and your kitchen stocked with good food.
posted by metasj at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2009

i'm glad you're starting to feel better! i know how tough it is to "get over the hump".

a lot of times--depending on the illness--people don't look sick, so friends/family/coworkers may think you're a hypochondriac, faking it, or something else. i hope you haven't had to deal with that, because it sucks. meaning, i hope your friends haven't deserted you and that's why you don't have a social life right now!

i'd suggest calling or emailing a couple of your closest friends and saying something to the effect of: "i know i've been out of touch for the last few months. i was sick, but i'm starting to feel better with the help of some medications. do you want to [activity you both like here] sometime soon?" people will understand. sometimes folks just drop off the radar for a few months even if they're not sick.

as for your house, if you're still getting your strength and stamina back, do consider hiring someone to clean your house for you. deep cleaning takes a lot out of you, and you don't want to suffer a setback because you were steam cleaning the carpet!

if you do start going out with friends again, be sure to watch yourself. if you start feeling faint (or however your illness works itself) tell your friends you have to leave. be firm on this, and just leave and go home and rest. i know that i would push myself for too long or too hard, and then feel like crap for the next several days, and it wasn't worth it.

also, one thing to consider is "owning" your illness. i understand not wanting to dwell on it or wallow, but it is a great feeling to be like, "yeah, i have ___. fuck ___." i'm not all new-agey or whatever, but it was surprisingly freeing to own my autoimmune thing and basically tell it to go fuck itself, i was going to live my life.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:58 PM on February 28, 2009

Best answer: I'm going through this too... not an autoimmune thing, but a horrible virus that has knocked me on my arse for months. The thing I've found most helpful is a notebook to make lists of stuff that I want to do. And then to lower my expectations of what I can do and how long it will take me to do it.

So for example, in my notebook, I write:Monday. Wash cat, dry dishes, snorkel, swim laps, finish feature story, go to nearby town, buy vegetables, go for walk. All of which, pre-virus could've been done in a morning. Post virus, I pick the most important one and if I do that, well done me.

It is really hard, but accepting my limitations and not stressing out over what I can't do yet has been as important as what I am able to do. I've washed the cat. (Or whatever.) Hurrah! The dishes and other stuff I *will* get to, but not today.

And they're in my notebook, so they're written down and out of my head, not buzzing around as stray, stressful thoughts bothering me. Which frees up that mental energy for getting well, I hope.
posted by t0astie at 3:20 PM on February 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

take small, concrete steps toward getting out and doing things outside the routine of caring for yourself. and also be gentle when setbacks occur ... focus on those concrete steps. remember that even 5 - 15 minutes is an accomplishment and something you can be proud of achieving.
posted by kuppajava at 6:53 PM on February 28, 2009

"I need to build my energy and physical stamina levels,"

posted by tiburon at 7:58 PM on March 1, 2009

Best answer: I've had some experience with this. Go slow and start small. The rest will follow.

First: clean the house. A clean and tidy house makes me feel much less anxious, more capable and accomplished. I know it sounds silly, but having your house in order, having your laundry clean and folded and the dishes done, etc. is a monument to your ability to self-care. Having your house in order is the first step to putting your life in order.

Get the house done. I swear to you that once you accomplish this, you will feel much more ready to take on the other aspects of your existance.

Second: Gradually put your toes back in the water with your friends/family. Make an effort to reguarly call family members. For me, regular contact not just with my parents, but also with my younger sisters, and more distant relatives, made me feel more "back in the swing of things". Friends come back more gradually; don't over-exert yourself. Is the social scene you fell out of still around geographically, just your not a part of it? Maybe meet a friend for lunch, or for dinner, and try to do this once a week? Maybe strike up a friendship with your coworkers? You'll get back in the loop eventually.

Third: find something to do. I started taking chinese class. But if you have a hobby? or want to do community service? or join a profesisonal organization? (Anything, I don't know...politics? reading? magic cards? whatever.) try to find a group you can join. This is a good way to also "get back in the swing of things". Having something that is reguarly scheduled (ie. my class meets every week on a certain date) is a good way to infuse structure and increased activity into your life.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:35 AM on March 2, 2009

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