How do I fill my day since I'm out on medical leave?
March 25, 2012 1:44 PM   Subscribe

How do you fill/structure your day when you go from a full-time job to a period of short-term (and possibly long-term) disability?

I have rheumatoid arthritis which at the moment is uncontrolled. I'm well treated and have confidence in my rheumatologist and other doctors, so the medical aspect is handled. But, after working since the age of 16 and being a full-time employee for the last 20+ years, I'm now on short-term disability which may extend into long-term and possibly even permanent disability. I leave home about once per week, usually combining a doctor's appointment or errand to pick up medicine or supplies with a meal out, just to be "out in the world" a bit.

I'm struggling with having a structure to my day without having a job to go to, and even knowing how to fill my day considering I'm not working and with my health issues. I've never in my life had a problem with being bored or lacking things to do, but being ill and having low energy and physical limitations, projects like cleaning out closets, redecorating my living room, etc, are out. As another complicating factor, my hands and wrists are particularly affected, so the usual quiet activities like knitting and other handwork are out most days.

So, my questions:
-- How do you structure your day when there is really no structure? I feel like I'd do better with some sort of routine, but I'm having trouble having one w/o the backbone of a work day to pin it on and the complication of not really being able to tackle anything very physical. Examples of how other folks have figured out a routine without a real structure to base it on, would be very helpful.

-- Secondly, any suggestions for low energy projects or activities that aren't "hand intensive" would be awesome!

Thanks for your ideas!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Regarding your second question:

Your hands are affected, but it's not clear if typing bothers them. If typing is okay, you might like blogging - it's a fun way to connect with people and can take up a lot of time.

Also if your hands are okay for computer work, what about teaching yourself photoshop (or a free photo editing program)? Or you could teach yourself to program, or design websites, or something like that.

You could work on learning another language, using free materials that are available online or at your local public library.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:52 PM on March 25, 2012

I work from home, and have a really open schedule even when I'm working, so I've struggled some with this, too. (And I have RA, too, although it's under reasonably decent control, on average.) Some things that have worked for me:

- Fixed sleep schedules. This is #1 for making my life normal - if I let myself slide into the 2am bedtime/noon wakeup I can't get anything done at all and I don't feel great. I know that I need ten hours of sleep a night - that's how long I sleep if I don't set an alarm, even over the long term - so I structure my day to make sure I'm in bed by midnight and up by ten at least six nights a week.

- Regular exercise sessions, with a partner if you can find one. This may or may not be possible for you - I am lucky to have a friend who works evenings and is delighted to go to the gym/for a walk at 10:30 on a weekday morning, and it's great for making me follow through. Partner or no, though, scheduling a fixed time at least three days a week to put on workout clothes and do something physical - even if it's just a hobble round the block! - will help structure your day and also make you feel better.

- Read a bunch. I am biased maybe because I love to read, but I make a trip to the library every couple of weeks and tear through stuff. I can read even on my worst days - although hardcovers become impossible in some positions - and I can lie in bed and not aggravate my hips, which sitting often does.

- If you can get out of the house more, do so! Sitting at coffee shops with a book or a laptop will at least get you out of the same old environment, and the casual social contact really does help. I like to try new coffeeshops for my writing every so often - it's an adventure! (Also, protip - if you have a pen and a notebook and practice a thoughtful stare, you can peoplewatch all day and no one will notice.

- When I'm feeling like crap, I play the "Do a thing" game. Instead of setting myself up for failure by making big to-do lists that I won't be able to finish, I make big to-do lists of tiny little tasks (like "put the cans in the recycling" or "throw out pile of grotty receipts") and do a thing! Then, if I feel like it, I do another thing! But if I don't, then I don't, and that's fine, because I've done a thing! I like this attitude because it's pretty flexible about how much energy and capability I'll have on a given day, which can vary a lot.

- I'm experimenting right now with being more conscious of natural rhythms - I don't get up with the sun or anything, but I try to go outside in the morning, even if it's just for five minutes, and I have f.lux installed on my computer, so when it turns the screen pink I get up and go outside again to admire the sunset for a few minutes. Part of me would like to actually sleep/wake closer to sunrise/sunset, but part of me likes to go out with my friends so I haven't attempted that yet.

So, that's just a bunch of stuff that works for me. I'm kind of a lazy slob, so I'm sure there are other, more organized techniques for people who really want more structure, but this should get you thinking at least.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:12 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

What about giving yourself projects that don't strain your hands and wrists too much? Like reading all The Great Books (or listening to them on audiobook) or watching the AFI's list of all the best films or listening to all the best albums in your genre of choice? If you can't type/use a computer a lot, could you still watch lectures/videos on sites like Khan Academy and learn new things?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:13 PM on March 25, 2012

When I was on disability late last year, this was one of the big things I struggled with. My issue was more that I couldn't mentally get myself to do anything or concentrate on anything (I found coloring pictures to be really helpful, actually.)

If I could have concentrated better (it sounds like that might be OK for you,) I would have done things like:
  • Finally get through all those fabulous lengthy TV series people always say they love, but I never have the time to handle.
  • Read all those big books that they say you're supposed to have read (Anna Karenina, the Federalist Papers, etc.) but I never have managed to sit through.
  • Answer lots and lots of questions on MetaFilter.
  • Do a gazillion MIT OCW courses.
  • Scan all the family photos that still need scanning.
  • Reconnect with family members I've lost touch with.
  • Record my family history (you could do this with your computer, recording yourself telling stories - find some kid in your family who needs a family history project and have them transcribe it all.)
I also tried to go and do things with family - mostly because they could keep an eye on me, keep me motivated, etc., but also because the social contact was healthier than the isolation depression and anxiety naturally incline me towards.

And I second making sure to get up and go to bed at the same time every day. It's a necessity for me with my mental health issues, but I think it's a really good idea for anyone who's lacking structure. Eating at the same times each day, and taking my meds on time and such, is also really important for me.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 2:19 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Set yourself on a schedule. It doesn't have to be met to the minute every day, but in the beginning you should try to make it like your job. The trick is to make even the mundane tasks a part of your daily routine.

Wake up at the same time every morning. Get in a morning meditation and perhaps some light exercise. Make yourself a breakfast, set it up at a table, and eat while listening to the radio or reading the paper. Clean up your breakfast plates, make yourself a cup of tea, and finish catching up with your with Morning Edition or whatever else you might want to listen to or read. Rest up until it's time to start prepping lunch.

After lunch, launch into your big project for the day. This can be anything from picking up a new book to catching up on e-mail. You might also get out in the fresh air for a bit if you feel like. Find a park and watch squirrels. Squirrels are amusing.

Get in a catnap.

Make a big deal out of dinner. Set your place out nicely, and have a glass of wine with your meal. Eat well.

Have a cocktail and watch a movie or listen to some music. Get a Roku and become friends with Netflix. Learn when good TV is going to be on, and tape it to fit into your day.

Obviously the specifics are up to you, but the idea is to plan to that level of detail. Shooting for one big accomplishment a day will keep you busy without tiring your out.
posted by Gilbert at 10:33 PM on March 25, 2012

One rule I set for myself: No TV during the daytime.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:25 AM on March 26, 2012

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