Spring Into Self-Care

In my part of the world, it’s spring. The weather is finally getting warmer, after playing a few tricks on us during March and the beginning part of April. People are able to get outside more, which is a good thing after a winter of snow, wind, and ridiculous cold.

But going outside to enjoy activities or just the fresh air is something not everyone does. For some people, it takes thought to figure out what you want to do. Being around nature isn’t easy if you’re living in a city, and sometimes fresh air isn’t really a thing that happens. Being in the country, you might have to drive a while to reach the location of an outdoor activity you want to do.

Being cooped up inside all the time isn’t necessarily a good thing. Personally, I deal with it a lot, because some of the health issues I have make leaving the house difficult at times. They also make wanting to be outside difficult. (PTSD and anxiety.) I have days when I have to push myself to just open the door and step out onto the porch, though if I can at least get that far, I’ll have the fresh air.

Being out in the sunshine, moving around and taking in the fresh air, can be really good for you. Not only can it help you be healthier physically, but it can boost your mood as well. If it’s something you’re able to do, try to make sure you do it on a regular basis. If it’s difficult for you to go places or do activities on your own, see if a friend or family member wants to go with you. Take time to figure out what you really want to do that will get you out of the house once in a while. It’s worth it.

Can’t Stay Home…

During the winter, spreading viruses and infections happens a lot more frequently than at other times of year. People are stuck indoors more, which means they’re in closer proximity to others for longer periods of time than when they’re able to go outside.

Some viruses tend to be more prevalent during the winter as well. The combination of that and people being together in small spaces for hours on end makes getting sick in the winter far more likely. If you’re sick, it’s best to stay home, rest, and be away from other people who might get sick from being near you.

Unfortunately, schools and workplaces don’t always make it easy for us to stay home and take care of ourselves when we’re sick. A lot of schools, particularly high schools, have attendance requirements. They might have a policy that says “Don’t come to school within 24 hours of having a fever,” but also have a policy that says “If you miss more than three days per grading term without a doctor’s note, you fail all your classes.” (These policies both existed at my older offspring’s high school.)

Meanwhile, doctor’s offices often won’t see a patient for a mild fever, or for cold symptoms or an upset stomach. Calling the office results in hearing, “There’s a stomach bug going around, just have your child rest and drink lots of fluids, there’s no need to bring them in.”

The child or teen is too sick to go to school according to the school’s illness policy, but not sick enough to see a doctor, which means you can’t get a doctor’s note so the student doesn’t fail their classes due to being absent. So they pack up, go off to school even though they’re feeling miserable, and half their classmates end up getting sick and having the same problem. And the illness cycles, and the family members of those students get sick too, and so on.

Workplaces also often penalize employees for taking sick time, or they don’t offer sick time at all. Someone who is living paycheck to paycheck at a job that doesn’t include paid sick time can’t afford to miss a day of work, because that means losing a day of pay. Someone who gets paid sick time might be afraid of repercussions from their boss if they take a day off. So these employees head to work, where their coworkers catch the illness and end up having the same problem. And the family members of those employees get sick too, and so on.

Too often in our society, we’re taught that being sick is weakness. We have to achieve and meet our responsibilities no matter how we feel, and no matter the risk to others who might contract an illness from us. But how much good are we doing ourselves and others if we push to go to school or work when we’re sick? I don’t know if there is a solution, but I do wish things would change.

Invisible Illness

I know a number of people who suffer from what are sometimes called “invisible illnesses.” I’m one of those people.

I have fibromyalgia. It’s a chronic pain condition, and when it’s at its worst I describe it as “being wrapped in a blanket of pain.” On those 1-10 pain scales hospitals use, my baseline is other people’s 2. There is never a time some part of my body doesn’t hurt.

In addition to the pain, fibro gives me “brain fog.” Sometimes I can’t remember things, even, at times, how to do something I do on a regular basis. Which is pretty dang scary, let me tell you. And it and the migraines I also experience affect my balance and depth perception to the point that sometimes I can’t make it down a flight of stairs without help. (Going upstairs is easier; going downstairs, I might miss the step. And I can’t even attempt down escalators, because between the movement and the wonky depth perception, I can’t guess where to put my feet.)

I’m not saying any of this to get pity or sympathy. I’m saying it because I look like a perfectly healthy human being. On my low-pain days, I can move around and walk easily, other than those pesky stairs. The only time anyone other than my loved ones notice that I’m in pain is if I’m at the higher end of the scale—except if I’m at a 7 or higher, I usually don’t leave the house.

I have a handicapped parking tag for my car, one of the type you hang from the rearview mirror. I also have a cane, which I try really hard not to use, but sometimes I haven’t much choice. If it’s a reasonable day, I park in a regular parking space and go without the cane, but if I’m in pain or my balance is off, I use my tag and take a handicapped spot. And I get out with my cane…but sometimes I still get glared at, because I don’t look like I need the spot or the cane.

The point I’m trying to make is, don’t assume someone’s healthy just by how they look. Mental illnesses don’t show on the surface. Neither do physical conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, immune deficiencies, and a number of other things. Instead of assuming someone’s lying or faking it because they don’t look like your definition of sick, assume they’re being honest. Remember that you can’t tell what’s going on in someone else’s mind or body.

It’s a cliché, but don’t judge a book by its cover. Please.

Forgetting Things

One of the most unfortunate side effects of my health issues is that sometimes I just plain forget things. I forget something I need to do, or something someone else said to me, or sometimes what day of the week it is.

It isn’t exactly humorous, though I try to make jokes about it. Sometimes, to be honest, it’s outright scary. Especially if someone insists they told me something and not only do I not remember them telling me that specific thing, I don’t remember anything about the alleged conversation whatsoever. Not even that it occurred.

I’ve even had the experience more than once of someone greeting me and telling me they’re a former classmate, coworker, or neighbor of mine…and I recognize neither their face nor their name. They’re completely nonexistent in my memory banks.

There are a few components to the problem, so it isn’t easily remedied. Because of trauma in my past, I’ve blocked out large chunks of my life between birth (or at least as far back as most people would reasonably be expected to recall) and age 36. Some of the missing classmates, etc., are probably somewhere in those chunks, but I no longer have–or want–access to those memories. There’s a reason I blocked them.

The things like forgetting something someone has told me recently, or not remembering to do tasks I’m supposed to do, has a more benign cause, though it’s still a problem. I have migraines and fibromyalgia, both of which are neurological issues that can affect memory. Unfortunately, that means that if I don’t write things down, it’s a crapshoot as to whether I’ll actually remember them. And even if I do write something down, I sometimes still forget; I just realized, for example, that I have a meeting to go to this coming week on the same evening I’d made plans with a friend. I had the meeting time written on my calendar for that date. I was looking at the calendar while discussing the plans with my friend. And yet it still somehow didn’t get through until just now that I was scheduling two things for the same time and date.

It can be frustrating for my family as well. My kids sometimes get irritated if they’ve told me something they needed me to do and I don’t remember being told, or if I think I’ve told them something but didn’t actually remember to tell them. Fortunately, they usually understand that it isn’t something I can help, and I have learned to be even more careful about writing things down.

There are ways to work around memory issues, but people who have trouble remembering things can also use patience from those around them. Not being blamed for something beyond one’s control makes it a lot easier to deal with.