Lifestyle and disability blogger, Sarah Alexander, has multiple chronic conditions. Her painful conditions mean that often she can’t complete the tasks she’s set out for herself. In this article, she explains how she changed her ‘to-do’ list into a ‘done’ list and, in turn, improved her mental well-being.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to my health. I often feel like I’m not doing enough, that I’ve wasted days, or I should have completed chores. Even when my body is incapable. Even when I’m really struggling. I wanted to be able to do things every day. I wanted to clean the house and shower and go out with friends all on the same day, when in reality it wasn’t feasible.
Let’s face it, a shower is so much effort, I don’t go out after it, I go straight to bed. People that don’t suffer with chronic pain and/or fatigue, don’t get it. Why do I get in bed after a shower? It’s because it’s exhausting. Even with the help of someone else, getting clean is so tiring. There’s absolutely no way I can do anything but lie down in bed afterwards. So trying to do things, anything, with a chronic pain condition (or multiple conditions) is a struggle.
I used to write to-do lists. My memory is severely impacted by my conditions, so lists are my go-to. However, at the end of the day I would go and look at a page of lists with nothing crossed off and feel useless. It would really hinder my mental health and put me in a dark place. It was a tangible reminder of all the things I couldn’t do that day and it would lead to overthinking and anxiety because I felt like there was so much on my plate. I felt unaccomplished, worthless and a burden; because if I wasn’t doing all these things, someone else (partner or family member) would have to do it for me, and I didn’t want to add extra pressure to their lives.
When I’m in a bad headspace, frustrated and in pain, it’s really difficult to stay positive.
I am unable to do much physically as it is but when I am flaring, I can barely hold a cup or even get out of bed. On these days, I’d be really critical of myself and feel like a failure. Despite knowing that I am not a failure and my life has meaning, when I’m in a bad headspace, frustrated and in pain, it’s really difficult to stay positive. I want to productive and I used to focus on my lack of accomplishments. And the incomplete to-do lists only intensified these negative feelings and these silly little lists became toxic and controlled how I felt.
In reality, I wasn’t lying in bed doing nothing, albeit, that’s what it may look like to the outside world, but I was fighting, I was recovering and resting.
I quickly realised that although I found lists helpful for medical appointments and as reminders for deadlines etc., they didn’t need to be part of my everyday life. That I needed to give myself a break and not be so strict on what I should and shouldn’t do.
That’s when I started creating ‘done lists’. With this list I wrote down all the things I had accomplished that day, no matter how small or insignificant it may be. This is especially helpful when I am flaring and my mental health suffering because even ‘taking medication’ or ‘fed the dogs’ proved that I had been productive in some ways.
Some other things on my list include: made a drink; got out of bed; did some stretches; called a friend; listened to an audiobook; ordered food shopping; put on fresh pyjamas.
Click here to read our article on the benefits of audiobooks for people with disabilities and carers
The contents of my list were often the same but it reminded me that I had taken part in the day, even if it was doing very small activities. I find it a really positive way to track my progress and focus on small victories.
I am allowed to heal and I shouldn’t feel guilty over being less productive.
I started creating ‘done lists’ a few years ago and I would religiously do them daily but I don’t have to anymore as I no longer feel like I waste days. I’ve recognised I am allowed to heal and I shouldn’t feel guilty over being less productive. Living with a chronic condition means I need more rest days and I’m okay with that. The ‘done list’ helped me understand this and if I’m ever feeling low, I go straight back to composing a list of what I have done.
We all need time to heal and recover, we all need days off, and it just so happens a lot of us with a disability need more time than others, but that’s okay. If you’re ever feeling incapable or inadequate, you’re not alone. Give writing a ‘done list’ a go and see how much you can do even when you’re struggling; even if that one thing on your list is asking someone else for help.
Read more from Sarah at www.fromsarahlex.com