Friday, 30 August 2013

Energy and the Art of the Microburst

I was up with my alarm this morning, partly to get the bins out, and then so that I could take a painkiller to stop the party going on between my knees, toes and hips. I lay back down to listen to the news and plan a little what to do this morning and then next thing I knew, it was 3 hours later. Everything had stopped hurting and I was very comfortable, lying on the bed with both cats purring away, but I couldn't stay there; the most urgent job was to stagger out to the barn and let the hens out. As it was a grey morning, they'd gone back to bed too, but my cockerel Red came bustling out, clapped his wings and started to crow.  It sounded rather like 'For goodness' sake! Where have you been? You've got things to do!'

Like many other chronic (that is, long-term) conditions, my osteoarthritis (OA) can fluctuate between good hours, days, weeks, months perhaps, when I'm just a bit stiff, to being completely debilitating.  When I'm having a flare, the maximum dose of my painkillers works well enough for me to be pain-free if I don't move, but it will also make me too drowsy to concentrate, or even stay awake. Even without taking painkillers, I was unprepared for the fatigue associated with constant pain. So, with my left knee still not taking my weight, and my right toe still sore after the op, getting anything done at all is something of a challenge.

I think I may have spent the last year in denial a little, but this latest flare-up in my left knee has been going on for nearly three months now and I have started to see the potential benefits of bungalows and the riser-recliner chairs and stair- and bath lifts which are advertised so much during daytime TV.  It all leaves me a bit depressed, wondering how long I'll be able to go on dancing and if I'll even be able to dance again.

During May, my knees were feeling more than usually stiff, sore and creaky, but with a bit of a warm up before dancing, people who didn't already know I have issues were astonished when I told them. At one hafla, someone incredulously asked, 'How can you dance and teach if you have severe osteoarthritis?' to which the answer is, most of the time it's okay, and during a flare, with extreme difficulty or not at all.

A friend of mine has become seriously and chronically ill in the past year and I have other friends with various chronic illnesses which the casual observer would not guess at. In other words, they don't look ill.  The 'spoon theory' by  Christine Miserandino came up in conversation a few months ago.  This is an article which explains the practical considerations all those with chronic conditions involving pain and fatigue have to give to their daily life, using spoons as a tangible example of energy credits. Anything which needs movement or energy to do costs you one or more spoons; you don't have as many spoons (energy credits) as you might want or need to get everything done, you need to make them last to the end of the day, and if you go overdrawn, you pay for it the following day, and perhaps longer.

Years ago when I was learning about project management, I got a lot of practice breaking jobs down into tasks in logical steps.  Time management courses were hot on multi-tasking and fitting small jobs into odd blocks of time. It wasn't until recently that I'd heard of the 'microburst' in the sense of activity, rather than meteorology.

Activity microbursts are a good technique for getting started on a job which you've been putting off, by doing a very small, non-threatening task or two just to get the ball rolling. For those with a tendency to get obsessed or stuck on a job, deciding to microburst by doing just a couple of smaller tasks ensures you can get on with other things too.  They are the classic way to fit a small job into a block of time, for example if you have 20 minutes before you have to set off for somewhere, pick up a job which will take 15 minutes.Alternatively, since work often expands to fill the time allotted to it, pick a task and give it five minutes.

And then there's microbursting for those who, for whatever reason, can't complete the whole job in one go, so jobs become a series of five minute tasks. It's strange to think that, for instance, getting a load of laundry done can be broken down into yet smaller tasks, but it's possible. I have to accept the fact that, for the time being at least, I can't manage to get the last load out, sort out another load and get that on, then carry the basket through and hang up the wet washing, without having to sit and rest a couple of times.  (How to carry the washbasket and use a stick? Carry the basket on your head.) So the job which used to take 20 minutes now takes 30 or more. I can microburst other tasks into my rests, such as answering an email, but on more than one occasion I have sat down on the sofa or bed and woken up a couple of hours later. It's frustrating, makes me feel like I'm being lazy, pathetic, not trying hard enough.

For some light relief, I did an Internet search for 'microburst'. The first result was the Wikipedia entry on the weather phenomenon and I was tickled to read that 'There are two types of microbursts: wet microbursts and dry microbursts. They go through three stages in their life cycle: the downburst, outburst, and cushion stages.'

Perfect.  I shall now demonstrate a wet microburst by washing up. Filling the sink is the downburst, the outburst stage finishes with all the washed bits and pieces in the drainer and the cushion stage is me sagging gratefully onto the sofa. Then I think I shall try a dry microburst, as I drop to the floor to do some physio, curse out loud when I push my toe a bit too far and crawl back onto the sofa.  If I've still got some energy, another dry microburst will be me dumping a load of dry washing onto one seat of the sofa, sitting and folding it all into neat piles ... then probably falling asleep on it. Again.

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