If anything, I have learned that necessity is the motivator of life. When dealing with chronic pain, depression, or anxiety there are certain (all) things one must force oneself to do. Life things; things that if they don’t get done, you’re done. Like eat. Or grocery shop. Or work. It’s universal knowledge that if basic needs aren’t met, life cannot be lived. Therefore, when every movement you make causes pain or expends energy you don’t have, one must force oneself to do basic tasks. I’d say I’ve hit expert level in this department.
I struggle with autoimmune issues and chronic fatigue. It’s been five years of learning to navigate this world with constant spine pain. As much as I hate to admit it, most days, I am at the mercy of my weary little body—but, I have gotten pretty good at working around it.
There are certain tasks I make myself do daily that make me feel like I've accomplished something. Simple tasks that anyone can do. They may seem small and inconsequential but having been someone who, at one time, had an extremely hard time getting out of bed, I look at them as stepping stones.
About six months ago, I made a pact with myself that I would do three things every day no matter how much I hurt, how tired I was, or how much I wanted to hole up in a dark corner and cry my eyes out. I have found these simple tasks have changed the way I go about my entire day.
Task number 1: I get out of bed. Every single day. No matter how badly I feel, how much pain I’m in, or how comfortable my pillow arrangement finally is. I get out. And when I do, I congratulate myself.
Task number 2: I take a shower. Every single day. If I get showered then I get dressed. If I get dressed then I’m ready for the day and whatever comes my way. But really, does showering even need an explanation?
Task number 3: I make my bed. Every single day. There is a part of me that is OCD and loves the clean look of having a freshly made bed, but mostly, I make it so that I don’t get back in it. Because an unmade bed is just an open invitation to come back. And, I ain’t got time for that.
It has been my experience, that after completing these three tasks—preferably first thing in the morning—I am motivated to keep going. It’s almost like a challenge: if I can do those things, what else can I tackle?
There is something extremely satisfying about being able to say you’ve accomplished something. Especially, when you went so long not accomplishing anything. Even if it is something as small as making your bed. A lot of times, doing the little chores is a gateway to bigger, better accomplishments.
Because of my physical restrictions, if I start thinking about the big stuff, I get completely overwhelmed. If I look at my week as a whole, I get stressed and start to wonder how I’m going to get everything done and I battle with my mind as to whether or not I can keep up. From there, I usually decide I can’t and I shut down entirely and contemplate how horrible my life is. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that just isn’t productive. So, I have learned that if I break life down into days, or sometimes, even hours, it's much more manageable. I can do hour-by-hour. And if I start with things I know won’t send me over the edge, like making my bed, I head into the rest of the day with confidence and determination to finish.
Since starting this plan, I have actually graduated to an even more advanced everyday to-do list. I have at least six things on there that I hold myself accountable to do no matter how miserable I feel. I can't even tell you how amazing it is to get to the end of a long day and to be able to say, “At least I got that done.” And three of those to-do’s are tiny steps towards building a better life for my boys and me.
Now, that’s something.
I never thought I’d be someone who would have to break things down into such small, simple steps. My whole life I have been an ambitious-go-getter-perfectionist-over-achiever-robot. I am someone who, when given an assignment or job, I do it to the best of my ability and I work until it’s done. It has been one of the most aggravating lessons in life to not be able to do what I need/want to do because of the limitations of my little body. But, lesson it's been nonetheless. And because of it, I have grown and progressed beyond measure.
There are so many factors in life that can be changed to better oneself. Factors that, if you work harder, push more, and try with all you might—you will eventually see results. But, when you can't change how your body functions, thereby, making it impossible to take certain steps or perform certain tasks it makes living difficult. It's sheer agony when all you want to do is do stuff: normal stuff, work stuff, kid stuff, travel stuff, everything stuff–but your body resists.
If you are struggling, make a list of three things you can do every day.
1. Make your bed.
2. Brush your teeth.
3. Get dressed.
Boom. You can do that. You may find, once those are done, you can move onto other tasks. And if you can't, well, at least your breath doesn't stink. That pretty much makes you a rockstar.
One of the greatest lessons I've learned through all of this is: Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to work at your own pace. Take breaks. Rest. And know that you are capable. You may have to do things in a different way than other people, but you can still do them. One small task at a time.