When Self-Care Takes A Back Seat
Living with a chronic illness, like ankylosing spondylitis, we are often reminded to practice self-care. They remind us to not burn the candle at both ends, and save ourselves to enjoy the fruits of our labor. This statement is true, and I wholeheartedly agree that we must listen to our bodies, practice self-management, and not run ourselves into the ground.
But, what about those times when self-care needs to take a back seat?
When we do run ourselves into the ground
Meeting a deadline
The time when self-care is most often forced into the back is when we are faced with a deadline. We have taken on a project with a timeline not of our own creation. Somebody in our life, whether it be a boss, friend, or family is expecting us to produce something. We want to be reliable, and therefore we push ourselves harder than we probably should to succeed.
Work till we drop
When self-care takes a back seat we do things that we know we shouldn't, even with a healthy body. We pull all-nighters, drink too much coffee, skip meals, and so much more.
Recently I was renovating a “new” house while trying to pack up my old house. I have always enjoyed doing basic renovations like laying down floors, painting walls, and minor plumbing. However, only if it is on my own schedule. For this job, I was always trying to meet someone else's deadline.
I needed to finish the floor before the electrician could come in. The basement needed to be scrubbed before the foundation guys showed up. And don’t get me started on cleaning up drywall dust, that is a self-care nightmare!
Through this process, I ended up working myself completely ragged to the point that I blacked out in Home Depot. I was frightened, and I decided I must forget the deadlines and practice a little self-management of my time.
Tips to make sure you're caring for yourself
The first and most important rule for practicing self-care is to always communicate your needs before the project begins. This applies to physical jobs and mental jobs. Set out a list of expectations they should have for you before you start. That way they can’t hold you to their own expectations. You told them what to expect right off the bat!
Take your time
If you are able to start a project earlier than needed, do it! If you can extend the deadline on the front half, you will allow yourself more time to work at your own pace. Deadlines might not move, but start times might be fluid.
Build in your breaks
Focusing on self-management, I always find it useful to set myself a schedule while working on a project. To the best of my ability, I try to have a start time, end time, and a number of breaks built in. The level of difficulty should determine how often you need a break. This is by your own judgment. You know yourself the best. By building in breaks it forces you to rest. After an hour, you might not feel you need a break, but it prevents you from working four hours straight and collapsing on a pile of wood flooring (hypothetically).
Don’t go above and beyond
Know and respect your limits. Just because you can lift a heavy box of books, doesn't mean you should. You may be skilled with a saw, but don’t agree to size up all the lumber for the side of a house. Do you think Rome was built in a day? No! Don't put unrealistic expectations on yourself. You will do unnecessary harm to your body.
The hard truth
Nobody wants to put limits on themselves, and probably very few can easily admit they physically can’t keep up.
The moral of the storyThere is no shame in self-care. Listening to your body and not taking on more than you can handle is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, standing up for yourself in the name of self-preservation is a sign of strength.
Other than back pain and fatigue, what is the most common symptom that AS patients experience?