Simple but not easy: how I’m doing with nourishing vs depleting

What happened?

Day 1: Made a plan then ignored it completely.

Day 2 & 3: Did a little better. Made sensible looking plans and more or less alternated nourishing and depleting tasks. Although my work sessions were too long, and rest sessions too short.

Day 4: Made a plan but put way too much on it. Stayed out too long. Got too cold. Kept going after I’d started to get tired.

Day 5: Made a plan and more or less followed it. My energy still crashed in the afternoon.


I still worked too hard. The strategy of alternating nourishing and depleting activities helped to make sure I incorporated more relaxing and restful activities into my day. However, it didn’t do anything to counter my tendency to work for longer than I should and then ‘cheat’ on my rest breaks by cutting them short, or absentmindedly finding something to do that still engages brain or muscle.

I don’t feel it’s entirely fair to blame the strategy, though. Common sense tells me what will happen if I alternate long periods of work and short periods of rest. A little more self-discipline and knowing when to stop would make all the difference. Unfortunately, depression and fatigue will make sensible decision making less likely, and I’m more likely to fall back into old habits.

I can’t be trusted to be sensible. Without a timer I can’t be trusted to stop at a sensible time. It’s not just me. Vidyamala Burch (co-author of Mindfulness for Health) has said the same thing about herself (I found it reassuring to learn it’s not just me). A friend pointed out that I can’t be trusted with a timer either! She has often observed me step back from what I was doing only to start fiddling with something else. I really do struggle with this aspect of self-management!

The principle of alternating nourishing and depleting activities is a sound one but I need to add in the use of a timer to keep me from working too long once I get interested in what I’m doing.

I want my old life back.
I find restricting my activities like this limiting. I know my discomfort increases without a pacing strategy in operation, but I also am very reluctant to go back to a rigid regime. I don’t like having strict routines, pacing my activities, resting all the time and using a timer. I miss being able to get lost in work, talk for hours, or stay at the allotment until the sun has gone down.

I think this grief at the loss of my old way of living and unhappiness at the restrictions imposed by my health problems are at the root of my reluctance to get back into routines and habits that are necessary to manage my health condition as well as possible. I feel a great deal of sadness and a strong sense of loss. It is hard to feel this, but hopefully, by acknowledging my problem I can begin to work on it and find a way to live with this reality.

How can I make this work better in the future?

Rest breaks:

  • Start small and increase length slowly, just as I would with other activities that I was struggling with. I can apply the same slow and gentle approach i have used for building up physical strength and stamina. Baby steps.
  • Try to appreciate my rest breaks rather than resenting them. Think about what resources or strategies I might be able to use to do this.

Resistance to pacing:

  • Give myself time and space to grieve for the life I used to have.
  • Think about what resources I might be able to use to help me come to terms with this aspect of living with chronic illness, again.
  • See if I can remember how I got over this resistance previously.

Use my timer:

  • Problem solve ways to introduce the timer that feel less painful.
  • Start with short rest breaks and gradually increase them to where they need to be.
  • Begin by timing tasks where I feel less frustrated when the bell sounds and I have to stop.

Anticipate problems:

  • Incorporate thinking about what I might need to think about, or how I might need to adapt into my daily planning.

Solving one problem generates more.  
Using the nourishing vs. depleting strategy has been helpful. I can see an improvement in both how much I am doing in a day and how tired I am getting. Taking even more care over rest and length of time on activities is improving things further. So I am counting it as a success. However, I’ve identified four more problems to work on! This seems to be a feature of self-management for chronic illness.

Self-management is not an easy path at all. It does require continuous adjustment and adapting to changing circumstances. In one sense that’s true for everyone regardless of their health status. I do feel that the quantity of difficult, annoying, contradictory problems has risen over the last few years. Worse than that is the fact that these are not the problems I want to be working on. Nevertheless, I will keep chipping away at these problems bit by bit.

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