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How to cope with being housebound - lessons learned from my ME/CFS recovery

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

This is the second in a series of blogs where I discuss how some of the coping mechanisms I developed while tackling a chronic health condition are now helping me cope with the Covid-19 lockdown.

In the last blog I gave you the heads up that the first topic I’d be tackling was how to cope with being effectively housebound. Now, I know that with the current lockdown we can, technically, leave the house. But it’s only for essential reasons - a weekly shop, or short daily exercise. So, we are effectively housebound for much of the time.

There are real parallels between the current lockdown and what life’s like when you’re living in the grip of M.E./Chronic Fatigue. I remember clearly that even once my M.E. was improving enough for me to be able to leave the house, doing so was a huge undertaking. And I quickly realised it often just wasn’t worth the effort unless there was a really important reason to go out. Even once I was on the road to recovery, it still took years before I got anywhere close to being able to leave the house without a second thought.

It’s fair to say, I spent a lot of time at home in the early months. This meant that I had to find ways to keep myself occupied and entertained, or I’d have quickly gone stir crazy. Here are some of the things that helped me - of course we’re all different, so what worked for me won’t necessarily appeal to you. But hopefully the suggestions below will give you a few ideas to build on:

- Getting dressed - a basic one, you’d think. But it made a big difference. It’s tempting to stay in your PJ’s all day when you know you don’t have to leave the house or see anyone. But I quickly found that getting dressed - even if it was just into comfortable lounge wear - would get me into a more alert mindset and set me up for the day. Otherwise the different phases of the day: getting up/pottering around/going to sleep would feel as though they were just merging together into one long existence.

- Having a routine - the importance of this is being talked about a lot at the moment. But there’s a reason for that - it really helps! It gives structure to your days and, again, helps the time pass faster.

That said, don’t confuse routine with getting into a rut. A high level routine that you try to follow every day is hugely helpful. But mix the detail up a bit: change what you have for breakfast each day; don’t always read fiction, throw in a reference book occasionally on a topic that interests you; change the type of exercise you do. Having a set routine isn’t meant to equal monotony!

- Stop wearing a watch - when you’re home all day it’s easy for the hours to feel as though they’re dragging. So, I came up with an easy solution - I took my watch off! It really stopped me spotting how slowly time was often passing, even inadvertently. This was before the era of smartphones, which now often have the current time prominently displayed. So why not change your phone to a different time zone so that you’re not tracking the time quite as accurately?

- Listening to music - I adore music, and there’s no better way to lift your spirits than to listen to a song or album that you love. Depending on your proximity to your neighbours, turn the volume up and crack a lovely big smile as you actively soak up the positive energy that listening to your favourite track generates.

- Listen to an audio book - reading is a great way to pass the time and escape into a different environment or increase your knowledge on a certain subject. But it can easily tire you out, so why not use your ears rather than your eyes? I switched to audiobooks years ago, and I can count on one hand the number of fictional paper-print books I’ve read since then. I find listening to them so much easier and less tiring for my brain. And I can multi-task now too - I can ‘read’ a book while I’m cooking, doing housework or just resting.

- Helping others - this is something that anyone with a chronic health issue should only do if they have enough energy to share some with others. But it’s true that finding a way to help and support others is a great way to forget about your own situation for a little while. The choices are more limited at present perhaps, but many churches and charitable organisations are asking for volunteers to call isolated people in their community every few days, to give them someone to talk to. Or why not join an online support group for something you’re knowledgeable about? Facebook is full of them!

- Face yoga - yes, it’s a thing!! Traditional yoga is a great way to relax, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And if you’re not terribly limber or healthy, you could risk doing more harm than good. But face yoga is something that can be done by anyone! I love it. Search for it on YouTube… there are some lovely 10 minute routines that leave you feeling wonderfully relaxed, yet invigorated. And it often makes me giggle, which can never be a bad thing!

I hope the above suggestions help you in some way. But there’s one final thing I’d like to add:

Just be kind to yourself.

This was a huge lesson that it took me a long time to learn. We’re so used to having to put on a brave face and show a certain version of ourselves. But if you’re having a particularly difficult day and are struggling not to let things get to you, let yourself go with it for a short while. We’re all grieving for our lost freedom at the moment, and the plans we’ve seen postponed or cancelled, whether we’re in full health or not.

We see posts on social media from people talking about how wonderfully they’re coping. Well good for them! But don’t feel you have to compete with them. You need to do what’s right for you, and if you need a bit of a quiet day where you don’t move from the sofa for much of it, well then do that. But please do this one thing: when you go to bed that night, acknowledge to yourself that you’ve let yourself have a quiet reflective day, and promise yourself that you’ll draw a line under it all and that tomorrow will be a brighter day.

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