I rarely talk about anything that I struggle with here on the internet. I like to share a lot of things with y’all, but I’m also a private person, and struggle of any kind feels very personal to me. I don’t even talk about it much with my friends or family. But. . .what is most personal is often most universal. So many of us struggle with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or any other kind of “invisible illness” be it physical or mental. Those of us who are lucky enough to have few struggles almost certainly know someone else who does. And, of course, everyone has bad days sometimes. We’re all in this together.
I won’t get into the specifics of my personal struggles for a couple of reasons. 1) It feels too much like a pity party, and 2) It opens up the door to comparison, and comparison is an unhealthy thing. It’s particularly dangerous to play the comparison game when it comes to something like this. No matter what you struggle with, someone will always have it better than you and someone will always have it worse. That neither diminishes your own struggles or makes your struggles greater. No matter how small or how large, whatever you struggle with still has an impact on your life. Don’t compare it to someone else and think your pain doesn’t matter because it isn’t as great as someone else’s (or, worse, that someone else’s doesn’t matter because it’s less than yours).
I know people have it so much worse than me. Sometimes it’s hard for me to even know if I truly have any struggles at all or if it’s all in my head. Does the tiny bit that I deal with even count? I don’t know. Maybe not. But, regardless, my own struggles, whatever they are, help me understand a bit of what others go through, and seeing someone else struggle with a greater burden than my own helps put my own life into perspective. That said, no matter what someone else deals with, or whatever I am blessed enough to not have to deal with, or what I doubt, it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes my body does hurt, sometimes I do get exhausted for no reason, and sometimes I have days when my own mind is my enemy. And those struggles have a particular sort of influence over homesteading.
If you’re planning to homestead, or already farming your land, but you deal with chronic pain, fatigue, or something else, these are some things I have learned about managing a homestead alongside these struggles. I’m still learning, but this is what I can share for you now.
Self-Care is Important
Taking care of yourself matters. I see people take the idea of self-care to extremes in either direction. To be fair, some people do take it to a self-centered, self-serving place. That’s not good. Others say that self-care is wrong, because we should always put the needs of others before our own and be selfless. They’re both wrong. True self-care doesn’t neglect loved ones and it does’t ignore your own needs. You can be selfless in the right ways and still take care of yourself.
Keep this in mind: You cannot pour from an empty cup. There’s a reason they tell you to attach your own oxygen mask first on the airplane if something goes wrong. If your cup is empty, you have nothing left to give to someone else. If you run out of oxygen, you’re going to pass out before you get the chance to help anyone else put on their mask. Trucks can’t run when their fuel tank is empty. How many more metaphors do we need here? I think you get the point. You have to take care of yourself or you will not have it in you to take care of anyone or anything else. It is okay to set limits. It is okay to say no. It’s okay to do what you need to do to avoid stress. It’s important to eat well, drink plenty of water, take time to rest. No one is perfect, and I know first hand how easy it is to not do those things. But it’s so important to keep it up as best you can.
Rest is required for restoration. Allow your mind and body time to recover, and take care of yourself as best you can. You will feel better and see improvement when you do.
Energy is Finite and You Can’t Control It
I’ve seen a few different analogies for this, but I’m going to explain it in a way that makes sense to me.
Each day you wake up with a certain number of marbles. Those marbles represent your energy reserves for the day. Most days you may have about five marbles, while some days you’ll wake up with only three and others you might wake up with seven.
As you go about your day doing various tasks, you start to use up your marbles. Something small like cooking dinner may take only one marble, but doing something like running errands make take up several. At some point in the day, you’re going to run out of marbles.
In a perfect world, you’d end each day with at least one marble left in your reserves, but let’s face it — life ain’t perfect. Some days you use up all your marbles by noon. When that happens, you usually can’t just stop living at noon and wait for the marble fairy to come give you more. No, you probably have to keep going. That’s when you start stealing marbles from tomorrow.
If you keep spending all your marbles and stealing from the next day, soon you’re going to hit a wall. You’re going to lose all your marbles! And when that happens you’re going to be emotionally and physically exhausted. It may become almost impossible for you to do anything but the bare minimum until you rest and refill your marble jar.
I’ve been there in that overwhelmed, stressed state. I’ve cried my way through evening chores because I was in pain and I’d used up all my marbles but had to keep going. I’ve felt so overwhelmed that I didn’t want to get out of bed, much less do anything productive. . . and I’ve had days where I truly didn’t get out of bed more than absolutely necessary. That place is detrimental both to you, the one experiencing it, and everyone and everything around you. Thankfully, the average to good days outnumber these very low days, but they still happen.
It’s impossible to prevent hitting the wall completely. It’s going to happen when you deal with an uncooperative body. Fatigue in particular can strike seemingly out of nowhere. For example, I woke up today feeling pretty good and ready to go to town with my mom and run some errands and pick up fancy chocolate just for fun. But by the time I’d finished morning chores and gotten ready to go, my energy was fading. I still went to town, but it took a few of my remaining marbles. By the time I got home, my energy was almost completely gone. It wasn’t as bad as it has been some days, but it sucks knowing I have so much to do and not being able to do it all. By the time I was done with evening chores, I was limping, aching, irritable, and too tired to even send a reply to an email or post a picture I’d planned to share on my instagram. I’m writing this blog post on my laptop from bed, and I won’t post it tonight, because I won’t have the energy to proof read it or edit a picture to insert. [Editing note: I saved this draft in August and am just now completing and posting it in September. Today was a good day. :)]
The moral of this rambling is this: learn to listen to your body and recognize when the wall approacheth. That doesn’t mean to never push yourself, or to not go do something you wanted to do because you’re tired. If you’re going to be tired either way, you may as well try to do something. It’s really important to not let your struggles stop you from living! Some days, like my day today, you just need to push through. Other days, though, it may be best to take a step back and rest. Push through when you can, but try to avoid losing all your marbles.
Don’t Let High-Energy You Make Decisions for Low-Energy You
Life has a lot of ups and downs and so do we. Some days (or even weeks or months) are good. I am very optimistic and productive during these periods of time, which is fantastic. I try to get stuff done when I’m feeling good. I also know that I have more good days the better I treat my body, the cleaner my diet is, the more religiously I take my supplements, etc. Luckily, I also have more good days than bad just in general, which is not something everyone is blessed to experience. But, inevitably, life has its mountains and its valleys. So while I will always have good days that I can make great use of, I also have negative flares during which I lack energy and motivation. I think this is pretty universal for people who have these kinds of struggles, and even those who don’t, but the extent of course will vary from person to person.
One problem that can arise from these ups and downs is that High-Energy Me can make decisions based on those energy levels and motivation. It’s easy for me to say, “Oh yeah, I can handle that extra responsibility!” when I’m feeling great. I want to take on new projects, make future plans for events or travel, and just generally commit myself to things that I could definitely do with my current energy levels and mind set. But then the tides turn, and poor little Low-Energy Me is wondering what in the high heck I was thinking. Suddenly I’m unmotivated and I don’t have a lot of energy, and everything is too much. I’m stressed, I’m overwhelmed, and I’m anxious because I have put myself under an impossible work load that is weighing me down. I’m floating in the middle of the ocean trying to hold an elephant, and I may be buoyant but I’m not that buoyant. What was I thinking??
I still struggle with this. Even though I know I do it, it’s hard for me to think about Low-Energy Me when I’m feeling good. That results in a lot of stress and unfinished projects. Try not to be like me. Remember your realistic limitations when you make decisions on a good day.
Don’t Let Low-Energy You Put (Too Many) Restrictions on High-Energy You
At the same time, Low-Energy Me can sometimes be a bit of a nihilist. That unmotivated person wants to quite everything. She thinks there’s no point in trying because she can’t do it all. She thinks she is a failure and trying to get anything done is pointless. She’s lazy, unmotivated, irritable to people around her, antisocial, and a pessimist. She’s the one who tends to give up on things, including the important things that help her have more better days like self-care and a better diet and lifestyle.
The good news is that I’m pretty stubborn. That means that even on days when I’m ready to quit everything I’m doing, I don’t usually do it. I do make mistakes and poor decisions, like eating junk food or shutting down a bit, but I don’t let myself completely give up on everything I love to do at the end of the day, underneath the fatigue and the struggles. I know if I chose to do something extreme during a difficult period that I would regret it later.
So, just as it’s important to avoid overloading yourself when you’re feeling good, it’s also important not to let yourself throw in the towel when the going gets rough. Cut back some if you need to, but don’t let yourself give up on your dreams just because you’re having a hard day. Never make a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion.
Accept that People Won’t See when You’re Struggling (Or Understand It)
This is one of the hardest parts about dealing with any kind of invisible funk. People tend to not understand things that they can’t see or experience for themselves. Ironically, sometimes even people who have experienced this kind of thing for themselves still don’t recognize or understand it in you. It can also be difficult to explain to someone else why it’s difficult for you to do something when you may not even completely understand it yourself or can’t show them what is wrong.
This is something you will ultimately just have to accept, but it’s a good idea if you’re going to homesteading with other people that you ascertain their willingness to help with the homestead on your off days. Try not to let it frustrate you, accept that not everyone will understand, and move on. That’s really all you can do.
Anyway, I hope if you can relate to any of this that these tips were helpful, and if you can’t relate then I hope maybe this helped you understand a little bit about the people in your life who seems to drop off the face of the earth from time to time for no apparent reason. No matter where you are in health and life, take care of yo’self!