Eunice Beck, RN, on Living with CFS, Coping with Loss, and Learning to Take Care of Yourself

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Dear Friends,

Hello. Remember me, your friendly “advice columnist”? I’m finally back, and you will hear from me more frequently, I hope. It’s hard to believe, but it has now been over a year since my spouse passed away.
During that time I have been trying to follow my own advice to take care of myself. I’ll admit, it did take friends reminding me frequently that doing just that had been one of my last promises to my sweetheart. But when you are a “caregiver,” it is difficult to turn that to oneself.

However, by trying to care for myself, I have regained a good deal of energy and am having less pain. Some of that that come through rest, relaxation and resetting priorities. With the cooperation of my doctor, we have also made some medication changes and other improvements in my medical treatment.

But I think the most improvement has come simply from listening to my body. When it tells me I have the energy, I do what I had planned. When it says no, I listen, something I was unable to do when I was caring for my loved one.

Recently, in my reading, I came across a reference to “zero-based budgeting”. The person writing had learned it as a school board member. When the budget was tight this concept taught the school board to throw out everything in the budget and start with the absolutely essential items, like buildings, teachers, maintenance.

This helped them to prioritize needs and wants as they developed their budget.

We have talked in the past about using an energy budget. Although I was not yet aware of the budgeting concept that I just mentioned, that is essentially what I had to do in the days and weeks after my spouse of almost 30 years passed away. My energy budget was deeply in debt, and there were still demands on it. Grief takes a great deal of energy, and, at least initially, gives you little relief in return.

So I had to cut back to the basics to give my body time to recover. Of course there were things I had to deal with: insurance and legal issues, house maintenance, decisions about funeral/memorial service. So many things I can’t and don’t care to remember in detail.

In the first few months, I had lots of support from friends, neighbors and family. They did things for me, ran errands, took care of phone calls, and fed me. They also did loving things like bring me flowers and make sure I got plenty of hugs. I sat or slept as much as possible. Of course, as time went on, people went back to their own lives, but it seemed to happen as I got stronger. I made it a point to get out, and I picked up the phone when I really needed to talk to someone. I cried, sometimes alone, and sometimes not.

I added a weekly trip to a grief support group to my budget, and it has paid back the energy with interest. Sharing and hearing others stories has been very helpful for me in dealing with my loss, and finding my life again.

As I began to feel somewhat recovered, I embarked on other activities. I made plans with friends to go out to dinner. I started going out once a month with a group of friends that we used to spend a lot of time with. I went to help one friend move, and out of the experience, I found a terrific housekeeper who now visits every two weeks to clean up after me and my cats. She is wonderful, and I no longer worry about having friends over, because the house is always reasonably clean.

So, I guess you could say, I went back to the basics. Over the year, I have gradually repaid most of my energy debt. I have been able to add activities to my life that are meaningful. I have also been able to find peace living by myself, something I had done for only a short period before.

I have learned real limits, and when I don’t feel up to doing something, I don’t unless it is one of those “absolutely essential items”. Otherwise, I call and cancel and my friends understand. Many of them have expressed surprise, and thankfulness that I did not get severely ill in the months after the death. I guess I took care of myself well enough that didn’t happen.

Other than a couple of slight colds, I have just been getting better. I still have my limits, and my scooter is a great help in my ability to be out and active. It’s another one of the ways I took care of myself because I bought it out of my own funds. I’m grateful to have had the money to do that.

I was also able to put in a small pond/waterfall in my backyard which is now my meditation area, where I go to read and enjoy the fresh air and sun. It is especially enjoyable when some of the little birds like finches and hummingbirds come to bathe in the waterfall. I will get some fish soon, and the landscaping is starting to make it feel like a small piece of paradise.

So I am back. I still have limits, but hope to pay more attention to this column and those readers who write to me. I still have a few old letters to answer, but hope you will all feel welcome to write now, and feel comfortable that you will likely get an answer. Thank you for giving me space and time to deal with what my life required. You are very special readers, and for that I am grateful.

Take care and be well

Yours in health,
Eunice

Please note new email address!

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I welcome your comments and questions at: copingcorner@prohealth.com. My
articles and email responses are not being offered as those of a health care
provider. The information and opinions included are intended to give you
some information about your disease. It is very important that you empower
yourself with knowledge and participate in your own search for care. Any
advice given is not intended to take the place of advice of your physician
or mental health care provider. Always follow your physician’s advice, even
if contradicted by something written here. You and your physician know your
situation far better than I do. Thank you and be well.

Eunice

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