How Life Has Changed

There isn’t a part of my life that change has left untouched. Nothing in life is immune from change. I’m not talking about how plans can be in tatters within a few short days. I’m speaking about change in the minutiae of life, in the hum-drum, in the mundane. Some parts of life have changed out of necessity, other parts have changed because my first week in hospital was a wake up call to some entrenched and very unhealthy patterns of doing life. When I posted that my life needed to be decompressed, not just my spinal cord at the L5-S1,  a friend wrote to me in a Facebook message that she would like to hear what this looks like in everyday life. At that point, I didn’t know. I was third week post-op and still an inpatient at Calvary Rehabilitation Hospital. What a decompressed life looks like when I’m in the pressure cooker of mid-semester was still an unanswered question. But now I do know, partially.

There is the kind of change that stems from the reality that I no longer have full function in the lower half of my body. Here is a glimpse of this change. My days are governed now by routine. This routine starts in the evening when I organise my clothes for the next day so that they are accessible in the bathroom. One less thing I have to do in the morning. I’ve never been this organised. I then call the local taxi service to book a ride to the bus stop for the morning. I live in semi-rural South Australia, taxis can’t just rock up at short notice. If I forget to book a taxi, getting to work the next day will be a major problem. While I’m naturally a planner, I’m a big picture planner. Getting used to planning the detail, planning not just the next day, but the detail of the next couple of hours, is now part of life. I’m also a public transport user, I never used to be. But to my surprise, I find that I’m recovering time. Sitting in a car, allowing my brain to keep going and chewing over issues, I realise has been ‘dead’ time in my day. I get from a to b, but often spending the time over-thinking, which is not helpful for anyone, least of all me. So catching the express bus in the morning, I’m able to open my laptop and mark an essay or I’m able to complete my language study for the day. That time is now useful and I still get from a to b. Another way life has changed is that I can no longer choose to go food shopping by myself. Sure, I can put a couple of things in a basket, but not enough for one meal. I can’t push a trolley very well, so a big shop is out of the question; and even if I could, I can’t take the groceries back to the car. All my shopping is done online and delivered, or a housemate comes with me. Again, I have found that I’m recovering time; I can’t just go and buy that block of chocolate, or a bottle of Gin, on my way home from work. And then there is the matter of what I can eat. What I eat, what I drink, how much I drink, is all recorded in an electronic diary, and monitored. But the upside is, I haven’t felt this healthy, this bright, for over four and a half years. While I might not be able to run, and I used to run 10k easily 2-3 times a week, I’m fitter now; and in a lot of ways, I’m stronger as well. And not because of all the rehab work, and not because I keep dropping weight, but because walking takes more energy and walking one ‘long’ distance per a day is part of the routine. This is just a glimpse into how life has had to adapt to what is now my normal.

But then there are the parts of life I have chosen to change. I have now moved to fixed scheduling. When I returned back to work, I was worried about how I was going to survive juggling a job that is bigger than three people’s work week and the need to make room in my schedule for rehab. I spend approximately eight hours a week doing rehab work; four of those eight are during work hours. I knew I couldn’t revert back to old work habits of a 110-120 hour work week. I just couldn’t push myself anymore and I didn’t want to end up in hospital at the end of the semester for the third time in a row. I just wasn’t going to keep killing myself for work anymore. Line drawn. So I changed my work flow to a fixed scheduling method, something I have wanted to do for years, but still doubted whether a fixed schedule would work. I haven’t deleted my lists of tasks, but rather reorganised how I was going to organise my tasks. And for the first time in my working life, my days are no longer driven by trying to complete a long list of tasks. I do in my day what I schedule to do. This means that I have to be real with myself about how long a task will take. For the first time, I am forcing myself to be real about what I can actually achieve in a day as well. I can do my rehab work without thinking about what I haven’t done. I have also learnt how to schedule rest; and because I’ve scheduled rest, I don’t feel guilty about it. Again, for the first time in my working life, I enjoy not working. I spend more time with friends and family, and I’m not counting the cost in hours of work that I’m losing. I’m still working hours that would cause most of my friends and family to roll their eyes at me, and then other friends and colleagues may even think I’ve slacked off and not achieving what I ought to be; I still work around 70 plus hours a week. The difference though is that my week is no longer driven by what I haven’t achieved, but by what is a priority. Sure this has repercussions sometimes when others wish for tasks to be completed before I’ve scheduled the tasks to be done; sometimes there is a difference between what other people think is a priority and what I have prioritised. But this was the case before. In the past, I’ve caved in and I have driven myself to complete those tasks that others want from me to the detriment of what I have on my ‘urgent and important’ list. Now I’m finally learning the freedom to negotiate with the person who has asked and to schedule another time that will see the task turned around, but not by dropping other priorities from my schedule. So far the world has not ended.

So life does not look the same as six months ago. No part of my life has been immune from the onslaught of change. Some change has been forced, most is by choice, especially if I wish to keep living my life and not to let my changed circumstances hold me back from living. And the change will continue for months to come. But the change isn’t bad, it’s just different. Has life decompressed? Without a doubt.

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