The symptoms of fibromyalgia offer myriad challenges when it comes to coping with everyday tasks like housework or shopping. Simple actions that used to be a breeze, like vacuuming or carrying shopping bags, can now inflict pain and fatigue. This turn of events can be looked at as a challenge where we call upon our creative skills to problem solve and figure out new ways of doing things within our own capabilities. We need to adapt, to prioritize and to break down daily tasks into manageable chunks.
At first this can all seem incredibly frustrating, especially if you were used to successfully juggling a career, family and housework—or you are a person who likes things done to a very high standard. It is a big psychological adjustment to come to grips with having to pace yourself carefully through the day, and sometimes having to accept help to do tasks you used to accomplish with ease. However, if you can view these new challenges like an alternative career prospect, you will be able to take great pride in your achievements as you creatively find ways to reach your goals.
Learning to pace yourself successfully can take a lot of discipline as it is always so tempting to play catch-up on those days when you are feeling well. It can also take a lot of trial and error as you gradually get to know your new limits and to recognize activities that trigger increased pain. Don't be too inpatient, and be sure give yourself plenty of time and encouragement. The key points to being successful are:
- Knowing how to use your limited energy wisely
- Setting realistic goals
- Learning when to stop before you overdo it
- Knowing when to ask for help
- Being prepared to say 'No'
- Congratulating and affirming yourself when you achieve your goals
- Let's take a look at some useful tips for getting to grips with the challenges of housework and shopping.
It never fails to amaze me how many of my friends with fibromyalgia flare themselves up on account of housework. I must admit to finding this hard to understand as I am one of these rare people who simply don't see mess and dust. Untidiness always seems to annoy my housemate long before it annoys me, so often she ends up dealing with it before I need to! I claim that I have only been like this since having fibromyalgia and it is simply a superb pacing mechanism I have developed. (My mother, on the other hand, begs to differ.)
Housework is a neverending chore that presents a lot of physical challenges: it involves bending, lifting, stretching and many of those eccentric movements that it is advisable to avoid. (An eccentric movement involves stretching and lifting at the same time; for example, vacuuming where you are stretching your arms to push and pull a heavy object.)
When it comes to house work the first questions you need to consider are:
Do I need a perfectly spotless house?
Can I delegate part of the housework to other members of the family?
Could I possibly afford to employ a cleaner?
If you can afford to employ a cleaner then that is the best option; you will know it is going to be dealt with on a certain day—by somebody else. However, for many people this is simply not possible, so you will need to come up with some strategies to help you keep this monster of a task under control. If you live with other people, then you could divide tasks between you. You may be able to persuade your children to help out with the housework, perhaps with the incentive of extra pocket money; I remember being paid 50 cents to dust the lounge when I was a young girl (though perhaps that shows my age!). Of course, with these options you may find that the cleaning is not done to your standard of perfection, but believe me: it is much better to be in less pain and have a less than spotless house than to push yourself and increase your pain levels.
If you live alone then consider breaking the tasks down into manageable chunks. Perhaps do one room per day—and try to vary the activities so you are not using the same muscles repeatedly, as repeated activity always aggravates the pain of fibromyalgia. You may also wish to invest in some useful equipment to help you carry out tasks more comfortably. Here are some useful tips:
- Purchase a lightweight, upright vacuum cleaner that you can move easily while standing up straight. You can also buy very lightweight electric carpet cleaners that do an effective job with the minimum of effort.
- Use a long-handled duster so that you do not need to stretch up to reach difficult places. You can also use a hairdryer to blow dust off.
- Work on a level with what you are cleaning so that you are not bending or leaning over.
- Have a safe standing block to reach higher places so that you are not stretching upwards to get things from high shelves or cupboards. Or use a special grabber stick to help you reach items.
- If possible, sit down to wash dishes, iron, or fold clothes.
- Do not push, pull or lift heavy furniture. You will need to request help if you wish to clean underneath heavy objects. Could a friend come in once a month to help with this particular task?
As a woman I feel that I should find shopping enjoyable, but traipsing around shops and carrying bags simply doesn't have the appeal it used to. Here are some ideas to bring the joy back into shopping:
- Always make a list. There is nothing more annoying than arriving home only to realize you have forgotten half the things you went out to get—and with fibrofog, this can be an all-too-regular event.
- Don't carry half your house in your handbag. Carrying a heavy weight on your shoulder is only going to increase the amount of pain in your shoulder, neck and upper back. Have regular clear-outs of your handbag so that you are only carrying the bare essentials. If possible, ditch it altogether.
- Park as near as you can to the shop you are visiting.
- Walking around shops can be more exhausting than a short walk in the park, as you are constantly going backwards and forwards and having to stand in lines. Sit down whenever you have the opportunity to rest for five minutes and remember that you still have to walk back to the car—so don't get stranded. It is a good idea to have a mobile phone with you just in case you simply can't walk any further.
- If you wish to visit more than a couple of shops consider taking advantage of Shop Mobility and hire a scooter or electric wheelchair to help you cover the distance. You will then have the freedom to ride to the shop, walk around, and then ride to the next shop, sensibly saving your energy. Also, you will not have to carry anything as you will be able to store it in the handy bag on the back of the scooter.
- Take advantage of the help offered in supermarkets with packing and carrying items to your car. Or only buy a few items at a time so you can carry them yourself.
- Perhaps most sensible of all: do your shopping on the Internet and get it delivered.
By adapting and being creative you can be successful in managing everyday tasks. Always remember to congratulate and affirm yourself when you achieve your goals and even consider giving yourself a little reward as an encouragement. You deserve it! (I find most of my rewards center around chocolate or new clothes!) Never be afraid or too proud to ask for help. Accepting help shows great strength of character as you are prepared to make yourself vulnerable and receive another person's assistance. Nobody finds that easy. Remember to be kind to yourself and let other people take the load on occasions.