Conserving emotional energy

In pacing myself, medics have explained the three types of energy; physical, mental and emotional.

By far the toughest of the three types of energy to stop yourself from using is emotional energy, so here are some handy tips on how to manage, or dampen, your emotions:

  1. Go to church. Avoiding church might make you feel sad, or hopeless. But while not standing and lifting up your hands, and not thinking about the sermon, you must not emotionally engage with the worship. Compassion for those on the prayer list, or joy at the wonder of grace, are not allowed.
  2. Watch television. Avoiding it would allow your mind to wander – you may start to ruminate. But while not watching anything too interesting, requiring thought, be sure not to empathise with any characters, and select dramas where their emotional range is limited. Doctors, or another daytime soap, is preferable to weepy chick flicks, or a high octane drama.
  3. See your friends. Avoiding them would make you feel isolated. But be sure to disengage if the conversation goes anywhere deep, and to talk about yourself in as detached a way as possible. They may wish to feel sad or angry on your behalf, but don’t feel those things yourself. Avoid weddings, new babies, or anything too celebratory.
  4. Keep up with disability news. Avoiding it would risk being ill-informed about the things that affect you. But while reading about people tipped from wheelchairs by gangs, starving in waits for assessments, or dying of the illness you have, don’t fear. You haven’t the energy for worry, even if it is legitimate.
  5. Meet attractive people. Avoiding them would risk the self-pitying imaginings of a life without romance. But don’t sense the attraction, excitement or anticipation, these are too extravagant. Flirt without hopefulness, dance without joy.

Do not feel. Do not feel anything. A beige, bland numbness is ideal – floating through life with the detachment of an automaton. Any deviation from this will bring overwhelming pain, but you may not cry. Drugs are there to assist your apathy, but not cure you. Expect to be disbelieved when explaining these limits because you don’t look “very upset”. Upset is a luxury for those with enough energy to waste on feelings.

Self-control, patience and perseverance are virtues we undervalue. You will have these in abundance. People will still undervalue them.

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Learning to love again

You’ve probably heard of the five love languages. But what happens when you lose your ability to use the language that comes most naturally and need to communicate using other ways?

The theory goes that there are five ways by which we might show or feel affection; physical touch, presents and gifts, words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service. Most people will have one primary language that resonates with them, and the language by which you feel loved isn’t necessarily the same as the one by which you show people you care about them.

For me, I’ve primarily shown people that they matter by spending quality time with them. I’m the one in our family who initiates the phonecalls, for example. My secondary language, and the one I’d tend to show in less familial settings, is acts of service. So it’d be very natural for me to respond to a colleague under pressure by making them tea or getting the printer working for them, rather than encouraging them to keep going. But these methods doesn’t always work.

Not quality time

Recently I’d been looking forward to a houseparty because it afforded the opportunity of spending quality time with one of my friends. She lives hours away and we rarely see each other, but when we do it’s brilliant. We both arrived about 2pm, and she had until 5pm before she needed to find a train home. So far, so good. But as I arrived, I felt very sick, and spent the next 90 minutes or so vomiting violently and feeling very dizzy and faint. By the time I surfaced into the party, I was pale and shaking, my time didn’t have much quality to it! We chatted while I worked myself up to some dry toast, but the opportunity to reconnect was lost.

Giving gifts doesn’t come naturally to me at all; I find it awkward and uncomfortable. (I’ve previously bought gifts for people, only to bottle out from handing them over.) But I remembered that my friend had mentioned at the party that she was getting a new bike, to replace the one that was crushed in her horrific road accident. So I decided to send her a bicycle bell in the post, painted with her name, to show my support for her getting back on the roads after her injuries. To me it didn’t feel the same as the quality time we’d lost, but I think it made her happy.

Not acts of service

This one’s obvious – I have very little physical energy. To spend that energy on serving someone else would probably mean I couldn’t safely get myself home, or chew and digest my food. So as much as I wanted to care for my friends while camping by sorting out their tents, making them food, or washing up, it would just have been foolish. Clumsily, I started trying to use words of affirmation to build them up, complimenting the way they did things. But I’m naturally quite cynical, and find it hard to say nice things without wondering if I sound disingenuous!

Conversely, I’ve never felt particularly loved when people do things for me, despite how often they do. I’d much rather have a hug or a present. So I can easily and almost physically remember from my holiday the two times somebody hugged me that weren’t just to say goodbye, the hands that helped me up, and the four times somebody brought me something (hot chocolate, wellies, lunch, hot chocolate again). The value of these gifts needn’t be significant (80p, £10 which I reimbursed, free, 80p again) and it doesn’t matter if I asked for them first. Maybe it’s a second child thing, but when somebody brings me something they’ve got just for me, I’m overwhelmed.

Which languages are being spoken to you?

You can’t always choose how people care for you. Now I have physical and obvious care needs, lots of people do small acts of service for me. But I’m rarely hugged – crutches or my wheelchair kind of get in the way. I spend most of my time alone, resting, so quality time with others is hard to come by – I lack the stamina for it. Twitter is odd, in that all of those friendships are built solely on words of affirmation, as no other language is possible. But it’s still a place of real friendship.

In the last few weeks, I’ve tried to be more conscious of the ways in which I am loved, to be thankful for them, and for my friends and family. I’ve tried to show friends I care by being generous with gifts and praise, rather than giving up because I can’t find the words in my native love language. This loss of eloquence is a side of my illness that I never realised would be so disabling.

How has it been for you? If you’ve acquired a disability, has that changed the ways you’re able to care for people? Or if you don’t have one, in what environments are you more or less comfortable in expressing affection for your friends and family?

This is ME – M.E. Awareness Day 2014

Eryngium Bourgatii

Most of you (my friends and family) know that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). It is also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E) and Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome (CFIDS).

As part of International ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia Awareness Day on May 12, I’m taking part in an international blog, where lots of us with M.E. answer the same basic questions. I’ve made a list of 5 things you may not know about me (in general) and 5 things you may not know about my life with CFS / ME.

Have a read and see if there’s anything you didn’t know. Awareness Day is about creating awareness, so through these questions and answers, this is my way of creating a little more awareness about CFS / ME. If you wish to pass this onto anyone, feel free to do so. It will create more awareness of this debilitating illness if you do. Thank you! :-)

I’m making the assumption that you already know the symptoms, but if not, vaguely this:

symptoms

What is your name & how long have you had ME / CFS?

Elizabeth, I’ve had ME / CFS for around two years, though it’s been noticeable to other people for about eighteen months.

Where do you live? (Country, State, City – however detailed you want)

Hampton, a leafy village on the edge of London, England.

Age (if you’re willing to share)

27

Tell us 5 things about you that the people in your life probably don’t know (non-illness-related):

  1. I play the double bass rather well. Most of my time at uni was spent lugging Guiseppe, my gorgeous French walnut double bass, around to orchestral rehearsals. I’ve played in tiny churches and massive concert halls. I’ve even played on the back of a truck. My favourite things are symphonies by Brahms, Bruckner, Sibelius and Shostakovich. Sibelius 5 is my all-time favourite piece of music, one year at the Proms I listened to the whole thing standing on tiptoes to see more.
  2. I could somersault and used to trampoline regularly. I’ve worn sparkly leotards and have a selection of interesting socks.
  3. My favourite TV programme is Holby City. Not because of its quality, per se, but because of its reliability. From 2004-2011 I moved house 18 times (I think), and in every new home, on Tuesdays it was reliably there, when nothing else felt like home. On Wednesdays, as an intern, I had 90 minutes off in the middle of the day to make up for late-night Alpha courses, and I’d use 60 of them catching up with Holby. Doctors going out with nurses, people being saved from the brink of heart failure, and the odd train wreck at the end of the series to kill off the expensive actress who’s going to ITV. What’s not to love!?
  4. I live with a semi-retired couple, in a house full of old-people stuff. We’ve got six remote controls, mismatched crockery, a selection of wicker conservatory furniture and you have to put a mat under anything that’s going on the table. Not cool. But I love it. Think of having an extra set of parents, but who aren’t uniquely annoying to you because they remind you of that time you dropped the marmalade when you were six.
  5. I hate carnations, the bought-from-a-garage apology flower, and my favourite flower is eryngium bourgatii (sea holly). It’s just so spiky and blue! I used to design gardens for a living, so I know Latin names but not common ones for a lot of plants. I have feelings about all of them, not all positive.

Tell us 5 things about you that the people in your life probably don’t know about your life with CFS / ME:

  1. I spend at least a day a week (usually two) completely housebound. Most of that time is spent in bed, with normally two bathroom trips and two trips downstairs (one to fetch breakfast and lunch, one for dinner).
  2. The most obviously disabled part of my day is the train journey home, where as the adrenalin of the day wears off, my legs, back and hands go into random, painful spasms. Everyone else in the carriage looks at me like a weirdo, and judges the bloke who was reluctant to give up the priority seat.
  3. I can actually run still. Although I use crutches on a day-to-day basis, running is technically a possibility. However, it’s excruciatingly painful, I can do about 40m before my legs give way, and my chest will hurt as if I’m under an elephant for about 15 minutes afterwards. Then I regret it all day, and the next day too, and have worse joint pain for a week. I just miss it so much that occasionally it’s worth the fall-out. When I started using crutches, a colleague tried to buy me an inflatable parrot, to complete the pirate look.
  4. I have a bus pass, like a pensioner, but unlike a pensioner it’s subject to a mobility assessment. Since getting ill, the best part of my commute, the 15 minutes walk over Vauxhall Bridge, is completely impossible for me if I want to save enough energy for working. So I’m almost always getting buses for one or two stops, because the walk is too much and the tube has staircases. Staircases are my nemesis, I’ll basically a first generation Dalek. A colleague once called me Davros.
  5. Energy is energy is energy. Physical, emotional and mental tasks all draw power from the same battery, which doesn’t recharge reliably. So if a conversation is tending towards the deep-and-meaningful, I’ll sometimes have to ask my friend or family member to put it on hold until I’ve got home safely, rather than risk wasting too much “moving about energy” on feeling things and getting stuck far from home. When I’m really really exhausted and can barely move, but for some reason I’m not at home in bed, there are a few friends I’ll trust to just make all emotional and mental decisions for me while I “power down”.

What one thing do you think most people wouldn’t know about living with ME / CFS that you’d like them to know?

When you see me in person, that time is so unbelievably precious to me, that I want you to value it too. This illness really hurts. Really really hurts. All the time, and every day. Very considerately, people ask if I’m feeling better, when they’d seen me taking pills or I’d cancelled our last shared activity due to illness. And I just want to slap them, if it wouldn’t hurt my hand so much. No, I’m not feeling better, I’m never feeling better, and you looking disappointed isn’t going to do anything to change the situation. You only see me today because yesterday and tomorrow I didn’t and won’t see anybody, just to save up the strength to come and see you. And seeing as I have, why are you asking me to tell you about pain, and pills, and to give more precious time to the disease? Why aren’t we living? Why aren’t we holding onto each other’s every word like it’s the last thing we’ll say to anybody in days? Why are we so unnecessarily mean?

What is the most frustrating aspect for you of living with ME / CFS?

Having to act like a weirdo. I become that person who’s in the way on public transport, who stops irrationally in the street, or who sits down when everyone else is standing up. I’m the person who used to irritate me when I was sprinting to change tube, who’d mess up my lovely neat church services by needing things in large print or wanting the handrail putting out. And I see people like me-five-years-ago getting annoyed and it shows up how driven and self-important and inflexible I was when I was younger. Ouch.

Anything else you’d like to say before finishing?

What you can do to help is make sure that anywhere you go out to is accessible to me. For example, check that your local pub has an accessible loo, and if it does, it isn’t rendered inaccessible by being full of 12 bags of rubbish, a drum kit, the “celebrate Christmas with us” sign in June, or any other rubbish. A pub trip where you can’t even drink is not worth getting out of bed for. And losing a whole crowd of regulars is worth the pub changing their storage habits for. Don’t sit in priority seats if you don’t need them. Don’t use lifts you don’t need, but do complain if they aren’t working. It takes time, but if each able-bodied person made even one “your access isn’t accessible” complaint each year, or did something to initiate change, then those of us without much energy could use it doing things and going places, rather than fighting to be allowed in.

Examples of “accessibility” have included “due to flooding, the train you’re on will be met by a replacement bus service at a non-accessible station. Please crawl upstairs in the rain.” Luckily I spotted the problem at an earlier station, but the complaint letter took 4 months to get a barely-comprehensible and indifferent reply. If everyone on the train had objected, they’d have noticed and changed something.

Oh, and send cake. Cake makes it all better. And kittens. And give me hugs if you see me, but not overenthusiastic ones, as I’m a bit fragile.

Contact details (if you want to give them) – blog, Twitter, FB etc

This is my blog – https://montaguemouse.wordpress.com/

Twitter is @eah39. Twitter is the easiest way to contact me, because it requires very little energy to reply. I’m happy to answer any questions, but might be slow as it takes days to save up enough spare time for them.

That’s a shame

At church on Sunday, the preacher talked about how the cross frees us from shame. “I’ve heard this all before”, I thought, issues surrounding unconfessed sin, residual guilt, etc etc are long gone, I’m used to keeping short accounts with God. Then he pulled up a long list of thing which people are ashamed of – family circumstances, debt, addiction, work status, body image – and on the list was physical illness. Which made a little lightbulb go on in my head. (It’s fine, I was wearing my sunglasses.)

I go to the sort of churches where if you sneeze they lay on hands. To walk in with crutches is to risk being divebombed by prophecies that I’m going to be cured, and in-depth scrutiny about why I’m ill and when I’m going to be better. Yes, I have, occasionally, seen miraculous healing happen, and believe that God hears and answers prayer. And yet I haven’t been up to ask people to pray that I would be healed.

“Shame; awkward, senseless shame, does as much towards preventing good acts & straightforward happiness as many of our vices do” C.S. Lewis

At that point during the sermon, I thought about the field where I’d always felt my calling lay – ministry to people on the margins, particularly those who are isolated with health problems. I’ve known since I was 20, but it’s never quite taken off yet.

I’d dearly love to not be ill, but I think at the moment I’m meant to be. It’s giving me resilience, making me rely on God, making me rely on others. It’s nasty. But through it I’m meeting so many disabled people who I wouldn’t otherwise have met. I’m understanding at a much deeper level how it feels to be marginalised and fearful. I can see that God is using this situation for good, to form me into the sort of person who can fulfil the calling he’s placed on my life.

Previously, I’ve sometimes acted as if I’m sorry to others that I’m ill, for the inconvenience it’s causing them. It’s easy, and very British, to be apologetic when taking someone’s seat on the bus. I’m grateful, of course, when they offer. If it’s a priority seat, I’m also thankful that they get up when I ask them. But I’ve decided not to be ashamed any more.

As with most of the thoughts that occur to me, which at first I think profound, I’ve realised it’s a simple truth. God loves me.

While people I meet will happily shake their heads at me and say “that’s a shame, and you so young, you should try to get better”, I’ve realised that God loves me. He has the authority to heal me, and if he’s choosing not to, then he’ll be doing something clever behind the scenes in that way he always does. God is happy to spend time with me, even if others can’t. God welcomes me into the church, even if church members don’t. God isn’t ashamed of me.

In today’s Chrism Mass, a lot was said, as it always is, about us being a body united, that we are each a part of. Yah boo sucks to the ableds, as they have to now be part of a body which in part has disabilities. But even if it sucks to be ill now, I’m confident that the parts of the body that have no honour now will receive special honour later. None of the formative, humiliating, dependent moments are lost by God. I’m proud (? I might not mean that word ?) that I can share in Christ’s sufferings if only for a short time. I’m assured that I’m fully accepted by God, and a full member of the church, and that I’m accepted. And I’m accepted as I am now, not just as I will be if and when I get well again.

Practically speaking, I am becoming confident that my presence in the room is more valuable than the slight inconvenience of getting me into the room, and the minor inconveniences caused by making an environment bearable for me can also be borne easily by other people. While thankful to them for making those adaptations, I’m not apologetic that they need to be made, because I’m not ashamed of my disabled self.

I’m having a go at living this out, and I’m not sure how this looks yet. But give me a few weeks and I’ll let you know.

Giving up for Lent

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Phil 2 – The Message)

Last Lent was a good one. I was preaching for our Lent Course, working hard at planning a massive service in St Paul’s Cathedral, and at weekends, my boyfriend and I would go for long walks in the park. I’d get up too late and run for the train – in February, I even did a spontaneous 5k Parkrun in 31 minutes. Sure, at that stage I was averaging 4 hours sleep a night, but there was nothing I wouldn’t do because of my illness.

Since then, it’s been a tough year. Things I have had to give up include:

Going to the cinema/walking in the park/playing the piano/dancing at parties/privacy in public places/connection in non-public places/running (for the bus)/clothes with buttons/shoes with heels/bracelets/umbrellas/being able to afford things/being able to ignore things/being found attractive/dates that are straightforward/anonymity/spontaneity/using regular-looking office equipment/creating a good first impression/going upstairs in boutique shops/having long hair/having long showers/exploring/church without physical pain/buffets/lectures/classical music/coffee/travelling light/carrying anything/the list goes on…

My illness is affecting every system in my body, and as a result, every activity I’d like to do. If you’d like to know why any of these aren’t possible, feel free to ask – or better still, help me do one of them again!

The new normal

A normal week for me will fit in 16 hours of work, where I try to remember what normal felt like, try not to shock my colleagues with stories of the latest attacks on disabled people that are preying on my mind, and battle through typing with sore hands and thinking with a sore head. But the rest of the time, what’s left after you take out what I can’t do any more, is being cooked for, washing, dressing and feeding myself, keeping on top of my laundry, and a lot of resting.

Resting is very dull. Anyone who says “I’d love a day off in bed” has failed to understand what three days off, every week, sometimes without the energy to do much more than breathe, feels like. When you’ve listened to and fallen asleep during anything vaguely watchable but not too complex on iPlayer, texted anyone you think might reply, rearranged pillows and you’re still in pain, researched the next trip you’ll make when you have energy, emailed venues six weeks in advance to see if you can get in, and made plans that go “it’s a nice day, I could go outside, that would be really lovely” and realised you haven’t the energy to take a blanket into the garden, there’s nothing more to do. And while social media is great company, it’s easy to see others complaining about situations you’d love to be in – just because they’re seeing something other than your own ceiling and the mess you haven’t the energy to tidy.

What this does in Lent

In Lent, sermons seem to be about denying ourselves, learning self-control, and not being greedy.

I don’t get to church every week, for obvious reasons – if I do anything on Saturday I’m risking lacking the energy or coordination to get out of the house  – and church is early enough on a Sunday morning that I’ll still be in pain and rather sore even if I’ve rested well. When I get there, it’s noisy, uncomfortable, there are hymn books I can’t carry myself, steps without rails if I want to receive communion, and a disabled loo that smells of baby changing. Physically it’s not great, and to have tea afterwards requires such coordination with two crutches, no chairs and kids running around my ankles that it’s tempting not to bother.

And then there’s the people. Most are understanding, where they can be. It’s hard to build relationships on occasional attendance, or to connect with people who don’t have time for more than a passing word. There’s so much activism in the church – joining of rotas, socials, things to do – that I feel left out and as if they want me to feel guilty. On Sundays I just want to sit quietly, to pray, but not to be alone when I do that. There’s a saying, church is family. And just like that casually-racist grandparent who embarrasses themselves, church has those casually-ableist elders who say and do offensive things. They can be challenged, but there’s such a long stretch of them telling everyone you don’t know that you’re “touchy” that it’s hardly worth it.

Now that going to church makes me feel awful about myself, and I feel so little in common with other people there, it’s unsurprising that sermons aren’t hitting the spot either. They aren’t really for me. They’re for the normal people, the ones who earn enough to claim back Gift Aid.

Solidarity in the Wilderness

For me, this Lent, it’s been a great comfort to know that Christ suffered. Properly, really suffered – not just physically, a couple of days of torture – but emotionally too. He felt isolated, abandoned, and frustrated, particularly when his friends didn’t understand. He was used to depending on others’ hospitality for his meals. Overwhelmingly, he could see what his future held, and wasn’t looking forward to it!

I have felt isolated, abandoned and frustrated lying in bed, while Facebook shows that all my friends are together, having fun. I’ve been dependent on others to care for me. My present has been impoverished, by losing so many things that give me joy, as well as by gaining so much pain. I can’t help thinking it’s not meant to be like this. And I fear the future – in a year, will I still be able to walk? Earn enough to cover my outgoings? Express myself in a way that normal people can still relate to? Go out of the house on a regular basis? Lift cutlery, leave my bed, or wash unaided? And if not, what then?

My friend Jenny is far less well than I am, but with the same illness. If you have the time after my ramblings, please take the time to read her poem, Gethsemane. She articulates some of what I’m feeling this Holy Week – a gratitude that however bad this gets, we’re in good company, and we’re not giving up.

 http://www.jkrowbory.co.uk/2014/04/gethsemane/

Gadgets: HandSteady mug

Problem

I sometimes have wobbly hands. They’re especially bad when I’m tired or stressed. When tired or stressed, tea usually helps. But with wobbly hands, it tends to go everywhere. Also, lifting heavy things, like mugs of tea, wear my hands out so they shake more. When it all gets too much, on rest days I find drinking hot things while lying in bed is unstable, because I’m drowsy and uncoordinated, and because straws from hot mugs of tea are a messy siphoning accident waiting to happen.

More specifically, I had an important meeting, where I felt sufficiently stressed for my body to start playing up. I had a dry throat, and couldn’t drink at all without serious hand tremors,

Solution

The only thing on the market is the HandSteady mug. You can read all about it and see pictures on their website, www.handsteady.com.

What it’s like to use

At a desk or in a meeting: It’s easy to use, but takes a few times to get used to. It’s very adaptable, so whatever part of my hands isn’t working today, there’s some way I can lift the cup easily. My favourite is flipping the handle upside down and lifting from the top, which means I can keep my grip very level and reduce the strain on my wrist. It’s very lightweight compared to a solid china mug, so noticeably it doesn’t tire my arms out as much.

In terms of the tremors, the mug does still wobble a bit when my hand shakes – you have to get the axis of rotation lined up with the hand spasms or it doesn’t help at all – but given that my hands shake more when they’re tired/under a lot of pressure, and it reduces the stress, pain and weight my hands have to take, my hands shake less overall, I think.

When I’m in bed: it’s easily to drink from, because you can hold the handle steady while rotating the mug only, so it’s easier to do at an angle when your arms are a bit off. It’s wide enough that it doesn’t fall over – with the lightweight plastic material, the relative weight of the liquid is greater, so it doesn’t topple so easily as a denser material. You can balance it on a mattress which you’re lying on. Still, for cold drinks, a sports-style water bottle is easier.

Reactions

Everyone thinks it’s really cool, some even saying they should get themselves one of them. Despite not realising what it’s for at first, all my colleagues like it, and (importantly) are very happy making me tea in it. However, when they do pick it up full rather than empty, they all react to it, saying it’s really weird! Because people like the mug, then they tell people about it, then in passing mention that I have wobbly hands – it’s a good conversation starter.

I’ve never found the action unexpected, but then I have got a degree in mechanical engineering and fluid dynamics, so I guess I should have a good instinct for these things.

It’d be good to make more people aware of its existence – a hospital nurse made me a cup of tea this week, said it was cool, but didn’t realise it could help his patients because he hadn’t twigged what it was for.

It is very refreshing to have a product which looks good – style is never usually a key feature of products made for the mobility-impaired, but it really matters that the design looks good as the confidence boost of not spilling things could be taken away by the embarrassment of something which screamed ‘Pity me, I’m disabled’. At 26, I’d rather fall from gorgeous heels than walk stably in beige velcro old lady shoes.

Thoughts

I emailed the inventor to thank him, he was super-friendly and as nice as he comes over in the website videos. The mug may seem quite expensive at £39, but then so are replacement coffees and dry cleaning bills, or career mistakes like shaking tea everywhere like a weirdo when trying to get your point across. For something I now take everywhere with me, it’s a small price to pay for the added confidence and dignity.

Gadgets: elastic laces

It’s clear, by the contents of my washing line, that I’m spending a significant proportion of my life in pyjamas these days. I’d like to say I’m always up and dressed by 11am, but the truth is, on Tuesday and today, I’ve spent the entire day either asleep in bed, or awake in bed. The effort required to get dressed seems hardly worth it when I haven’t the stamina to leave my room, except when there’s cake involved. But on days when I’m awake and raring to go, the trickiest thing in the mornings is physically getting ready to leave the house. I’ve already written about the effect of hand pain on my piano playing, and it’s the fine motor skills that seem to disappear first thing in the morning.

Velociraptor hands

Velociraptor hands are a cross between:

  • that tingly puffy feeling a bit like chilblains when you put your hands on the radiator on a snowy day
  • that shocked, numb pain that you get if you’ve just smacked a wall, but also the bruisy feeling you’d get later
  • holding a golf ball in the palm of your hand while trying to pick up other things with your fingers
  • being a velociraptor – all enthusiasm but no flexibility in your fingers, so your hands just look a bit stupid and underevolved

Sometimes, a sprained feeling in my wrist also means I can’t support myself on handrails, so the long wobble downstairs to my Cheerios turns into an elbowy crab impression. Later on in the day, when I’m tired, my hands will shake and I’ll struggle to hold a piece of paper. (More on that next week – I’ve another gadget being delivered to the office.) By far the most infuriating morning symptom is being a velociraptor.

All in all, this makes getting dressed a nightmare. And when, inelegantly, you’ve crabbed downstairs; attempted cereally clumsy flailing in the kitchen; purposefully overbalanced against the wall, not the door of the shower; and sat to clean your teeth; the last hurdle of getting dressed quickly with velociraptor hands can be the difference between making it to the train before needing a rest, and needing a nap before going out at all thus bypassing the morning. On bad days, buttons, heels, zips and laces are all out of the question. But standards are standards, and I’m not quite ready for the beige velcro yet.

Elastic laces

This week’s fun gadget is the elastic shoelace. There are a few options available – coiled ones, thin laces with blobs on, and regular straight ones. Given my shoes are black, the laces aimed at kids (fluorescent and short)(the laces, not the kids), and boots (eyelet size much larger) wouldn’t work, plus I couldn’t find anywhere local to buy them. But after this weekend’s 5k run (watching my lovely sister), we headed to Teddington, where there’s a Sweatshop selling elastic laces. £5 for two pairs, when regular string ones are about £2 a pair.

As an aside, they also sell loads of coordinated lycra, if you’re someone who can do exercise and likes offending peoples’ eyes less than those in uncoordinated lycra, but more than those in real clothes. (That was not a pointed remark in any way. But honestly, mauve, fluoro yellow, and stripy blue and white? Almost as bad as tailored shorts… Culprits, you know who you are.)

How they work:

Just like normal laces, except there’s a mechanism at the top a bit like you have on a cagool, which you squeeze then tug gently to release the laces. If squeezing something that size is too difficult, it’s possible to put the shoes on without undoing the laces (you just have to hold the tongue in place), and very easy to kick them off, like slip-ons. I’d imagine as they wear in, the elastic will give a bit, so it’ll be yet easier. Unlike normal laces, elastic laces make your shoes grip your feet a bit more actively, so they feel less slippy when I’m wearing them too. They look ‘normal’ – noticeably different if you’re looking at them, but you’d have to be an extrovert computer scientist for that.

Why they’re brilliant:

It avoids the awkward conversation, which I have had:

Did you know, your laces are undone?
“Yes, I’d noticed, thank you.”
And?
“….”

How do you say that, while you know your laces need fastening, it’s too much energy to crouch down to them, and when you get there, you won’t be able to do them up anyway? I’ve not asked anyone to tie my shoelaces for me since I was, I don’t know, three or four? And then was usually family members, not colleagues…

Review: A complete energy, time, and dignity saver. 

PS If my Oxford commas annoy you, just say – I’m going through a phase of using them to see how it makes me feel.