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.


Where is my hat?

We were at the pub after church, and getting ready to leave.

“Where’s my hat?” I said, as I picked up my coat and bag. “Did I have a hat? Is it in church?” I wondered, as I considered how tricky it’d be to ask someone to open up the building to fetch it.

“You definitely had it when we came in, I remember you wearing it.” said Rich. “Now, where were you before?” Someone else chipped in, “Nobody would have taken it, so it must be here somewhere”

I checked in unlikely places – on the table, down my coat sleeves, in my small handbag for a big hat. I looked on the floor. No hat. “It is, it’s definitely here” said Rich, as we kept looking.

I looked on the floor again. There was my hat! It had rolled across the floor and under a bar stool.

“Would you mind, my hat is under your chair” I said, as I crawled under the table to fetch my hat.


I’m experiencing loss at the moment, and not the millinery sort. I’ve gained some, too, but mostly it’s been loss, of ability, identity, interaction, and a whole range of things I never noticed when I never knew I’d one day miss them. But then I lost my hat, and gained some thoughts:

  • When something goes, it’s a surprise. The things that go together, “hat, coat and bag” or “dress, make up and high heels”, feel incomplete without one. The others are diminished for the absence.
  • You question if it existed in the first place. “Did I have a hat?” can be “…..” and you need friends who notice you, who’ll reassure you that the thing that is lost was definitely once in your possession.
  • The worst case scenario, in this case interrupting an exhausted curate’s well-deserved glass of wine, springs to mind. You feel guilty for how your loss affects others, even before you acknowledge the effect of loss on yourself. I apologised for wrong notes in my piano playing to others ages ago, but can’t bring myself to accept how much I miss playing fluently.
  • And you come up with bizarre ways of trying to compensate – looking frantically in unlikely places in disbelief – could I be pain-free if I eat this or that? Or stretch just so? – until you’re called back to face reality. You knew that was never going to work.
  • And then hope. “It’s definitely here” and that assurance from others that they’re with you, searching until you regain what was lost. Not telling you that actually you have your hat when it’s lost, or that you never owned one, didn’t need it today, or that most people managed without one, so where was the problem. Friends who acknowledge your loss, and search because even when you forget, they remember that it was once important to you and honour your previous wishes.
  • Lost things are eventually found again. But even when you see where they are, reaching them may require persistence. You may need to ask people to remove the barriers they’re putting in the way, be that a bar stool or a poorly timed meeting request. You will have to try yourself as well – as much as friends back you, they’ll never have the fear or a cold head spurring them on, if they’re already certain where their own hat is. Those who’ve lost hats before and suffered the consequences, or who are still looking for their hat, those people are the best at cheering you on. Then crawling on hands and knees, you will recover what was lost.

And life will continue as if it was never lost.

Stuck in the middle

Holby City, 26 Mar 2013, Journey’s End. 

Today was a good day. Today, one of my favourite characters, Tara, the ambitious medical student who’s quickly becoming a formidable heart surgeon finally got the opportunity to do a properly difficult operation, and save somebody’s life.

Problem is, Tara has a brain tumour, which is growing, and slowly it’s meant that she’s been less and less capable of doing her job. Last week it was a hand tremor. This week it was a fit which made her collapse.

Her boss’s boss’s boss, the big cheese, on seeing her latest brain scan, marched into theatre, and almost stopped her mid-operation, but was merciful, and let her finish. She’s acheived her dream, she saved a life, and now, it’s just a matter of waiting for the tumour to take hers. Soap gold dust.

Pretty actresses like her get signed up by ITV with no problem, we’ll see her in something else before long. You get used to the three yearly cycle of new doctors and nurses after a while.

But for me, it’s not so cut and dried. I don’t have a single, realisable dream, after which I rest easy. I don’t have an agressive, terminal disease which will rapidly take my life.

Today I made a little mistake at work, I didn’t perceive something as it was intended, I wasn’t quite as quick as usual. Then I had a conversation with colleagues during which the track of my multitrack mind which says ‘my legs hurt, can I sit down now?’ was sounding louder and louder til it drowned the conversation. I dried up the dishes sitting down. Nobody’s going to swoop in to march me from the operating table, it’s nothing half as melodramatic.

But it has begun, and where will it stop? Today I am less able to function at work than I was last month. I am less able to interact with others such that they don’t notice a difference. I am less able to contribute. I am less able.

Moving onto other BBC medical soaps, in today’s Doctors, Jimmi was examining the stages of bereavement. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. I am losing the me I could have been, but how will I adjust to that?

Science seems a reasonable (sorry) way to start, documenting every movement and every symptom until life becomes a long equation of Energy In = Energy Out. Or energy out meaning pain tomorrow. Is that bargaining?

Denial’s quite nice where I can face it – being perceived as ‘normal’ at work is welcome, in a way. Even the people I’ve told don’t seem to want to ask how I am. But when I pretend I’m not ill, using energy recklessly like a ‘normal’ person, it’s not long before my body reacts. On the train I was shaking with muscle spasms from Norbiton to Fulwell. Looked like a right weirdo. One day I’ll accept my limitations and ask for a seat.

So, I’m not an actress on a short-term contract, with visible wobbly-collapsy-symptoms and weeks to live. But nor am I completely well, with nothing to stop me standing by the water cooler for a chat. I’m stuck in the middle.