Last week and this week have been soooo much better. Less tears. While the black cloud of overwhelm still lurks, I feel calmer, less irritated by everything, and more able to make a healthy choice in the moment. Five minutes, have been my saviour.
I’m no perfect human, no magician. Getting back on track isn’t easy. Getting back on track – isn’t instant. It’s not about righting wrongs overnight. It’s not about becoming superwoman again; getting into action with everything on the ‘crazy to do list’. It’s not about suppressing the negative thoughts, ignoring the fatigue or pretending to be happy.
Last week, my best achievement was deciding to commit. Commit to doing, what I know to do, to lift low mood. Then doing it, for five minutes at a time. Yes, five minutes. Anymore time is a bonus and not mandatory in anyway. A big commitment? Yes!
In the face of depression, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and everything I acknowledged in last week’s blog, yes, making ANY decision, taking ANY action, takes something. Some days, brushing my teeth, having a shower or putting on clean clothes is a commitment. It takes valuing myself. It takes being in the moment, one step at a time.
I’m worth it.
I’m worth investing five minutes, once per day or eventually five minutes, six times a day, to do the things that help and help me, to feel more like me. It’s not easy and I know I go on about it, being compassionate with myself. I try to not buy into my ‘I’m not good enough’ belief, when I don’t manage five minutes one day or I only (loaded unhelpful language) manage five minutes a day. This is super important and the key to keeping the commitment to doing five minute wonders.
On my first day of commitment to five minutes of healthy, helpful actions, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and got dressed – tick. I got myself up the hill, to my blood test appointment – big tick. The rest of the day passed somehow.
On my second day of commitment of five minutes, I managed to go back on to the website I’d had so many problems with and order the muscle builder protein recommended by the Nutritionist. Its arrived and I’ve tried it. It tastes ok and hopefully will work well for me!
It feels good to get back on track with healthy eating; one step, one five minutes, one day at a time. This doesn’t mean I beat myself up for the sugar filled chocolate bar I had yesterday while at Chemo. It means I patted myself on the back for eating well for the rest of the day, for not eating any more processed/refined sugar all day and for achieving my calorie count target for muscle building.
On my third day of commitment I managed to go to the gym! The gym! I went for five minutes on the cross trainer; I stayed 20 minutes. I was very tired but felt pleased that I had gone. It felt good, to feel pleased, about something. I went for another five minutes, two days ago, stayed 45 minutes and had more energy. I loved the sense of achievement, of being good to myself, doing what I know is important for me to do; build muscle so I can manage the cancer and the treatment as well as possible. It was ok to feel tired later that day. I felt calmer which was a bonus and good to notice.
On another day, for five minutes, I thought about my values, aspirations and those things I used do that gave me pleasure. I looked at whether I had been taking any actions in these areas. I wrote a list and planned some five-minute actions – not all of them for one day; one five-minute action per day. Yoga is near the top of the list. Up until a few months ago, I used to do this, a lot, each week, at home mostly, with the wonderful Adriene on YouTube. Interestingly, five minutes of yoga hasn’t made it back into my world yet. That’s ok. I don’t have to do everything all at once. Maybe next week will be the week I commit to five minutes of yoga, on one day, and then another, and possibly another.
Yesterday, I did something that really makes me feel joy. I had an Italian language lesson. I didn’t worry about whether I was smartly dressed or had make-up on; my teacher doesn’t care. She cares more about whether I am having a chance, making the time, to listen to Italian every day; she doesn’t make me wrong when I haven’t. I loved it. I felt genuine pleasure when getting something right and even when I got something wrong and understood why. I have learned Italian on and off for years (more off in recent years as academic work took over) and it feels great to be doing something that is so important to me. This was a powerful step forward in lifting my mood. Now I can plan five minutes of listening and Italian language practice every day. It doesn’t have to be more. Seriously, a five-minute commitment works wonders and is much easier to contemplate than an hour! If the hour of practice comes at some stage, well that, is simply a bonus. If I don’t do the five minutes every day that’s ok; every day that I do it, is a good day.
Overwhelm still hovers. By the end of last week, I noticed I taken on too much. I tried to allow time for rest, quiet, peace yet the time in between five minutes of healthy action didn’t always or often, feel restorative. Planning five minutes of deep progressive muscle relaxation is now on the list. Sitting outside for five minutes and deep breathing is also on the list. The list doesn’t have to rule the show; it’s just a tool to remind me of possibilities for five minute wonders. Things to try that I know have worked well in the past or may work well now and in the future, if I give them a go and commit for FIVE minutes!
A fine balance, this doing versus not doing too much. Time for simply being is important too though when it rolls over into dwelling, rumination and avoiding, it no longer is being. Socialising and avoiding withdrawal from others is super important for lifting low mood. Getting back into the world is key. Five minute excursions outside my house to the local café, newsagent, supermarket, anywhere where I need to navigate around and be with people for five minutes; it all helps me reconnect with the world.
On the flip side, when friends suggest a catch up, getting myself there is really hard some days, especially on those days when I feel like I just want to rest, sleep and keep sleeping. Staying only five minutes might also seem strange but when I frame it like that, telling myself ‘I’m going for 5 minutes’, it helps. Letting my friend know upfront that I hope to stay longer but a short time might be all I can do, is perfectly fine too; good friends understand. Right now, too many commitments each day or on consecutive days is unhelpful; overwhelm can loom large. I’m taking it a little slower than I was, before this patch of overwhelm hit. Now the dark clouds are slowly lifting, I am taking my time with it, giving myself time and space to get back to feeling like me. I try to remember that saying ‘No’ or consciously choosing to NOT ‘do something’ can be a valid action too.
Five-minute actions, being social in a manageable way, doing things that make me feel good, feel pleasure….that’s what I’m working on. Smiling is back on the menu. Five minutes of smiling behaviour can work wonders too. Remember this isn’t about pretending to be happy. This is about your body and mind experiencing a smile: physically, chemically and eventually, emotionally. Right now, it’s a practice, a behaviour, not a spontaneous event. I’d forgotten about the power of smiling behaviour and that’s ok. I’ll do that five-minute wonder, today. In fact, how about now?
Editorial Support: Stephanie Kemp
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