By: Steph Cantrill
Large family or social gatherings can be times of great fun and laughter. People come together to celebrate milestones, to coo over new grandchildren, to feast, and to make memories that last a lifetime.
But, for someone with post-polio fatigue, these gatherings can also be absolutely exhausting. So how do you take part in events without spending the next three days in bed? Here are some ideas – we’d love to hear yours too!
Tip 1: Plan
A big part of managing fatigue is planning. If you really want to prioritise this event, make sure you’ve got a quiet day before and after. It might seem obvious, but if you’ve got a party on tonight then today might not be the day for vacuuming the house!
Remember to be kind to yourself – if you want to go to the event, it doesn’t have to completely wipe you out. It may still be tiring, but you can plan your week so that it’s as manageable as it can be.
Tip 2: Say “yes” to help
Once upon a time, you might have spent the week leading up to an event in full preparation mode: cooking enough for a hundred more people than you need to, cleaning every inch of your house (or someone else’s house!), polishing the deck, mowing the lawn, planning the music, arranging the table decorations…
How many times has someone offered to help, and you’ve automatically responded with, “No, no – I can do it!” Maybe it’s time to let them take over? It may not be exactly what you would have done – why did they choose that music? I would never have cooked that! And is that dust on the shelf? – but you might find you’re able to enjoy yourself more if you’re not completely wiped out from getting the event ready.
Is someone offering to take the work off your hands? Time to say yes!
Tip 3: Say “no” to overdoing it
In the same vein, perhaps it’s time to start saying no… Just because you’ve always done something – provide the meal, pass out the drinks, write the thank-you cards, or whatever it may be – doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it! What can you delegate? What can you downsize? What can you let go of altogether?
Saying no, especially when you’re used to saying yes and being available to those around you, can be difficult. Give yourself time to respond – try something like: “Can I get back to you on that?” And, if you need to, practise saying no – rehearse what you’re going to say with a partner or trusted friend (or even in the mirror!).
If you feel uncomfortable saying no, try to remind yourself that it’s sometimes an important part of caring for yourself. And if you can care for yourself well, you’ll have more capacity to be there for others in the way that you want to.
Tip 4: Know your limits
Sometimes we can fall into an “all or nothing” trap. If we can’t go for the whole event because of fatigue, we feel like we may as well not go at all.
Being aware of your own limits can help you find a middle ground. For example, can you limit the time you spend at the function? Can you skip dinner and just meet your friends for dessert?
Also, think about the seating at the event. If it’s the kind of event where people are standing around, balancing a drink in one hand and a plate of nibbles in the other, that can be very difficult for people with post-polio issues. Remember that you don’t want to overwork polio-affected muscles, and prolonged standing can be problematic. Perhaps you could ask the host to ensure you’re able to sit down in a comfortable, supportive chair. That way you can chat to those around you without having to “work the room.”
Tip 5: Communicate
Speaking of talking to the host, communication can be a big part of managing your fatigue. Remember, people don’t know what you don’t tell them. Your friend or family member may not be aware that a standing-only event is too physically demanding for you. Or, they might see how well you walk up and down steps and think it’s fine to hold an event upstairs, but not know how much it contributes to your fatigue or pain. It can be difficult, but letting others know your concerns can make a big difference.
If you’re not comfortable telling all the people at your gathering that you have limitations due to fatigue, muscle weakness or other issues, perhaps you could choose just a few people to share with. The Spoon Theory can be a good tool for communicating your capacity (you can watch a short video about the Spoon Theory here).
So… Let’s party!