Focus On Small and Simple Successes

Written by Ed McArdle for the RSDSA blog.

Man in a chef coatMy name is Ed McArdle, a recovering chef with bi-lateral hand pain. The letters CRPS, have only recently been added to my diagnosis and so like many of you my new life journey has begun. My life will change, has changed, and a new perspective on HOW to live is now my new focus.

As one can imagine I was constantly using my hands, chopping onions, slicing and dicing every manner of vegetable and meat, opening an array of boxes, cans and bottles, plunging hands into hot water, removing icy things from the freezer, stirring, flipping and whipping creams to a froth. Frying, steaming, blanching, braising and sautéing plate, after plate, after plate. All the while on my feet, knife in hand, day after day, year after year.

Well that was then.. now life for me is a different set of tasks and goals, and a lot of days, I fail miserably at most all of them.

I am not used to accomplishing very little in a day. In fact, it’s one of the hardest changes to accept. The world I came from was fast paced, frantic almost, with success being measured in quantity and quality of food produced and served. Today my world is quite the opposite. I focus on small and simple successes that help make my day a bit easier. I struggle with simple things, opening a zip lock bag, flipping the top off my toothpaste, actually holding my toothbrush (luckily, I can brush with both hands), folding laundry, putting on shoes, buttons and snaps, the dreaded steering wheel and door handles, yes, door handles. I stress at the sight of them, especially the round ones where one has to TWIST and Pull to gain entry somewhere. Usually a doctors office. Hopefully, if I linger long enough without alerting security, someone will either exit or enter and I can block the door with my foot or shoulder and slide inside.

As I navigate my new life I have found that acceptance, not understanding, is a helpful tool to use. I have spent months in darkness, surrounded by stillness and quiet. Pain so unrelenting it clouds thoughts of recovery and leaves a long dark shadow of doubt, despair, and frustration.

I was lost in the sea of questions, how will I live today? How can I pay my bills? Who will want to be with someone like me, who feels that taking a shower today was a huge accomplishment? I was drowning in the questions, trying to understand why, how, what if, why? Why, WHY? Only when I stopped thinking too far ahead, and began to accept my role as the patient, and the Warrior I was to become, did I begin to get a control over my life again.

I am lucky. I know how to cook. I understand the principles of nutrition and healthy eating. Not so long ago, I was feeding and teaching many, many people. Now, I only focus on one. Me. I eat plenty of vegetables, am very fond of long cooking stews filled with beans, vegetables, and bunches of greens. I swapped in fruits for ALL my snacks, reduced portions, cut out most carbs (except for a good crunchy sourdough boule), and STILL I have ballooned in weight due to various kinds of medications and lack of exercise. We are depressed enough, without seeing literally two of me every morning in the mirror. Learn how to cook, take a class or two, if you are into books, get a few cookbooks. There are plenty of videos about healthy eating and cooking, that can start you down a more healthy eating pattern. Use it as a goal, not just to loose weight, but to learn about different spices, foods, and cultures. Get serious about your health, the type of health that you can control and influence. Remember, feeling better starts with feeding better!

I highly suggest some sort of daily exercise. I am the worst at it, so I trick myself into long walks in the woods, that’s enough for me at this moment. I am learning that recovery from this is not as clear cut as some other medical issues. There is no definite timeframe, no concentrated exercises to focus on. For many of us, “working out” takes on a new meaning. For me I took it literally, I needed to get out of my apartment, so I took my “work” (exercise, both physical and mental) outside. This simple task has changed many dark, long shadowed days into a moment of quiet peace, seeing the landscape change from season to season, a bright ray of sun shining on the trunk of a tree, the chatter of young birds as you pass. The small things now are the focus of my mind. This has calmed me greatly, and has added much strength to continue on my warrior path.

For me, as no stranger to chronic pain, accepting my new life pattern has helped me gain a small foothold on this long climb back to a fulfilling life. Be open to the change, accept it, and help yourself out by eating healthy meals and snacks, reducing stress by walks, reading, or hobbies. Be easy on yourself, give yourself plenty of breaks, it is not your fault. Slow down both mentally and physically. Most importantly listen to your body, rest when you need to rest, gather strength whenever and wherever you can, you will need every bit of it as your new warrior path takes shape and guides you to a more fulfilling and rewarding life with CRPS.

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