Stop that plate spinning

I’ve never been able to spin plates. And, yes, I do mean literally spin plates. But whenever I see somebody doing it on TV to set a new world record or at the circus to make us all laugh, I appreciate the skill, focus and hours of dedication it must take to perfect.

Metaphorical plate spinning has a new name, and one that’s presented as a good thing in the world of work these days: multi-tasking.

For much of my career I’ve multi-tasked without much thought. I’ve thrived on doing half a dozen things at once while having a conversation with a colleague and simultaneously earwigging another conversation in the hope of picking up some gossip.

It’s only recently occurred to me that I can’t do it any more.

I’ve made oblique reference to it in other posts: how I’ve been unusually snappy or aggressive if somebody interrupted me when I was mid-task, or how I’m doing my best to slow down everything I do in my life because rushing means overdoing it. And overdoing it breaks all my pacing rules.

Well this weekend I had something of a crash.

What’s annoyed me is that I didn’t spot the signs in time, which is why I’m sharing it with you. I cannot emphasise enough how self-care is vital for managing ME, CFS and other fatigue-linked conditions.

On Friday night, after an afternoon’s sleep to recharge my battery, I joined some colleagues for a social event for somebody who’s leaving the company. It was a wonderful time, at two pubs, and I surprised myself that I managed to last all evening.

I slept well on Friday night and woke up on Saturday morning feeling fine. It meant my fiancé Alan and I went for a nice stroll, and had breakfast at a cafe, and I spent the rest of the morning reading my newspaper.

It was all going so well.

By Saturday afternoon, I was reading something while the TV was on in the background and I noticed I just couldn’t read the words on the page. I could see the letters but I couldn’t form the sentences.

After I rested in bed, I returned to the lounge where Alan was watching TV. I was checking something on my iPad and Alan turned to asked me a question. I nearly bit his head off with my angry reaction to being interrupted and then went to the bedroom, and cried.

It dawned on me that multi-tasking or multi-stimulus was overwhelming my mind. I just couldn’t focus on one thing. And my emotional and verbal lashing out – wholly disproportionate to the situation – was my response.

On Saturday night I slept really well. On Sunday morning I woke up feeling refreshed and we, again, went to a nearby cafe for breakfast.

I only got as far as page 5 of the newspaper and I could no longer read the words. My body, from head to toe, hurt. My arms were burning. In the space of less than an hour I had gone from ‘on top of the world’ to a sensory-overwhelmed mess.

The lesson? That its so easy to forget everything you know about pacing when you feel fine. It is easy to forget the payback can hit a day or more later. I should have known my Friday night needed to be followed by a ‘do nothing at all’ weekend. When will I learn?

The good news is I’ve been able to write this post with the TV on in the background, and I’m about to have another rest.

9 Comments

  1. Pacing is easier said than done when we are feeling ok just got back from a weekend in jersey and kept going for the last 2 days but I know burn out will occur this week thanks for this Gary hope things get better for you this week

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  2. It’s delightful to see the correct use of the word ‘literally’ in your blog, Gary.

    Now, if you’re suffering from sensory overload, and if you have a sensory hangover (figuratively speaking), you will eventually build a picture of what overloads you, and what doesn’t. I wonder if it’s worth trying to score each event in your life in terms of how much sensory challenge it offers. That way you can look at your diary for the week, and for each day, and plan the necessary breaks and rest periods, and guard against multitasking.

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  3. Oh Gary! It was wonderful to see you out on Friday night and although you arrived a little out of sorts you seemed on such good form! I’m sorry it hit you later! I know it hit me that night and all weekend! I felt so sick I wanted to throw up by the time I got home.. and i hadn’t had any alcohol! It was sheer tiredness! I had the day off on Saturday but I couldn’t sleep.. worked on Sunday.. but it was a long day! I threw up Sunday night! I guess what I’m saying is you’re not alone! I’m hopeless at pacing! When I feel well I i think I should be doing everything all at once! Then I burn out! You definitely have the right idea! Get some rest and remember your mantra ! Xx

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  4. Oh I know this pothole! A weekend well planned weekend with friends in London. Slept on train their on back, slept/rested every afternoon and in bed by 9-10 but still floored the week after! I thought I’d been so good, was cross that I missed a lot that friends did. Still floored me. Luckily a couple of snow days meant I could work at home, which prevented a crash. I thought I was becoming more intolerant maybe it’s just I can’t plate Spin anymore.

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