The Strenuous Life: the War on Yellow Days

(The last day of the year has me thinking about resolutions for 2016. No surprises there.)

I have been taught that goals should have measurable elements, and specific actions in order to be effective. It doesn’t work to just say “Do better” without talking about how to do it. And what do you actually mean by “better” in the first place? So today I am thinking about how to define these things.

I recently got an app for tracking, well… everything. Good data fuels the problem-solving machine. It started out as a pain diary, but then I added fatigue, mood, hormonal changes, and eating habits. It is sort of like a FitBit that doesn’t actually track steps or calories, but all the intangibles. One benefit of having this is that it summarizes your day by color coding the day on a calendar: green, yellow, and red. I’m sure you can figure out what those mean. This is the measure I have been using lately.

Green days and Red days are both easy, in a way. When you feel good, you can go about life the way you want: a normal day. When you feel really bad, you need to do whatever you can to feel better and recover: an emergency day. No one questions your actions or expects anything different from you on those days.

But those Yellow days…

For most people, hopefully they don’t happen very often. Maybe you have a low-grade cold that just won’t go away. Or you were up all night with a sick child and still have to work in the morning. Or it’s your 10th day of 12 hour shifts, and you just want a break. That is a yellow day, and that is where I spend a majority of the time because of Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia.

If they only happened occasionally, most wisdom would say “Why torture yourself? Take some medicine that will take care of those symptoms, work from home if you can, sleep in on your day off.” Get back to Green. And that works when Green is the default, normal state. But, if Yellow is your normal, the question “Why torture yourself?” has a very different answer.

It is unreasonable to pretend that Yellow is a temporary state when it clearly isn’t temporary. If sleeping in for a day could fix it, I would be all over it. However, after months (years?) of trying to get to Green using conventional methods, I have just managed to sleep my free time away, and isolate myself by never leaving the house. And really, THAT is torturing me. I have managed to torture myself by not torturing myself.

Teddy Roosevelt (aka the totally awesome, ass-kicking President that liked to fight bears) advocated living The Strenuous Life. I learned recently that Teddy was actually born with many chronic ailments. He was weak, had a heart condition, didn’t have strong lungs, and really bad eyesight. No one expected him to live all that long. Instead of being that weak and sickly person, he decided to do crazy things, even for a healthy person. Can’t breathe? Let’s climb a mountain! Feeling weak? Let’s chop firewood for 12 hours without a break! Can’t see well? Let’s go hunt wild animals that get pissed off really easily and can eat me!

So that is strenuous, and crazy. But, he became a strong man with lots of vitality by overcoming these things. It makes me think that I should be fighting against Yellow instead of trying to appease it. Hmm…

So that brings me back to defining what “Do better” actually means for me. I need to declare war on Yellow. I doubt I’ll wrestle a bear any time soon, but I at least need to keep Yellow in check. Funny side thought: in Color Theory, yellow has a quality of bigness to it, where a yellow object looks bigger than the same object in a different color. So Yellow literally will consume and push the boundaries of any space you give it. A wily opponent, indeed.

So, for 2016, my goal is to accumulate weapons to fight off Yellow. Here is a list of the first few I have identified:

  1. Build flexibility into the day, without judgement. There will still be Red days, and days where Yellow will win, so make room for them.
  2. Create an environment of supportive people who will give me a reason to fight. I feel like I have an accommodating environment, but not any co-workers who miss me when I work from home for 2 weeks straight. I guess that means I need to build better connections.
  3. Identify the little things that make things harder than they have to be. Ex., Right now I live on the 4th floor, and have to climb the stairs to get home. I feel pretty good before I climb the stairs, and I lose all momentum and energy by the time I get to my front door. I would love to not have those stairs to deal with. (This gets me into a thought loop because now I am wondering if that is a good strenuous or a bad strenuous.)
  4. Don’t over-do it! To answer my thought loop in #3: It is pointless to make fewer Yellow days by turning them into Red days, or turning Green into Yellow. Bad strenuous would be pushing so hard you cause worse problems for yourself. Make sure the fight is worth it.
  5. Don’t under-do it! Don’t purposefully make more Red days, but don’t live in fear of them either. If not sure whether an action will turn a Yellow into a Green or a Red, choose to risk the Red for the sake of the Green.

Those seem like revolutionary ideas to me right now, but actually, I think they are the same ones I read everywhere about how to manage chronic illness. But, it’s always better to have a connecting idea that is personal to get it all to make sense. I am internalizing these so it is wisdom that comes from within me, not from some expert or lifestyle blog. (Yes, I am typing this in a blog list format, and am completely aware of the irony.)

Here’s hoping 2016 will kick Yellow in it’s quivering, fat, yellow belly!

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