Survival Mode

“Survival mode” is a phrase I’ve heard plenty of time in therapy. It means fighting to reach an emotional baseline, and not worrying about further goals and aspirations –for the time being. It means focusing on the necessities.

I was in survival mode after I gave birth to my first, while I fought Post Partum OCD and new symptoms of PTSD, and struggled to eat or bond with my baby.

But these last several months I’ve experienced a new kind of survival mode. A physical survival mode. This is what I’ve learned.

With an autoimmune disorder, you have to plan ahead to conserve energy. It may mean buying those crustables PB&J’s for the days you don’t have the energy or strength to make lunch. Or it may mean moving the toothpaste from the drawer under the sink to the medicine cabinet because it’s easier for you to reach than it is to bend. For me it means both those things, plus many more. One of my favorite energy conservation measures is our new shower chair, which has allowed me the ability to shower by myself again. Another favorite is online grocery ordering and pickup.

There are good days and bad days, and one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is to not overdo the good days. It took me a LONG time to learn this lesson. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of a good day. There’s a list a mile long of activities you miss, and chores that have been ignored. But good days are the most important days for energy conservation, because if tomorrow is a bad day, you could be logging major energy points on your good day to help you get through the bare minimum during the bad one. If you overdo it on a good day, you’re most likely signing up for 2-3 days of bedrest. That’s not an exaggeration. (And I thought I was done with bedrest after my daughter was born, haha).

I’ve also had to learn to let go. To let go and allow someone else to have control. Max has taken over all household chores and duties. My only job right now: taking care of my kids and myself. Survival mode. Max does the laundry, cooks dinner, does dishes, mows the lawn… the one chore I can do is cleaning the toilet. I not only have to be ok with putting all that responsibility on my spouse, but I have to be ok with it all being done his way, instead of my way. It’s a lot of letting go.

Something I’m still deeply struggling to learn is to not feel guilty. To not feel shame for buying frozen, ready made PB&J. To not feel guilty about all the tasks piled on my husband’s shoulders. To not be angry with myself when can’t do everything I want to do, even on a good day.

The hardest part of all of it is not knowing how much of it will get better. A lot of getting better relies on maintaining at least some of the “survival mode.” Conservation of energy is a lifelong coping mechanism for autoimmune disorders. Refraining from over doing it on good days is a constant balancing act. But I wish I knew if my hands will ever be strong enough to fold laundry again. Or if I’ll get to a point where we can go on family adventures without planning on bedrest the following day.

So maybe the greatest lesson learned during survival mode is faith. Faith that survival mode is temporary. That all the work and sacrifice given during survival mode will be worth it.

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