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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to Keep Up Routines in the Midst of Health Problems, Creative Impulses or Stress

I will be very honest- even almost five years into following the FlyLady system of keeping house, it still takes tremendous mental discipline to choose to do my routines instead of abandoning them when I don't feel well. Everything has to be written down for my running-ninety-miles-per-hour brain to remember it, and I must review these routines every day. Yes, a lot of things I automatically do in order once I start to work, but sometimes I need that little reminder to even do the chore in the first place. It takes both planning time AND actual working time to maintain a life in good condition. I also have to work hard on completing self-care rituals (exercising, putting on makeup, dressing to shoes every single day) & chores when I have a creative project that I'd rather be working on instead. Which would be just about every day! When I'm anxious or depressed over some circumstance, I have to pray about it to help me let the worry go & then keep on trucking despite the emotion, because I know from an experience that not doing my job, not cleaning my house & not taking care of myself will just compound my problems. Rumination isn't all bad, and in fact is utterly necessary- but don't let it overtake what you know you need to get done in your life. There has to be a balance between thinking about how to resolve issues in your life, but then actively just going out & working. You might think that because I write about these topics all of the time, actually performing these things- organizing, cleaning, de-cluttering- comes naturally to me by now. But they don't. Yes, I have no trouble throwing things out due to sentimentality, I'm a good cook by nature & I like a clean house at all times. However, I still have to actually force myself more often than not to begin working out, get dressed to the sneakers, drink water over soda or sweet tea & get my face made up every day. We each have our own different challenges- what's easy for one person may be a monumental undertaking for another. Some moral or ethical choices which come to me simply & effortlessly may be an immense issue for you. I never have had trouble turning down smoking a cigarette, an alcoholic drink or illicit drugs. Addiction is not in my genes (thanks to my truly wonderful ancestors), but I possess immense sympathy for those without such luck. I have tremendous self-control in some areas that others find mind-boggling to master, and yet I still have trouble saying no to other things which derail my goals quickly.

I know from personal experience that it is even harder to do this self-care & planning of chores when you don't have a full-time job outside the home that you must get up & leave for every day. While working outside the home can be a pain in the neck, it can also provide an escape from the house & family that some people desperately crave. It's also a place to go where you can get some praise for what you accomplish, and/or your looks (what you're wearing, your makeup, etc.) A job under the right circumstances can be like a vacation from home, and the ego-stoking available there is unlikely to be found by most in their household, too. People often look enviously at stay-at-home married moms, but I have seen what their job can consist of, and it ain't easy. To say that many of these women go for years without anyone really appreciating what role they have to play would be an understatement. Hey- I get it. If your home life is suffering or stagnant, work provides a convenient way to get out of the household drama or work. When you work full-time, you're also able to escape into a mode of  "I have chores to do!" on the rare days that you are home, without anyone being able to say too much, because you really do have housework awaiting all of the time! Marital problems, difficulties with the kids, alcoholism- all of these can be very well-hidden or ignored when you're constantly busy. It's usually when you have a moment to breathe that the full force of problems can come down on you. When I suddenly found myself without a full-time job outside the home for the first time in years, I had to confront this. I didn't like my job & I disliked the company that I found myself working for even more, but it was a way out of a stymied home life. When I was home, there was always cooking, cleaning or laundry to do, so I could escape into that work, too. When I'm home all the time, though, I can't ignore people problems like I used to. At some point, you run out of things to organize & clean, and you have to figure out what to do with the rest of your life- which is terrifying most of the time!

I would much rather be lost in the world of writing, acting or singing than cleaning house or facing up to any issues going on at home. Nonetheless, I have to be brave enough to conquer & try to change them. And despite years of being a homemaker, I still have to discipline myself to dust, run the vacuum, mop the floors- it continues to be a conscious, sometimes-difficult decision to make virtually every time it comes around. For the most part, I do not "run on automatic". For years I thought that if I just developed the perfect routines, I would become this robot of efficiency who never struggled with making those choices. I wanted my life to run on auto-pilot. So do a lot of other people on the simplicity & organizing quest. Unless you're vastly different from me, I'm here to tell you that era of flawless automation until the end of your days NEVER comes. Life gets difficult for everyone at times. Life changes- illness, injury, divorce, death, kids being born, kids leaving home, unemployment, retirement, selling a home, buying a home, moving into an assisted living community or a nursing home- all of these throw a monkey wrench into routines. You have to be adaptable & let go of having to do it all in one day or even one week. There is no such thing as the perfect routine, and you can't change into being an automaton when you're born a human being. Some chores are easier to finish than others- doing laundry isn't a bad task to me, because I can just grab the basket full of clothes, throw them in & get the machine started. Instant sense of accomplishment there! Making the bed only takes a minute or two, so it's hard to rationalize myself out of doing that particular chore. But others, like purposely choosing to swish-and-swipe the bathroom each morning, are often harder. Your mind can be either your best friend or your mortal enemy. I heard the term "Mind Over Muscle" years ago, and when you're disabled, it's really doubly true. It's very easy to say to yourself, "I just did this yesterday. I don't really need to do it again." But beyond knowing that my bathroom got sanitized that day, there's a couple of other reasons why it's really important for me to keep working daily at this chore. The first is that if something isn't done every single day, I cannot as easily reprogram my brain into making a chore a habit. When you put it off with an excuse one day, it doesn't take too long- if you don't catch yourself- to start finding an excuse for not doing the same routine for days at a time. The second reason is that you never know exactly what's going to come up in the future. Some illness such as gastritis could suddenly come on in your household, making your clean bathroom an absolute necessity & a blessing to the person who's ill. And this is something that happens all of the time. (When you clean up your bathroom every day & keep it sanitized, it definitely keeps the illness level to a minimum, though.) Or you yourself could wake up the next morning with a case of pneumonia that puts you completely out of commission for a week- and you can't clean when your lungs are infected like that. If, however, you got sick & your laundry was already caught up on, your house was reasonable clean, you had a control journal made up so that others could follow your routines around the house & help you out, your checkbook is balanced & there's plenty of groceries on hand, you will avert one disaster on top of another from occurring.

The day will never, ever come when it's always easy to choose following a routine over living a free-for-all life or choosing some escapist activity, for those who aren't wired from birth to put work first & play second automatically. Some of us just love free time & solitude more than others. For those gifted with an abundance of creative talent & who love living life at a slow pace, performing daily chores can be akin to torture. I know people who cannot stand to have a day off without planned activities outside the house being scheduled, and who also make sure their kids live the same way. I'm not one of those people, though I admire active & energetic people a lot. I despise having planned encroachments on my time. I find that being around a number of people for long periods of time is immensely draining, whereas others find that stimulating. I was an only child who grew up with a single parent that worked outside the home full-time & had an hour-long commute one way (if she was lucky). So I learned early to entertain myself through performing or listening to music, being on the swing set outside, reading, playing with Barbies, etc. I was an outsider anyway because I was a fat kid, and wasn't particularly well-liked by most other kids, so I eventually found solitude far easier to face than being with others. We can't be something that we're not, but we do have to push ourselves out of our comfort zones at times- again, all things in moderation. We all struggle with making something- be it exercising, drinking enough water, taking vitamins & minerals daily, doing certain household chores, paying bills on time, etc.- into a regular habit. You may see someone & think they have it all together, but if you were to ask them, I'll bet they could name an ongoing flaw that they have right quick. And there will inevitably be something that is a challenge to maintain as a habit, too.

Joyce Meyer (the famous television & Internet preacher) once spoke about us all having different temptations that affect us, and consequently all of us having different things that are not temptations. She humorously said that she was never tempted to rob a bank- stealing just wasn't something that ever entered into her mind to do. But then she made a good point- some people are tempted to steal, and for them, fighting against that desire is a daily struggle! As a personal example, I'm never tempted to ignore balancing my checkbook every day- it's something I've checked every single morning since I opened my bank account many years ago. My mom was always fanatical about doing this with her own account, and I just naturally followed her example in this case. But I know some people who would rather have to eat metal screws than have to look over their bank account at all, let alone do so every morning. Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, taking recreational & illegal drugs- abstaining from this stuff for some people is no big deal, while for others it is a Herculean effort each day not to imbibe in them. This doesn't mean people who fall short in an area have moral or character defects. Just the opposite- most people want to do the right thing (excluding sociopaths or psychopaths, obviously) at all times. I believe that we are given whatever our own challenges are to work with them, develop empathy for others & grow as human beings. I fall short just as often as I succeed. But I write down my routines, I write down my goals, I ask for help when I need it, I keep on trying & I DON'T GIVE UP. I don't care if I failed to run the vacuum last week- that has nothing to do with this week, and this week I choose to be successful in getting my house clean. Stop going over the failed attempts in the past & letting them decide for you that you just can't succeed. You don't have a lot of time to bemoan previous failures when you're busily immersed in the work of today. It takes years, sometimes decades, to break old habits because it often took years to build them up in the first place! If you've spent thirty years being inactive, never exercising a day in your life without it being forced on you through a gym class in school, it is completely unrealistic to expect that you'll pick up a daily exercise routine without a hitch. You may be one of the lucky few who does just that, but chances are, the fitness journey will take awhile to develop. There will be missteps along the way. Injuries, illnesses, families, jobs- they all have a way of spilling into the things you need & want to do. You have to continually, consciously make the choice about TODAY being the day to accomplish X, Y & Z. You always have that choice. As long as you're alive, you keep getting that choice, and it's in the trying that you prove your mettle.

While I'm on the subject, please also let go of any harsh time limits you've been placing on yourself to either complete a chore or to endure one. And stop comparing your speed and/or endurance to that of others, too. Don't look back at what you could do in the past & disparagingly assess your current stamina accordingly. Stay in the present. You may have to work five minutes at a time, take a fifteen-minute break, and then work another five minutes because of a pregnancy, disability or illness. You may indeed have to entirely rework your routines & break up an hour's worth of chores into six 10-minutes tasks, done Monday-Saturday (just as an example). You may have to go back to the drawing board & start exercising for ten minutes a day, sitting in a chair, instead of hitting the gym for an hour of heavy-duty aerobics. Former First Lady Pat Nixon was known for her tireless energy, slim build & active lifestyle. Then she suffered a debilitating stroke, not too many years after President Nixon left office. Mrs. Nixon said after her stroke that the hardest thing she'd ever done was climbing up three steps during a therapy session one day. This woman who once ran in high heels to hear her husband's election results come in, a woman with power & wealth, a good & decent person who did not deserve to suffer from a serious medical malady- even she had to struggle like that to recover. She was rail-thin & doctors had pronounced her in perfect health only a few brief years before her stroke, but it didn't matter. Illness, pain or injury can & do hit anyone. Mrs. Nixon had to rebuild her strength & stamina slowly & painfully. If something like that has happened to you, fully expect to have the same mountains to climb. It was once easy for me to clean, move furniture & climb stairs all day long if need be. Now, there are times when washing dirty three pans in the sink is an excruciating ordeal for my back. I am constantly having to alternate between work & "active rest" (reading, writing, putting on makeup while I'm sitting down, etc.) periods, because I can't stand for over thirty minutes at a time- max. I have to take a break mid-workout; sometimes, I have to take two or three breaks. I don't like it. Of course I get angry about it, because I worked out, ate well, didn't smoke & didn't drink alcohol for years thinking that I would be protected from something like the debilitating syndrome I experience today. It didn't work out that way, though. I let myself grieve what used to be and what I had to let go of- please don't think I'm asking you not to mourn or experience these other emotions. But I don't let it stop me from working, either. I don't give in & say, "Well, I have fibromyalgia & I'm in pain every day, so my house is just going to stay dirtier than it used to be." That is the difference between choosing a life of excellence or a life of mediocrity. Don't choose mediocrity, because I know that if you're reading this, you are better than that.

I've not only learned from my own mistakes in the past, but by observing others. A family member of mine lives in a home now that is sadly in the perpetual state of a hoarder's house. She has refused all offers of meal assistance, housecleaning services, a professional organizer coming in & financial aid from our family, so she didn't get that way out of neglect on our part. For years I would beg her to let me get rid of rotting clothes from people who were long-deceased, broken & chipped unused dishes, old greeting cards, never-cooked recipes, dented kitchen pans that date back to the Eisenhower Administration & even boxes of cracked picture glass. She would not let one item out of that house. There was always some excuse on her part. Any attempt to do something about the situation without her consent would only yield a cry of the banshee & the firm beating of her cane. She is not one of those elderly people who will accept, however grudgingly, her childrens' will. It's her way or the highway and she's been like that since she was born. Her eccentricities only grew deeper roots with age, which is true for most of us. Neither I nor anyone else could even try to clean properly because so much clutter built up & blocked our way. This didn't happen to her home overnight, but when you look back over her life, it's simple to see how it eventually came to be. She always took the easiest way out- housework was as minimal in effort & done as infrequently as her husband would allow- which meant it usually only got done if company was coming. Keeping things sanitary was the last thing on her mind. Even in her very early twenties, she would lay down on the couch & take a nap or read every afternoon instead of doing anything active (and she didn't work outside the home, either). She never even bothered to sort her laundry- she just threw a load together whenever the pile of items got big enough to put in the washer or until someone was completely out of a particular item, whichever came first. Instead of seeing that the toothpaste tube was running low, putting toothpaste on her grocery list & getting it at the store ASAP, she would let it run out completely & her daughters would end up brushing their teeth with baking soda instead. Now, lest you think I'm really being mean, this family member did accomplish a lot in her life later on outside the home. She had creative gifts, including painting & writing, that she was really good at. She was intelligent & politically-interested, always trying to be well-read. She was a good parent who wanted her children to be happy, not some horrible person who couldn't have cared less about others. She planned fun vacations for her children & later on her grandchildren, traveling to many East Coast locales of interest. She's a loyal friend who stays in touch with people from her past consistently. But the chaos in her home eventually took over what was left of her life. It made her ill, it forced those who cared about her to stay away from the property she owns for fear of putting their own health & safety at risk, and it made her a virtual prisoner because of the clutter. My family member can't invite people in without being embarrassed. She's ashamed of the way that she herself looks now. Surrounded by so much dirt & clutter, the environment couldn't help but trickle into her habits of personal grooming, dressing & health management. She stopped getting her hair cut, permed or colored. She wouldn't buy new clothes or shoes, even if what she was wearing was falling apart at the seams. Because she has so much clutter, it's impossible to assess what she already owns, really needs or really doesn't in terms of future purchases. She loses track of purses, jewelry, recipes, gifts for others & just about every other kind of item you can think of. The warning signs were there all along- sadly, she was never able to recognize or acknowledge them herself & turn the situation around. She is now too disabled to carry in a gallon of milk into her one-story home, walks with two canes (she refuses to use a walker) & it takes twenty minutes minimum to get her seated in a car. It is heartbreaking to watch her be unable to breathe easily due to her illnesses & the state of her home, but she utterly refuses to leave the house, as living on her own is her last vestige of independence. She waited far too long to seek care from doctors for issues such as post-polio syndrome, osteoarthritis of the knees, congestive heart failure & Type II diabetes. She went without medication & surgery when technological advances could have saved her much misery, despite having excellent health coverage for them, and now she is far too frail to ever survive a surgical procedure. (In that case, procrastination was often the factor- a lifelong habit of hers.) She refuses to go on oxygen, denies that she even has some of these conditions (no matter what the test results repeatedly say) & always comes up with the old adage, "This is just how it is when you're older."

This example of hers is partly what fuels me. It's too late to change her, and very little can be done to help her. I know that I cannot control everything that happens to me, not by a long shot. I am as mortal as anyone. Pain is real, and attempting to ignore it instead of managing it would be utterly foolish. But I can choose, every single day, not to make the same type of choices as my family member did. Instead of laying down for a nap, I can go unload the dishwasher or change the sheets. I'm not saying that sleep is bad- far from it- but I do not allow laziness to overtake what has to get done for my home to be a haven to me. I may not be able to complete an hour-long aerobic workout anymore without experiencing too much pain, but I can complete a few sets of upper-body exercises with dumbbells & stay strong in that way. I can visit my doctor now to try to quell aches & pains before they completely debilitate me completely, take control of what I can to lead a healthier life & educate myself constantly on the latest treatments available. If I need assistance in the future due to my disability, I won't be ashamed to look up what resources are available & take advantage of them. I can pick what I put in my mouth to eat, where I spend my income & how I use my time to a great degree. Whatever I can use to feel better, whatever I can take, whatever I can eat that will lessen pain & increase my life's quality, I'm going to do it. And I hope that, if you haven't already done so, you'll make that choice today to do the same. When you organize, simplify & clean your home today, you help create for yourself a better place to live in tomorrow. When you take every action that you can think of to be your best, you will be given back what you put in in some great way. I can't promise you the world, but I can promise you that much.

Here's my list of "rules" to follow for anyone who is disabled:

1) Do three to five minutes of housework at a time, using a timer if need be. If it's a better day physically, work for fifteen minutes or maybe even thirty. Don't push your body to the point of excruciating pain. If you need to sit down to work, so be it. Stools, scooters & adjustable-height chairs can be great for times when you need to iron, cook or do anything where a traditional chair won't work in height. I don't recommend working for more than forty-five minutes at a time, though. For every forty-five minutes of work, take a fifteen-minute break. This includes doing paperwork, exercising & garden work, too. If you overdo it, you may end up paying for it the next day or even several days in fatigue & possibly illness. I also know that there are medications out there which can "fool" a disabled person in the brain temporarily into feeling better-than-normal physically. So then you take on the world, overdoing it mightily, only to feel like you've been run over by a truck the next morning. Watch out for manic cleaning or overworking on medication or even just good physical days. If you see a pattern like this occurring repeatedly, scale back the work you do during "good times"- it is not worth putting your body out of commission, no matter what! I speak of this from experience, by the way.

2) Do whatever you have to do, take whatever you have to take, change whatever you need to change, in order to get a good night's sleep. Quality sleep is important for everyone, but if you have a disability, it's even more important. I have another blog entry that talks about getting to sleep more easily (but still naturally), that I suggest you read if this is a problem area for you. If you're napping during the day, especially more than once, and staying up through the night as a result, try to change the habit. Do whatever you can to avoid napping during the day, unless you can still sleep easily at night regardless. Remember, though, that not everyone is a day person. Some people have Delayed Sleep Phase & other circadian issues going on- it is up to you whether or not you believe these are actual disorders. I personally just believe that not everyone is going to be at their best during the daytime hours, and that the night owls of the world perform an equally-important function when they just acknowledge what their personal best hours are & use them well. If you are sleeping a normal number of hours (six to nine at a time), don't need an alarm clock to wake up after those hours, don't feel depressed or anxious & you are productive during your waking yours, then why should you be made to feel you have a disorder? So what if you naturally wake up at one in the afternoon & go to bed at four a.m.? That alone doesn't make you lazy, incompetent or unaccomplished. I think that it's time we started discussing this as a culture, and I for one am tired of night owls being thought of as weird or unnatural. Night people serve an immensely valuable function in modern life. There is much more info on the Internet, should you feel inspired to read on about this subject.

3) Proper fuel is utterly important for everyone's life, but again, disabled people need the utmost in nutrition, supplements & fluid replacement. Drink at least 64 oz. of water a day. A high-dose Vitamin D3 supplement may be something you'll want to consider trying- it's made drastic changes for the better in my life. I am not a medical doctor, but taking a minimum of 10,000 IU's a day was necessary for me- I have extremely fair skin, get little sun & have always been prone to putting on weight. My personal physician suggests a minimum of 5,000 IU's for everyone, and he's a very well-read man. At the very least, take a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement appropriate for your age & gender. Bloodwork done in a lab can reveal vitamin or mineral deficiencies fairly easily. I highly recommend that you get these tests done, because deficiencies can be common even amongst the well-fed in America or other first-world countries. Nutrition is something that will never be one size fits all. But research everything you possibly can about eating an anti-inflammatory, healing, satisfying diet for your particular health needs. Fat is not the enemy- often, it is an excess amount of carbohydrates in people's diet causing problems as the years go on. The thyroid may often be an issue. See an endocrinologist if you are experiencing symptoms of thyroid issues (which are actually pretty common). WebMD is a great site to utilize for fairly sound medical advice.

4) Read through medical studies on the following website. You can ask any question you can think of in regards to health, and this incredible site will bring up scientific study results for free that you can read. You may be astonished at the conclusions scientists came to- I certainly was. Some of the most widely-accepted beliefs about health have not been proven by these studies, and often just the opposite of what's currently preached for health is the truth. Do not count on the modern press media to inform you of these studies' results, either. Many people are so vested in one belief or another, no matter how false it's proven to be, that they'll continue to exaggerate or even just lie about medical study results. It's up to you to find out the truth.

5) If you work outside the home, have worked for your company more than one year & work for an employer with more than one hundred employees, familiarize yourself completely with both the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990- Revised 2009 & The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Both laws are available online from the Federal Government to read for free. Doing so can save your job, make employers work with you when they've been reluctant to do so (when you know the law & they know that you know the law, there's less that they can get away with in terms of abusing those with a disability). If it's available, sign up for FMLA for your chronic medical condition, or if a spouse or child has one. I don't care if you think you might not need it- take advantage of it & protect yourself if you have to take time off for these conditions. The paperwork should be straightforward for both you & your physician to fill out. Make copies of every single approval or denial letter you get from your employer's HR dept., as well as all of the paperwork you & your doctor fill out. If you get a denial, appeal it- period. The same goes for Short-Term or Long-Term Disability; never, ever accept a denial as a final decision (which occurs extremely often). Always, always, ALWAYS appeal any denials- more often than not, they'll be overturned if you push & have the proof to back it up.

6) If you can afford to do so & your company will allow it, cut down from working forty hours a week to a lower amount. Thirty hours a week- for example, only working six hours a day, five days a week- can be a great way to give yourself back some energy. Again, when you familiarize yourself with the law, you'll realize your employer has to make reasonable accommodations for your illness, and a lesser work schedule is a part of that 1990 law. A thirty-two-hour week, where you work eight-hour days four days a week instead of five, can make a big difference as well. I realize that these are tough economic times, but your health is important. Overwork can make a chronic condition worse. Your age may change your disability approach with your employer. Older people may have an advantage, especially if you've been with your company for a long time. Explain that if the company allows you a more reasonable workload, you will have more energy & enthusiasm for the hours that you do work- and it will make you less likely in the future to be forced to retire early for medical reasons.

7) Do everything you can to cut back on your contact with infectious people. Keep Lysol Disinfectant Spray, disinfecting wipes (I like Lysol Lemon & Lime scent) & Purell gel at your work desk + at home to cut down on the possible illnesses you can catch. Using antibacterial gel or lotion on your hands even after washing them, especially in a public bathroom, is one of the best ways to prevent getting ill. I know that this is a controversial suggestion, but it's worked well for me in a lot of cases (airborne illnesses are harder to prevent, though). If you're the one who's sick, do everything you can to avoid spreading the germs, and do not work a full day on your sickest days. Ask about working from home if your job allows, at least one or two days a week. If you have to use your FMLA hours, please take the time off to get yourself feeling better sooner! Don't let anyone bully you into working when you are truly not up to it physically.

8) Make out your state's version of a Durable Power of Attorney, also known as a living will in some areas. Don't argue with me or procrastinate about it- just fill it out & get it signed (be aware that one signer, minimum, has to be someone who won't financially benefit from your death via life insurance or any other means).

9) You still need to push yourself sometimes, but delegate whatever you can, whenever you can. Let go of the need to do it all yourself. Sit down with your family or friends & explain to them what your limitations are now. Usually, a lack of communication is at the heart of a resentful household where a disabled person is doing more work than they really should be doing. Be fair about it, though- if your kids & spouse have to pull more weight because of your illness, figure out ways to reward them a bit for their help (assuming that's the family life you have). If you need to hire a maid service, Meals on Wheels food service and/or a professional organizer to help yourself, do so. These services exist for a reason. Many programs like this also exist which can be received for a nominal donation cost, if you are a low-income household. Check into every service available to the disabled in your county, state and/or province.

10) If you need to, retrofit your home or move to a new home that is made for the disabled, to help you live more safely with your disability. Toilets, showers, bathtubs, entryways & more usually need to be altered for a disabled person to continue living in the same home as they did before they were disabled. I know at least in the U.S. that there are state and/or county programs to help with this in labor & finance if you meet certain requirements (medical history, income requirements, true need of the retrofitting, etc.) These services can include building ramps outside your home to replace steps going up, adding safety bars to bathrooms, changing over from a top-loading to a front-loading washing machine, old bathtubs being changed out for shower stalls, lowering countertops & bathroom vanity heights (for those in a wheelchair), plus more. Products exist now to make life easier in ways previously unheard of. Maybe there are no services available at this time for you, but it never hurts to check. At least you'll know more information for the future.

11) Keep your bathrooms & kitchens disinfected daily, including the flooring. If your cat or dog gets sick to their stomach, clean up the mess & disinfect that area ASAP. The more infection-prone a person is, the more important this rule is. If you own a pet, this is extremely important- remember that animals who go outdoors can bring in all kinds of infections, especially if they eat rodents or birds. Try to keep your pet indoors as much as possible, and on a leash when they go outside. It's best for their lifespan, and safer for your health.

12) Do whatever you can to avoid walking barefoot anywhere if you are prone to infections, especially if you're a diabetic. Purchase slippers with a hard sole to wear indoors (and don't wear them outside at all), always wear water shoes if you're going to the pool or beach, and wear closed-toe shoes as often as possible otherwise.

13) Modern Western medicine has many great things to it's credit & prescription medications are no exception. Research your condition online or in books from every angle that you can, including the latest in prescription help. However, look very carefully at the side effects that each medication can cause before you start taking it. Google it & see what other people taking it have to say. This is especially true for newer drugs, ones that have only been approved for twenty-five years or less. I personally took one medication that was fabulous for my fibromyalgia nerve pain, but it caused me to gain one hundred pounds (even with no change in diet or exercise) in six months. Obviously, I had to stop taking that medication because the weight gain just kept on coming, which was the last thing I needed. Don't trust commercials on TV to give you the whole picture, even in the fine print. Certain anti-depression medication can be terrific for people early on (a.k.a. "sunshine in a bottle"), but they can also cause suicidal thoughts & actions, especially when taken long-term. Again- research, research, research. The human brain is still very mysterious and medications can drastically alter the way that you act. Don't think that you're so strong-willed or full-figured that nothing can effect you. Medications that have been approved by the FDA in America since the late 1980's/early 1990's onward go through a much less rigorous testing process than drugs manufactured earlier on. This was due to changes in law caused by the AIDS crisis, but the laws have never changed back to pre-AIDS testing timetables, even for drugs unrelated to that condition. So long-term usage is not looked at nearly as carefully as it once was, if at all by the government. This is one reason for all of the drug recalls which have occurred in the last twenty years in the U.S. Older-class drugs like Valium (also known generically as Diazepam) went through a lot more testing, have been used in numerous societies for several decades, and were studied more carefully to begin with. This doesn't mean that some of these older-class drugs don't have side effects, including developing dependency on them. However, it does mean that they are usually less likely to cause more serious long-term damage to the body (in general) & the side effects are much more widely known. I'm going to say what a lot of people are unwilling to now...Sometimes dependency is sadly the price one must pay to live a better quality of life, though, particularly when it comes to anti-anxiety medications or other mood-changers. But don't let any doctor, nurse or person admonish or push you into taking a medicine before you've had a chance to research it fully, including injectables. You can always ask your pharmacy for a sample amount of medicine (like three to five pills), or even your doctor's office may have these trial-size packs available. I recommend this for every medication you take that's new for you, so that you're not out an entire month's worth of pill money. You could have an allergy to the drug or it may cause an unpleasant side effect that you just can't live with, so less is more. In all of my years of study, I have yet to come upon any medication entirely without side effects or contraindications, including herbal supplements or even just vitamins. Whatever you allow into your body, read about it thoroughly & make an informed decision.

14) If you live in the U.S. & have enough work credits to apply for it, consider applying for Social Security Disability funds if you get to the point where you are simply unable to work outside the home anymore physically and/or mentally. I strongly recommend that you hire an attorney or party that will help you fill out the paperwork correctly, submit the needed documents the first time around without issue & mostly just to be an advocate for you. I feel that the cost of these services (which is actually pretty minimal) is worth it in a lot of cases. Again, always appeal any denial made (and the Social Security Administration denies approximately 60% of initial applications received); the current appeal timeframe is within 60 days of the initial denial by the SSA. Without an attorney or other legal advocate working on your case, appealing a denial can be much harder to accomplish. I do not recommend going alone on this at all.

15) Print out or create your own documents outlining how to complete your daily household chores, a document containing your address/phone/email contacts (including all of your doctors, your dentist, etc.), a list of what bills of yours must be paid & when, a "How to Do Laundry" chart & any other papers that will help others complete tasks for you if you're incapacitated or out-of-town. If you pay bills online, you'll need to leave a list of your usernames & passwords, as well- but guard that with your life. You can put these documents in your control journal, on your refrigerator or leave them in your day planner- but do print them out ASAP. Inform anyone who would be a potential helper for you- possibly including extended family & friends- where these documents are. That way others can take care of things for you in an organized way, no matter what happens. Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.

Here's to being a happy, healthy organized minimalist,

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