KEEPING MOTIVATED WHEN YOU'RE HOMEBOUND...
...And Chronically Ill or Disabled...
Whether you’re young or old, the thought of being housebound and sick or disabled is probably pretty horrifying. For some of us though, it’s a reality, and not an easy one to live with. If you’re not careful, before you know it you could slip into a deep depression with seemingly no way out, or find yourself with no interest or motivation to do anything. The days can turn into a long, endless nightmare, each one frighteningly similar to the last one with very little variation. Although you might not be able to avoid being homebound, with a little work you can avoid the nightmares of depression and apathy. These are some tips learned from personal experience--from what works for me and from seeing what works for others around me.
Find some new hobbies.
If you’re the type of person whose hobbies have always been active ones, like hiking or rock climbing, you’re going to need to exchange those hobbies for new ones. If you were always one to prefer being inside with a book or craft project, this might be a little bit easier for you. There are a lot of different hobbies that don’t require much physical exertion, or dexterity, or whatever it is that’s giving you trouble.
You don’t need to give up your old hobbies completely, even if you can’t do them yourself. You can still read about them, mentor someone who is learning those skills, keep up with the latest research, or join an online group or community with a common interest in that hobby. I am a classical musician, and my main instrument has always been the oboe. Right now I’m finding that the oboe takes too much air pressure, and therefore too much energy, so I decided to learn more about the recorder. I found that it’s really a neat instrument with an extensive history, and it’s certainly not just a toy. Even better, it takes a lot less energy to play, and the extensive repertoire of Baroque recorder music gives me plenty to keep my brain busy with.
You can also pick up a completely new hobby. Some people like things like scrapbooking, writing, various kinds of crafts, photography, reading, etc. Hobbies don’t have to depend on your budget—if you can’t afford to buy any supplies, try origami. Junk mail can be a good (and never ending) source of paper, and there are lots of resources online that will teach you the basics of origami for free. If you are having trouble with your hands, try reading or writing. There is getting to be more and more voice recognition software out there, where you can talk and the computer will write down everything you say. If holding a book is difficult but you love to read, there are pillows that will sit on your lap and hold your book up. If you have migraines or eyesight problems, audio books can be a great resource. A lot of them are available in CD form, but if money is an issue you can get the cassette tape ones dirt cheap at garage sales and websites like Ebay. Your local library may also have a good selection of audio books. Whatever your disability and financial situation, there is something out there that you can learn to do and enjoy.
Plan something to do for each day.
This may not seem to be important if you’re alone every day and it doesn’t matter what you do, but it matters for your mental health. If you don’t have something planned for the day, it’s a lot easier to do nothing. It could be something as small as spending some time on your favorite hobby, or as undesirable as laundry. What matters is that you have something planned that gives you a reason to get out of bed. Whatever you plan, though, try to have a “plan B.” You may wake up and find that your body is just not going to cooperate with you that day, no matter how much you want or need to do what you had planned. If you plan something more strenuous like laundry, make sure to plan a quieter alternative. The same goes for if your planned activity requires a lot of dexterity, or concentration, or anything else that may not be there on a given day. Having a “plan B” reduces the risk of falling into a depression over not being able to do “plan A.”
Get dressed. Every day.
As small as it might seem, this is important too. If you have nowhere to go and you know you’re not going to see anybody all day, it’s easy to just stay in your pajamas. The danger with that is if you don’t see any reason to get dressed, it’s going to be harder to see a reason to do anything else. Even if it’s a bad day and you want to wear something comfortable or it’s difficult to put on different clothes, do your best to change something. I try to wear jeans or something similar on the good days, but on the bad days I might exchange the pajama pants for a nice pair of exercise pants or sweatpants and a cute t-shirt. I have also been so sick that it’s almost impossible to change clothes every day—in that case, you can still change your socks. I had a bunch of cute, funky socks, and I made sure to put on a different pair every day. It wasn’t much, but it at least made me feel like I had made some effort.
Consider getting a pet.
For some people, the responsibility and work of owning a pet may be the worst thing they can do when they’re homebound, but for others it can be a wonderful thing. I own 3 birds, and they provide me with a never ending supply of amusement and companionship. Even as I’m writing this, one of my birds is trying to attack the fish through the glass of the fish tank. Pets can be that “someone else in the house” when you’re feeling especially lonely, or the reason to get up in the morning. There are numerous groups and websites out there for pet owners and pet lovers to talk about their pets. Some pets may be great to have in the house on a good day, but require too much work or attention on a bad day.
Different kinds of animals are good for different people and health situations. I never would have gotten a bird after becoming sick, if I hadn’t already had them. Birds are fun and can be great talkers or cute and cuddly, but they can take a lot of work and money and it can be difficult to work with their personality quirks and behavior problems. A cozy, cuddly cat can be just the thing you need on a difficult day, but they’re not always good for allergies or asthma, and some cats are not very friendly. A quiet, laid back dog might be perfect for someone with a disability or illness, but you will want to make sure that it is not to big or too excitable for you to handle on a bad day. If you are thinking about getting a dog or cat, try your local animal shelter. If you talk to the staff and let them know what your needs and limitations are, they can help you pick out the dog or cat that will work best with your lifestyle. Dogs and cats (and birds) may not be for everybody. There are other kinds of pets that may be great for you instead. If you have trouble with insomnia or are a night owl, consider a nocturnal pet—anything from a hamster to a more exotic animal like a sugar glider. If you want endless amusement and you can handle more frequent cage cleaning, a pet like a ferret may be right for you. Whatever the kind of pet you are thinking about getting, make sure you thoroughly research the kind of animal and breed of that animal that you are thinking about. Look for level of care and cleaning, potential health problems, behavior issues, general temperament, and other factors that may determine whether they fit into your household. Pets can be great therapy, but if you don’t choose carefully you might end up with a nightmare rather than a companion.
Try to get out of the house at least once a week.
I know from personal experience that this may not always be possible, but if it is, make sure you do it. Even if it’s a quick trip to the grocery store or bank, it gets you outside of the walls of your home. If the weather is nice, you might not even have to leave your yard. Just sitting outside is better than spending all your time inside. You can have somebody take you for a drive, or depending on your level of illness/disability you could go to church or visit a friend. Getting out of the house once in a while breaks up the monotony and gives you a much needed change of scenery.
Maintain human contact.
When you’re stuck at home all of the time, it can be easy for people to go on with their lives and forget you. Even if that’s not what they’re intending, you might end up feeling like that’s what’s happening. Don’t let that happen. Call a good friend on the phone, or re-establish contact with someone you haven’t heard from in a while. E-mail or social networking sites like Facebook can be good resources for maintaining contact, but I would caution you from making them your only form of contact. Nothing can replace a good phone conversation, or even better, a face to face meeting. If you have any friends who are willing to do so, maybe organize a movie night, where you don’t even have to get off the couch if you don’t feel well enough to do so.
Accessorize things that your illness/disability has made necessary.
You may wonder what you can do to accessorize things like canes, wheelchairs, medical alert bracelets, etc—the answer is, a lot! I have to wear a medical alert bracelet at all times, and I decided early on that I would never wear one if it was boring and ugly. After a lot of searching, I found a website where I could order just the flat part of the bracelet with the symbol and words. I had it engraved with my name and “see wallet card” on the back, and I have made my own bands to attach to it. The flat part is silver and has the medical alert symbol in gold. For the band, I strung some pretty beads on a stretchy cord and attached a clip to each end. This way I can have several bands and change them whenever I want, by unclipping the current one and clipping on another one.
There are good ways to accessorize mobility equipment, too. I have a friend who recently had to get forearm crutches. The ones she got were plain gray and black, but not for long. She spray painted them pink, painted on some of her own designs, put a few good stickers on them, and put a coat of varnish over the whole thing. They now exactly match her personality, and they look as much like fashion accessories as mobility equipment. When I had to start using a cane, I couldn’t find one I liked in my price range, so I made my own out of a sturdy tree branch that my parents were going to use for firewood. I recently got into woodburning, and now my signature and a cute flower design are burned onto the cane. For wheelchairs, there are colored tires, and you can do a similar paint job to the one my friend did to her crutches. Bumper stickers also work well for the back of a wheelchair—you can find good ones on sites like www.cafepress.com and www.zazzle.com. If you’re not as crafty as me and my friend, there is a good selection of colorful and artistic canes, crutches, wheelchairs, medical alert bracelets, and anything else you might need—you will just have to pay a little more.
Help someone else.
You may wonder what you could possibly do to help someone with your present level of disability or illness. You may think that someone should be helping you, rather than the other way around. No matter how sick or disabled you are, there is something you can do. You can call someone else who is homebound like yourself—if you don’t know of anyone, call a church and ask for a list. You can send a card to someone for no reason at all, other than to let them know you’re thinking about them. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t be overjoyed to get a nice card along with the weekly mountain of junk mail. You can join a support group for people with illnesses or disabilities like yours, and offer your knowledge, experience, and moral support to someone who has just been diagnosed. If you’re able to get out of the house a little bit, look into tutoring a struggling child or being a companion to an elderly person. If you’re volunteering for something, nobody can fire you if your attendance isn’t too good or you’re physically unable to do the whole job. It may seem to you that you need people to help you instead of the other way around, but helping someone else is rewarding and good for your mental health. It can make you feel like less of a burden, and the smile on another person’s face is all you need to brighten your day.
Don’t let yourself fall into a rut.
The most dangerous thing you can do for your mental health when you are homebound is to fall into a rut. Some routines are good and ensure you don’t forget to do important things, but the danger starts when each day ends up identical to the last one. All of the tips above are designed to give you variety in an otherwise boring and difficult situation. Take some of the suggestions and make an interesting, varied week out of them. You might be surprised at the difference it makes. Oh yeah, and if you ever need someone to talk to…I’m usually around.
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