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My Energy Bank Account

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By Vicki Lockwood

Note: Vicki Lockwood, a writer and retired paralegal, is a ME/CFS and fibromyalgia patient from Missouri and a graduate of the our introductory Self-Help course. Her articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers.

For a long time, I had known that overdoing resulted in flares, but I had not given myself permission to limit my activities. Then I did something simple that changed my life in a dramatic way, allowing me to treat my body with respect.

The Energy Bank Account

While I was taking the CFS & FM self-help course offered through this website, I learned about pacing to avoid flares. I decided to apply pacing to myself by creating what I called My Energy Bank Account. I began by listing everything I do, from showering to eating an apple to having sex.

Then I assigned a positive or negative number to each. Things like sleeping, daytime rests and prayer add to my energy and get positive numbers. Most of my activities reduce my energy and so get negative numbers.

Once I had assigned numbers, I used the plan like a check book, starting the day with the positive number provided by sleep and then deducting and adding with each action. It turned out some of the negative numbers weren't high enough, which meant some things that I thought were not so taxing, are much more so.

For example, I found that taking on the phone and taking out the garbage are more draining than I had thought. Also, I found that every day is different and I have to adjust my numbers depending on such things as the weather and how people in my family are doing. I also learned to add extra points to an activity when I felt stressed.

I start the day by giving myself a number based on how well I have slept. If I get nine hours of good sleep, I give myself 90 points, which is a comfortable cushion above the level of 60, which I associate with a flare.

If I get fewer hours or my sleep is interrupted, I deduct points. By making this calculation every day for a while, I realized that I was on the verge of a flare at the start of any day when I had slept badly.

Recognizing the link between poor sleep and flares encouraged me to protect my sleep time. I began to prepare for bed earlier and to search for ways to maintain uninterrupted sleep during the night.

Also, I tried to work out a schedule in the morning to minimize my expended energy, by making my morning routine predictable. I did this by keeping my activity simple, by having easy breakfast foods available and by eliminating unnecessary activity.

Another discovery was finding that an activity might have a positive or negative number depending on circumstances. For example, yoga is usually positive, but can be negative sometimes, too. If I'm looking forward to it, and I have my pad and towel handy and there is a quiet place where I can go to relax, then yoga is great for me.

But if I can't do yoga until I've moved furniture, found my mat and towel and argued with someone about how loud the TV is, then it's a negative. I learned that if something positive turns to a negative, it's better not to do it.

Once I got my bank account up and running, and had used it for a month or so, I found that pacing was no longer something I had to think about unless I was doing something special, like taking a trip, going on vacation, or had been thrown into some unusual situation.

Unexpected situations call for extra measures such as using a timer to limit activities, taking time outs for a nap or some meditation.

The Energy Savings Account

I invented a new term to help me with special events: My Energy Savings Account. This is different from my regular Energy Bank Account, which I use to pace daily activities. The Savings Account is my way to store extra energy for special occasions.

Special events are much more draining than daily life, but I found I can make them more enjoyable if I make deposits in my Savings Account with naps and other positive activities in the days or weeks before the event.

I try to save up a hundred points a day for each day of the event. The higher my savings, the better chance I have of getting through the special event without a flare.

A Bank Account Example

To give you an idea of how the Energy Bank Account works, let me give you an example.

Let's say I got nine hours of sleep last night, but with some interruptions, so I start the day with 83 points. After doing my morning toilette (-5 points), helping my husband shave and dress (-6), getting breakfast (-4) and feeding the pets (-3), my balance would be down close the level of a flare.

It is time to make a deposit to build up the balance. Taking a rest or meditating for half an hour adds 15 points and puts me back up to around 80.

Then I might spend some time on the computer (-10 points), do the breakfast dishes (-4) and make lunch (-4). This brings my balance back near 60, so it's time for another deposit. I might spend some time alone reading for pleasure or use the time for prayer (+10).

After that, I would have another session on the computer, using 10 energy points and bringing me back to 60. (By the way, I use a kitchen timer to limit my computer time to twenty-five minutes per session, followed by at least five minutes of stretching.)

I then add lots of points to my balance by taking a long nap (+30). I might sleep for the whole time or sleep for part of the time and rest quietly for the remainder. A nap might be followed by more time on the computer (-10) and some time paying bills.

The "cost" for the latter depends on how stressed I'm feeling about the bills at the moment. If I am worried that the payment will be late, I double the energy cost (-15). Bill paying might be followed by yoga (+20) and making dinner (-10), leaving me with 75 points.

I like to write in the evenings. Writing is an enjoyable activity, but, because it involves brain work, is an energy drain (-10). And there is always the nighttime feeding ritual for the animals (-3). I also have to make sure my husband and I both take our evening meds (-2). Then it's time to make a big deposit by going to bed for the night.

In Conclusion

Using the Energy Bank Account to pace myself has helped me in several ways. Most importantly, it has given me permission to take care of myself. Previously, I had rarely told anyone no and tried to do everything I thought I was supposed to do.

Now I listen to my body and honor its limits. Remembering the cost of an activity, I can avoid overdoing. The reminder is especially useful for those things I want to do, where I can be tempted to forget the cost.

Also, by giving me a practical way to use the idea of pacing, it has enabled me to reduce my pain and fatigue and increase my sense of control and well being. All it took was pen and paper, and some thought.

Balancing this checkbook is a lot easier and more enjoyable than the one I use to keep track of household finances. And in the long run, it's a lot more important.