Working on personal sustainability in 2016

Pale cream rose flowers on a rose bush

Easing myself into the New Year

A belated Happy New Year to Being Knitterly readers! I’ve been easing myself gently into the New Year. After weeks of intensive work in the last quarter of 2015, I’ve just coming out of “go-slow” mode. I’m going to reflect on how my well-being theme went in 2015 and think about my theme of personal sustainability for 2016.

Snowdrop in January

Working on wellbeing

This time last year I wrote that I wanted to improve my personal wellbeing and help improve the wellbeing of others. So, how did it go? Well, things have gone well and I feel that my sense of wellbeing is better than one year ago!

Before I had fibromyalgia I was very active. I swam, cycled, ran and went to a gym regularly. I taught full-time and had a busy social life and many hobbies. Since I’ve had fibromyalgia I’ve had to abandon most of that, either because it caused a flare-up or the everyday fatigue and pain meant I no longer could do it. Yes, my sense of wellbeing has been decreasing for years. No one feels good about themselves when they can no longer do things that they used to enjoy.

In the summer of 2014, Mr BK suggested that we buy one of those super powerful blenders. I started having fruit and vegetable smoothies for breakfast everyday and within a few weeks my energy levels had increased. So much so that I even took my smoothie maker on holiday! The smoothies are filling and keep me going to lunch time. They’re also an easy way getting “five a day”. And the best thing is that, unlike taking medication, improving your diet is a positive change, as it gives you some control.

This gave me the incentive, in 2015, to try other things to improve my wellbeing. I want to be the best I can be, even with fibromyalgia. More energy; less pain and fewer, shorter and less intense flare-ups is the aim.

What did I do?

One of my 2014 Christmas presents was a smart pedometer. So, one of the first things I tried was to increase the number of steps that I walked each day. I quickly discovered that if I walked 10 000 steps a day (the recommended number) I would have a fibro flare (blogged in Well-knitting project). Since then things have improved. By the summer I could walk well over 10 000 steps on a single day, but only if I’m not working or doing much else and walk significantly less than that on the following day. Now, I can usually manage about 7 000 steps per day.

I’ve written about my love of cycling before (The journeys we travel), so you will know that cycling regularly is something that really makes me feel great. I’m not talking about long-distance cycling or mountain biking. Just short rides around the local area. Sometimes with a purpose, sometimes just for fun! I’d like to say that I’ve been cycling twice a week all year, but that wouldn’t be true. I have cycled most weeks, although sometimes I only I only managed one ride. The only downside is that I have to choose between I cycling or walking, but at least I have a choice of activities to improve my fitness.

Autumn leaves in a hedgerow

One of the disadvantages of chronic illnesses which restrict your activity is weight gain. By the summer I felt ready to attempt to loose weight. Many of my friends have used the 5:2 diet successfully and the science behind this diet makes a lot of sense. I learnt restricting yourself to 500 cal two days a week is possible. I’ve also learnt that a 500 cal fast is easier if you had a good nights sleep beforehand. Consequently, 2016 is the first New Year for many years that I am lighter than the previous one, which is a great feeling! And now I can fit in clothes that were too small a few months ago; a new wardrobe without spending any money.

I’ve also enjoyed doing a bit more gardening, a lot more cooking and even got my knitting machine out to make Christmas presents!

Homegrown tomatoes

My improvement in well-being has enabled me to tackled a couple of things holding back Being Knitterly: self-published patterns and kits.

I’ve not been self-publishing patterns as often as I should like. I have several designs in progress: samples knitted and draft patterns written. However I’ve stalled at this stage; it’s a lack of confidence thing really. At the beginning of 2015, I decided that I needed to overcome this barrier. I’ve already worked with technical editors on my magazine commissions, so, I enlisted a technical editor to edit my self-published patterns. This has been a great experience! I’ve enjoyed the technical conversations about the best way to explain something, which has improved those patterns as well as my pattern writing. I now have several patterns almost ready to publish; there’s one more barrier to overcome before I do so: photography of the samples. I’ve got to decide how to style them, who models them, where to take the photos and who takes the photos. I’ve got to get this sorted, as I’m raring to get going on the next group of patterns!

During my first year of self-employment / freelance work I designed several hand knit kits and sold them at craft fares. However, I felt that the packaging did not look right and might put people off buying them. So, I ordered samples from various companies, but didn’t find any which really happy with them. And I was stuck there until recently, when just by chance someone told me about a local box maker and where I could get printed labels at a reasonable price. So, I after a visit to the box maker, I have nice boxes for my kits and after consulting with the printers, I have printed labels. Spurred on by this, I have finished a few more designs for kits. These were previewed at a couple of craft fares before Christmas and I’m gradually uploading them to my website store.

Being Knitterly stall

As to improving the wellbeing of others, I’ve continued working with brain-injured people at Headway. My two groups, Therapeutic Textiles and Colour are thriving and both groups are at full. In 2015, we’ve tried hand knit, crochet, cross stitch and free-style embroidery. The Colour group have experimented with doodling, collage, paint-mixing, printing and card making. It’s been great to see how people have learnt a technique and then developed their own style.

I’ve also planned a series of hand knit and crochet classes to run from the Being Knitterly studio, aka the dining room. These launched in December with the Christmas Robin mini-workshop.

Christmas Robin mini workshop

What didn’t go so well?

The one thing I wanted to do, and I’ve not done at all is to start running therapeutic textiles groups for other organisations; that must happen this year!

But, overall the main difficulty has been doing things that improve my wellbeing week after week. In May, then again from September onwards, I’ve had so much work that I’ve had to stop doing other things in order to avoid a fibro flare. Which brings me to …

Improving personal sustainability in 2016

For 2016 I am working on a theme of personal sustainability. This is expanding on my wellbeing theme from last year, with the aim of avoiding fibro flares or time in “go-slow mode”.

Sustainability is usually applied to environmental systems, but I want to work on this on a personal level. For example, every time I get a commission for a magazine or asked to teach a workshop or accepted to sell at a craft faire I get a boost to my sense of well being. However, the time needed to complete the work to the required standard for the deadline may lead to a fibro flare; recovery may take several days to several weeks. Or I might not have a flare, but my body goes into “go-slow mode” for a while, which is why this blog post was not written earlier! What I want to avoid is this “overactivity-rest cycle”.

I think personal sustainability is going to be much harder to work on than wellbeing. Whilst pondering this theme, and what I might actually do to achieve my aim, I read two articles that are giving me ideas with which to start. The first is “A Guide to Managing Pain“, a leaflet from Pain Concern. The second is “The Procrastination Matrix“, a blog post from Wait But Why.

In “A Guide to Managing Pain” there is description of a ‘sensitised’ pain system, which helps me understand why I have pain. It also describes how to establish a baseline level for different activities and how to achieve things that are beyond their baseline level. This is a really practical description of pacing, so I think that will help.

“The Procrastination Matrix” discusses the Eisenhower decision matrix.


The idea being that you should spend most of your time on tasks in quadrant 2 (your real work). What about quadrant 1, I hear you ask! The theory is that if you work on tasks in quadrant 2 then you shouldn’t end up with many in quadrant 1 (panic!).

What has this to do with personal sustainability? Well, on a good day I can manage lots of tasks from quadrant 2. When fatigue or pain are worse I tend to opt for the easy tasks, which are usually in quadrant 3 or 4, in other words I procrastinate. The problem being, that when I feel more like doing tasks from quadrant 2, some of them have moved over to quadrant 1 and become, not just important, but urgent as well. And if they are too urgent, you either spend longer per day working on a task or you don’t do it as well. And if you have a condition that flares up with overactivity, you have a problem.

If I want to avoid the “overactivity-rest cycle” I have got to make sure that I concentrate on quadrant 2 tasks, to reduce the number of quadrant 1 tasks. So, I’ve got to reduce fatigue and to do that I’ve got to have enough sleep, which means being very disciplined about when I go to bed and when I get up. Plenty to be going on with there!

So what do you want to change in 2016?