How a Checklist Keeps Me Going Despite My Chronic Illness

Five years ago I was a high-energy person with goals and I loved working hard to achieve them. Now that it can take two to three hours to get out of bed in the morning, I still have goals but inconsistent energy with which to achieve them. I’ve learned a simple trick to keep moving forward – a checklist.

Being sick gives one a lot of time to think. I asked myself, “If I weren’t sick, what would I accomplish on a perfect day?” For me, it’s the little things:  making my bed, doing laundry, wearing makeup and other things that most people don’t think are a struggle. I keep it realistic. “Run five miles” isn’t reasonable, but “walk slowly on the treadmill for 10 minutes” is something I can do. I also asked myself, “If I weren’t sick, what big goal would I want to reach?” I have lists and lists of goals, but I focus on just one or two at a time.

Those “if I weren’t sick” questions might seem silly since I am, indeed, sick.
Relapsing polychondritis has had its way with me for the last five years. I fight hard to stay as well as possible, but every day is unpredictably different. On my good days, I don’t need the checklist because I can breeze through my day with energy to spare. On my not-so-good days, I cling to the checklist like a life preserver.

So, how does this checklist thing work? I take the simple things that are on my “perfect day” list and I write them down in order. “Shower” comes before “get dressed.” On my good days, I breeze through these simple items and then achieve many other tasks. On the days I stay in bed for hours, arguing with myself about whether I’ll get out of bed at all, I talk myself into getting up and attempting my simple routine. It might take all day, but I know that even on these horrible days I’ll feel better if I check some of those items off my list.

About those big goals that I used to love working towards: I put one on my to-do list. Once I’ve accomplished all of my basic tasks, I try to take at least one step toward that goal. It might be a phone call, a research item or another small step, but forward progress feels great no matter how small.

I can’t check every item off my list every day, but most days I can accomplish most of them. Some days I can even move closer to a goal. All thanks to my little checklist.

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