The dogs of change

The dogs of change

A few weeks ago I completed #100KindThingsForPKU. As part of the NSPKU’s ‘100 in June’ campaign, I did 100 acts of kindness during the month. The habit must have remained, and led directly into this month’s challenge.

Our neighbours were days away from their long-anticipated holiday when they learned of a problem with their dog sitter. Their dog is a rescue and gets on well with us. Plus, we are on the list for a rescue ourselves. This seemed the perfect opportunity for a trial run of dog owning.

Too much change

Our pooch-for-a-fortnight was delivered at 7am one sleepy, heatwave morning. Suddenly the pace of change here, well, changed. For weeks my inner voice had been nagging that ‘getting out of bed earlier was the best way to get more exercise’. And I had spent weeks ignoring it. Now, procrastination wasn’t an option. If I wanted to save the carpets, I had to grab the poo bags and head out the door.

Alongside the nagging voice had been another one. This said that heading out for a walk first thing was a step too far. That I needed to get my PKU diet sorted because exercise on an empty stomach didn’t mix with PKU. Yes, this was blithely ignoring the fact that a 30-minute walk around the park is not a 2-hour gym & weights session. But it just felt a step too far, and something which my will power simply wasn’t up to after a stressful year.

Or not enough change

At the same time, I had convinced myself that this simple step was also not enough. That a quick walk around the park each morning was not going to make a dramatic difference to my current injuries, weight problems, and general feeling of malaise. That there was no point doing this one small thing because I needed a greater intervention.

Thus, a quick walk in the park was both far too big a change, and not enough of a change simultaneously. The idea of a walk became emotionally charged, to the point that it was easier just not to try.

Just right

In the end, it was easy, and pleasant to get out for a stroll. I didn’t collapse due to disastrously low blood sugar, if anything I felt more awake. The limbs and blood were already energised, so it didn’t as much effort to get up from the breakfast bowl and start on the next task.

I told myself that fear of making a mistake with my PKU stopped me from early morning exercise. But, if I am completely honest, I was using PKU as an excuse for my laziness. A simple change which I had avoided and lingered over for months took place overnight. The real test will be, can I keep up the change when the dog owners return from their holiday?

The pace of change

Dog sitting has helped me realised how quickly we adapt. Change can happen so fast that we aren’t ready for it: an animal arriving overnight who needs your care; a novel virus leading to a global pandemic within months of detection.

At the other end, change happens with a creeping slowness which feels like static: the incremental recovery from a brain injury; a twelve-year wait for a new PKU treatment.

Slow changes.

My first encounter with the feeling of unending 'sameness' was during my recovery from brain injury recovery. My days, weeks, and months seemed to become one and the same. This is how I described it in the prologue to my book on the recovery:

Events tend to bleed into each other, just as blood seeps into delicate brain tissue. Large tracts of time were lost, like rain on a window pane eventually soaking up all the individual drops into one long trickle.

If that is how things feel for you, or you are having trouble ‘restarting’ after our numerous lockdowns, then perhaps focus on one thing. One small thing which can be an easy change in the day. This could be as simple as setting a timer when on social media, having a cup of tea with no distractions, or doing one small task rather than a bigger project.

One small thing each morning

Achieving one small thing at the start of the day, can help to tee you up for more success. Or, if the day is just not going to be a good one, can help comfort you when you accept that it is going to be a bad day. I find it can be easier to be kind to myself, to give myself a break and have a duvet day, if I’ve managed to do something, anything, beforehand.

If, like me, any change has morphed into an emotional drain; and a change into something which is both far too large and far too small. Try it once. Just once might be all you need to find out if it is manageable. If it doesn’t work, then at least you know and will stop worrying about it.

Give it a go, you might surprise yourself!