While it is undeniable that I am feeling markedly better than I have in years, and that I am managing to work on projects again, and even do a little informal teaching, the biggest question on my mind has shifted to: Am I capable of resuming work? And if not, how far am I from being able to work? I know I am not the only person wondering this. I have had some inquiries about commissions in recent months, and comments online from people that are hopeful I will re-open business soon. On top of that, to say that things have been a struggle without me providing income for my own upkeep would be an understatement, and it’s been sadly indicative of how far I am from being able to work that I have been absolutely incapable of consistently managing simple chores around the house. I will get there, but progress is slow.
While I was working on the fully corded corset project last month I had comments on my FaceBook page marveling at how quickly it was coming together, when the reality of the situation couldn’t have been more the opposite. For me it was a very painful reality check regarding what I am actually capable of managing.
The project was intended to be a new corset to show off at the 2015 North American Corsetry and Lingerie Symposium, which I attended as a teacher. I have only ever made four corsets for myself, and of those only the two underbusts still sort-of fit anymore, so I wanted to have something nice to wear. I had intended to start the project well in advance of the symposium, and I had a clear concept in mind more than a month ahead of time, but I had a couple fighting jackets for friends I was trying to finish before starting on the corset (which also are still not finished) and I was dealing with a symptom downswing that landed me mostly on the couch again. I finally threw my hands up at the jackets and started on the corset a little more than two weeks before the symposium in order to have a prayer of finishing it before a hard deadline. To add to the problem, I had the dates mixed up and thought I had three weeks before the symposium.
The fully corded corset is not a simple corset in terms of design, and it is admittedly a time-consuming construction style. Even when I was well and working, this one probably would have taken me the better part of a week, working eight-hour days, to finish. During the time I actually spent working on it, I think I managed to work at a fairly respectable pace. It was managing to work on it that was the biggest problem.
The greatest barrier I have to working is the chronic fatigue. It really is a productivity killer. I do have a little more energy more often than I used to, but during those two weeks I still had days when I got absolutely nothing done, including a three-day span of complete inactivity. I had very little time to finish the project, so I made no attempt to do any household chores because that was a direct trade-off for energy I could spend trying to finish the corset. I didn’t even bathe as much as I should have, because it is also a direct trade-off to be able to do something else (admittedly, this is a trade I make more often than I would care to, and it’s horrible when I make that trade and then hit a few days where I have no spoons, so nothing gets done and I still don’t bathe).
If I am putting all my energy for the day into one thing, I just zone out on that one thing and try to ignore all my symptoms, including the fatigue. Mentally and emotionally I am prepared for the remainder of the day to be just resting once I have worked on that one thing as much as I can. There is a lot that I can ignore, including the early stages of fatigue setting in. If I wasn’t able to ignore a lot of my symptoms I never would have been able to continue working until 2011. That means I ignore symptoms and keep pushing along until I reach a point where I hit a metaphorical brick wall. All my spoons are spent, and I find myself staring dumbly at whatever I am trying to do, lost in a confused state of mental and physical mush. Occasionally after I realize I’ve been staring into the void for a while I can refocus and manage an extra few minutes of work, but it’s never much, and odds are good anything I try to do after that point will turn out poorly, or completely ruined.
I think the average amount of time I managed to spend productively working on the corset on any given day was about 2 hours. Some days I only managed a half hour or forty-five minutes. On one miraculous day I managed nearly six hours, but that was followed by the three days where I got nothing done, resulting in less overall productivity than if I had worked two hours each day for those four days.
The month since the conference has been busy for me, with travelling, a friend visiting from California, dog-sitting, cooking for an SCA event, and a lot of down time following on the heels of those exertions. I’ve been back to napping frequently, barely managing any household chores, have done very little hand sewing, and managed no embroidery. I haven’t touched the sewing machine since the conference. I haven’t managed to work on any art (though I very much want to). I still need to finish those two fighting jackets I promised to friends, I’m trying to finish Viking garb for Diana, hoping to start Viking garb for myself, had a friend beseech me to make her some Italian Ren garb for 12th Night this coming winter (which I would love to do, but doubt I can manage), need to restart the Opus Anglicanum embroidery stitch-along, have promised custom bras to a couple friends who desperately need them, and need to work on the promised corset pattern modification tutorial. Those are just the big projects! I have also promised patterns to a couple different friends, want to do some more calligraphy and create a set of award scrolls for the Barony of Starkhafn, would love to make some medieval shoes (because I sure as hell can’t afford to buy them), would love to pick weaving back up, make some assorted small bags to hang from belts, and start a large Opus Anglicanum project. I’m sure there’s more, but those are what are coming to mind right now.
Before I got sick I could have worked a full-time job, figured out a time-table to be able to complete all those projects simultaneously, been able to make paintings and drawings at the same time, and also still meet with friends regularly. Instead I think I’ll be lucky to finish Diana’s Viking garb (though not decorate it at all) and one fighting jacket in the next month. I’ll also hopefully resume the stitch-along. Mind you, I think there is maybe ten hours of actual work left on the fighting jacket. Time is definitely not my problem. The ability to use that time is. On the bright side, this time last year I wouldn’t have finished anything, so there is definite improvement. It’s just not enough improvement for me to be able to get a job or resume taking commissions. Instead I’ll just keep plodding along as I am able, working on personal projects, and looking forward to the day I can resume working.