Regaining control: time to simplify my life

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on August 20, 2018 # Health

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings

Simplify, simplify -- it sounds so easy to do, but in reality it takes planning and a strong will because our lives have become so complex. As an example of that, I feel that I need to schedule almost every waking hour; that is what it takes to accomplish just some of the things that likely kept me awake the night before as I was skipping sleep and planning to do them. Despite those sleepless nights I seldom accomplish everything that I believe needs to be done the next day.

The result is even more unwanted stress, followed by the health problems that the stress causes.

According to the National Institutes of Health, too much stress can cause several health-related problems; these include hypertension, constipation, insomnia, heart disease, diabetes and other serious conditions. I know that removing stress is important to my health and longevity, but often feel that I have so much stress that it is difficult to decide where to begin removing it. I take those warnings seriously.

My search to devise ways to eliminate stress from my life led eventually to Walden, and the writings of Henry David Thoreau during his two years spent at Walden pond. I did not make it all of the way through the book, which is my disclaimer here, but instead set it aside in favor of online summaries that were easier and quicker to read; trying to decipher his writing style in a timely manner would have created even more stress.

I believe that my life is a bit more complicated than the situation that Mr. Thoreau enjoyed while living next to an isolated pond away from people. The famed author, poet and philosopher could simply hop on his mule or horse and head to town or a neighbor's cabin when he needed to restock supplies or hear a friendly voice. For me, a trip anywhere away from home requires a minimum 24-hour notice in order to schedule a ride on a paratransit van that can accommodate my power wheelchair; that trip might take me four times as long as it would if I could ride a horse. The anxiety about the trip routing or timeliness might also create more stress, even if the destination is meant to provide a pleasurable experience and help me relax.

Eliminating stress is not as easy as it might sound. Those of us who are paralyzed in some manner need to plan every step of our daily routines as it often takes the assistance of others for everything from getting out of bed, to toileting, to bathing, to preparing food and sometimes even for help with eating. The people who do that work, which is usually no fun, don't just "happen" to be there except in some unique circumstances. We need to find them, schedule them and pay them in order to make all of that happen.

After a thorough review of my lifestyle, I have identified some steps I will be taking to simplify my life, beginning now:

  • Limit time on social media to no more than 60 minutes per day.
  • On a regular basis, call friends who I have not talked with for at least one year.
  • Schedule a minimum of one hour for reading books each evening. (I currently have five novels piled on my dining room table awaiting my start of this step.)
  • Identify situations that cause frustration and take steps to eliminate that frustration.

Those may seem like minimal steps to some, but they are things that I can accomplish that should have the desired effect of beginning to simplify my life. Daily monitoring of my blood pressure will provide me with some idea about whether those steps are helping; after all, if stress causes hypertension then simplifying should counteract the high least I hope so.

© 2018 Michael Collins

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.