I have no doubts that Melissa is a superwoman. She’s a mum to four young boys, has written three books, conducts yoga classes online and does a whole lot more. She also lives with Fibromyalgia.
How does she manage all that with chronic illness, fatigue and pain in the mix? It’s a pretty intense lifestyle even for the average healthy person!
In this episode, I try to scope out her secret formula. You might be surprised, but getting enough sleep is an important part of it.
Listen as Melissa shares some sick life lessons about efficient time management and organisation that she’s learned from being chronically ill. You can also find the transcript below. Happy listening/reading, and see you in the next episode!
*Disclaimer: This article and the podcast are meant for educational purposes and are based on personal experiences. They are not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.
Follow and listen to ‘Sick Lessons’ on your favourite audio platform(s) here: https://sicklessons.buzzsprout.com/
- Time is precious, especially when it’s so limited and unpredictable. Use every second wisely.
- Everybody achieves different things and life’s not a straight line. And that’s okay.
- Sleep and pacing are severely underrated for productivity.
- Know what your bare minimums are to remain well and functional, and try your best not to compromise on them.
Transcript of Episode 2: Sick Lessons from Melissa Reynolds on Efficient Time Management & Organisation
Sheryl: Hi Melissa, it’s nice to have you with us today. Would you like to introduce yourself a little bit? Tell us something that is interesting or unique about you or your circumstances?
Melissa: So I’m Melissa. I always start with I’m from melissavsfibromyalgia.com That’s just how I talk all the time. But in real life, I’m actually a mum to four boys, eight and under. So that tends to be unique.
Sheryl: I don’t know how you handle it with chronic illness in the mix.
Melissa: Well, I’m a lot better now than I was when I had my first two children. So it’s kind of gotten easier even as it’s gotten harder.
Sheryl: Okay, so that means, it’s kind of like, it’s already chaotic, so, more chaos is kind of just the same.
Melissa: Pretty much, yes. That’s life, right?
Sheryl: Yeah, that’s life. You have a book, that’s right?
Melissa: Oh, yeah. So, I’ve written a couple of books, but this year, I wrote my third. Well, what I found is like I was writing all these articles on my blog and they’re all really important.
But by the time you’ve written 300, it’s really hard to point people in a good order. And, you know, it just gets really difficult to navigate. So it was more about trying to make the story coherent and to communicate important things in an order.
Also, it was just a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to write a book. So I happened to just work out that this is my mission now, so, it’s all aligned.
Sheryl: That’s one of my dreams, too. So I need to take some cues from you.
Alright, so let’s dive in and let’s ask how has chronic illness impacted your life and just briefly, what chronic illnesses do you live with?
Melissa: Well, the only thing I’m diagnosed with is Fibromyalgia, but there’s quite a few question marks. But essentially it’s chronic pain and chronic fatigue and chronic insomnia, which a lot of people can relate to those symptoms.
But it’s really interesting asking how it’s impacted my life. Because it started so young, I don’t really know my life any other way. So I couldn’t necessarily really distinguish.
Sheryl: How old were you?
Melissa: Well, I was diagnosed at 24, but the symptoms came on really slowly from as a teenager. So I don’t remember sleeping well or not being tired.
So that’s just how I do life. So ya, I can only guess at what it would have been like if I didn’t have chronic illness.
Sheryl: I can relate. What are your top three biggest life lessons learned from chronic illness and chronic pain?
Melissa: It’s a little bit difficult again just because it’s been my whole life, but I think I’ve learnt a lot of things from a young age that maybe you would only learn a bit later. So just about judgement and the gaslighting and what happens when you are a minority in something.
If you’re not doing what everyone expects, if you’re not achieving, if you’re not just cookie cutter, the level of judgement and how people look down on you, if you can’t just be ‘normal’ and do all the things. So I think I learned that really young.
Which is a shame but it’s really made me want to push back against it. So a lot of what I talk about online is pushing back against those things and accepting all different types of normal.
The other one is that the normal sense of accomplishments – they’re not everything. And so I guess you know I had to learn really young that that’s not something we need to strive towards.
Everybody achieves different things and it’s not all a straight line, you know, you finish university, you get a good job, you achieve certain things, you buy a house, you have kids, you know it’s not a certain order. And like, you don’t have to do it a certain way and you don’t have to kill yourself trying.
“Everybody achieves different things and it’s not all a straight line. You don’t have to do it a certain way and you don’t have to kill yourself trying.”Melissa Reynolds
Sheryl: Would you say it’s to do with building your self-worth and self-esteem in a way at a really young age such that, you know, the opinion of society or stigma doesn’t really affect you and how you want to live your life?
Melissa: Now? Yes.
Sheryl: And you mentioned about accomplishments, productivity, that sort of thing, right?
So your life even for a ‘normal’ healthy person I would say is pretty intense. Four kids. You run a few workshops. You have written three books and you live with chronic illness and chronic pain.
So how do you manage that? I mean it’s a load even for someone that’s healthy. I mean, people complain when they have one kid already. So you have four with chronic illness and everything. So would you like to share more about that?
Melissa: Ya, for sure. Well, it puts everything in perspective when you lose most of your twenties, right? When you’re not able to do a lot of the things you want to do.
The only thing I had the ability to do was get through work, so all those things that you think you would achieve and you want to achieve, you just can’t do.
And so once I started getting a little bit better, I would do a little bit more and I’d get a little bit better and I’d do a little bit more.
But also I’ve just learned to be really efficient and really organised and utilise my time. So I don’t sit around watching TV. Like I rest constructively obviously when I need to rest, but I’m not sitting around watching TV, doing any of those kinds of things.
Like I’m always doing something that moves me towards my goals, whether it’s managing the kids, but it’s really taken until the last few years to get comfortable in myself, and so I started to get really outspoken.
And like just really recently I’ve learnt, yes, I do more than ‘normal’ people and I manage a lot and so I actually have to pull myself back and I have to remind people in my life that I am an overachiever and that’s not helpful.
So yea, it’s that constant pulling back because when you function at 30, 40, 50 percent for a long time, when you get more energy, it feels ridiculous not to use it.
Sheryl: But then again, you know, it’s always kind of like a balancing act, right? So a lot of us with chronic illness, pacing is a huge word in the community.
For those who don’t know what it means, it means to kind of like be aware of the energy you have, and to pace it throughout the day so that you don’t burn out, right, and hit a pain flare, which is just not worth it.
How do you pace yourself in a normal day, with everything that’s going on around?
Melissa: Yeah, well, it can get difficult, but I’m a big, big fan of pacing, and I think that’s a big part of how I got to where I am.
So I have what I talk about in my ‘overall pillars’. So, you know, I go to bed early and I get up at a certain time. I have a rest in the afternoon, what I call my fullstop rest. So when the kids are having a nap, I do a Yoga Nidra guided meditation, and that’s non-negotiable. It’s very rare that I miss it.
And so that’s like the framework of my day, right? The bedtimes and the rest. And then across the day for the rest of it, it’s about first putting the hard stuff, or the stuff that takes a lot of brain power at the time where I have the most brain power.
So being sensible about when I’m scheduling things. For example, I’ll never be writing a blog post at 6 p.m., it’s always going to be done in the morning. Or if I’m working, I prefer to get the work done In the morning, and then I leave the light stuff for later.
Sheryl: That’s kind of how I do it too. Leaving the light stuff to the end of the day, when I’m brain dead.
What happens if your routine is impacted? Say, the kid is sick, or you know, something major happens. Then what happens? Like how do you manage that?
Melissa: I mean it all goes out the window. Like we had COVID, and since then my children have basically been sick consistently. And so we all had a stomach bug last week.
While in the midst of vomiting myself, I was cleaning up three other people’s vomit. So you just get on as best as you can.
Sheryl: Right, that’s mum life.
Melissa: Yes. So you get on with it, but I think what really helps is that I have internalised now my bare minimums. And so I’m really strict about my rest and if I can’t get it in, in my traditional way, I’ll find a way to figure it out.
” So you get on with it, but I think what really helps is that I have internalised now my bare minimums. And so I’m really strict about my rest and if I can’t get it in, in my traditional way, I’ll find a way to figure it out.”Melissa Reynolds
So like, when I had COVID, for example, for a good few weeks I actually had to have two rests a day just to manage. So it’s like, and amongst all those things when those non-negotiables in there that need to be done for me to keep functioning.
Sheryl: Yeah. Okay. That’s interesting because it seems like you’ve learned how to make really efficient use of your time and even rest throughout the day and see that as productive, right? That’s something we struggle with in modern day society.
And that’s pretty impressive, because even though many of us, like me, live with chronic illness, it’s a huge thing we struggle with. It’s like, when we’re feeling better we really push, and then we fall sick again, and it’s like a neverending vicious cycle.
And you mentioned judgment and gaslighting. So, what kind of experiences have you had with that?
Melissa: Yeah, so it took me a really long time to get diagnosed, which is obviously really common for people with chronic illness.
I don’t have a very good memory at all, really. That’s just a hallmark of the chronic illness thing, but I have really strong memories of seeing doctors when I was like, 17 years old, and those characteristic symptoms of Fibromyalgia, with the things that made them look at me like I was making it up, and I just felt so keenly that they thought I was making it up and it wasn’t real, and I was wasting their time.
I don’t know what 17 year old wants to go to a specialist office, but they made me feel so terrible and did nothing to help, and kind of left me on my own. And then from then on I was too frightened to ever really ask for help.
And I think that internalised because I realised recently I was holding onto a doctor because he understood the Fibro and he prescribes a medicine I need which is off-label.
He had nothing new to try but he was willing to look at research when I bought it to him, and the medical practice wasn’t working for me, the way they were running all my children, and I was too scared to leave in case I got a worse doctor.
So it’s really something that even til now you’re so vulnerable if you don’t have the right doctor. And if the medical professionals you’re looking to for help, if they let you down, you’re in a real vulnerable position. So, I think I learnt that just extremely young.
Sheryl: I get what you mean because I think all of us have stories like that with doctors. There are really good doctors, empathetic ones, and then you get the opposite.
How do you speak up for yourself or stand up for yourself in everyday life? Say, people on the streets and also in a medical setting?
Melissa: That’s something I’m still learning. It’s difficult, and that’s only come as I’ve learned and practiced.
But I do find that I revert a little bit particularly when it’s in a medical setting, or if we get into a situation where it’s a bit confrontational, my nervous system will rise and so I’m like, “Can’t do it”.
And so there’s been a lot of times recently where I haven’t been able to stand up for myself very well, because it actually takes a lot of energy and ability to be able to do it, especially like if brain fog and fatigue are an issue, it’s very hard.
Once you’re like in a confrontational situation your nervous system goes up and you’re like, “Can’t think of what to say”.
But I’m trying my best, and I try with a conversational tone, but I think what I’ve learnt is that you can recognise when someone is just never going to understand because they don’t want to.
Sheryl: Yeah, so you just kind of, you know, don’t even waste energy going there, right?
Melissa: Yeah. You have to try and manoeuvre around that one.
Sheryl: Either I bring someone to speak up for me when I’m like too exhausted, or too much in pain, right? Say, at the A&E. Or I have it all written down on my phone, so I just show it to them.
You know like, look, because they get things mixed up. Yeah, so it helps a little bit. At least they know what medications I’m on, who are my doctors… Because sometimes, when I’m in pain, I don’t even remember myself, right? Yeah, and in an emergency, everyone’s just panicking.
Melissa: That’s a good idea to write it down.
Sheryl: Out of curiosity, Do you do like, yoga in the hospital if you’re hospitalised? Yoga in bed right, that’s your thing.
Melissa: I haven’t actually been hospitalised. On the few times that I’ve been sick enough that I would consider going, I’m too scared for how they would treat me, and to be quite honest, I am too sick to even get into transportation or even sit around in the emergency room. Because when I’m at my worst it’s usually involving a migraine, so noise and light would not be okay.
Sheryl: So more of migraine than Fibro.
Melissa: Yeah, because fibro tends to be like you do have flares and spikes, but it’s more like a long kind of thing. Whereas a migraine is just like… pshhhwt… through the roof and then like, it comes down again.
Sheryl: Right. It’s acute. That’s interesting because a lot of people with chronic illness spend a lot of time in the hospital. So do you ever get people from the community asking that your Fibromyalgia is actually less severe than theirs?
Melissa: I mean, I’m really honest about the fact that like it’s now considered mild on the FIQ – so that’s the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire rating scale. So the Fibro is considered mild. I mean, mild can be to a normal person still pretty intense. But I mean, it’s much better now.
And because I’m so proactive and I keep doing the things, I don’t go down, you know, but before I started I would have called myself moderate on the scale.
And every day, I didn’t understand how I wasn’t hospitalised. I didn’t understand how I could keep going. Each day I was like, how am I not passing out from this pain? Like it was so bad.
And I had some other health issues that put me in the hospital for a brief time then, but it was very brief, and they did nothing about it. Like they didn’t want anything to do with the Fibro.
And so from that kind of bottom point is when I kind of started taking myself up, really. I’ve never had any luck with medical help in that way.
Sheryl: I think gaslighting from medical establishments is bad, but I think gaslighting from within our own community is worse, because these are people that are supposed to understand, but we’re like comparing our pain levels, you know and saying like I don’t believe you’re in pain or you’re in less pain than me, so I think that’s also pretty bad.
Melissa: Well, I did get called an ableist once because I talked about yoga. I was like, do you realise I do it like on the bed? And like most of my yoga is meditation, but okay. Sounds like you’ve had some not good ones.
Sheryl: I mean even if you try to avoid such people they pop up.
With all that, how has it shaped your personality and outlook on life? Do you think your identity has evolved because of all this that has happened?
Melissa: Yah, I reflected on this quite a lot because it’s hard to know how much is my personality and how much is in response.
So for example, I’m hyper organised and plan everything and write everything down. But it’s really hard to distinguish – Is that personality, or is that just how I cope because you know, brain fog, fatigue, getting things done, reducing anxiety.
So if you’ve got everything planned and written down, it’s much easier to kind of visualise it and get it done, and manage all those feelings and symptoms.
So I couldn’t really tell you like how much of a type A personality I would be naturally, but I think organising, whether it was natural or not, has definitely helped me manage and do all the things. So I never ever agree to things at the last minute.
So anything you see on my blog or my YouTube is organised well in advance. I cannot have something hanging over me, because that’s not the priority, right? The children are the priority. So if I need to drop something and deal with like an emergency, it’s for the kids. Anything else – I have to make it not an emergency, or I can’t do it.
So, whether that came about because of living with chronic illness, it’s become a bit of a strength.
Sheryl: I guess, probably it already existed and chronic illness kind of just boosted the volume or strengthen it in a sense.
So you had it at 24, right? So how were you like before that?
Melissa: Well, the pain came on slowly from like 14 years old, and kind of developed slowly, and so it would be a little more periodic, and I vividly remember my shoulders and my arms, like my shoulders would burn and it would come and go, and the intensity would change, which is why I’m seeing the specialist so much.
And then when I was 21 at university, it was my last semester, I got some kind of bug, which put me down hard. It was like, maybe a flu, but the fatigue was really bad, and I eventually ended up on antibiotics. But they never told me what it was. But after that the fatigue never went away.
And then right after university, the pain escalated, because I think the pain and fatigue kind of worked together there.
But all across the whole time, I never slept well. Like there’s a whole history of me back and forth to the doctor – I don’t sleep well. I don’t sleep well. I was put on medicines for things without a diagnosis.
Well I’m really curious because when I was like 20, I saw a doctor. He was just like a fill-in doctor and he saw my history and put me on amitriptyline, which is the only medicine I was given for a very long time.
So I would love to be able to go back and see if maybe he suspected Fibromyalgia then, because that seems to be the first thing they would do in New Zealand. Even till now, they still really rely heavily on amitriptyline, and that’s all I was given for a great number of years. So yeah, it’d be interesting.
Sheryl: Amitriptyline for Fibromyalgia – that’s a common one, right?
Melissa: They do use it for that.
Sheryl: That sounds more like a migraine drug?
Melissa: Can use it to try for as a preventative. Mostly they’re using it for the side effect of sedation. But there are a great many more side effects than sedation that are not so pleasant, but it was all I had for a long time. So at least it was something.
But really funny that a doctor I saw once, he was the one who gave me the only thing with any research backing it up.
Sheryl: Okay. With the added knowledge you now have, what do you wish healthy people or society would do more of, or stop doing?
Melissa: Ugh, I see people and they’re like, they don’t sleep and they don’t exercise and they eat terribly and I’m like, please your health is so precious.
Sheryl: Yeah. I know what you mean like it. I do see people kind of like abusing themselves, right? Like who can drink more alcohol, or something like that. And I go like, what kind of competition is this, right? Like who can abuse their bodies better? Doesn’t make any sense to us. I mean, if you don’t want your health, give it to me, right?
Melissa: The way people regard sleep.
Sheryl: And if you were healthy, how would you live your life? Oh, yes. If you’d like to talk more about that – Sleep. Why do you think that’s important?
Melissa: Like it’s some kind of terrible rite of passage that I should be miserable and exhausted. Really irritates me so badly, because sleep is the biggest investment we can make into our long-term health. And the way people just don’t look after their sleep.
“Sleep is the biggest investment we can make into our long-term health.”Melissa Reynolds
Sheryl: I think mum groups online can be quite judgemental as well.
Melissa: The get up at 5am club to get it all done. I’m like no thank you. You’d be more efficient if you had sleep.
Sheryl: That’s so true. And sleep, yeah that’s a tricky one because in society now, people tend to go like who can sleep the least and get more done, right? And that’s kind of praised.
I think there’s a movement now to slowly push it back to something more healthy. So let’s see where that goes.
Melissa: I think I would live the same way I do now, but I’d have like more time and energy to devote to individual things. I wouldn’t have to cram things in so much.
But I’d just do more with my kids. Probably do more on my blog and you know, more of the yoga stuff.
I’d definitely write more books. It is very hard to write a book, particularly with chronic neck pain. So if I was healthy, I’d be writing more books. Yeah, well, if I didn’t have chronic illness, I wouldn’t be writing about Fibro. So yeah.
Sheryl: What kind of books? Probably not about chronic illness.
Melissa: Fiction. I’d be writing fiction. Literary romance. Like Jane Austen kind of things.
Outside of the children, I guess the blog is my hobby. But yep. Yoga, meditation, I love learning about health and wellness and productivity. But like my stance is all how you make it all accessible. So that’s probably, if I had more time for more hobbies, that’s what I would do.
Sheryl: That’s very interesting. Yeah, I guess it wouldn’t be called a hobby. It’d be more like a passion, right? Yeah, because I can get irritated when people say what other hobbies do you have, too. Because I don’t have many hobbies, either. I just have like two passions. Two passions in life. That’s it. Right?
Yeah, because like you mentioned this whole productive society thing, a lot of people kind of see how many hobbies you have, and then they judge you based on that as well, which is another indicator of how successful you are. Hobbies, right?
Oh I do like cycling and photography and this and that. Yeah, they kind of like put you in a box, which is something I don’t really like as well.
Would you like to tell us more about your new book coming out in May, or it’s out already, right?
Melissa: Yeah. You know, I’ve done a lot of learning in the last few years, and a lot of things have come into place.
But what I realised was where ‘Melissa vs Fibromyalgia’ was like a buffet or something, with lots of different options and research about it, and so a light kind of touch on each.
What I really wanted to do was write in depth about my key healing pillars, and specifically really have the chance to talk about yoga and meditation, and how I use them.
Because when you’re talking online and you’ve got short spans, you spend most of that time kind of dispelling myths and being like, “But don’t worry, it’s really accessible.” Because you… people’s backs get up because you’ve all seen the memes, right?
Everybody is like, “It’s going to cure you.” And so you have to kind of dispel all those myths before you can even talk about it.
So I took the chance to really say, here’s the benefits. Here’s the research. Here’s how it’s helped me. And you can take what you will from it. But it’s all of the key things that have really helped me to get from moderate to mild, and just share that journey.
I got a little bit more personal. (Whereas) in my old books, I didn’t feel like I could talk about like my childhood and some of the potential causes. Whereas I went a little bit more into that and got a little bit more open.
I mean, I’ve never been not honest. I’ve always shared a lot but just went a little bit further this time and so it turned out to be a really personal book, but I think it is really great because I think it’s complementary, because we’re so lucky now.
When I wrote my first books and started my blog, there was hardly any information out there about Fibro, but now we’ve got a few really great books and great resources out there.
So now I feel like I can stick to my little area of passion, and put my point of view without having to try and spread myself over this whole complex illness. So that’s good.
It was really cathartic and really exciting and I just kind of wrote it as if I got to you know have someone come in my lounge and sit down and go in depth about those things that helped me and what I do, that’s how I tend to imagine things.
Like, what would I tell you? Somebody from my audience could come and have a real good conversation with me. What would I say?
Sheryl: Yeah, that’s interesting. And you run a few courses on yoga for people with chronic pain, is that right? Like accessible yoga. How does that work? Do you get clients from all over the world?
Melissa: Have to think about the word ‘accessible’. Because there’s a lot to that word, right? Not only like, can we do the physical movement, but can we access it at the same time? When do our energy levels align? Do we have like children and work to get around?
So I decided that pre-recorded worked better for me and for my students. So most of my courses and programmes are pre-recorded, so that people can do the actual class when it suits them, and then depending whether it’s fully pre-recorded or whether we’re doing like a guided session.
So, I am opening a guided session of my foundations programme right now, as an example. So once a week, we meet up together and we have a bit of mentoring and the accountability side of it.
So, how can we make a habit, when can we make a good time to do our practice, any questions, demonstrating anything, but still making it so that the physical practice happens when they’re able, and also, by running it that way with like fully pre-recorded or, you know, just a few hours of my time, I can make it obviously, much much less costly.
And so, yah, but a lot of it’s in bed. I mean, the benefits are not about doing crazy poses. And so, that’s the main thing – showing people what it can be, and how to make it accessible for your body, and how to listen to your body, so that they can go into any other yoga class, and do it safely.
Sheryl: I remember attending some yoga classes in person and person and they like a pose I think I would be doing right, they’d correct it and say I was doing it wrong, and it’s not good for my body.
So I think that’s one tricky aspect of home based classes, is that the teacher can’t see your actual alignment. Yeah, but I guess that’s more for like, power poses, not resting in bed, in a sense.
And like you said, I think the word ‘accessible’ is very tricky, because, what does it really mean, right? I mean I read quite a number of blogs written by disabled people and they say like, having a ramp doesn’t make your restaurant fully accessible, right? Because every disabled person is different.
Melissa: Part of making it accessible is making sure that what you’re teaching is okay to be done, you know, on their own. So like, if you’re choosing poses where alignment is not super important, and actually some of those poses are not as rigid.
But I’m choosing poses where there’s a lot of freedom of movement, and poses that, you know, are not likely to get you into trouble.
And I give a lot of like, cues for how to change it. A lot of breathing. The main thing I’m always saying is, ‘if this doesn’t feel good, stop it’.
This is for you and your body to decide, which I think is important because we lose a lot of our power when we start dealing with other people and our body. So the main thing I can do is say, ‘Does this feel good for you?’.
Sheryl: Yes. One more thing was accessibility. So timezones can be a huge accessibility problem so that’s another tricky part about having classes or podcast interviews online, I think. Yeah, if I were to do an interview at 11 p.m. I just wouldn’t be functioning.
And where can we find you online? You have a blog? Social media? Any extra information?
Melissa: I kind of hang out on Instagram. I love to do Instagram stories. So that’s @melissanreynolds.
And my YouTube channel is Melissa N Reynolds and Melissa vs Fibromyalgia in brackets. But if you type that in you’ll find it.
My own physical ability has changed so much over the last two years with pregnancy, pelvis issues, recovering, that I’m very very weary of just putting tutorials online. There’s too much context needed to just throw things up in a short story and stuff.
Sheryl: Okay, great. Thank you for joining us today on the podcast. I really appreciate your time, and I hope you have a great Sunday with your kids and family.
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