How I keep my plates spinning while living with ALS

Finding balance is key to staying challenged enough without being overwhelmed

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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Every once in a while, I have to stop and declare, “I’m spinning way too many plates!” That happens whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks I’ve set myself up to do while living with ALS.

You’ve seen plate spinning, right? It was a popular act I remember watching on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1950s. In this frantic, high-energy act, a performer kept a number of dinner plates balanced and spinning on top of long wooden dowels. As each plate’s spin slowed and became more and more unbalanced, the performer had to run from plate to plate reestablishing his speed. Meanwhile, the audience held its breath, hoping none of the plates crashed to the floor.

Plate spinning is a perfect analogy for my life with ALS. And when I reach the point where my plate spinning feels frantic, it’s my signal to stop and assess the situation.

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We all spin plates

Every one of us spins plates throughout our lives. Our plates represent jobs, activities, family, friends, hobbies, and more. They can be positive things and not-so-positive things.

But we have to pick the right plates to spin. Try to keep too many spinning and we suffer burnout — our plates come crashing down. That’s something I experienced during my first year with ALS. I became frustrated that my body was moving slower. Getting dressed, eating, and moving across the room all impeded the things I wanted to do each day. I had to downsize my expectations and prune my priorities. And surprise, surprise, I felt better, and what I accomplished were things truly meaningful to me.

But in time I tend to forget. Slowly, I add one — OK, four — plates too many to my day. Between morning exercises, computer projects, midday exercises, meals, emails, and decluttering my closet, my to-do list can start spinning out of control.

What brings everything back in balance?

First, I focus and reset my priorities. I also reread my column on finding the balance of just enough effort and just enough ease to navigate the challenges of living with ALS. Yes, my past columns even help me!

Then, I rebuild my daily routine to have just enough plates to keep me challenged while avoiding the performer’s frantic running up and down the line.

Of course, paying attention to self-care is another essential piece of my daily routine. Pausing to breathe, listening to music, or looking at nature out my window are some simple ways I give myself a mini self-care break.

If we remember to take care of ourselves while taking care of our spinning plates, I believe we can live well while living with ALS.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Kevin R avatar

Kevin R

Thank you, Dagmar! Your columns always are relatable and wise — giving me something to think about, try, or modify in my own life with ALS. I am grateful for your knowledge and experience.

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

Thank you Kevin :-D

Patricia Koopmans avatar

Patricia Koopmans

Oh this article hit me! I try to keep up but this ALS keeps me back. I also was diagnosed at 59 just this past December. I can walk but not long distance. I try to keep 'my plates spinning' but pay the price with fatigue and weakness when I over due. I'm grateful for helpful family and a great husband who sometimes doesn't mind pushing me around!

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

Yes, learning to find the "sweet spot" of just how many plates to spin (or your energy level) is the goal to living well with ALS. Best wishes to you, Dagmar

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