A lot of popular wisdom is rather dubious when actually examined. For instance, the common career advice to, “Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you will still land among the stars.” Unless the flat-Earthers know something I really don’t, even good old Sol is much further away from us than the moon…
Another bit of dubious popular wisdom I hear regularly from would-be experts (who have usually never heard of most of my diagnoses before) is, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I certainly am careful with my diet, but an apple a day does not keep the doctor away for me. In fact, following the common wisdom for most of my working life to eat as naturally as possible on business trips to minimize GI symptoms has been about the worst possible choice for me. On travel per diem – and thus not responsible for remembering expiration dates for the fresh veggies and fruit that I so often forget in my fridge for weeks until they spoil – I would load up on all of the fresh fruit in an attempt to keep the gastroenterologist away. And, yet, I always felt like my IBS symptoms were worse on business trips anyway. The inevitable refrain from the “apple a day folks” – and many of the doctors that were supposedly being kept away – was that it was just “my anxiety” exacerbating my symptoms. So, I both had to plan for disaster each time and for the bully-in-my-brain to refrain how it was my fault since I couldn’t just “relax.”
However, when I did a proper elimination diet for gastric issues and allergies under a (knowledgable about my diagnoses) doctor’s supervision, I discovered my suspicions were correct. I had been making my own peculiar chronic illnesses worse all along. I’m fructmal, aka I have an inability to properly absorb excess fructose. Thus, many supposedly “good for me” fruits – like apples – that are higher in their ratio of fructose to bonded glucose molecules are, well, the reason that the “b.s.” advice I had received about what was “good for me” produced so much actual “b.s.” too. Add in a wheat allergy, and I now know I wasn’t too far off the mark when I used to complain I did everything “right” in self-care, but what was the point when I often felt better eating something like Taco Bell anyway? (Taco Bell, it turns out, uses more corn than wheat-based products in its nachos I like and has nary a true fruit or veggie in sight!)
I have since learned to take any conventional wisdom aimed at the masses, especially about my diet, with a grain of salt. ( I mean that quite literally. Another one of those bits of conventional wisdom that don’t apply to me is to “limit salt intake.” Further demonstrating that airport Taco Bell before business meetings might actually have been the best possible choice for me instead of “healthy foods,” I require grams of salt daily to maintain my blood pressure. The healthy fruit-based choices I was making at free hotel breakfasts were, unfortunately, also thoroughly lacking in the salty pick-me-up that going instead for the bacon and eggs would have provided…) I have further learned from a rare EDS-knowledgable trauma-sensitive yoga teacher that true yoga isn’t good for hypermobility. Take that, gurus who claim yoga fixes everything?
I now almost enjoy the shock value of telling the health know-it-alls of the world what’s really up with my body. Just sharing the examples above usually makes most of them shut up. And – lo and behold – since anxiety exacerbating symptoms is one of those rare bits of conventional wisdom that does apply to me, dealing with less unwanted advice from other people also helps me to finally start to relax.
I’ve come to accept that sometimes it’s better to take care of myself in the way that works best for myself rather than being on self-care trend. In addition to those stars that everyone else claims are worth shooting for being much further away than the moon, it’s also worth noting that I, personally, am not fireproof. (I will note, though, that trauma-sensitive yoga can be modified for hypermobility and was part of my self-care when possible during the Crisis of 2018 after proper modification. Also, scurvy sounds unpleasant, so I do eat fruits. I just choose fruits like bananas or strawberries instead of apples or peaches. Those low-FODMAP fruits have a balanced ratio of glucose to fructose. Finally, I include the disclaimer that I am not legally liable for how the advice that works for me might work – or not work – for someone else.)
However, I can genuinely say that I have never truly doubted conventional wisdom about a starry night, even if I have come to doubt whether my version of being a career star has to look like anyone else’s. I have always taken for granted that sleeping is the lowest possible spoonie energy state. When in doubt, take a nap. Sleeping is always at least spoon-neutral, and usually spoon-positive. Right?
So “everyone says.” But, my spoonie readers probably know exactly what I mean when I say I have learned the hard way that it is possible to sleep for twelve to thirteen hours and wake up just as tired as before. My spoonie readers probably also know how impossible it is to “just relax” in the face of a racing mind, pain, stress, or PTSD-induced nightmares. My readers with insomnia from any cause probably also know what it is like to be desperate for sleep all day, but then to burn through the night tossing and turning (possibly dislocating something in the process) until even doing the laundry (as a person with ADHD) becomes preferable to continuing to try to force sleep while the hours count continuously downward to the next day’s
stratospheric reentry reentry into human society.
I have a truly astronomical set of things I do at this point in my life to maintain proper “sleep hygiene.” I wear braces on multiple joints to ensure they stay in place. I have a u-shaped pregnancy pillow that keeps my head slightly elevated above my body and further restricts my ability to toss and turn that my Partner refers to as Fort Pillow. I fall asleep to looping non-triggering t.v. shows that are just interesting enough for my brain to focus on over the roar of my own thoughts, and I change out those television shows every few months when they start to become routine enough that my wily brain can tune them out in favor of, oh, panicking over the clock. I use the f.lux app to ensure that the blue light on my computer transitions to sleep-inducing red hues before bed and those shows aren’t affecting my circadian rhythms. I wear a sleep mask that further shuts out the light anyway since my neuro-ophthalmologist recommended giving my eyes from having to focus together. (They continue to decompensate – thanks EDS – even though I haven’t experienced a repeat of 2018’s double vision episode.) I unwind with a cup of tea. I don’t eat big meals right before bed – or really at all – as grazing on the same delicious food over time is recommended given that the same collagen that fails to work in my joints and my eyes also leads to my stomach and intestines either processing food entirely too quickly or entirely too slowly. I plan my next-day to-do list before bed, and I journal the multi-thousand thoughts in my brain before I put on my bulky braces, lose the ability to write anything, and instead feel compelled to mentally rehearse those thoughts all night long.
I still suck at sleep.
My Partner asked me recently why I keep trying to force sleep when it is clearly “costing me so many spoons.” I reflexively responded that sleep doesn’t cost spoons. He gave me one of the long looks that usually indicates he is privately wondering what planet my brain is currently inhabiting – as what I just said doesn’t apply on Earth – but he doesn’t want to actually deny my reality. (We have both learned how triggering it is to actually have reality gaslit, so while we will call each other out on self-sabotaging behavior, we will hold off on our respectful banter until it is clear to our significant other who might take it the wrong way that it is just banter.)
My Partner responded that “Good sleep costs spoons; falling into inevitable unconsciousness does not. Your body will handle the exhausted unconsciousness bit by default, but it may or may not recover any spoons from it.” Only getting good sleep actually recovers spoons. And, as with any other economic store of value, “it takes spoons to make spoons.” I’d find it easier to recover spoons from sleep if I waited to attempt sleep until a time when I already had the spoons to engage in high-quality sleep free from anxiety, pain or other symptoms. Until then, I should prioritize whatever forms of rest I actually have available.
I do have to agree that, at that point, forcing sleep seemed to be pushing me even further into spoon deficit. I’ve been so exhausted this week that I’ve crashed out immediately after work, eventually waking up at 4am after thirteen hours of sleep. I’ve been trying to go back to sleep anyway, as setting the precedent that I should ever wake up at 4am seems like a bad idea. But, I’m not sure I have truly recovered the spoons I should from that much sleep. Today is my planned “rest day,” but while I’m not struggling to initially fall asleep, I’m still struggling to obtain any spoons from sleep.
I’m taking my Partner’s advice and writing a blog post instead of napping, even though I usually try not to engage in even that much joint-stressing mentally active work on a “rest day.” I plan to listen to audiobooks from inside Fort Pillow afterward. I do feel like I recover more spoons sometimes by not sleeping and instead just lying in bed not trying to make my body do anything at all than trying to “rest and recover.”
What do you all think? Is the conventional wisdom that sleep is always healing – at least for spoonies – as ridiculous upon closer examination as the idea that if you miss when shooting for the moon you will still “land among the stars?” If sleep must be high-quality to recover spoons, how do you all ensure it actually is? And, most importantly, do you agree that sleep can ever cost spoons instead of being, at a minimum, spoon neutral?
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.