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.
9 thoughts on “Shooting for the Spoons”
For me time spent trying to sleep is more spoon-depleting than any spoons I get back once I do get to sleep. Meds ensure I get high-quality sleep.
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My sleep is currently in a period of extreme suckage. I go to bed at nine and get about three hours. After that, it is tossing and turning, up and down, frustration and tears. I hate it. My current sleep reality is definitely costing me daytime spoons and I have no idea how to fix the problem (like you, I’ve followed all the “you should” advice; it has so far not worked well). I am heading away for a short vacation soon; I’m hoping it will provide a sleep reboot or at least a respite.
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I found you after you liked one of my posts, and I’m so glad that I have! O agree with so much of this and it’s amazing to see that I’m not crazy or the only one out there.
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Sleep is so personal. My only advice is to go with your gut feeling on this. (Your sleeping mind is probably the only one who knows what will most benefit your waking mind.) (Banter) Don’t break a leg! (/banter) 💜💜 Mwah!
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Relate to a lot of this. I also need a lot of salt. And have gi issues when traveling in spite of Proper ‘self care’. For me food combining (all carbs with no meat or just meat and veggies) when traveling and taking extra enzymes and bile salts w meals helps. Had to laugh too because a safe eating out meal for me is corn tacos at Taco Johns, not Taco Bell, lol. They just ‘set’ well with me. And I find I also need a ton of water no matter what. But it can’t be any old bottled or tap water. Filtered at home or work is best for me. One trip I splurged on only Fiji water and realized IT was what was bloating me. Now I stick to Iceland springs brand and am fine. I learned the hard way to only stay overnight in hotels that serve a restaurant breakfast so I can eat fried eggs and bacon and oatmeal for breakfast. The salt thing is a biggie- think my electrolytes get really off easily when traveling. For me I also had fructose issues w fruits and some veggies but now I can eat different fruit again — but just not in conjunction with any other food (food combining diet). So while I used to eat apple slices and peanut butter Because of hypoglycemia and then feel awful for hours now I eat just apples as afternoon snacks and feel wayyyyy better.
Watermelon is also a great snack for me especially with some mineral salt on it but it has to be eaten entirely alone with an hour on either side of eating anything else. Watermelon was killing my digestion when I’d eat it during meals or right after as a healthy dessert. Next time I travel I am also taking along some pink salt as iodized salt is also not my friend- causes bloating.
Regarding sleep- I love reading. The best sleep I get is when I fall asleep reading a novel (that is gripping enough to hold my attention). No screen reading and if I get up in the middle of the night I observe if my mind is just mildly troubled but my body too tired and just needs rest or if my mind is so troubled and body is restless feeling. When it’s the latter I get up and go read in my safe space chair in the living room. And I read until I am hit by tiredness again, trying not to look at the time. I have a clip light for books, which also helps when traveling with my husband and using the clip light versus a lamp also helps me reach that golden moment of true ‘good’ sleep descending versus forced sleep.
My verdict being: any kind of forced or stressed/tense sleep is definitely counterproductive in the long run versus truly good and naturally occurring sleep. I think even just a state of deep relaxation OR distraction is better than lying awake in bed. Best is when I nod off while reading, fall asleep unaware of doing it-either while reading or for some I know it is watching tv- falling asleep watching tv works for me sometimes for afternoon naps but not so much at night!
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This isn’t an exact answer to your questions, it’s just my personal philosophy. Stressing about not getting back to sleep is well… stressful, so I don’t do that anymore. I also don’t work so it doesn’t really matter what time I wake up and I realize that is a blessing not afforded to everyone. I wake up probably all but a couple nights a month. During that time I play games on phone of read a library e-book (I don’t often remember from reading to reading but the act of reading is soothing to me) with a black background. Both mentally exhaust me and usually, eventually I’ll fall back to sleep. I could spend that time beating the hell out of myself for not sleeping but I’m just not going to do that anymore. So that’s my insomnia philosophy. It’s very outside the box and really isn’t popular, but it works for me. My phone screen turns off blue from 10pm-7am, but that has made zero difference for me personally. I’ve shut off my phone, left it out of the room…none of that stuff worked for me, only increased me stress, which used more spoons. I’d rather use my spoons reading a good book than stressing about why I said what I did 10 years ago at work. 😉
Because even if you miss… You’ll be miles away from me with that motivational bullshit. * snort *
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