Spoons

As I get better, a lot of the posts I would have posted had I had the energy are going to come out. A lot of them were drafted weeks before they will be polished and published. This one I probably should have just published when I wrote it, but here it is.

l recommend reading the Spoon Theory in the words of its creator, here, but for those who like a blog post to be more self contained I’ll summarise it. Healthy people have energy in large quantities to get them through the day, so they don’t need to be aware of how much they spend. People with limiting health conditions have to budget and ration and be aware of every energy expenditure. Spoons are a metaphor for units of energy. Once you’ve spent all your spoons for the day you’d better lie down until tomorrow because you just can’t achieve any more.

Did you brush your hair today? You spent 1 spoon on that. Had a shower? That was another spoon gone. Unless you shaved your legs and / or washed your hair which each cost at least 1 more spoon. Just getting through a normal morning routine consumes whole handfuls of spoons. If you’re healthy enough that spoons are easy come, easy go, then that’s a small drop in your shiny spoon ocean. But what if you only had 16 spoons to last the day? You know you’ll need to spend spoons on feeding yourself later. On fetching drinks and going to the toilet. Those are pretty essential. Some people wake up with even fewer spoons than 16 (a number l picked at random). Sometimes things you can’t control will demand your spoons. Things like bad news, a spilt glass of water that must be mopped before it gets to the electrical socket or interpersonal conflict steal the spoons right out of your hands.

I wish I’d been aware of spoon theory a few months ago. I was living with so few spoons then. Now I have more. Still few enough that I can’t spend prolifigately but enough to have had reasonably clean, brushed hair everyday for weeks now. Enough to get through most days without reaching for a spoon that I don’t have. Maybe one day I’ll be a spoon millionaire again but right now it feels great to realise how much richer in spoons I have become. I can look at today and marvel at how many spoons l spent without running out. As I get fitter I have stopped worrying about the energy spend for every little routine thing I do but as a side effect I’ve stopped noticing how much I’m achieving each day. Being mindful of my spoons will help me see I am making progress and make me grateful for all the things I can do.

Yoga. Part 2, The unexpected journey to enlightened(-ish) practice

Part 1 available here.

My yoga journey continued sporadically. If the opportunity arose to attend a free session arose, I went to a class. Other times I tried one of the various televised yoga routines. Long periods would pass between these times and that kept it interesting when I did do some. That continued until this year when my health curtailed all physical activity. As I started back to work I wondered if I should try one of the very gentle short yoga programmes I’d recorded off the television. I’d do one I’d done before that I knew was aimed at beginners and so easy that I’d felt it a waste of my time last time I did it.

I couldn’t do it. It starts with cat pose, which I’d never felt any benefit from before, but this time was challenging and full of interest. Then it goes to downward dog, and I couldn’t stay in the position for more than a second or two without feeling dreadful and stopping. I didn’t just need to stop doing the posture, but had to stop the whole session. A few weeks later I tried again. This time downward dog was possible, although I didn’t hold the position for more than a breath or two but came out of it and rested until the instructor moved onto the next thing. I managed the next few postures fine until the inhale up to warrior 2. I smiled in anticipation of my old favourite but my face fell when I realised I couldn’t do it. Damn it!

After each session, even those that I had to quit on, my muscles felt awakened, and I think yoga is going to be a wonderful tool to use on my journey back to health. But like everything it’s very hard for me not to do too much because there’s one massive discrepancy between what I think I can do and what I can actually do, and another between what I can actually do and what I can actually do and still be fairly functional the next day.

To feel well tomorrow I need to do almost nothing today. But to feel well next week and next month surely I need to get my body doing things again. While I was at home I sat and lay and barely used my arms. On my first weeks back at work in the library handling books, even singly, was challenging. I had no grip strength. Circling one wrist with the other hand I can feel the change of shape where the muscles atrophied. With the return to commuting I thought the clutch in my car might be faulty because it was so heavy, likewise the power steering, but I came to realise I just don’t have the muscle strength I never even realised I was using when I drove my car.

It’s true that getting back to the daily grind will rebuild the muscle I need to get through the day, but I feel like I have a blank, if feeble, slate to rebuild my muscles evenly and in balance with yoga. But I think it will be a very slow process.

I have been surprised to find how riding is easier for me than handling books or beginner level yoga. The only things I can think to make this make sense are as follows:

  • I have an obliging and forward going horse. That takes a world of effort off the rider
  • I’m using very light aids which don’t take strength I don’t have and because they’re consistently light he’s got nothing to lean on or fight against
  • I’ve not been taking him into challenging situations on purpose. I know I can’t win a fight so I’ve avoided situations that might cause one.
  • We’re not trying to do anything he can’t do, or to do anything for long enough that he gets properly tired, so he’s very willing
  • Because my ability waxes and wanes from one ride to the next we don’t have much routine in our rides. This keeps things interesting for him, which again helps with the willingness. Also it stops him anticipating what’s coming next and so keeps him tuned in to listening to my light aids.
  • Gravity helps a rider. With a good position a rider fights gravity less than a pedestrian. The only exception is in the arms and I’m cheating there by using a much lower hand position than I think is ideal because it’s much easier for me at the moment.
  • The world thinks riders just sit there while the horse does all the work. Maybe in this case they’re right 😛

Getting back to my yoga theme: coming from this position of humble feebleness, for the first time I have finally understood the importance of correct form and the unimportance of range. I am more in tune with my body, having been forced to learn to listen to it. Because everything is weak, I don’t find strong muscles trying to cover up for weaker ones, and I feel that what is working or stretching matches what the instructor says I should feel.

I have to say this is aided by good instructors. I accept that I was not the most receptive student in those early classes at the gym, but I’m astounded at how good a televised instructor is at preventing errors of form compared to one who could see me, and let me believe I was doing postures correctly when I now see I was often letting limbs or joints point in incorrect positions which diluted the benefits of the positions. I would have thought a television or DVD instructor could never compare to having an instructor who could see you, but I was so wrong, as I was about so many things about yoga.

Now for the first time I come to my yoga practice with respect for yoga and for my body. Now I struggle with the easiest postures but I am more of a yogi than I ever was when it seemed easier.

Namaste.

 

031

Not depressed

I’m pretty sure I’m not depressed.

But…

The fatigue, which comes and goes, at times inexplicably, is confusing me.

In the past, through depression I have experienced fatigue so great I could not speak. This fatigue does not do that. But it is fickle. What I did happily one week is unthinkable the next. I have no idea what the day will bring until I’m a few hours into it. Recently for the first time I was so fatigued that I caught myself thinking how nice it would be if all my blood ran out of me and I died and I wouldn’t have to bother to breathe any more. But it wasn’t a suicide daydream,  just a mental plea to be allowed to lie down and stop doing anything tiring like breathing. I might mention that I was stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway on the way home after a long day at work the time and being dead is the only socially acceptable excuse for just ceasing to continue creeping forwards in that context.

It was so strange to have that thought, that used to be an old companion, but from an entirely different angle. I know the fatigue that comes from depression. I know it intimately and familiarly and I have some coping skills. I don’t know mood-depressed-by-physical-fatigue. But it’s moved in and I’m having to get to know it and it’s weird. I don’t have the relevant coping skills. Yet.

It’s really strange to me that the moment my mood is best first thing in the morning. That’s never happened to me before! I wake up like a smart-phone with a freshly charged battery, bright and shiny and ready for anything … but overuse me and I’m worthless by lunchtime; dim, lacklustre, expending the final dregs of the battery just trying to stay awake. In the evening after a day when I had a meeting, or an unavoidable social event, I am so low in mood and all I want to do is sleep. Yet when I awaken the next day I am inexplicably happy. Unless I have a few “busy” days in a row. After 3 weeks back full-time at work the morning magic stopped working. At work I was getting confused and struggling to balance priorities and clashing with colleges. Outside of work I wasn’t able to ride at all. While riding had been very tiring on the days when I managed it, I felt more energised on the days following a ride. I felt like riding was the one step I could actively take towards getting better and I’d lost that again.

I was owed some hours, which I built up back in the early summer, so I spent my hoarded hours to take a day off and filled it with self-care; meditation and aromatherapy; gentle yoga and relaxation. I even banned myself from crochet for the day to avoid anything goal-oriented. But it still didn’t fix me. So when l saw the nurse at occupational health later that week we agreed I should return to slightly reduced hours again for a few weeks.

It was a weight off my shoulders and the right decision. I’m grateful for the supportive workplace that can accommodate it, but I’m disappointed that once again getting back to normal is further away than I thought. Part of me thinks I could have pushed on with it, kept going, one day at a time, but it’s not a sensible part of me. lt tells me I’m weak-willed, that anyone can handle a measly 36 hr contract, that I need to suck it up and buckle down. The rest of me knows that listening to that voice is a good way to ensure a public meltdown, a return to being too ill to work at all and general misery until I reach that stage.

Hopefully the reduced hours will be what I need to get my sleep-magic working again. Hopefully I’ll be able to start exercising again. Hopefully, once these few weeks of reduced hours are over, I should be able to try full-time work again and this time, hopefully, I’ll be able to make it stick.