Not sure who needs to hear this, but... don’t sit on your foot!
Of all the things we’ve all had to deal with in 2020 and beyond, I wouldn’t have thought this would become a focus for me. Working at home with poor ergonomics has finally brought home the negative effects of one of my bad little habits.
I’ve been sitting with my foot tucked under me for nearly a year.
Finally it started to cause noticeable pain. It got painful enough that I was forced to do something about it. Only now that it’s been a few days am I starting to realize this was a big deal.
That’s when I thought, I should probably share about my foot-sitting issue, why I was doing it, and how I am breaking the habit. I know there are other women like me out there.
Why sit on your foot?
This is an issue of being a small-framed person in furniture built to a design standard. There is a ‘standard’ set of measurements for countertops, doorway height, stair treads, table heights, and more. That standard is built around a human who is 5’10.”
I’m 5’4” and plenty of fully functional adults are my size or smaller.
I sit on my foot because my desk is slightly too high for someone of my frame. For me to sit where I can see my non-adjustable monitor, my chair is a little too high. Sitting with my feet flat on the floor causes my thighs to be at a downward angle.
The only real solutions for my problem would be to:
Make a custom desk, or buy something that is “child-sized”
Make a raised platform for my chair
Set up some kind of foot rest
Or do what I’ve been doing and contort my body to try to make it work.
Making the body fit the furniture is what most of us have been doing all our lives. We’re able to buy standard-sized commodities and we live in standard-sized infrastructure. We probably don’t even realize all the unique and specialized ways we adapt ourselves to our environment, rather than adapting our environment to ourselves.
I think this is why there is such a phenomenon as “man-spreading.” I can’t sit that way on a bus seat, or on a bench, because those seats and benches are too high for my skeletal structure. My feet dangle. A “man” can “spread” because those seating areas are designed for someone who is that height. Not me.
What about a standing desk?
Well, first of all, we’re in a pandemic and I have the furniture that I have.
I’m using the desk that I bought at a time when I only ever planned to sit at it for brief stretches. If I had realized I would be working at this desk for 45 hours a week or more, I would have gone for ergonomics rather than aesthetics.
Second, I learned recently that standing desks are not all they were cracked up to be when they first became a fad several years ago. While sitting is bad for us, standing all day can actually be worse. Among other things, it can increase risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes! They never told us that!
Put simply, the human body is not made to stay in one position for many hours at a stretch, unless it is sleeping. The only way to win is to be able to move around and work in different configurations throughout the day. Some jobs accommodate that and many do not.
Some of us have jobs where it’s a challenge even to get up for a restroom break, much less shift between ergonomically optimized modules.
I did what I could with what I have. That was to order something inexpensive and hope it would help.
What I bought was an adjustable foot rest designed for sleeping on airplanes. It’s a foot hammock that is supposed to strap onto a folding tray table.
Whether this precise object would work for different styles of desk is beyond me. I’m sure it could be modified in some way, or it could spark an idea for something that would serve a similar purpose, which is to elevate the feet while sitting in a standard office chair.
My relief was instant. I was so happy!
Ahhh, I thought. Ahh, my feet are so comfy.
I know how pernicious a long-standing habit can be. I have probably been sitting on my foot as a default “relaxation” posture since grade school. I honestly don’t remember when I first started doing it. Stopping a habit like this is on the order of stopping a habit like hair twirling or nail-biting.
That’s why I was so surprised that the foot hammock worked right away.
Strangely, it wasn’t long after switching to the foot hammock that my ankle started bothering me. My attention was freshly drawn to a part of my body that I have been mistreating for hours every day over many months.
I’ve been stretching and rolling my ankles in circles. I know it’s not recommended, but I’ve also been going at that ankle and calf with the percussion massager. (Using a vibrating massager on your legs can possibly kill you by loosening a blood clot - it’s happened to people before and that’s why it’s mentioned on all the warning labels).
Other people who sit on their own foot may develop problems different than mine. I did a search on the phrase “don’t sit on your foot” and found a bunch of discussion boards talking about just that. Pelvic tilt, lower back pain, knee problems, popped tendons... Not great.
I can only assume that a bad posture habit will get worse over time. I have my reasons for feeling like sitting on my foot was comfortable and natural. It’s something that I have done for decades. Why should I change something that is so much a part of me? Can’t I have anything??
I had to make a change because what I was doing was painful and getting worse. I can only assume that something that is causing me physical pain at age 45 will only be more painful - or impossible - at 55 or 65 or 75.
Working from home has its drawbacks as well as its advantages. If I am going to continue doing it, there are a bunch of changes I plan to make, starting with moving to a place with a second bedroom and buying a proper desk at the right height.
In the meantime, this foot hammock is doing a great job of helping me stop annoying myself. It’s easily adjustable. I can bring it with me if I have to start commuting into the office again. Maybe I’ll even try it out for its intended use one day soon and bring it on an airplane.
My friend makes $1000 to $2000 a month dog-sitting. Can you believe it?
I thought I would share this story, partly because we’re thinking of trying what she is doing, but mostly because it is so illustrative of the fact that there are infinite ways to bring in money.
It isn’t really the cash that motivates my friend. It’s the dogs.
Say there is someone who absolutely adores dogs. Loves dog energy. Thinks that dogs are the best creatures on Earth. Is a total “animal person.”
Now, imagine that same person loves to travel, both for business and for pleasure. Is not in a position to own a pet. Does not have immediate plans to settle down.
What would be a way for this dog-loving person to have a dog around as often as possible, while not abdicating on a commitment?
This is where the dog-sitting idea came in. Why not be surrounded by dogs on demand, and also get paid for it??
It’s now easy to sign up with one of several pet-sitting apps. It doesn’t take long in a reputation-based business like that for individuals to stand out one way or the other.
My friend is a business professional with an immaculate home. She lives alone, doesn’t smoke, and has no other pets. Those qualities are true of some people and not of others.
I know from experience the way my friend spoils dogs. Our own dog used to try to jump in her car window whenever he saw her. We came home from a week overseas, and he didn’t even meet us at the door. He just popped his head up and stayed in her lap.
Oh, I see how it is!
Who is the real winner of this arrangement?
The spoiled dog? The dog-loving lady who isn’t ready to commit? Or the traveling couple who worry so much when they are out of town?
Everyone is the winner in this scenario.
We’ve been thinking of ways to expand the services she offers, without of course going to great lengths of effort or expense.
Dropping dogs off at the groomer’s before the owner comes home?
Taking dogs to their vet appointments?
Anyone who travels a lot for work would probably be thrilled to be able to hire this out. Find out the going rate, shrug, and pay it.
Personally I think ‘dog massage’ would be another winner. For someone who is willing to give a dog massage, and for the right breed, that seems like it could be a natural fit. I used to live next door to a huge elderly Newfie who probably would have loved it.
Another way my friend could make more money with her current dog hustle would be to set out on her own and book her own clients. She wouldn’t have to pay a cut to the app any more.
Another thing she could do would be to reach out to local dog walkers, veterinarians, or groomers and offer her card. Not everyone is willing to host dogs overnight; not everyone lives in a place that would accommodate it.
We in our fifth floor apartment would not be able to do this sort of business right now, especially since we work office jobs at home. Barking would not be a value-add for our video meetings.
There are probably a lot of people who live in an ordinary suburban house who also enjoy having dogs around. Just as there are probably a lot of people who have the space to rent out a room on AirBnB if they cleaned up and got rid of a few truckloads of clutter.
The bar to entry for certain side hustles is lower than it’s ever been.
A lot of people are overlooking an asset in their life, either because they have always taken it for granted or because it has never occurred to them that it’s an asset. Others are in a beaten-down and depressive state, convinced that they are no good to anybody, when the very next day they could quite easily be making someone’s life easier or better.
What are your assets?
A garage - even if it’s currently packed wall to ceiling
A yard - even if it’s overgrown and full of junk
More than one bedroom - even if the house is hoarded hip deep
Talent with animals
Decent internet connectivity, which not all neighborhoods have
A working computer of whatever age
Ability to pass a background check
Ability to pass a drug screen
A high school diploma - or not - plenty of people have a GED
I hadn’t had a day job in over ten years when I applied for my current position. I said as much in my phone screen. They still made me an offer. It is right and good for the employer to decide which candidates they want, and far be it from me to talk them out of it.
Could my friend be doing something else with her time to make an average of a thousand dollars a month? Or more? Probably. Do her clients care? Probably not. The dogs certainly don’t.
Wherever we live next, when the pandemic is over, we might very well sign up as dog-sitters. For the money? No, not really, although it’s fair to charge when we might have reason to replace our sofa. We would do it because it’s nice to have a dog around, and also it’s challenging to be a pet owner with a busy travel schedule.
How about you? Would you consider something like dog-sitting to make some extra money?
Do you have a favorite thing that could potentially be a source of income as well?
We have matching appointments to get our shots next Friday. Hallelujah!
The gossip started spreading around work very quickly. Everyone in our industry in California is eligible for a vaccine appointment. We’re critical infrastructure, so it was surprising that we all had to wait as long as we have, considering how much mandatory work-from-home has been interfering with our duties.
I heard about it from my boss’s assistant, who got it out of his email, where it was forwarded to him from another manager, who got it from a friend of ours who has moved on to another company.
All of this before it hit the local news, any of the newsletters I get from various regional governmental entities, or any kind of notification from Kaiser.
It’s been hard to wait.
The older folks in my book group were all making fun of me the other night. They’re making plans to go to Sizzler together because they’ve all already had both their vaccines. “Jessica probably doesn’t have hers yet,” ha ha ha hahaha.
Outside of work, almost everyone I know has gotten at least their first shot already.
It’s been hard to wait because I feel like I’m in the worst group. That is, middle-aged long-haul COVID survivors with no other pre-existing medical conditions.
I got COVID before the shutdown.
I couldn’t get authorized for a test. My doctor refused to believe I was sick until I emailed him a list of my symptoms a week later.
At the time I got sick, there were zero approved treatments. We weren’t even supposed to take ibuprofen. (Not sure if that’s still true). I was recommended: Tylenol.
Finally I got a chest x-ray, which showed peribronchial thickening. Basically worse than smoker’s lungs even though I’ve never smoked. I got antibiotics for a secondary infection.
It was a little easier when I got bacterial pneumonia two months later. I was able to get a COVID test that time, and antibiotics again, and an inhaler, because they know how to treat pneumonia at least.
It has taken a full year for me to feel basically recovered.
The way it feels is like, you were dumb enough to get COVID, so you’re expendable at this point. Not sick enough to die or be on a ventilator, so quit complaining.
Meanwhile, here is a long list of millions of people who are eligible for a vaccine before you, including [my coworker’s young friend] who has no pre-existing conditions and signed up to do a single delivery for Uber Eats just to get the shot.
All this time I’ve been petrified to get exposed again, particularly from the hundred people in my apartment complex who refuse to wear a mask.
Other people who have gotten COVID twice have died or wound up in the hospital on second exposure.
I’m 45 and I have scarring in my lungs from COVID. Too old to tolerate the virus well, too young to qualify for the vaccine.
Nobody cares. It’s not sexy or romantic to be chewed up and spit out by coronavirus. Millions of people have died, millions more have lost parents or spouses or siblings. Quit complaining.
Now will follow, for us, one of the longest weeks of the pandemic. The last week in which we are both completely vulnerable, the last week in which one of our thoughtless neighbors might cough near us in the lobby, or the laundry room, or the elevator.
We know what to do by now, which is to stay inside, avoid opening the door or being near anyone, and just keep our heads down. The boredom and the restlessness are a different flavor when they have a quantifiable deadline.
We celebrated, of course. We crossed the room to each other and held hands and did a little dance.
Then I texted my family and my bestie.
Helped a coworker find a location where she could schedule hers.
Talked another friend through why it’s necessary to get booster shots, that the content of both shots is the same, and basically how the immune system responds to different vaccines for different viruses.
You know, how people usually only get chicken pox once but you can get the common cold several times a year? And you had to get booster shots for measles/mumps/rubella when you were a kid? It’s because they test and find out that antibody protection only lasts a certain amount of time for certain shots, and the immune system responds better when you get another dose at a later point.
I’m going to be super stoked after I get my shot, for so many reasons, but partly because it will give me more credibility when I talk about vaccines.
65% of American adults age 65 and over have already had theirs. It’s safe!
A couple of our older friends have complained a bit about how they felt cruddy when they got their shot. But that’s okay. None of them have said they wished they could take it back.
That cruddy feeling is the feeling of your immune system responding, which is how the darn thing is supposed to work.
I’m not looking forward to that part at all. I know what my body did when COVID finally started dragging me down. It’s like bracing yourself to get punched in the mouth. Which I have done. The scientific part of my mind is very much looking forward to the onset of that woozy feeling, the stronger the better, because it will mean IT IS WORKING.
We’re making plans.
We have our “essential workforce authorization letter.”
I’ve already planned out most of what I’m going to do next week. We’ll go together. We’ll get our shots together in the same 10-minute time slot, possibly in adjacent chairs. The location passes by one of our favorite restaurants, so we can grab an early lunch together on the way home. Then I’m going to change into my favorite fleece pajamas and take a nice, long nap.
I’ve got a book picked out, and a TV series, and some nature webcams just in case the mood strikes.
I haven’t chosen my actual Shot Day outfit yet, something in layers that allows easy access to my bicep and also looks like party clothes.
Nor have I chosen what flavor of cake we’ll get to celebrate.
We’re still working out plans for what we’ll do the first time we hang out with my bestie, and whether my family will all be vaccinated in advance of Memorial Day.
(Memorial Day, guys!!!)
All of that is coming.
So many things to look forward to!
It’s almost over. Just to get through this next few weeks, staying safe, clean and careful, isolating and marking the time, making plans for a better and brighter day when we can forget all of this ever happened.
When are you getting your shot?
It’s spring, hooray! For me, it’s also been a year since I got COVID, and I’m starting to feel more normal. Ten years older, tired all the time, and still plagued with teenage-level skin problems, but other than that, more normal. Time to start thinking about working out again.
I’m starting to be able to do a full hour on the elliptical again without having sneezing fits for the rest of the evening. Only about 75% of what used to be a casual workout, but hey, it’s a start.
It’s questionable whether this is the perfect workout, though. Research indicates that the body eventually adjusts to whatever it is that we do as the default, meaning that eventually, we quit gaining additional fitness benefits.
In midlife, it’s not so much that we’re looking for Olympian levels of fitness. It’s more like staving off whatever aches or pains have been cropping up lately.
Sadly, it’s probably more motivating to feel like “I can make this nagging pain go away” with some sort of stretch than it is to feel like “If I keep doing this, I can do some cool fitness tricks.”
Make a list. Where does it hurt and when? All the time, or only when you stand up?
Other than being in recovery from whatever the heck the coronavirus did to my innards, there are a few obvious issues I want to work on:
Chronic neck and shoulder tension from working nine-hour days at a desk with poor ergonomics
General stress level - the eyelid-twitching kind
Twinges in one ankle, probably because I keep sitting on it while I work
Now it’s time for another list, and that is: the constraints.
Everyone has a list, probably mental, possibly engraved in marble, and that list is called Reasons I Must Be Let Off the Hook. “I can’t because.” Literally nobody cares - you don’t need reasons to do or not do things, just do what you want - but defensiveness causes us to catalogue our roadblocks and obstacles.
(Downstairs neighbors, tiny living room, gym is closed, no equipment, etc etc).
Meantime there is always someone in the world in the same situation, doing the thing we Cannot Do, because that person sees the thing as a reward and an entitlement rather than a chore or duty.
And vice versa.
For instance, nothing will stop me from reading for entertainment. I have a novel going at all times. I’ll read while I brush my teeth, put away groceries, fold laundry, or even while getting my teeth drilled at the dentist. There are probably people in the world who do not see reading as their escape and would not read during any of the times that I do. Therefore they’ll come up with their personal list of Reasons I’m Too Busy to Read.
I would probably match most of the items on that list and use them as Reasons I’m Too Busy to... do nail art? Whatever else I don’t want to do that feels like social pressure.
Anyway, it isn’t the “reasons” that we “can’t” do something. It’s the story we tell ourselves about what incentive we would have to do that thing.
For instance, I won’t get up at 5:00 a.m. no matter how many productivity articles I read about how great it is. With two exceptions. I’ve done it in order to get to the airport for an international flight, because DUH, and I’ve done it in order to get downtown to run my one marathon.
My mom got up with me to drive me, because she is that kind of person. Who would get up at five in the morning just to do something nice for someone.
I, uh, would not do that. Let me give you the long list of reasons why I can’t give you a ride at 5:30 a.m., starting with “I don’t have a car” and ending with “I am not the kind of person who would wake up that early to do someone a favor.”
We recognize our own inner resistance and often, we can laugh about it.
One type of resistance is to hate the idea of doing anything trendy, and I have that big-time. I’ve never gone for a manicure, I don’t drink wine or coffee, I’ve never worn Crocs, and I’m darn well not going to do a popular workout just because millions of people enjoy it and find it effective.
Or... maybe I can accept that doing what works is a good idea?
This is where I turn to my practice of Do the Obvious.
What would be the most obvious workout for someone with neck and shoulder tension?
Yoga? Yeah, you’re probably right.
What would be the most obvious workout for someone with high stress?
Probably yoga again? Maybe.
I actually have a different plan for that, and that is to draw on my natural preference for variety and dislike of routine. What if I just... chose a time slot and did whatever random workout seemed like fun to try that day? Dance, hula hoop, or whatever?
As I was sitting here in the park working on this post, a hundred yards away there was a little girl doing cartwheels and various dance moves. She might have been ten or twelve. Never in my life have I been that agile. She hopped up on her bike and rode away, streamers blowing in the breeze, and I thought, I hope she has a fun summer.
I also thought, I wonder if there’s still time for me. At 45. I wonder if there’s still time for me to learn to do a cartwheel like that?
That’s how I want to feel when I work out, like a lithe and happy child playing just because she can.
Rather than a lumpy, crooked office worker hunched over a desk, whingeing and twingeing her way into a crotchety retirement.
It’s spring, and what will I do to enjoy it besides sit crunched up in my chair?
The grass is green where I am sitting right now. It’s 65 degrees, someone is throwing a frisbee, and a local school is holding a masked rehearsal for a musical. Spring is here and most likely, it will reach you where you live soon.
Spring cleaning this year is so much more optimistic than most years.
So much to look forward to! Already 1 in 6 American adults have been vaccinated. One day I had three friends from different parts of my life getting their shots on the same day. My bestie got hers (for reasons that do not make me jealous whatsoever). It seems likely that many or most of the people we know are obediently going to get their shots.
...and then, a million years from now, when we get our turn...
And then we can all hang out!
It’s this fantasy of being able to have our one friend over that is motivating me this year. My bestie is only two and a half weeks away from getting her second shot. We live within walking distance of each other. It is entirely plausible that this summer, we’ll be able to safely invite her over.
And what will she see?
This is a visualization game that I’ve done with so many of my hoarding clients, when they’ve started to make real progress but there is still so much to do. There are probably loners who hoard, but everyone I’ve worked with is excited by the idea of having people over. So we go into it in detail, the more the better.
Who will you invite?
When was the last time they were here, and what did you do?
What will you eat?
What music will you play?
For one person it was going to be a board game night. For another it was going to be a barbecue.
The last time, for us, it was birthday cake out on the rooftop deck of our apartment building.
I try to look at our tiny apartment with the fresh eyes of someone who has never seen it before. It’s small, all right. Nothing to be done about that. There certainly is a live parrot sitting at the focal point of the room, in front of the only window. If I’m new to her, then her little belly feathers are trembling with excitement, and that does tend to divert from any lack of design elegance.
The windows need washing again
There is bird kibble strewn across the floor, as usual
Plus shredded cardboard
A small apartment has the advantage of being relatively easy to clean. It has the disadvantage that every area is high-use, especially when the occupants are home 99% of the time.
And one of them sheds feathers.
I feel fortunate that technology has developed to the point that it has. We have actually discovered a brand of handheld vacuum that picks up down feathers rather than blowing them sideways on contact.
This is one of the few things that can make housework mildly interesting: enlist power tools and robots that feel more like toys and less like traditional drudgery.
Another way to gamify the experience is to play Beat the Clock. There are several ways to do this:
One, race your roommate. This requires full buy-in from the other party (or parties) and is thus unlikely to happen. Basically if you mention cleaning to another person they will think you are bossing them around and thus loathe you, or feel suddenly unable to do what they otherwise would have done simply because you brought it up.
Two, set a timer and try to finish everything in X amount of time. In the before-times you could base this deadline around something like the start of a TV show, or having to leave for the movie theater. Now the best you can probably do is order food delivery and try to finish before your meal arrives.
Three, run all your devices concurrently and try to time them together. This is what I like to do.
Start the laundry. If you are fortunate, someone who is not you can do this. Then put up the dining chairs, check for cords, and start the robot vacuum. While those machines do those jobs, you can:
Dust the ceiling fan
Dust everything else
Wipe down the counters
Scour the sink
Clean out the fridge
Break down boxes
Take out the garbage and recycling
...but then, you can do all that every week, and perhaps you do. What makes this different from deep cleaning?
What you have to do for spring cleaning depends on a lot of factors, like how big your place is, what kind of flooring you have, whether you have a yard or a garage, what kind of bedding you have, when is the last time you sorted out your closets, whether you have storm windows, and a bunch of other things.
The key is to go around, while you are doing basic chores, and notice.
When is the last time anyone moved this piece of furniture and cleaned under and behind it?
How many dead flies are in the tracks of the windows?
When is the last time anyone checked to make sure none of the sinks are leaking into the cabinet?
...Is that... algae... growing on the bottom of that faucet??
There is something about that fully inspected, freshly polished and scoured atmosphere of a deep-cleaned room that really gives a sense of accomplishment.
Or at least it’s something to do while we all wait to get the go-ahead to hang out together in person.
While I get my apartment ready, I’m thinking about three things. What will I feed everyone? What month will it be? And how do I tactfully ask our friends to see their proof of vaccination?
I keep reminding myself that I’m not alone in this. For whatever reason, on Sunday nights, my sleep is disrupted. Seemingly only my stress level is to blame.
‘Anticipatory stress’ is a thing.
I have been working on this issue all year, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe I need to stop thinking of it as “working on” or as “a problem” or even as “stress.”
Why would I snap awake at 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday night when there is nothing to worry about?
I tried a new experiment, which was to soak in Epsom salts and go to bed early.
I’m chill, I’m relaxed, I’m so chill that people mistake me for the Big Lebowski...
The warm bath was really quite lovely. I discovered a new album by one of my favorite singers, and I soaked and listened to that and finished an excellent novel with a twist ending. Couldn’t ask for more.
Then I went to bed early, as stated, not a care in the world... only to snap awake in the middle of the night.
This doesn’t usually happen on other nights of the week.
I have tried so many things to generally relax more and improve my quality of sleep:
Spending more time in natural light earlier in the day
White noise generator
Cutting off news at a designated time in the evening
Monitoring hydration from morning to evening, and cutting off fluids
No sweets or snacks after dinner
I don’t have real situational stress (other than the pandemic) in the way that I have in the past. No pressing health issues, money concerns, relationship problems, noisy neighbors, none of that.
Is it my job then?
I don’t think so. I have good relationships with my boss and my immediate team. As far as I know I’m well-regarded for being on time and getting stuff done. I had a good performance review and all that.
(If anyone else is reading this and thinking, Gee, must be nice - well then, at least you have a clear and specific answer to something you can be working on).
I like obvious problems because they can be resolved.
This is more like a vague problem miasma.
Is this a non-problem?
That is another ‘solution’ for many problems. Simply decide that this is not really a problem in your life and resolve to ignore it.
For instance, we have neighbors on our floor who have two hound dogs. Whenever they are in the hallway, they bay and bark and skitter around like they’re on a fox hunt. But then they’re gone, perhaps to hunt an actual fox. This is a two-minute annoyance that happens maybe once a week. If they were my dogs, I’d be embarrassed, but they aren’t, and this is not my problem.
Not being able to sleep well every Sunday night is a problem in my world. It means I start the week tired and struggling to focus. I seem to require about ten hours of sleep a day, which I am only able to get on weekends. Therefore I become progressively more tired all through the week. I only start to feel rested and productive on Saturday.
Obviously I’ve been making it through the weeks. I’m able to manage. I get my job done, keep dinner on the table, the apartment is reasonably clean, laundry is caught up, groceries are coming in the door.
It’s just that I’m so tired all the time.
What about a nap during the day?
I’ve thought about this. Boy have I thought about it.
There is a constraint here, in that I am in a support role. The main function of my job is to be available for sudden questions or “tag-ups,” which are ad hoc meetings. On more than one occasion, I have stepped away for two minutes to use the restroom, only to return to a meeting in progress where three or four people are waiting for me. There isn’t really a way to structure my day where I could go sleep for three hours, which is what I need.
Work! It interferes with my nap schedule!
How do other people deal with the general existential situation of being in Work Mode 40-50 hours a week?
I try to remind myself of all the stretches in my life when I had to get on with things and I was sleeping more like five hours a night, or three. I still managed to stay employed and collect paychecks and turn in my homework and all that. The only bad things that really happened were that I went around with circles under my eyes and I was tired all the time.
It seems like one answer for the Sunday Scaries is to lower the bar for what counts as a good night of sleep, to make it less of a big deal if there is the occasional rough night, to not have such a dramatic shift in energy level from weekend to weekday.
That all feels so vague, like it would take a long time to notice a difference. I prefer something specific and actionable, or, in other words, I am no more patient than anyone else. I want instant results! I want to download something directly into my brain with the touch of a finger.
I looked up ‘sleep consultant’ and was alarmed by the price - although I might pay it eventually - and the fact that the local person I found is not available on Saturdays or Sundays. Oops.
I am considering hypnosis.
I am also considering something I have used to good effect in the past, which is to plan a more strenuous workout on Sunday to the point that I am too tired to do anything other than sleep deeply.
My attitude right now is, if I’m already having lower-quality sleep on Sunday nights, then I don’t really have anything to lose. I’ve already managed to rule out a few things, such as a weighted blanket or having the temperature too hot or too cool.
Let’s be methodical about it.
What are some things that you absolutely know interfere with your sleep? Are you going through the checklist and taking active steps to mitigate each one?
What are some things that lead to better sleep, and you know it? Are you making sure to do those things?
What are we going to try next?
I was looking for a list of pseudoscience topics for a little April Fool’s Day prank. As I scrolled through lists of things like UFOs and belief in a “flat Earth,” something rocked me back.
A health condition that I had been diagnosed with was on the list.
This was not something I was expecting to see. I wasn’t even thinking about health issues at the time. I was in a joking and creative mood. It was a bit like being splashed with cold water.
Then I nodded to myself. Okay. When the data change, the conclusion must change. New evidence needs to result in a new attitude.
This is because I’ve learned to identify with being a scientific person, rather than identifying with a diagnosis.
Now, this posture is not easy. It’s hard to figure out exactly where to draw the line sometimes between “traditional doctors and medicine have not been helpful to me” and “I am a completely unique organism on whom no standards apply.”
Just because I have not been served well by the traditional system, just because I may not have gotten answers for what is bothering me, does not then automatically mean that the alternative system has any answers either.
It also doesn’t mean there are no answers at all.
What I have tried to do is to become more rigorous about tracking my own metrics, analyzing my own data, and doing things that make sense to take care of myself. In practice, this usually puts me at odds with... just about everyone.
I had a discussion with a Kaiser doctor about stress. The basic tenet of modern medicine seems to be that “stress causes illness.” That makes no sense to me. How does stress know which of 70,000 possible medical conditions to cause? I told the doctor that it made more sense to me that “illness causes stress.” Most people start with low-level health issues, like chronic dehydration, sleep deprivation, and mineral deficiencies. Anyone with a chronic underlying issue would then feel some level of mental or emotional stress, because how could they not?
She nodded along and told me I had a point.
My stance is that my ideas are testable. It would be possible to collect objectively verifiable numeric data. Whereas it doesn’t seem possible to test the idea that “stress” causes [diabetes, cancer, lupus, or whatever] and then guess in advance what disease an individual was going to develop out of that stress. To me that idea is mystical in the extreme. It’s like a cop-out. Who in our culture is going to be able to avoid “stress” in order to stay healthy?
Anyway. I suppose you’re curious what pseudoscientific diagnosis I was given that was so weird it landed on a Wikipedia page.
It was ‘adrenal fatigue.’
The year was 1998, and apparently this was a new concept in alternative medicine at the time.
How was I to know one way or the other? The person who diagnosed me has a degree, worked in a clinic, and was wearing a white lab coat and a stethoscope.
The basic idea of adrenal fatigue was that a chronic state of exhaustion could deplete the adrenal glands, causing a state of fatigue that would not be resolved until the adrenal glands could sort of catch up production.
What caused this is that I was working forty hours a week and taking fourteen credit hours per term as a university freshman. I would get up in the morning, ride my bike 5 miles across town, take a class, ride back downtown, put in a full day at work, ride back to campus, take another class, and then ride my bike home again. After dinner and chores, I would do my reading and homework and then go to bed.
I was sleeping about three hours a night, five on weekends. I was riding my bike 15-20 miles a day.
Nobody told me, because nobody asked, that sleeping 30 hours a week for a year was going to start affecting my energy level.
It never really occurred to me that other people weren’t trying to do what I was doing.
What drove me to the doctor’s office was that I collapsed at work. I also collapsed at the grocery store. I had been having migraines and was generally exhausted all the time. Clearly something was wrong.
It didn’t take a formal medical diagnosis, though. Probably even a preschool-age child could have said, “Gee, lady, you aren’t getting enough sleep.”
Again, nobody asked how much I was sleeping.
I was sent to a mainstream doctor. They did an EEG and referred me for an ultrasound of my heart. Whatever came back, I was put on a prescription for beta blockers and told that drinking alcohol could give me a stroke. (Fortunately, I’ve never been a drinker and that was not an issue for me the way it might have been for other people my age).
I was 23.
What wound up happening was that I took the summer off from school. I had no classes and no homework, and of course I started sleeping more.
Then fall term started, and I tried to kick into gear again.
I wasn’t able to handle the strain. I dropped out, eating the cost of my first term’s tuition. Then my husband asked for a divorce, we split up, and I wound up enrolling again a couple years later. While I had a work-study job and several side hustles, I no longer attempted to both work and take classes full-time.
The common-sense answer to my situation was to get more sleep. Most people probably could have told me that if I took out loans, I could quit my job and go to school full-time. That didn’t occur to me until years later.
The traditional medical answer to my situation was to run me through two scanners, do a bunch of blood tests, and then prescribe a pharmaceutical.
The alternative medical answer given to me by a naturopath was to diagnose “severe adrenal fatigue” and then refer me to a physician. That’s probably fair.
But then neither the naturopath nor the physician asked any questions about my finances, my support system at home, or anything about my habits, neither sleep nor nutrition nor fitness.
My basic common-sense rule of fitness is now to start with sleeping eight hours a night, drinking at least 64 ounces of water, eating 4 cups of vegetables a day (mostly cruciferous), and track what I’m doing. That way I have records if I need to argue with my doctor about something, like, say, his refusing to order me a COVID test until I gave him a page-long list of my symptoms.
One day, our smartphones will be capable of diagnosing all sorts of things, from heart arrhythmia to eye conditions to parasitic infection. I’m convinced of this. It will be a major revolution in medicine when we don’t have to depend on the opinions of exhausted, distracted doctors, and when we don’t turn to questionable alternatives out of sheer frustration and desperation.
I used to wonder all the time, what comes after hoarding? If someone is able to overcome the desire to hoard, what then? What will their place look like? What will they do instead?
Then I started to realize that the question I was pondering was actually bigger than just hoarding. It’s more about what anyone does after getting rid of any unhelpful state of being.
Procrastination, for example. Debt, for another. Nail biting or smoking, maybe another couple of examples.
Comparing something you are doing to something you would never do can be interesting. It’s a way of thinking of the problem in the third person and getting some distance from it.
I’ve never been a nail biter, so that’s an easy one for me. It looks painful! Why would I do that to myself? On the other hand (haha), I’m not into nail art either. I have a little parrot, and for some reason she is scared of all nail varnishes, even clear. I have no incentive to polish my nails. So for me that is a completely neutral area.
What if I felt about x habit the way I feel about my fingernails? (In other words, nothing much).
I imagine that someone with a nail biting habit might feel really proud to have a pretty manicure and show it off, maybe with a new ring to flash. Visualizing those enviable tips might be enough motivation to stay focused and get rid of the habit.
Why annoy myself when I could be living the dream?
Dream of what?
A nice manicure, running a marathon, saving a bunch of money...
Dot dot dot
What if you’re stuck on trying to visualize something nice, but you have no idea what you want?
Going back to hoarding, I have had successes. I’d say it’s about fifty-fifty whether people leave it behind as though it never happened, or whether they are so caught up in the glory of piles of dusty old moldy old stuff that they immediately start up again.
The two things that seem to keep the success stories motivated are 1. Having people over to visit and 2. Art.
It turns out that a lot of hoarders actually have fantastic taste!
One of the funniest things to me is that my people will have a beautiful prize item carefully wrapped up and hidden in a closet or in storage. Their favorite and most valued items are not on display. You’d never guess because what actually *is* on display is a drift of unopened mail or swathes of dirty laundry.
It takes a bit of convincing to get my people to reveal these hidden treasures. Then I ask, why not hang this up? Why not put it where you can see it and enjoy it every day? I’ll help you.
Sometimes there’s a basic design decision. Where should it go?
Decisions are sticky for a lot of people. They don’t like deciding on anything, from what to eat to what music to play, and they especially don’t want to feel stuck with the results of a decision like pounding a nail into a wall and then wishing it was somewhere else instead.
This is where having an extra, neutral party around can be so helpful.
Just say, How about over here? Hold it up - usually it’s a framed picture or a mirror - and if they shake their head, try it in another spot. It takes five minutes. Step two, hang it up, and step three, effusive compliments.
Once the magic object is in place, the rest of the room seems to come together quickly. The eye is drawn upward. The addition of the art piece makes the other nice features of the room, like the light fixtures or the window frames, stand out more. It also makes the remaining clutter look tawdry, more out of place than it did before.
There is a complication in adding art to the room. That is that while my people tend to have good taste in art, they don’t necessarily have good design sense. They will want to keep an item because it is beautiful, and another item because it is also beautiful, and yet those items look terrible next to one another. It’s an unconscious attempt to replicate a thrift store.
Another thing that many of my people have in common is that every single thing they own has a pattern. Tapestry mixed with floral mixed with paisley mixed with stripes and on and on. It is almost impossible to pull off this look and have it make aesthetic sense.
Ah, but this can be a form of rebellion. My people do not like to be told that there are “rules.” They hear a disapproving, critical voice all the time and one of the ways they shut it up is to act on impulse. I do what I want!
It is entirely likely that, given a few dozen interior design photos, one of my people will reject them all. They are simply too ordinary.
I have a suspicion that most of my people actually do have a hidden design vision. If they were able to afford it or put it into effect, they would almost instantaneously start keeping their rooms orderly.
Something to take pride in, something to show off!
(I also think it can be a great form of revenge for all the critics. Anyone in the family who ever said you were lazy or messy can simply eat their words at this point).
What I try to tell my students is that when you walk into your home, the feeling you should feel is: Ahhh! A deep relaxation that drops your shoulders and makes you breathe deep. Home at last. Your home should be a place where you can restore your energy and truly be yourself.
Possibly what it will take to feel this way is to have the surroundings match your internal vision. Let the outsides match the insides so that the insides can match the outsides.
What does your dream room look like? Is it different than any room that ever was?
It’s my COVID-versary. A year ago today, I was exposed.
This is a big deal to me, because last year I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to live.
I spent days gulping air. I had episodes of tachycardia that would leave me thinking, Well, this is it, I guess this is what it feels like...
But then these episodes faded away and started happening less often, and gradually I realized that I probably would not die. At least not that day.
Not that week.
I was deathly ill for three weeks, had a secondary respiratory infection, and then got bacterial pneumonia a couple months later. Between spring and summer I had two rounds of antibiotics and an inhaler.
Now it’s been a year since I was exposed. My heart still sometimes starts hammering for no discernible reason. I did, though, finally advance to level 3 on my breath trainer.
I still have skin problems, I’m still carrying the ten pounds I gained while I was sick, and I still can’t work out more than two days a week. Not that I haven’t tried, just that if I go for a third day I wind up with a debilitating headache for the next day or two.
On the weekends I rely on a three-hour nap. On average. Last weekend I lost 4.5 hours of the middle of my Saturday.
I am tired almost all the time.
It feels like I aged ten years in a month, and that hasn’t really improved.
On the other hand, I am still quite glad to be alive. The novelty hasn’t worn off.
As the death toll climbs from this pandemic, I keep thinking, that could have been me. I could easily have been one of those statistics.
I know people who have died of COVID, or have been hospitalized, or lost a parent or a spouse to it. People at my work have caught it and died, or have been out on disability for months.
This is part of why it’s so hard to believe that there are people out there still questioning whether COVID-19 is “real.” It’s like being in a different universe, going down some kind of wormhole and coming back and finding out Henry Ford was president or something.
This attitude is so common. For instance, nobody in our apartment building wears a mask in common areas, including the elevator. On the rare occasions when I venture out to take out the trash or pick up our mail, heads turn and everyone stares at me. I may well be the only person they ever see wearing two masks and a face shield.
Fortunately I don’t care what people think. I’d rather look like a dork and be the last one alive than bow to peer pressure and die on a gurney in a hallway, or in an ambulance circling the hospital parking lot.
I know from experience. When I got COVID, I had no idea I had been exposed for over two weeks. Nobody thought to call me. There was no contact tracing being done. None of the symptoms I had were on the official list at the time, and the symptoms I had were not considered to be connected to COVID.
My doctor had me tested for syphilis rather than believe that COVID can cause neurological symptoms. When that connection was confirmed by the medical journals months later, it’s not like I got a formal apology or anything.
A year later, it’s not like I’m enrolled in a study. Nobody has sent me any kind of questionnaire or asked for blood samples or had me do any scans or a fitness test.
Nobody is asking.
Therefore my data are evaporating into personal experience, rather than informing the understanding and treatment of this disease which bears no resemblance to “the flu.”
What I would like is for my experience to help someone in some way. Whether that is convincing people to keep social distancing, to regard an afflicted acquaintance with more sympathy, to take epidemiology more seriously, or to feel grateful to be alive, it would help me to know that this could be a learning experience for someone, somewhere.
My experience has been better than that of millions of other people. I did not die. I did not kill my husband when I brought the virus home. Neither of us lost our jobs or our apartment. We did not have to work long shifts in a hospital, watching our patients and colleagues die.
I did not have to go through the confusing realization that something I thought was a hoax is all too real. Fortunately for my mental state, I understood that the coronavirus is real from the very beginning.
This is important because there are no guarantees. There will be another pandemic, almost certainly within our lifetimes. It may or may not be from an entirely different family of viruses. There are going to be three groups of people: those who react quickly to take precautions, the science deniers, and then those who are not sure what to believe and continue to do nothing other than wait for more information.
My husband and I are firmly in the group that will react quickly. We are keeping our masks. I will probably wear a mask in the airport and on planes or trains for the rest of my life.
The world is starting to perk up again. Immunization is happening. I know several people who have already had both their shots, and more who are waiting for their appointment. Our turn will come.
The virus has changed me. I am more likely to take action in general now. I speak up more often about more things. Yet I’m also more tired and physically drained by small things. This has made me feel more strongly about the importance of my future plans, yet also more hesitant to feel like I can physically carry them out.
I wish I could tell everyone, everything in life is a bigger deal than we ever realized. Take the time now. Tell people how you feel. Get stuff done. Engage with the present moment because the next one isn’t promised. Don’t wait for a life-threatening experience to convince you of this. Convince yourself.
Be safe and take care of each other.
I was inspired by a question in James Clear’s newsletter this week: “What 6-month period of your life was the most energizing and fun?”
Huh. I have no idea.
I turned and asked my husband. Huh. He sat back and did not have a quick answer.
We happened to have our Toastmasters meeting, and I decided I would have to ask the group. Most of us have been meeting every week for a few years now, and we know each other fairly well, but I didn’t have the faintest inkling what my club friends would have to say about this.
Six months, you say? The most energizing and fun?
If you’re a Toastmasters geek, this is something that we do sometimes when nobody has a prepared speech. We do an “extended Table Topics” of 3-5 minutes, and everyone answers the same question. Everyone gets a chance to speak and we skip the individual evaluations.
The meeting flowed smoothly, as I asked who wanted to go first, and after one person spoke, someone else would feel moved to take a turn. Nobody competed and there was no dead air.
Preparing for a mid-life wedding with the adult children as the wedding party.
Preparing for a friend’s wedding, only to meet his future bride during the ceremony.
Preparing for an international adoption.
Childhood travels to visit family all over the country.
A winning football season.
Being a college student in a filthy apartment, eating junk food, and having fun, not even realizing the responsibilities of being a husband, father, and business owner that would come. (That one was pretty funny).
What struck me, listening to everyone else’s stories, was how much they all revolved around relationships and a state of anticipation.
Who has been feeling that lately? The anticipation of being able to socialize with people we haven’t seen in a long time?
The thing about choosing a six-month period is that it might involve a string of events, but it also might incline someone to pass over some of the biggest highlights of life. Something significant and exciting might happen as a flash in an otherwise humdrum time.
Six months can be a long time.
I racked my brain.
You’d think that someone would have chosen a point in childhood, like learning to walk or ride a bike, or learning to read!
Strangely, though, the moments that are probably most exciting to our parents as we grow from infants to accomplished little kids, the moments that fill our early photo albums, are most likely to be times that we take for granted.
The times we learn the most and physically change the fastest, meh. Not so interesting.
I had a suspicion, going into the meeting, that nobody was going to pick childhood, and I was right.
It was also compelling to hear people speak on these topics after having met them in the context of work. These are people with advanced degrees, patents, and academic publications in some cases. I happen to know that a couple of them have been commended for pretty impressive stuff. But nobody talked about that type of success.
Do we not think of our professional or academic accomplishments as “energizing” or “fun”?
I was still quizzing myself about what six-month period I would choose, when a last-minute guest popped in just in time and used the last speaking slot. We were out of time, and it was my privilege as toastmaster to hand over the lectern and escape without sharing my answer.
Then I thought, well, I shall ask my readers. Why suffer this question alone? Perhaps the lot of you will spend the weekend mulling it over.
When, indeed, was the six-month period of your life that you would describe as the most exciting and fun?
I passed over college. The time when I was writing my final history paper was pretty exciting and fun, but then, my roommates had to short-sell their house and I was technically homeless for a couple months, and in that time I also got a nasty respiratory infection and coughed up blood. That actually looks more dramatic in print than it felt at the time! It was, though, a heady mixture of intense stress mixed in with the fascination of researching my topic.
I passed over the time I started dating my husband, although I think that time period came close to meeting the six-month mark. That was when I moved into the first apartment I had to myself in many years, and the crack-smoking parolee moved in upstairs, and I quit sleeping and my hair fell out.
I passed over the time I was training for my marathon, because actually I overtrained and blew out my ankle and had to quit running for a couple years. Then I thought maybe I’d pick 2011 or 2012, when I was running in the regional park by our house all the time and feeling quite fit. But our social life was sort of a mess at the time, and that’s a lot of what I was thinking about those days.
I settled on the summer of 2019, when I was finishing my DTM and campaigning for my election, we went to World Domination Summit, moved to our new apartment, went on two international trips, and had a housewarming party. At the end of that six-month period, we visited my family for Christmas - and little did I know, that remains the last time I’ve seen them. It was the last normal six months.
That’s why this was such a nice topic for everyone to speak about at our meeting. We were all able to cast backward with nostalgia and come up with happier times. Everyone softened, and what we remembered were parties and group photos and road trips and plane rides and planning, planning unencumbered with worry.
There’s something instructive in choosing for ourselves, out of our own experience: what six-month period was the most... energizing? Fun? Some other characteristic or qualifier that is meaningful to you? It tells you something about yourself.
For my own life, I have realized that I seem to have a preference for times of transition, times when I am working really hard on some big challenge and I’m about to level up. Not the time of accomplishment, not basking in the results of whatever big project, but the strenuous uphill phase.
What is it for you? If you had trouble choosing, is there anything that your bright windows of life had in common?
What would it take to create similar conditions in the future?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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