The AMHA Blog Challenge topic for today requires us to watch a video.
I had basically stopped doing the MHAM blog challenges, because so many of them have been about songs (listen to this); or ideas expressed in TED talks (watch this) and I just haven’t had the energy. Watch that, and write a blog on it? No thanks. That’s too much. That one additional step is too much of a deterrent. But today’s video was intriguing (you can click the link above to watch it) in that it was going to address the fact that what seems like laziness, and stubborn inability to change behavior, might be simple exhaustion. My interest was aroused enough to actually watch the video, which ended up describing exactly why I haven’t had the energy to watch most of the blogging challenge prompt videos. How very meta.
In the study discussed in this video, half the people were allowed to eat fresh baked chocolate chip cookies; the other half were told to eat radishes, but the cookies were in front of them too. The radish eaters had to resist the cookies, which looked and smelled delicious. After this exercise, the whole group was asked to complete a difficult (in fact impossible) task. The cookie eaters gave up after 19 minutes. The radish eaters? 8 minutes. Less than half the amount of time the cookie eaters were able to spend. Why? The radish eaters had already expended too much energy resisting the chocolate chip cookies. Their brains were tired. They had already been working hard, and gave up on the impossible task before them way, way sooner. And resisting cookies as part of a study doesn’t even seem that hard.
When suffering from a chronic illness, you are resisting chocolate chip cookies every moment of every day. Literally, for many chronic sufferers don’t or can’t eat gluten or refined sugar; and migraine sufferers often avoid those things as well as chocolate. And figuratively, because every choice we make is shadowed by the prospect of pain. We are either already in pain and exhausted from trying to push forward despite it; or we are anxious about the pain’s imminent arrival. Using Spoon Theory, each spoon we use is at the expense of another. Each choice is weighted. If I do this now, I can’t do that later. If I walk the dog, I can’t take the kids to the pool. If I go to the store now, I might have to retreat to bed for the rest of the day. If I do the dishes, taking Zo to Music Class will be my last spoon of the day and I haven’t spent real time with J in two weeks. If resisting chocolate chip cookies for 10 minutes exhausted those people’s brains, especially when most of them knew they could just get some cookies later, imagine how exhausted the brains of those dealing with chronic illness. Every moment of every day.
And unfortunately, living with chronic illness often means you have to make very important, habit-altering change frequently. Trying a new medication knowing there will be side effects. Attempting a new diet. Starting an exercise program or meditation, yoga or biofeedback. All these require new habits, similar to what Heath described about someone simply changing up their morning routine. And we’re already so. damn. tired.
So after watching the video (which I was glad I took the time to view), I thought to myself, no wonder I don’t clean more. No wonder it is so totally devastating when a doctor gives up on me, or a medication stops working, or a medication I’ve relied on gets taken away. When someone in the health industry doesn’t believe my pain, like C. stating maybe my severe headache last month might have been a drug interaction, rather than just taking me at my word that my pain was that severe. When something else in the house breaks, or when one of the girls gets sick, or when J has a PTSD episode. It is too much. I can’t take it. And it’s not laziness, or weakness. It is simply because living with chronic pain is exhausting already. Every single goddamn day.
The positive lesson I feel we in the Migraine Community can take from this is that we should be kind and forgiving of ourselves and our exhaustion. No more critical thoughts like “Why can’t I just clean my damn house like everyone else?” Yes, a certain number of daily tasks must be completed. But anything out of the ordinary, requiring extra effort, is going to feel very hard. And that’s okay. Because I am not lazy, actually. I’m just exhausted.