A day without spoons
When I asked my rheumatologist a few years ago about the fatigue I’d experienced since developing my arthritis, he told me that it wasn’t related. In the new Arthritis Research UK leaflet on PR, it says that fatigue can accompany a flare, but that you are symptom free in between. My own experience, and that of others with PR, does not echo either my rheumatologist’s statement or the Arthritis PR leaflet. Here’s my description of what a day without spoons (energy) is like:
A day without spoons can come without warning. Sometimes it seems understandable — I’d done too much the day before – whatever too much means. But it’s not always as simple as that. If it was as simple as exerting myself too much, not sleeping enough or working too long and too hard, I’d have a day without spoons every two or three days. My morning Zumba classes would be off the menu for good and I’d have to cut down the time spent sat at the computer. But it’s not as simple as that. The spoonless day is as mysterious as the flares that typify my palindromic rheumatism and as variable and unpredictable. It comes out of the blue, often without warning, and then just disappears, just as mysteriously and often as quickly too.
It’s not always clear when I wake up how many spoons I’m going to have. Sometimes I know immediately. My head feels heavy and both mind and body feel as though they’re stuck in the deepest part of sleep even though I know I’m awake. Those are the kinds of days where it can take me two hours to muster up the mental or physical energy to leave my bed. Those are the days when I’m thankful for J who will bring me breakfast without complaint and a coffee to try and chase off the remnants of sleep. By that point, however, I know that it’s pretty much too late for me. There’s no point trying to get out of bed or to plan to do anything. There are no spoons and that’s how it is.
Other days, I don’t realise the scarcity of the spoon situation til I’ve been up a while. It’s sort of like my mind and body are on automatic. I get up and breakfast and have a coffee, and meditate (my general morning routine) and sometimes I even get as far as doing something or leaving the house before I realise I’m not quite right. In fact, I’m far from right. My legs, the ones with the power, muscle and energy to get me from home to town on my bicycle, the legs that are happy to dance for an hour to Zumba with enthusiasm and verve suddenly feel as weak as someone who hasn’t got out of bed for a month. Walking isn’t as easy as putting one foot in front of the other but is a supreme effort, like walking through treacle or heavy mud up to my knees or even my waist (though I’ve no actual first-hand experience of either). It’s like walking at altitude (and that IS something that I have experience of), when it just feels that the oxygen is not getting to the muscles to give them the fuel to work properly.
And then there’s what happens to my brain. Usually pretty quick and alert, I’m suddenly rendered pretty much incapable of forming a sentence or making a decision. I can spend ages searching for the right word, trying to pull it out of the fog clouding my memory and eventually give up as the searching is using spoons I do not have. Justin will ask me a simple question – such as whether I want a drink or what might I want to eat. I understand the question but I cannot seem to access an answer. Deciding or working out what I might want, again, uses spoons I simply do not have. I honestly do not know. Coffee is nice. I enjoy the taste, but it doesn’t give me spoons I don’t have. Often these symptoms are accompanied by a sore throat, though it isn’t always the case.
Having no spoons is like having flu. Getting out of bed to go to the toilet is an effort. I feel light headed and weak and it takes me a while to recover from the short walk from room to room. The fatigue is so overwhelming that it, in itself, is almost painful. Thinking takes spoons. Sometimes, sitting up takes spoons. I just want to close my eyes and sleep, but I know that sleep won’t restore spoons when there are none to be had that day.
On a spoonless day I know that there is nothing for it than to give in and be ‘ill’. There’s no point forcing anything or wishing it was any different. Some days are just like that. Then I’ll go to sleep at the end of the day, sleep a full night and wake up the morning. “Are they back!?” I will wonder to myself. Standing up, I realise that I have not come down with a flu or got a virus. The sore throat is gone and I feel completely normal.
My spoons are back to ‘normal’ levels again. It’s not even a partial return of spoons, but I’ve got the full complement again . My muscles have enough oxygen to work properly and my brain knows how to find the words it needs to form a sentence. The difference for me between a no spoons day and another day is pretty dramatic. And, unlike a flu or an actual virus, there is no recovery period. It’s as if the day before had never happened, and I’m back to normal again.
Thankfully the days without any spoons AT ALL aren’t that common. And they don’t always tie in with a flare– in fact, they very rarely do. There is often no flare, pain or inflammation at all. But they are part of my PR, and part of the experience of lots of others with this weird and mysterious illness. They need to be taken seriously by the medical profession as one of the symptoms of PR and need to be understood by others that it’s not just like feeling a bit tired or worn out. It’s more than that. Much more.