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Do You Know How Much Energy NOT Doing Something Can Take?

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Before I became ill with ME/CFS at age 21, I had never considered how much energy we use not doing things.

We all know that our daily activities require certain amounts of energy, even for healthy people. We all have different amounts of “baseline” energy, that energy that we start the day with and is available to us to use however we wish to accomplish the jobs we need to get done. We know that our baseline energy can be affected by things like a late night getting to bed, a bad night’s sleep, not drinking enough water, or not getting enough nutrients in our food. And we all have a choice in how we spend our energy, what we use it to accomplish.

In fact, there’s even a metaphor chronically ill people use to explain it called “spoon theory.” Spoon theory is the idea that we start the day with a certain amount of “spoons” available to us, and that every daily activity requires differing amounts of spoons to complete. Getting dressed might take two spoons, washing your hair takes three spoons, etc. The kicker is that when you are chronically ill, you start the day with a lot fewer spoons than a healthy person, and so have to pick and choose very carefully what you spend them on!

So we all know that doing things uses energy.

What might not be as well known is that sometimes not doing things takes energy!

What do I mean?

I mean the energy that we use to control our actions, to restrain ourselves from behaving in a certain way, or reacting in a certain way.

For example, you work in customer service and somebody has a go at you for no reason. You may need to restrain yourself from shouting back at them, or maybe after they’ve gone you need to control an urge to cry about what’s just happened.

Or, your children are laughing and playing and generally making a lot of noise! You may need to stop yourself from shouting at them to quiet down or telling them to leave you alone.

Or, your partner has tidied something up, but they haven’t done it just the way you’d like it. You may need to control the urge to redo it yourself risking upsetting them.

There are so many of these little instances that happen throughout the day, and they typically use so little energy that you may not even notice it.

But when living with chronic illness, even these small drains of energy take a lot out of us. And we can find ourselves turning into grumpy, weepy, uncontrolled messes simply because we don’t have the energy to control those emotions or keep them in their proper place. Small annoyances become huge, quiet noises feel like fireworks going off right next to us; minor upsets become a cause for inconsolable crying.

My husband came upstairs the other day to find me in tears, and when he asked me why, all I could respond with was because I didn’t have the energy to not cry! So don’t be too hard on yourself on those days when you’re an extra bit grumpy, a little more intolerant, or less in control of your emotions.

Some days all our energy is being used to survive, and while we recognize that we definitely don’t have enough left over to do things, we may not realize that we don’t even have enough to spare to not do things either.

This story originally appeared on Chronically in Limbo.
Getty image by Olga Strelnikova.

Originally published: March 17, 2022
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