No Time for Naps

Remember when you were a little kid and your mom made you take a nap in the middle of the day? Remember how you hated it because you just knew you’d miss something while you slept?

Remember in Kindergarten when you and your classmates had to lay down on little mats, and all of you had to take a nap? Remember how you’d fidget through your first experience of time slowing way down and stretching out and out and out on endless school-day afternoons?

Or how about first grade, when the mandatory “nap” meant putting your head down on your arms at your little desk, the one that was the fourth down in the third row? The one where you had to sit in front of the mean boy who teased you during recess …

Naps. I don’t know about you, but I was so glad when I got old enough not to have to take one anymore. In my family, only my mom and dad took naps. Pretty funny, now that I think about it. Mom always fell asleep on the sofa during her afternoon soaps. Not for very long, just maybe 20 minutes or so, but if you mentioned that she’d been napping she’d deny it hotly. Dad didn’t bother denying his naps. He took them on the sofa after work every night, and he took them on Saturday and Sunday afternoons while watching his games on TV. Those were real snorers. If you tried to change the channel so you could watch a movie or something, though, he’d wake up mid-snore. “I was watching that!” he’d bluster.

Right, Dad.

I never needed a nap. All through high school and college, through my first job, my second, and my third, I didn’t nap. Not even on weekends. I was too busy for naps! I didn’t want to waste my precious time off work sleeping. I didn’t nap when I moved to Germany and started working there, either. There was too much fun to have, too many places to visit, too many interesting people to meet. Nap? Me?

And then I got rheumatoid disease.

I didn’t understand much about it, except that it caused terrible, excruciating, disabling joint pain sometimes, and miserably tender, aching feet all the time. I knew it was incurable. I knew the drugs they were giving me for it, in spite of all their nasty side-effects, didn’t work, and that the only ones that did--the opioids--were taboo unless my pain was so bad I couldn’t function at all. I can’t begin to describe how frustrated and angry that made me. I knew my RD might one day disable me permanently, but it hadn’t yet, so I just had to live with it somehow.

I didn’t know that it caused symptoms other than pain and disability. I had no idea the flu-like malaise RD causes was the reason I felt crappy so often. I thought I was just catching bugs all the time. I didn’t know about brain-fog; I put my frequent air-headedness--and my frequent exhaustion--down to the fact that I didn’t get much sleep because of pain.

I didn’t have time to nap. I had a husband, a small daughter, and a Dachshund to take care of. I had a full-time job I loved. I had laundry to do, meals to cook, a flat to keep neat and clean, and groceries to shop for. I was living in a foreign country and loving the sheer differentness and adventure of it all. I just had to keep going, and going, and going …

...until, finally, my RD got so bad I had to make time to rest. To--oh, that hated word!--nap.

During the week I only napped if my pain was so bad I couldn’t go to work. Even then, I only allowed myself an hour or so of horizontal time. Usually, I couldn’t sleep anyway unless I had narcotic pain relievers on hand. Napping made me feel guilty. Everyone else was working or at school. Here I was, napping. What a slug.

There was usually too much to do on weekends for me to nap, but now and then my husband pitched in and did the laundry and handled meals so I could rest. I felt guilty because I wasn’t doing those things myself. He’d worked hard all week! (So had I, but somehow, that didn’t matter…)

I lived for my first 14 years with RD blaming my near constant, bone-deep fatigue on pain, on being busy, and on poor sleep. Fourteen years of feeling guilty if I took a nap. Imagine my surprise when I learned, after having RD for roughly 20 years, that one of its major symptoms is fatigue. That it hits no matter how well you’ve slept, and regardless of your pain level.

The Internet taught me about my disease. I read The Spoon Theory. Nice analogy, I thought, but who with this disease has any spoons to start with? I sure didn’t. I still don’t. I usually start each day feeling tired. I push through the fatigue and I push through the pain, at least as well as I can. I do it cheerfully because that’s how I’m made.

But I’ll admit I don’t push as nearly as hard anymore. My daughter is grown up. I’m self-employed, so I’m not punching a time-clock; I only answer to myself. My retired husband takes care of our house and does his own thing in another town while I live with and take care of my elderly mother, whose health is tottering, day by day.

And finally, just recently, I’ve learned to take a nap and actually enjoy it. Oh, I still don’t go horizontal for very long--an hour, tops, because, well, guilt--but I do it. And guess what? Those spoon-people were right, after all! Getting a little rest and conserving a few spoons does help me get through my day better. And sometimes that daytime nap even helps me sleep better at night. Who knew?

Amazing. All those years, and I was too busy to figure it out.

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