Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed
Barbara Jaurequi, MS, LMFT, MAC
FYI: the title of this post is merely a metaphor which won’t even be referenced until well into the writing. But I loved the title so I went with it. Read on.
I find myself thinking a lot about recklessness this afternoon. Perhaps it’s because I am laid up in bed on a beautiful summer afternoon with my foot propped up two feet above my heart. My fully casted foot is in this odd position because it was operated on two days ago. The surgery was necessary to reattach my severed Achilles tendon which I likely injured because of reckless decisions which I will later reveal. Yup, in my solitude, I’m thinking a lot about recklessness today.
Let me explain.
I am not what some might refer to as a “fit” person. I’m not fat, but I’m NOT fit. I don’t much care for formal exercise and I can’t stand the gym (P.U.!). I’m pretty vocal about my distaste for exercise and am inwardly defiant when I tell myself I must start moving about. HOWEVER, I am VERY competitive and if I’m going to play a sport (one that is typically recognized as “exercise”) I’m going to play all out. I don’t go easy on children or senior citizens. I play to win.
Well, a few days ago, I found myself in a competitive game of “Two-Square” with my younger brother. Elementary school-aged children are most familiar with this game but, for the adults reading this post, I will describe it. It’s exactly like tennis but for the following: 1) there is no net; 2) the ball is as big as a soccer ball; 3) you hit the ball with your hands, not a racket; and 4) the “court” is about a third of the size of a tennis court.
I am GREAT at Two-Square!!
I am not great at any sport other than Two-Square.
I don’t much like playing any sport other than Two-Square.
I only play Two-Square once in a while. Games begin spontaneously, they are not planned. I usually play on my back patio and my regular opponents are my 11-year old daughter, my 50-year old husband, my 43-year old brother, and my 68-year old mother.
BAD DECISION # 1: I never “warm up” to play Two-Square or to engage in any other physical activity.
I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on how I came to sustain a brutal sports injury when I’m not a sport of any kind; not even a good sport. I’ve boiled it down to one simple truth: I’m reckless.
BAD DECISION # 2: Given my age, my level of fitness (none), my tendency to over-do most everything I do, and another known but yet unmentioned variable (namely my extremely-fit-younger-brother’s equally competitive nature), I should have been more careful. He and I had already played two games. Before that I had played four other games in succession. It was hot outside and I was tired.
BAD DECISION # 3: When my brother challenged me to “one more game”, my ego demanded that I accept his challenge. So I did. I have come to recognize that decision as pure recklessness. Before we started the game, I remember thinking to myself that I should sit this one out but my reckless, ego-driven nature would not allow me to pass up an opportunity to win another game, regardless of my fatigue and “out-of-shapeness”. Of course I didn’t realize the sort of risk I was assuming when I stepped onto my square, but the point is that I did realize I was taking an unnecessary risk for no good reason and I simply didn’t care. Sure enough, even though nothing like this had ever happened before, this time my luck ran out: my risk did not pay off with a positive gain. I severed my right Achilles tendon.
When my Achilles snapped, I didn’t know what happened. I went down in a heap, writhing in pain. I got through the next 20 hours with lots of Advil and ice packs and by crawling, hopping, and lying down whenever possible. The next day, when the orthopedic surgeon confirmed that I needed surgery, I felt like I got hit in the face with a brick.
I won’t be able to drive for 10 weeks. I’ll be in a cast for at least 8 weeks. The pain is terrible. The disruption to my family’s routine is immeasurable. And the inconvenience to me personally is draining, depressing, and humbling to say the least.
So where does the “Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed” title fit into all this? Now I’m gonna tell ya.
It was a metaphor that came to me when working with a client the week before my accident occurred. One of this client’s goals is to get physically fit so (between appointments with me FYI) she signed up for an exercise boot camp. She described this program to me and I was horrified at the intensity of what she had to do just to keep up with the group. It was so punishing; so unbelievably intense; especially for someone who was just beginning to exercise formally!! This program was so grueling that it was causing my client to vomit during and after the workouts. I had to ask her why it was necessary for her to engage in such a torturous activity. I knew the answer before I asked the question: she’s reckless. But her answer was a superficial reason: “My friend was doing it and asked me to do it with her; since I had no other fitness plan in mind, I said okay.” (By the way, my client’s friend is reportedly in fantastic shape and exercises all the time.) It was at this point that I came up with the “Sleeping in the Middle of the Bed” metaphor.
I asked my client which side of the bed she sleeps on and she said it was the right side (her husband sleeps on the left side). I asked her if she’d ever rolled off her bed. She said she has never rolled off her bed. Ever. She further assured me that even when she had tossed and turned all night long she had never fallen out of her bed. I asked her to imagine that she had to climb a ladder to get to her bed because the mattress was 20 feet above the floor. I asked her to describe how she might feel in a bed that high off the ground. She immediately indicated that she would be terrified. I asked how she might cope with her anxiety were she in such a situation. She said she would sleep as close to the center of the bed as possible. That’s when I reminded her that she had never ever fallen out of bed. If she didn’t fall off her bed when it was three feet off the ground, why would she fall off if the bed was 20 feet off the ground? We decided that while the likelihood of her rolling out of the highly placed bed was extremely remote, it was still possible. My client could safely sleep on the right side of her bed if it was only three feet off the ground because she probably wouldn’t get hurt if she fell out. But at 20 feet in the air, sleeping near the edge of the bed was an unnecessary risk; “reckless” you might say.
This boot camp thing my client is (hopefully “was” at this point) doing is like sleeping on the edge of the bed at 20 feet off the ground; maybe with one leg dangling off the bed at that. It is so high risk; she’s in her late 40s and has other health issues to consider including debilitating migraine headaches that can easily be brought on by stress (and this program is beyond stressful; the instructors scream at the group members if they make a mistake). The amount of running my client has to do each day could easily cause a stress fracture, and the weight bearing exercise could very likely tear muscles that might not ever fully heal at her age and fitness level. FYI – most people in her boot camp group are in their 20s. If she was in her 20s, she’d probably get away with the fact that she wasn’t in shape when she began the program; her bed would be 3 feet off the ground in that case. But in her late 40s, boot camp places her bed a minimum of 20 feet in the air and she’s riding the right edge at top speed. This client is very stubborn (maybe that’s why I like her so much) and refuses to quit anything she starts. Her spirit is willing (good) but her flesh is probably as weak as mine was when I bit the dust earlier this week (bad). I really hope she doesn’t get hurt.
The work I did with my boot-camp client, in conjunction with the facts pertaining to my unfortunate accident, forced me to recognize my own foolish resistance to sleeping in the middle of the bed (i.e., my refusal to exercise or to at least maintain a modicum of physical fitness over the years was silly and proved to be stupid). Given the severity of what has happened to me, and knowing that being in shape is the best insurance against the sort of accident I had, playing as hard as I did without being in shape or at least warming up my muscles with some stretches was reckless. Just because I had never before hurt myself during spontaneous physical exertion, did not mean it could not happen. As it turned out, it did happen. I had never fallen out of bed in my life but, in choosing to sleep on the edge of the bed, I fell out while it was 20 feet in the air.
I now realize that ignoring the reality that my body is aging is foolish and irresponsible. I simply cannot do the things I used to be able to do on a whim without risking serious injury. My current injury is causing inconvenience, worry and disappointment to my family members, my friends, and my clients whose appointments I had to cancel this coming week. At 46 years of age and counting, I have to face the fact that self-neglect is immature, selfish, and reckless and it doesn’t jive with who I want to be. Once I finish this post I am going to “Google” seated exercise routines and begin one as soon as I am able. I plan to come out of this ordeal in better shape than I was when it began.
The next few weeks will give me plenty of time to think about the consequences of my inactivity over the last several years. And since I will be doing the majority of my thinking in my bedroom with my foot two feet above my heart, I have shifted myself to the middle of the bed. Good for me.
It seems that I am constantly confronted by the “fact” that I must reduce my stress load or I am at risk for developing or exacerbating health problems of all kinds. Furthermore, without self-intervention to reduce my stress, I am also at risk for career burnout, relationship problems, and psychological misery. Based on the glut of information I’ve read and heard about the horrors of stress-related-problems, I’m pretty worried (i.e., stressed).
Over the last few years I’ve seen hundreds of articles devoted to the topic of stress (in magazines, newspapers, and scientifically based medical and psychological journals) and watched tons of news programs that feature “Stress Reduction Experts” who describe and explain (ad nauseam) the dangers of living with stress. People (me?) must be awfully interested in stress as a topic; maybe it’s hip to be stressed out.
Frankly, hip or not, I’m sick of being so damn aware of my stress load and how vital it is that I reduce it. I’ve grown weary on the subject of Stress. I GET IT: STRESS IS BAD!!! According to the research I’ve seen, if I don’t reduce my stress (and fast) I’ll probably get cancer and die before my time.
I “Googled” Stress Related Illnesses and here are the top 10 per WebMD.com:
Other frequently identified stress-related-disorders included Panic Attacks, Eating Disorders, Skin Disorders, Systemic Infections and Cancer.
Lists like these make me believe that pretty much everything that is wrong with me, was wrong with me, or will be wrong with me is, was or will be related to my stress.
By the way, if one more doctor or “healthcare professional” tells me that exercise is the cure for stress, I’m going to kick-box him or her right in the mouth.
Stress is caused by internal conflict, not love handles. If I’m stressed it’s because I don’t want to be doing whatever it is I’m doing or I don’t want to feel whatever it is I’m feeling. The trick to managing stress is in being able to first discern between what is in my power to change and what is beyond my control. Secondly, if I am disturbed by a problem that I can actually fix, I must have the courage to fix it. Thirdly, if I am experiencing a problem over which I have no control, I must accept it.
The famous Serenity Prayer teaches the solution to stress in the simplest terms: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. This simple prayer is probably the greatest stress-management tool of all time. Memorize it and then trash all those articles and books about stress because the 25 words of the Serenity Prayer will teach you all you need to know about stress management.
I hear breathing helps too.