The middle-age update post

I really had no intention of posting an update on some of the middle-age ailments I’ve written about before. But I keep getting questions about them, some by email. Because of ailment number one below, I just can’t respond at length to each email. So, here goes. You asked for this. (No, not all of you. If you didn’t, just stop reading.)

1. Arms: Backstory here. For work, and a little bit for non-work, I spend a lot of time with my hands on a keyboard, to say nothing of my face in a screen. Because I have to manage the tendinitis in my arms (see backstory), I can’t write as much email or other things as I used to or even want to. I just can’t. It hurts. This is also one reason why, more than I used to, I prefer to talk to people than to correspond back and forth by email. So, I’m not responding to your email unless I have to. It’s not you, it’s me.

2. Feet: Backstory here. It’s not plantar fasciitis. It was, as it turns out, never plantar fasciitis. But because I wrote a lot about plantar fasciitis, in part because every doc told me it was plantar fasciitis, people think I had/have plantar fasciitis. I do not have, and never have had, plantar fasciitis. (Yeah, I know I just wrote plantar fasciitis seven times in five sentences, including this one.)

Let’s do a little Q&A:

Q: So, what was/is it?

A: Nobody knows. It’s not important that we know what it is though.

Q: How do you know it was/is not plantar fasciitis?

A: See backstory. None of the data fit. None of the treatments for plantar fasciitis worked. Everything that worked was the opposite of plantar fasciitis advice. It’s not plantar fasciitis. Stop thinking it was.

Q: So what works?

A: Not wearing shoes, particularly not wearing structured shoes (with arch support), or shoes that get all snuggy around my heals. I’ve been barefoot about 98% of the time since the pandemic. When I wear something on my feet, it’s usually sandals or crocs. Even in New England winters, you can do almost anything in the right sandals and waterproof socks. Gradually, I’ve been able to tolerate shoes by Xero. After some years of this, and other things, I’m largely cured.

Q: What other things?

A: Massage (not just of my feet but of trigger points in my legs), toe stretches (look up “Yoga Toes”), and feet strengthening, but also rest.

Q: Whoa, that’s confusing. How do you strengthen and rest?

A: We do this all the time with other body parts. Nobody strengthens their biceps all the time, for example. You strengthen and you rest.

I rest when my feet hurt. I avoid things that make them hurt. Standing hurts more than walking. Walking on concrete hurts more than walking in the woods or on sand. I just do what feels better in every situation. I really work hard at avoiding a lot of standing. It’s awful. Stop standing around at parties for hours. Sit down a little!

But, also, when my feet can take it, I use them. I walk, preferably in ways that use the muscles hard (on sand, on hikes in the woods, not on concrete). I do balancing exercises that strengthen the feet, among other foot strengthening exercises. If you’re interested, look them up. I don’t need to explain them. I can’t tell you exactly what will work for you. If you need foot strengthening, do some trial and error to figure out what feels right to you and do some. Do less when they hurt.

Q: So, basically, you stopped listening to doctors and started listening to your body, right?

A: Yup. This wasn’t a quick cure, but I am largely cured. It’s management, just like my arms. No big deal now.

3. Sleep. Backstory here. (See also, this post.) For nearly three years, I’ve had a poorly understood, barely researched, super rare, sleep movement disorder — a sleep myoclonus. You almost certainly have not heard of it, don’t know what it is, and don’t have it. But if you think you do, the backstory post tells you how to find some support. If you want to study it, contact me. There are people desperate for studies, though fortunately not many (people that is — we’re desperate for as many (good) studies as you are willing to do).

It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to deal with, and I will most likely be dealing with it for years to decades, if not the rest of my life.

I am now expert on sleep hygiene and sleep aids of all types. I have to be. With very high confidence I can say that there is no generic sleep advice out there that I have not seen. I have several specialists to help me, but they don’t know a lot about this either. Nobody does.

Most days are fine. I’ve had months of fine. But there are stretches that can last up to a few weeks that are really hard. It has changed me. Apart from the weeks when I’m very sleep deprived, I’m not necessarily “worse” than I was before I had this. I’m just different. My strengths and limitations are different. What I want to do is different. How I prefer to engage with people is different. My body’s temperature regulation is different. It’s all just different.

I’ve gotten really frustrated with this condition, really sad, really angry. But these feelings are not the norm and pass quickly. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I’m unhappy. I’m probably just as happy as anyone else.

I’ve learned a lot about myself and what exacerbates my condition. I cannot take on as much stress as I used to. Life and work has to be slower. I can do a lot, but just not as much. That’s fine. I was probably doing more than a normal amount before. I’m OK with normal.

After all, I am 50. Slowing down is fine. It’s good for my arms and feet too.

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