You know what a keystone is, other than a bad beer and a bad pipeline? It’s the special wedge-shaped center stone in an archway. The integrity of the arch depends on the keystone transferring the stress of a load out and down through the rest of the arch and, ultimately, to the security of the ground. Without a keystone, an arch can’t hold up under stress.
With apologies to any structural engineers who might be reading, this Anti-Inflammatory Challenge has proven to me that people have a keystone, too, of sorts – a way of transferring and appropriately distributing the stress in our lives to something solid that can absorb and diffuse that stress.
For me, that keystone is sleep. Without enough sleep, nothing stays stable and the stress doesn’t melt down into the good earth. When, in the course of this Challenge, I have made my own sleep the biggest priority in my life (as much as possible, with two kids) everything else – the diet, the exercise, the various anti-inflammatory supplements, my mood and my relationships with the most special people in my life – all those things have fallen into place. When I have not aggressively prioritized my own sleep, it has been a struggle to maintain a bare minimum on everything else I’m trying to do, including tend to my own health.
I know people for whom physical activity is their keystone – as long as they get their workout or walk or bike-ride in, everything else is do-able. I’ve known others who needed intense daily social connection and still others who depend on daily social alone time. Some people can keep everything else in their life together as long as they just stay off the booze. Whatever our personal keystone is, it’s holding everything else up, and when it starts to slip or crumble, the remaining archway of relationships and commitments and activities that go into our life becomes far less steady.
I’d like to say this week was smooth sailing and dedicated to tending to my personal health keystone, but frankly, it wasn’t. This past week, sequentially, my son broke a 103-degree fever which progressed into a rather extensive bout of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, my daughter hit 102 and slept for a day, and Homebrew Husband came down with “I feel like hammered crap” and stayed home a day from work. The only member of the immediate family not to fall ill was me.
Nick did as much as he could, but for several days I was on more-or-less 24/7 mama-mattress duty to soothe the little guy, give him the best possible chance for sleep and save the rest of us from the cranky wails that ensued when he wasn’t sleeping. My sleep was most certainly not a priority or even a possibility through much of the week.
During this time, I sat on my ass a lot, baby on shoulder, and drank as much coffee as I could procure with a minimum of movement and tried to write some blog posts. This kind of down time sounds fantastic if you spend most of your day choosing your own motions and physical positioning. When you are denied the ability to get up, walk around, pee when you need to, adjust how you are sitting or standing for hours on end, or accomplish anything at all on your timeline, it gets old pretty fast.
Without my keystone in place, there were a few more chocolate chip stumbles, face-plants into pots of coffee, and I think I may have tripped over a small glass of homebrew as well. Honestly, when you are so sleep deprived you literally cannot get your eyes to focus, avoiding that one bite of granola just seems to lose its criticality.
The biggest thing I’ve learned from this Challenge is the importance of maintaining my sleep keystone. I see how without sleep, I am not able to transfer stresses in my life effectively and I lose my ability to function at my best. I’m an 8 or 9 hour a night girl, not a “perky and rested on 4 hours” type, and this Keystone of Sleep realization worries me, because I am not confident I can arrange my life in such a way as to get those hours of sleep on a semi-consistent basis.
If it’s going to happen, it’ll take some pondering to figure out how. I think I’ll have to sleep on it.
We’re in the final stretch of our Challenge, and I’ll be back for one last Anti-Inflammation wrap-up post at the end of the month, but this is the last post to comment on if you want to be entered to win a copy of The Primal Blueprint, Nourishing Traditions or The Paleo Solution. As a reminder, the winner will be selected at random from all participants who commented on each of the four anti-inflammation posts in this series: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, and this post, Week 4. We’re a tight-knit little group by now, and it will be a pleasure to send one of you the book of your choice just as it’s been a pleasure to have some company through this learning experience.
Now it’s your turn: what is your keystone? What’s the one thing you need to do consistently to perform your best and model the best self-care in your own life, and how will you prioritize your keystone after our Challenge ends?