April 10, 2013

You Can't Finance Energy

Illustration by Tim Bower, originally published with this article in Vanity Fair.
Well if that doesn't look like the way I feel on the inside most days....

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar to you:
It's morning (or lunchtime or afternoon or the middle of the night during an insomnia spree or basically any time of day), and you want nothing more than to lie in bed a while longer.  Not because you're comfortable - in fact, you may be in pain.  But because getting up requires moving your body and that requires energy and you don't have any.

But you do it; you get up.  You have to.  You have a child to get off to school, a friend to meet, a boss waiting for a presentation, and you have to get up.  Furthermore, after you slog your way through a morning routine and are able to leave the house, you have to smile, pay attention, join in conversation, solve problems, and navigate other interactions in this world of ours which all require - you got it - energy.  How are you supposed to do something with nothing?

What's that?  A resounding chorus of "YES, THAT'S MY LIFE"?  Thought so.

Which of course means the next part will sound familiar too.  The way so many of us get through this is by doing what I call "financing energy", but I don't think this is a very good idea.

When we say we're going to "finance" something like a car, house, or even an education, we mean we're going to borrow money for the purpose of making a major purchase and pay it back over time.  We agree to give up a smaller amount of our money each month for a period of time so we can have something bigger & better right now.  Usually, at least if we do it right, we first consider how much we can handle giving up each month to make sure we don't "over extend" ourselves and if we were right, this works just fine.

The problem is that energy doesn't work that way.  You could say that we give up some money to get energy when we buy and consume coffee, energy drinks, even high-sugar items, or any  other device or trick we can buy that results in what appears to be energy.  But in the end, the only way to pay back energy is with energy.  You can't trade money for it.  If you use this energy now, you won't have it later - and furthermore, you can't spread out that "cost", you have to pay it all back right away which means you won't have any energy left for other things for a while.

Oh and the way we pay interest on purchases we finance?  Where we pay a little extra in total for the luxury of spreading out the expense?  Our bodies didn't forget that either.  If you expend more energy that you really should have used, you won't just be out of energy tomorrow, you'll feel worse than you started today.

Financing energy is a dangerous, if common, practice.  It almost always ends in the bodily equivalent of foreclosure...or one might say, forceclosure.  (I know, I'm slipping into Jen Pun Land, but this one's actually pretty logical.)  An attempt to obtain more energy now than you should have will probably result in a total loss of all energy for a period of time and cause you some level of suffering.  So, we have to find alternatives.

Obviously, the best solution would be to space out tasks to respect your energy limits (much like credit card limits in this case), but this is obviously difficult at best.  If this can't be done, we can try some less ideal options that might still save us the pain and regret later.  A difficult but effective solution is to learn to say "no".  No, I can't run that errand today.  No, I won't be attending that event this time.  No, you will need to wait for us to go over that.  It's a fine line, because sometimes saying no leaves us feeling controlled by our diagnosis but it's really the other way around, we're in control because saying no now means we'll be able to say yes to things later!  We have to remind ourselves, and each other, and those around us, that it's ok to sometimes say "I will be happy to do that tomorrow" or "please let me know next time that comes up".  We fear missed opportunities, perhaps even more than the average person.  But when we take out the energy loan we can't pay back, all we really do is guarantee ourselves a whole lot more missed experiences.

Instead, let's build a new "bank" for ourselves, where we make deposits - running an extra errand on days we have some extra time, doing favors for others when we can so we don't feel bad for asking them to return them later, or even strengthening our foundations by doing things to make ourselves healthier through diet, exercise, and proper rest.  Let's create a culture where "saving" is good; where reserves are built up before they are drawn down, and where balance is valued.  We are not the USA; we do not have a national debt and cannot print money.  Just like our society is realizing across the country (and globally), it's time to make a habit of living within our means.

Ironically, as I was about to hit publish on this entry I saw the following post on Facebook.  Seems I'm not the only one with this train of thought today!


  1. oddly my energy works quite differently. Some days I have " almost" my regular old allotment and can get seemingly massive amounts of task completed. I don't awake worse the next day for it and in fact these energy highs often last a week or longer. Then one day whilst sitting watching birds fly after taking a nap I have such low energy the thought of having to pull my intercostal muscles in to facilitate breathing seems monumental. It is just gone.I know at this point NOT to push or expect much until it passes.
    Such a puzzlement. Taking it "easy" during my good energy times in no extends them- I have experimented and found that keeping active seems to extend them.Once the low comes however I will tire very easily and just have to wait it out.


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