Hello dear friends!
You’ve probably seen those slick-looking rubbery wristbands that everyone seems to be wearing these days. With their little blinking lights, vibrations, and customizable holsters, they are one of the hottest accessories on the market today. You’ll spot them adorning the wrists or belt loops of the bank teller, the grocery clerk, the car salesman…these so-dubbed “wearables” are taking over the world and bridging the divide between biology and technology. Heck, you might even be wearing one right now. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to take it off. I just want to tell you why I don’t have one of my own.
A few years back, I did jump on a deal to get a FitBit at a discount, and wore it faithfully for many months. It was cute and lime green, and being a graphics nerd, I loved the app and personalized site where I could explore my activity and sleep patterns in real time. When I first slapped it on, I got immediately excited to see just how much I was moving around during the day (mind you, with ME/CFS, it wasn’t much) and I felt my undergrad training in exercise science start to bubble to the surface of my brain. But I kept on plugging away (pun intended), thinking that it was going to be a great tool to help me track my sleep quality, since sleep is the #1 thing that affects how I feel every day.
However, after a few weeks, I felt my mindset starting to shift, and not in a positive way. Here are just a handful of observations I made while I had that little blinking wristband on.
1. It was humiliating to have to lower the bar
The first blow you’ll come across, as a chronically ill person, is the inbuilt expectation of a daily goal of 10,000 steps- it’s literally built right in as a default in most fitness trackers. And while that’s awesome for the average healthy person who isn’t quite sure what they should be aiming for, it can really suck for someone like me who can’t even come close to that number even on their best day. Luckily, I finally found out how to change that setting to a more reasonable number, but I definitely let pride get in the way and didn’t set the bar as low as I should have. And as I continued to “fail” day in and day out, it did a number on my self-esteem, as I had to repeatedly lower and lower the bar until it was something that I could actually accomplish. So that sucked, plain and simple.
2. I started pushing myself too hard
Before I had ever slapped on a wearable device, I had taken years to fine-tune my daily routine to fit inside my “energy envelope” and prevent burnout and flare-ups. I knew approximately how much sleep and how much activity I needed in order to keep on functioning, but then the obsessive tracking entered the picture and I started seriously overdoing it. Even after I had lowered the daily goal, it was still a lot for me to handle, but I just couldn’t bring my prideful self to keep lowering it, so I became more active. And for the first day or two, it felt great. I could feel that surge of hope that maybe I could just train my body, be more active, and somehow get better and stronger! Ah, not so much. By pushing myself to meet my electronic goals, I was making myself sicker and weaker instead. The unique joy of having exertion intolerance- the one illness that absolutely cannot be improved by exercise.
3. It created awkward conversations
One of the benefits, in my general opinion, of fitness trackers is that it fosters a healthy community and mutually beneficial competition. Most programs let you invite your friends, set up fitness challenges, and try to outdo each other for the most daily steps or flights climbed. And that’s all great, for healthy peeps (and I mean healthy just in the sense that they don’t have activity-limiting chronic illnesses) to improve their endurance and stay motivated to stick with a health program. But when you are a chronically ill (but normal-appearing) person, the last thing you want to do is “come out” to everyone that you can’t be on their teams or leader boards because you can’t even average half the steps they do on a slow day. Those colorful wristbands can be quite the conversation starter, even with complete strangers, and I hated having to explain myself and my low numbers (if they happened to see them) to people I barely know. It’s hard enough being sick, but add on top of that being introverted, and wearing a popular electronic device, and it’s fresh hell.
4. It made me second-guess myself
I consider myself a pretty intuitive person, and one who is deeply dialed in to her physical body. In general, I can feel when I’ve had enough sleep, too much or too little activity, or whether I’ve eaten healthy food or junk food. And for a while, I was able to trust my own body’s wisdom and signals, and formed a good working relationship just by feelings and sensations alone. But then after a couple of weeks with the tracker on, the intuitive qualitative markers of my wellbeing were transformed into charts and numbers, and it drove a wedge between me and my all-knowing body. I noticed that I started feeling like the numbers said I would. When the charts said I slept well, I felt better the next day, just like when I saw a huge spike in the activity chart, I suddenly felt tired and achy. I think it may be a case of classic suggestive psychology, but whatever it really was, I know that it was taking me away from my innate wisdom and rhythms. Since ditching the wearable, I’ve gotten back in touch with myself and take each day as it comes, without numbers and graphs getting in the way.
5. It made me feel like crap
As you might imagine, all four of things I talked about already combined into a swirling tornado of self-doubt and self-abuse. I wasn’t able to keep up with what I thought I should. I was constantly disappointed in my apparently poor sleep quality. I was making myself sicker by trying to reach goals that weren’t really doable for my physical state. And on top of it all, I was spending way too much of my time charging, uploading, tapping, syncing, and analyzing. It just wasn’t the awesome and empowering tool that so many people said it was. It made me feel lazy, fat, hopeless, and inadequate. And I know those are some strong words!
I also know that my situation is an unusual one, but I think that’s why I felt like I should write this post. It deserves to be put out there in the blogosphere, just in case someone reading this, someone like you, has been less than impressed by these wearable technologies.
And if you happen to be wearing one right now, I simply encourage you to pay close attention to how it makes you feel. Do you find yourself obsessed with numbers and charts, pushing yourself to meet certain goals or deadlines? Are you staying in touch with your own intuition and paying attention to your innate callings? Whether you ultimately decide to leave it on or take it off, it’s worth a little bit of reflection!
Regardless of how society feels about these new fitness trackers, it’s okay to step back and say, “this is not for me!” I know perhaps I’m bucking the system a little bit, but as you’ve already read, I have my reasons for staying out of the trend.
So what about you, friends? Do you have a fitness tracker? What do you think about it? Tell me in the comments below!
And as always…
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~