The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Energy Levels

I’ve always had a distinct rhythm to the day where energy is concerned.

As a student I realised there were 2 peak times of the day for me: late morning and late evening. If I read in-depth philosophical treatises, or wrote my essays during these times, I could far achieve more than if I spent the whole of the rest of the day in the library. These were the periods of peak brain performance.

When I was running my web design business, I came to accept that afternoons were fine for meeting up with colleagues for conversations and networking, but pointless for planning or strategising. I could function socially, but not in any way that required deep thought.

Click on images for larger versions

And so it was until the Chronic Fatigue took over. My body slowed down. My brain slowed down. Tiredness became a feature of most hours.

But then I rediscovered coffee*. Vile, disgusting, foul-tasting coffee that was almost bearable with a spoonful of sugar. Coffee made me feel alive again. Coffee made me feel “normal.” I would cope with loathsome taste and the mood drops afterwards just so I could experience something other than the Netherworld.

However, I soon realised I would have to restrict myself to no more than 2 cups a day. Coffee was poison. Coffee was a dangerous drug. Coffee had to be controlled.

Eventually I became used to a new energy cycle of peaks and troughs; times of the day I knew should be used when something needed doing, and times it was vital to avoid making appointments with anyone for anything

Note the coffee peaks, although they still don't go that high

Now though, coffee is out of the equation, and I haven’t worked out a way to cope with the day. Only a very small part of it allows me reasonable brain power, while the majority is spent in sort-of-functional or where’s-something-I-can-lie-down-on states of being.

How do I find a way to maximise my minimal usefulness?

How do I find a way to feel alive each day?

*I know this is the 3rd lack-of-coffee related post in a row, but it is a topic I’m still rather obsessed with at the moment. In case you hadn’t guessed…


Anonymous said...

i know very little about nutrition. and even less about CFS. but i'm curious—how is your water intake? are you generally a dehydrated person? i am. i've often been told to drink more water (by doctors, nutritionists, my chiropractor, even my dentist) and have read that it supposedly helps, very much, with energy issues to be well-hydrated... just a thought. probably an enraging one given the state of mind you must be in dealing with CFS. ick. sorry.

Kim Ayres said...

No problem with my water intake - I drink more than anyone in the family

Pat said...

It probably sounds simplistic but have you tried a nap about 2pm. Half an hour at most.

savannah said...

not that this will be helpful to the situation, but i'm glad to read y'all again, sugar! if i hadn't seen anything i was going to start my own where's kim? campaign! ;~) xoxoxoxo

Kim Ayres said...

Pat - almost every day I end up having to go for a nap in the afternoon. I can get so tired my speech becomes slurred. Although I rarely fall asleep for more than a few minutes at a time, the big problem is always trying to get myself back up and started again

Savannah - it's true I'm posting less these days, and commenting less too. But I still read nearly every post of those I'm linked to and especially old friends such as you and Pat. I'm just finding it harder to find the space to focus the mind on writing.

V said...

Hi Kim, I can't add much on maximising but I love that Level 2 includes 'Play instruments'...Most mandolin and bouzouki players (albeit without the flailing elbows) can muster up far more energy and pace than this fiddle player can ever keep up with! And that many folk I encounter do little more than Level 2've not been spending too much time in an office recently have you?


Anonymous said...

Do you want to borrow Vince and Edgar for a week. Sleep is virtually impossible, and they keep you going (like GOOOOOO)all the freaking time. Just email me :)

Unknown said...

Your brain on level 1 is like my brain on level 4. I envy the fact that you can make charts...that make sense. I do not envy what you are going through. I think it stinks to high heavens and I am sorry.

Jayne Martin said...

So how long do you have to deprive yourself of coffee before you know whether or not doing so has done any good?

I admire your discipline. If it was me I would have said screw it by day three. But I'm kind of into immediate gratification. Also, I'm a bit of a doom and gloomer. I'd be thinking, what if I went without coffee today and a plane landed on my house tonight. That would really suck, and then I'd have the coffee.

Best of luck with this, my friend.

hope said...

I'm sorry you're having to struggle so. I think the fact you can plot it on graphs says that your brain works in a higher capacity than mine. :)

And if it'll make you smile, even a little, your last graph reminded me of a woman reclining. I hope your naps at least come with sweet dreams.

Lynne said...

I am sorry that you are going thru all this. I heard about CFS, but never have gone thru it myself. My older sister had it for sometime and her Dr told her to take prenatal vitamins to help her. Maybe it will work for you. :-/ I have a hard time concentrating and I found that taking ginkgo helps me A LOT and on a plus side it give me a bit more energy. I know, I know you've heard all sort of things to make it better or go away. It's like depression, nobody can really know what you are going thru because each person is different and goes thru it differently. BTDT still doing it.

Unknown said...

Wow Kim,
So sorry for what you're going through. Caffeine is a stimulant but not a long lasting one. It builds you up and then slowly tears you down. Since we know what coffee does or ....we think we know what it does to your CFS...let's keep it out of the equation.

I'm a big vitamins and supplements person. I've heard a lot of remarkable things about B12. Have you researched that?

Most people take it in the form of a pill or liquid. Some take B12 injections once monthly.

Might be worth a try.

Mimi and Tilly said...

Hi Kim, I don't want to start giving advice, as I know with CFS that the pattern is different with everyone, and that each person has to find their own way of taking care of themselves with it. But I don't know if you know about pacing and how it works? I was advised very early on to think of myself as an energy bank, and that having CFS meant I was completely massively overdrawn energywise. Therefore any energy I had wasn't to be used as if it were mine to be "spent", but part of that energy had to go towards paying off my energy overdraft. So I was only allowed to use a part of that energy. It involves a bit of discipline not to use all the energy I have, but it makes a massive difference in the long run. I was told that coffee was like blowing all my energy cash in one go, as was eating sugar or any other stimulant, and that I had to listen to what my body was telling me and not fight against the tiredness. I also had to learn different techniques to relax the central nervous system, as adrenalin flushing into the body is like having taken a massive stimulant. Over time, I have learned what the different types of tiredness I experience mean, and how much of the energy I can use in one go. I know this sounds like a nightmare to do , but actually once I got into the rhythym of being so kind to my body it made a massive difference to the quality of life I experienced, and to the quality of "energy dips" I experienced. I also use reiki on a daily basis to calm the nervous system and so disperse any adrenalin caused by stress, as adrenalin is massively involved in the energy dips experienced with CFS. I'm not a doctor and I know its different for every person, but having lived with CFS/ME for 14 years I can totally relate to your experiences and am happy to let you know more about what works for me. Em :)

Eryl said...

So, do you actually think coffee tastes vile and drink it only for its effect? Cripes! I love the taste of coffee and don't feel any effects from it unless I have too much and it gives me a bit of a headache.

I have no idea what you can do next, as far as I can tell you've tried every possible thing. I used to worry about being useful and it wasn't till I stopped that I became it. Not that I think one can direct oneself to stop worrying about anything.

You can write about coffee everyday as far as I'm concerned.

Sandy's witterings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sandy's witterings said...

The new graph without coffee might have less energy in it in total but it looks considerably safer than the other one. Such dramatic swings in enery must also bring with it dramatic swings in happiness level and thus your general growlyness. This looks like a step forward to me Kim and if you think coffee tastes vile anyway. Continued good luck with this Kim - from the rest of you writings and bumping into you from time to time, you've managed to stay a good husband, father and grandpa thoughout all this and still find a bit of energy for photographs and tune or two.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you recall having two distinct peaks as a student. When I was a student I recall feeling indestructibly able to work at any hour of the day. It's only now that I really feel the necessity to get a good nights sleep or else write the entire day off.

I heard (or read) recently that coffee was only really effective when taken in the morning.

Maybe you need to go back and re-examine your lifestyle in your student days to understand why you had performance peaks even then. Perhaps it is that deeply rooted.

Ron said...

Pat hit the nail on the head, take a nap at 2 pm in the afternoon. At last a half an hour. If not 2, then thereabouts.
If I didn't take a nap I would wind down like a wind up clock. I HAVE to take a nap. The difference with me is that when I take a nap I am literally dead to the world. I am in a DEEP sleep. Sometimes my naps last an hour. But I HAVE to take them or my speech becomes slurred and my brain does not function.
I do not take coffee. That is only a temporary fix. I do get exercise (walking) and eat properly. I try to lower the stress as much as possibile in my life. This may be more difficult for you since you are a father and a husband with many more responsibilities that I have. But take that nap if you can. In the dark or pull the shades or put something over your head.

Hindsfeet said...

If I can make a suggestion, Kim......

...your energy fluctuates with your blood sugar level, ergo, if you keep your blood sugar level/consistent, you keep your energy level/consistent.

Might I suggest a low carb diet.

When you take in excess carbs, they are converted to sugar in the bloodstream. The pancreas is then called upon to release insulin to clear the blood of the excess sugar which usually results in a hypoglycemic state (and a "low-energy state", thus the roller coaster depicted in your graph) At this point you'll probably want that 2 PM nap, or you'll crave sugar or caffeine for a quick fix to this energy deficit, or both.

Try at first limiting yourself to 60 carbs a day (20 is optimal for energy gain and blood sugar stabilization, but 60 is a more realistic starting point.) You can have as many calories as you want, fat, protein, certain vegis, nuts.....just keep the carbs low.

Incidentally, this will result in rapid weightloss and is a diuretic, so any retained water is expelled.

Let me know if you'd like more info...I'd be happy to the meantime, go ahead and google a carb counter or go to for recipe and food ideas.

Be well, friend....

Kim Ayres said...

V - So long as I can sit down to play, I can usually join in unless I've dropped down into the red zone, which is useful as most sessions I go to are in the evening

Christina - I'm afraid with the current circumstances of my stepdaughter and her 3 children all under 7 having oved in with us, I think 2 more would finish me completely :)

Carole - charts, diagrams... I'm the kind of person who is constantly illustrating what I mean by moving crockery and condiments around the table saying things like, "imagine this pepper pot was the sun and this fork was..."

Jayne - unfortunately I know deep down coffee is poison for me and always has been. After a couple of months, or at wahtever point it just becomes completely unbearable, I'll probably start drinking tea. While tea never had the same effect on me coffee did, it never felt like blakc sludge moving through my veins either

Hope - the top graph reminded me of a woman too, but from a different angle...

Lynne - it is very similar to Depression in other ways too. People who don't understand think that their "go for a brisk walk" cure must surely work for you too

Roschelle - when I first presented myself to the doctor over 4 years ago, my B12 levels were low and I've been on 3-monthly B12 injections ever since. Unfortunately it didn't make any difference and appears to have been coincidental rather than causal

Emma - possibly one of the most useful comments I've ever received about CFS and would love to talk more with you via email

Eryl - well, the first few mouthfuls were always vile. About halfway through the cup when the effects started to kick in it was the most heavenly nectar imaginable...

Sandy - it may look safer in terms of peak and trough, but look at the amount that is in the red zone.

Vextasy - I can assure you, coffee is effective in the afternoon - the chart confirms :) As for whether I had problems back then, it's an interesting thought, although even at my lowest point of the day I was still more functional than I am most of the time now

Ron - unfortunately if it was as straightforward as having a nap, it would have shown over the past 4 years. And I do nap in the afternoon, but getting started again afterwards is very difficult without the coffee

Hindsfeet - I've looked at low carb diets and am not convinced. Besides, if you look at the energy charts it doesn't coincide with the meals & blood sugar patterns. Besides, rapid weightloss isn't a good idea when I've already lost 106lbs (see my other blog, Losing a Hundredweight)

AA said...

Kim, I feel for you. I hope things improve.

Katie Roberts said...

I dont know how it feels for you Kim. But as you asked for suggestions: it occurs to me that simple whole grains (brown rice for breakfast!?), fresh fruit and veg and water, balanced to give you longer energy, combined with gentle excersise could help. Perhaps it is a process to learn what really subtle things effect you, to let them give you energy (I always find an apple better then coffee)

I think we are so overstimulated that we have learned not to listen to the effects quieter things have on us. I found with a more meditive approach to life, simple, subtle things have very powerful effects. when our lives are overstimulated it is hard to let other things in.

sounds like emma's ideas are really helpful. I've had my own struggles with stress and after a year or two of working on the essentials like good water, breathing, living. I am starting to feel I can hear my body and what it can really coupe with.

Hope you find a good equalibrium soon Kim. thinking of you.

Kim Ayres said...

Adila - thank you :)

Katie - check back a post or 2 and you'll see the food thing is ongoing, but no sign of the end of CFS, and I'm not sure there ever will be

BrightenedBoy said...

I don't drink coffee on a regular basis and have no natural peaks and valleys that I've identified. One thing I've noticed about myself, though, is that any amount of time in an office completely saps me of energy.

I feel much better after I've gotten out and done something.

I'd say I'm generally at my worst immediately before lunch or dinner and at my best immediately afterward. That, of course, could be related to my hypoglycemia.

An interesting fact about my coffee consumption: I scarcely ever have the beverage, and then only for the taste, so when I indulge I usually use about five or six spoons of sugar.

Kim Ayres said...

With 5 or 6 spoons of sugar, you are smothering the taste and giving yourself a sugar rush...

Hindsfeet said...

I was unclear; you wont "rapidly lose weight" unless you are in ketosis (which, for most people, happens when their carb intake is 20 or less)...So you be able to stay even keel with 30 or 40 carbs a day and still have the benefit of increased energy a massive improvement in overall wellbeing. It's a good idea to take an Omega 3 supplement while doing a low carb diet (which has a plethora of health benefits)....

Your system, as you've described it is out of whack (pardon the non-medical term)...This diet will help immensely to get things back "in whack" (haha)...try it before you decide you're "unconvinced"...What, at this point, do you have to lose?

Good Health friend,

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