Common sense, vitamins, homeopathy, and sleep

Source: stepzh

Well, the change-of-weather insomnia issues are starting again. Last year, I had a hell of a time dealing with temperature changes and getting enough sleep. I would wake up in the middle of the night, too hot. And/or I would wake up at 4:30 — too cold.

The early morning hours are the worst for me. When the temps start to dip just before sunrise, is when I’m fast asleep and unable to pull more covers up over me to keep warm. Then, I wake up shivering an hour or two before I’m supposed to get up, and my head gets going, thinking I should just get myself up and get into the day, since my head is going, anyway.

But my head’s going at a weird-ass pace, and it’s coming up with all sorts of strange thoughts (all of which seem perfectly logical to it), and if I stay in that “groove” it’s a total dead-end.

On good days, I realize this before I have wasted too much time obsessing over stupid shit. One of the benefits of knowing about my brain injuries and understanding the consequences is being able to self-monitor a whole lot better than I could before I knew why I do/think the things I do.

Actually, “self-monitor” is probably not the best word, because at 4:30 in the morning, I’m not particularly adept at gauging the quality of my thinking. “Self-critique” is a better choice. Or even “self-doubt” — because a good dose of skepticism when my head is off to the races can be a powerful antidote to early a.m. crazies. Just being aware that I am capable of coming up with all sorts of insanity when I’m sleep deprived — and knowing that it’s not because there’s something wrong with me — it’s my brain acting up again — helps me stop the cycle of madness before it takes me into the morning hours.

On bad mornings, I get stuck in a loop and end up just getting up after lying there staring at the ceiling or tossing and turning while my brain is obsessing. I’ve had one bad morning like that in the past week. On better mornings, I can get my attention back to my body, do progressive relaxation as I remind myself that whatever is holding my attention hostage will be there in another few hours, and it could be that the things it’s locked onto are not going to be that big of a deal when I actually do wake up… and then I can roll over and go back to sleep.

One of the things that tends to wake me up during colder weather is pain. If I don’t stretch adequately before going to bed, I often wake up at 3:30 with my back and legs in knots. Not fun. And then my head gets going. Sometimes I can stretch and crack my back and get my legs to settle down. But sometimes even that doesn’t work to help me. It’s maddening. Especially when my head gets going yelling at me about not remembering to stretch or take Advil.

I need to start taking Advil again before I go to bed. During the high summer, when I was ultra-active, swimming regularly and out and about a lot, I had less pain. I was pretty vigilant about what I was eating, I took more time to shop and prepare my meals, and I was moving a lot on a regular basis.

I was also better about taking my vitamins, especially magnesium, which someone told me helps with pain. I had been doing really well with taking my vitamins — B-Complex for nervous system support and to help me with stress… D for immune system support, bone health, and cancer prevention… Magnesium for joint pain… and Chromium Picolinate to help my body with insulin production and how it handles sugar.

When I take these supplements regularly, I notice a marked improvement in my daily well-being, which in turn helps me sleep better. When I’m stressed throughout the course of each day, I tend to get over-tired, and when I’m over-tired, I push myself even harder. That leads me to put in longer days and get all revved in the evening, which makes getting to bed at a decent hour harder. Then, when my body is all fried form the daily stress, I’m susceptible to increased pain and temperature sensitivity, not to mention waking up in an adrenaline rush.

Those adrenaline rushes are no fun at all. Out of the blue, I wake up in a frantic panic, all systems on full alert, my heart pounding, sweat pouring out of me, the sheets soaked, and my chest clenched up tight. I’m on full alert, out of nowhere, and it’s a good thing my spouse and I have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for the past year and a half — if they were in bed with me, it would not be a good thing. I can’t guarantee, either, that I would be able to tell that they pose no threat to me. I might lash out at them — that would not be good. That’s no way to live. I had an uncle who would wake up in panics and hit my aunt, thinking she was attacking him. No way do I want to repeat the performance. He was killed in a tractor trailer accident out in the Southwest about 30 years ago, but those inexplicable and totally unexpected attacks left a mark on my aunt that’s still there.

Yeah… stress… When you’ve been tweaked and freaked-out way too many times, it can really do a number on your nervous system. Fortunately, when I was much younger, I learned how to slow my heart rate and chill out my system. It has to do with the breath — slow, measured breaths… stopping the breath at the end of each inhale and exhale, and then slowly continuing. It’s all about the breath. When I was in high school, at track practice after school, my heart would sometimes start beating so hard it felt like it was coming out of my chest. I would hyperventilate, and I would start to feel like I was falling down a deep hole. All this, just because I was at track practice. I suspect that my concussions throughout my childhood and adolescence may have had something to do with it. It’s my understanding that concussion can lead to more extreme heart rate variability, where your heart isn’t beating at a steady pulse all the time. So, perhaps my concussions had something to do with it.

I have to admit it worries me a little now, when it happens, because I just learned a few years ago that I have a slight heart murmur. Nobody ever mentioned it to me before, that I can recall (or maybe I just don’t recall). So my heart health is a bit of a concern to me. And when I wake up in a cold sweat, with my heart pounding a mile a minute for no reason that I can tell, I get concerned.

I start to talk myself down and start to do my slow, measured breathing, which brings me back to a stable state. Still and all, I’d rather not be waking up at 3:30 a.m. with this crap.

So, clearly it’s time to start taking my vitamins regularly again. I’m not sure why I stopped. Maybe I was feeling fine and didn’t feel like taking them — for about a week. While I was taking them, I was getting good sleep, I was pretty chilled out in my daily life, and difficult things were not derailing me as much as they have been lately. I don’t want to lay it all at the feet of supplements, but you know what? When I was taking my vitamins, I was sleeping pretty well. And I want to sleep well again.

Another thing I’ve been trying, to deal with the pain and anxiety, is homeopathy.  I’ve got a friend who’s a homeopath who swears by it. They actually had a “widow-maker” heart attack a few years back, died on the table and came back, and proceeded to change their entire life. They were in the traditional western medical field before their heart attack, and after, they changed over to homeopathic remedies, and they’ve been urging me to use it for my own issues.

I must say I was really on the fence about it, for a while. I tried some things, and they didn’t seem to have an effect on me. Then I tried Magnesium Phosphate for some pain that I just couldn’t shake, and it seemed to take the edge off it. So, I would use that remedy and it gave me relief. (Please note, I am an extreme skeptic, when it comes to alternative remedies. I resist novelty when it comes to my health with almost every fiber of my being.) But that was it.

Then I started using Rhus Toxicohendron for joint pain, and it too seemed to take the edge off. I’ve been using that, on and off, with a variety of results, for several years, now.

But the real breakthrough remedy for me showed up a couple of weeks ago, when I was out shopping for some help for my spouse (who is into alternative remedies — needless to say, I tend to temper my opinions about these alternatives in their presence). I picked up some Kali Iodatum that I’d read is good for certain types of nerve pain.  But on the label, it said “colds with frontal sinus pain”. Apparently, homeopathic remedies treat a variety of different conditions – not sure how, they just do.

Anyway, my spouse decided to go with more bodywork than homeopathy, so we had these remedies lying around. And then I started to get sick with a cold, with lots of frontal sinus pain and post-nasal drip and coughing that was keeping me from sleeping.  Just for the heck of it, I took the Kali Iodatum, and my symptoms cleared up within the hour. Pretty amazing. I woke up this morning with that same cold and sinus stuff, and I took some a little while after I ate my breakfast, and once again, it appears to have cleared things up. Part of me wants to believe that it’s just getting moving and getting in to the day that helps, but it really felt like my body was stronger and able to fight off what was ailing it. So, I’m going to add the Kali Iodatum to my health regimen, as needed.

So, while I know that homeopathy is widely discredited (by allopathic medicine competitors, in particular) as a placebo and a bogus mode of treatment, I do know that when I take some of these remedies, I do feel better. And when I feel better, I am less stressed. And when I am less stressed, I am less fatigued, less likely to indulge in carbs and coffee to keep myself going for long hours. That means I sleep better and can sleep through the night.

I’ll probably continue to take Advil before going to sleep, now that colder weather is here. I’ll keep up with my exercise routines and focus more on my morning workouts, now that I’m not going to be able to swim at the lake several times a week. I’ll also make a continuous effort to eat well and watch out for drinking coffee after 2 p.m. and loading up on carbs just to get myself feeling better.  I’ll definitely make a point of stretching plenty before going to bed. And I know what to do, if/when I wake up early with cold sweats and pounding heart and panic. The main thing for me is to do all these things regularly and consistently, and not let myself get behind.

When I let myself get behind, my head has more ammunition to attack me at 3:30 a.m. for screwing up — yet again. And the last thing I need is to give it even more ammo than it already has.

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Quick – before the snow flies

I’ve had an increasingly pronounced sense of urgency about getting my affairs in order. Could be it’s the end-of-the-year rush, or maybe it’s this sense of immanent change, or perhaps it’s the realization that my life is changing — yet again — but this time it’s changing for the better, and I need to be more mindful of how I manage my resources and energy.

Since I began my neuropsych testing and evaluation, over a year ago, I’ve been acclimating myself to the idea that disaster is not necessarily a given in my life. I’ve realized that the head injuries I’ve experienced, the mild traumatic brain injuries I’ve incurred over the course of my life (beginning in early childhood), have played a direct role in the course of my life. I’ve also realized that with the knowledge of how my brain functions (or fails to function), I can devise strategies to offset the after-effects of MTBI, and plan alternative strategies. And with the proper amount of mindfulness, I can follow through with them in a certain what that can — and does — help me head problems off at the pass before they become the kinds of catastrophes I’ve coped with my entire life.

Yes, I now have tools to help me make my way in the world. And I need to get my act together, to match the level of my mindfulness-augmented competence.

So, I spent the weekend cleaning and moving. Saturday morning, I cleaned my study. Finally. It’s been on my to-do list for months, now. The last time I cleaned it, two years ago, the space felt truly amazing. I just loved being in my study (where before I had dreaded it). But it’s gone slowly downhill over the past few years, which I knew I needed to fix. So, I worked on that consciously on Saturday morning. And while I didn’t complete the task (which took over a week, last time I did it in in 2007), I did make a sizeable dent. And it’s a deeper sort of cleaning now, than I have ever performed in any of my study spaces.

I really focused on doing it mindfully — cleared out a whole bunch of old files, filled several grocery bags with paper to be recycled, dumped old damaged items that needed to be “liberated” a long time ago, and the proceeded to rearrange the contents of my closet. I still have a ways to go. I’m probably about 10% along the path. But the point is, I started it. (And I continued this morning, cleaning out one of my over-stuffed, disorganized filing cabinet drawers.)

Saturday afternoon, I moved leaves. Raked. Used the leaf blower/vac mulcher. Moved 7 large tarps’ worth of material off the front lawn. I may need to make another pass before the snow starts to fall, but if I don’t, at least I’ve made enough of a dent to protect the grass from the effects of acidic leaves over the winter months. I also moved summer items from outside to inside, and I also fixed the dryer duct, which had  become too clogged for the dryer to work properly.

I should have fixed the dryer duct years ago, but that was one of the things that fell off my plate, after I fell down the stairs 5 years ago. You wouldn’t think that hitting your head on a bunch of steps would completely derail your life, but after that fall, I stopped paying attention to the list of things that needed to be done. I’d had a list I was working with — we’d only been in the house two years, up to that point, and the series of things I was planning to do over the coming years was starting to become more manageable and less clogged. Then I fell, and I stopped working on the list. I’ve been working hard to get back, ever since I realized, about a year ago, how badly I’d let things fall by the wayside.

Now my life consists of a whole lot of remedial stuff. Recover stuff. Rehab stuff. Life as rehab. Each and every mindful minute of paying attention to what I’m doing — and why.

Every now and then, I also get the chance to help someone else out with their list, which is what I did on Sunday. A friend of the family is breaking up with their partner of 7 years, and they needed to move some furniture and reconfigure their living space.

My spouse and I drove out to their place and helped them get a number of large, heavy items out of their living room, as well as from upstairs to downstairs. When we got there, they were looking pretty ragged and depressed and overwhelmed. But by the time we left, they were a whole lot more relaxed and up, and they had their home office set up and connected, so they could get their act together. I’m glad we could help. And it felt great — after several months of regular exercise — to be able to lift and carry the sorts of heavy furniture we were wrangling. Recliners, with all that steel, are NOT light items to move. And trying to angle stuff through two narrow doorways was not the easiest thing. But we did it. And it was good.

This friend of ours (I’ll call them C) has been struggling with getting ahead and staying that way, for as long as we’ve known them.  They make progress, and then they make poor choices and slide back… Interestingly, back in high school and college, C played team sports — the kinds of team sports that frequently result in head injury. In fact, they told my spouse onetime that they had been hit in the head a lot, so their memory wasn’t the best. But whenever I bring up the topic if TBI  — with reference to myself, as I’ve told them about my history — they shut down and stop listening.

The other interesting (and a little tragic) piece of C’s story is that their ex-partner of 7 years was in a car accident within the last year, and they took to the bed with overwhemling fatigue, irritability, wild mood swings… and more. It sounded an awful lot like things were with me, when I had whiplash in the past. Their change in personality was eerily familiar to me.

I tried to talk to C a few times about the possibility of MTBI playing a role in the relationship’s degeneration. I said nothing about C’s athletic history, but I focused on the car accident. But C couldn’t hear it. They just blocked it all out. They refused to admit that there had been a real change, or that the change was physical and neurological, rather than psycho-spiritual. C is very much into “energy medicine” and thinks about health in terms of karma and past lives and energy. They think they can address substantive issues with affirmations and intention.

Which is a shame, because they might have been able to get some relief and/or come up with some alternative strategies, by addressing the physical and neurological after-effects of that car accident, and developed real-world coping mechanisms, rather than realinging their chakras.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a strong believer in chakras and energies and intention and affirmations. But I’m also a firm believer in the power of the brain’s neurology to wreak havoc with one’s life. I know the domain of the brain can be very scary for people — especially people who don’t have good insurance and/or can’t get decent medical care — but by leaving out that very important aspect of our overall health, problematic situations can escalate and become even worse, on down the line.

Unaddressed TBI issues can literally cost you your job, your home, your marriage… and more. Especially if folks avoid dealing with them up front.

TBI — even “mild” traumatic brain injury — isn’t the sort of thing you can necessarily wish away or “clear with intention”. I’m sure there are people out there who are very capable mind-over-matter practitioners, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s prudent to give the brain its due and not just brush off a brain injury as something that time alone will heal. Brain injures don’t just go away. And left unaddressed, they can cost you a lot that means the world to you.

I’ve experienced that myself… And I spent most of yesterday moving heavy things with someone who is experiencing it, as well. My aching back and joints can attest to it.

Well, at least we got things moved while the weather was still nice. And for all the hard work over the weekend, it feels great to be this functional again, after years of ennui and inertia and neglect. I feel like I’m really starting to get back in the game, in many ways. My life and my attitude and my outlook is very different than it was, before things fell apart in 2004-2005. But I feel like my life force is returning — and it’s actually good for something.

By the time winter comes, this year, I might just be ready for it.

The Paradox of Sleep

NICABM’s blog has a great post — and short video — about the importance of sleep.

What’s the big deal about not getting enough sleep? There are connections between sleep deficiency and a weakened immune system, muscle aches, headaches, nausea and, as you might know if you sometimes don’t get enough sleep, irritability.

Studies have shown that those who sleep fewer than eight hours per night are also more likely to be overweight (an inverse correlation between less sleep and weight gain). Yes, the less we sleep, the more we seem to weigh. The difference between six and eight hours of sleep will soon be measured in pounds!

Beyond that, driving while tired can be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. And, those who don’t get enough sleep also have higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.

Like I need more anxiety, depression, and stress… let alone the extra weight.

I’ve heard it said that not everyone needs to have a full 8 hours of sleep a night. But I do feel like a different person, if I get at least 8 hours — and an afternoon nap.

There seems to be a real theme emerging about sleep. Maybe it’s the summer, and how busy everyone has been. Or maybe it’s the impending drama (disaster?) of the revamped healthcare system that has everyone thinking about preventive care?

I, for one, am looking for (and developing) as many preventive measures as I can find, so I can reduce my reliance on the traditional “healthcare” system. That includes getting more sleep.

Oh, look – there’s hope after all…

Great info over at The Rogue Tomato about The Bravewell Collaborative and their recent Summit on Integrative Medicine.

I’m just now finding this, myself, so I don’t have a lot to say about it. But it looks quite promising — especially since the Summit involved some very established physicians from some very established institutions.

If they’re paying attention to this, then my day just started looking a little brighter.

Which just goes to show, it’s never a good idea for me to completely lose hope. I don’t know nearly enough to despair responsibly 😉