Waking up early again

I got to bed at a decent hour, last night – 10:30 p.m., which is actually early for me. I’ve been trying to do a better job of getting enough sleep, but it’s been problematic. Here and there, I’ve done well — I got more than 6 hours of sleep a few nights in a row. Then I got 7 hours one night, and I even slept a whole 8 hours this past Sunday night. I thought I was on the good foot.

But now my erratic sleeping pattern is back to its old tricks, and here I am again, with all of 5 hours of sleep under my belt.  It’s very frustrating.

Looking back at what I did right before I was able to sleep through the night, I can see what I did right:

First, and probably most importantly, I exercised. I was physically active and moved a lot – sometimes to the point of being totally wiped out at the end of the activities. But then I just rested a bit and got back in the swing of things.

I didn’t drink coffee late in the day. I had a juice or a drink of water or a piece of fruit. I didn’t have coffee after 4:00.

I didn’t get on the computer after 6 at night. I got all my work done in the morning, and I didn’t get all charged up by the glowing screen later in the day. The light emitted from computer screens is very similar to daylight, which tells the brain that it’s daytime, so it needs to wake up. Not good, if you’re trying to wind down for the day.

I ate early — before 7:00 p.m. I had a meal early enough in the evening that I had time to digest it before I went off to bed. I also didn’t eat too much.

On the days immediately before the nights when I was able to sleep the longest, I was physically bushed. Done for the day. I wasn’t just mentally tired. I had been really active, and I had eaten and lived well all day long.

Now, on the days when I’ve had the most trouble, I did the opposite of everything above. I didn’t have any real exercise at all. I ran around a bit and did errands and took care of business, but by and large, I spent the whole day working in relative physical inactivity. A I spent the majority of my hours in front of the computer, till late in the day. Last night, I was coding until about 8 p.m., and then I ate late — around 8:30. Also, I had a cup of strong black coffee around 5:00 in the evening, which helped me wake up in time for my therapy session but probably threw off my sleeping cycle.

One of the other things that has differed between the good sleep days and the bad ones, is that on the good sleep days, I have stuck with a structured schedule. I had specific things I did at specific times, and when I was done with those activities, I was either completely done, or I put them aside to do later. I didn’t sit around thinking about them in the hours when I wasn’t working on them, and I didn’t jump up to go work on the computer when I thought of something “smart” (only to find out later that it wasn’t).

If I was working, I was working.

If not, I was “off duty” for the day.

This comes back (yet again) to the importance of structure and discipline. Knowing how to draw lines between activities and keep myself on-point. Having the discipline to say, “Okay, I didn’t get everything done that I intended to, but here’s what still needs to be done, and I’ll take it off my plate for the day and put it in a list to tend to the next time I work on this…”  instead of hanging onto a task, long after I’ve stepped away from it, and trying to consciously “work on it” in my head while I’m doing other things. That’s a very inefficient way to work and live, and it is actually counter-productive, because the parts of my brain that do best at working on a problem when it’s not in front of me are subconscious and can’t be controlled or steered by conscious will.

It also helps to not get so tired throughout the course of my day that I can no longer tell how tired I am… and what I need to do about it.

It’s a tricky thing, this “energy management” business, but it’s got to be done. I neglect it at my own peril.

Well, enough sitting at this computer. It’s time to get some exercise.

When in doubt… do nothing

I made a terrible mistake on Sunday – I ate some frozen custard. I didn’t have a whole cup — I ate maybe a few tablespoons, max. But it was enough to do some damagen.

To most, it might not seem like that big of a deal, but for me, it’s huge. When I eat dairy, including frozen custard, I tend to have a bad reaction — I get stuffy and croupy, my ears fill with fluid, and my balance gets thrown off to the point where I cannot stand up straight without holding onto something, I cannot turn quickly, and I have a hard time walking in straight lines.

I’ve never had really good balance while moving slowly — I balance better when I’m in motion, the faster the better. I tend to bump into things, run into things, knock things off counters, when I’m moving slowly. But when I have dairy, everything gets that much worse. I’d say three to four times worse. And it comes on me fairly suddenly, a day or two after I eat or drink the dairy. I like to think I can “cheat” now and then – I didn’t have that much custard on Sunday. But then my body puts me in my place, and there ya go…

It’s maddening. The associated nausea sometimes keeps my stomach in knots for days. My head spins and swirls, my body doesn’t even feel like it’s mine, and I start to get really cranky and short-fused with everyone around me. I have a hard time responding to people when they talk to me (first, I can’t understand what they’re saying at first, then I have to ask them to repeat themselves and listen closely to what they say, and then think carefully through my response, which may not even turn out to be the right thing to say). I feel awful about it, but what can I do? All I can really do is rest and drink a lot of fluids and steer clear of any junk food or processed sugar (and definitely dairy)… and make a note of it in my daily minder to track my experience.

So, today, I am staying away from the office. I’ll work from home (and probably get more done here, than I would there, where it’s very noisy and bright and filled with distractions). I am not getting in my car and driving through the rain in heavy traffic, only to arrive wet and behind schedule and bitchy as a wet cat. I’ll put on my music, pull out my to-do list, and have at it. And I’ll take a nap in the afternon, to catch up on my sleep. I was up waaaaay too late last night, doing things I love to do (but sadly not doing them very well), so I need to make up for that.

This is progress for me. Last night, I had fully intended to go into the office today. I knew I was feeling a little off, woozy, wobbly, croupy, etc. But I was determined to soldier on and put in an appearance. I had to show up, I told myself. I “had” to show up.

But y’know what? Appearances aren’t everything. And my boss doesn’t care where I am working, so long as I get my job done. Truth to tell, I don’t have to shop up. And I’m more likely to get my work done at home today, than at the office, so I’m doing them a favor by staying put.

This morning — at last — I realized I’ve got nothing to prove by driving myself through traffic, and if I intend to have a truly productive day, I have no business going into the office. I’m off balance, which makes me more prone to accidents, not to mention crankiness.  Plus, I really need to take a nap this afternoon, and I can’t do that at the office.

Well, enough said. I’m taking the pressure of and giving myself a break. And feeling good about it, which is probably the most important part.

Sleep mask + earplugs = magic

I actually slept for seven hours last night.

Amazing.  I haven’t slept that long without being completely and totally exhausted/depleted/at the end of my rope in quite some time.

I’ve been sleeping in the guest bedroom for the past few nights, so I can sleep through the night without being woken by my partner sitting up late reading, snoring, coughing, or otherwise being human. The only problem is, the guest bedroom has a great view of the back yard, and the back yard is surrounded by trees, and those trees are filled with lively birds that love to awake and sing-sing-sing at 4 a.m. I typically wake up around 4:30, when I sleep back there. I may be able to sleep uninterrupted all night, but the morning is a problem.

So, sleeping in the guest room isn’t necessarily the most sleep-conducive thing to do, unless I go to bed at 8 the night before, which is out of the question. My body just won’t do it. Nor will my mind.

But last night, I had to do something to take the edge off my exhaustion. I haven’t been sleeping very well at all for weeks, now. I have been getting 5-6 hours a night, which is just murder on me, because it coincides with some intense deadlines at work. Not only does the exhaustion take a toll on my cognitive functioning, but it also erodes my mood. Whereas I’m usually pretty “up” and can-do, and my outlook on life is quite open and ready for just about anything (within reason), when I’m over-tired, my mood just spirals down, and I end up in very, very bad places, where no amount of reason or motivation will drag me out.

I noticed it especially last night

I was really feeling good all day, until late in the evening, when I was going to bed. All of a sudden, I was melancholy and blue, feeling sorry for myself and feeling lonely and afraid and overwhelmed. I just couldn’t handle much of anything, and I started to get mired in that sad-sack poor-me swamp from which no good things come. I was starting to get intensely depressed and feel like there was no hope for me at all.

I started to think about my family and how we just don’t connect. I started to think about my new therapist and get down about how the relationship I have with them is an artificial one and no matter how I may feel we’re connecting, they are essentially a professional consultant, and — for my own sake — I need to keep the relationship somewhat arms-length. I started to think about my old therapist, and wonder how they’re doing.

I was spiraling down into that place I’ve often “gone” in therapy… that place where my old therapist loved to “camp out” and plumb the depths of my past, to see what terrible hurt had been done to me. And just as it used to make me really uncomfortable to delve into all that — not because I’m afraid to explore the places where I’ve been hurt (I’m only too happy to do that at times), but because they were making flawed assumptions and reaching inaccurate conclusions about what caused that depression, what was pulling me down, what I needed to deal with.

I can think of many, many instances where I spent a whole hour hashing and rehashing crap that was dragging me down, only to get all turned around and more frustrated… then I had a good night’s sleep, and everything was miraculously all better.

Seriously. I’m not just making this up to make the psychotherapists of  the world feel inadequate. The main problem wasn’t that someone was mean to me when I was ten. It was that I hadn’t been sleeping.

Fortunately, I recognized that I was going there, last night, as all the thoughts and fears and regrets tumbled around in my head like puppies in a basket.

Thankfully I had the presence of mind to notice it AND do something about it

“This is ridiculous,” I said to myself, as I sat in the bed with my journal, ready to write some maudlin entry about the day. I had had such a great day — clipping along, getting things done, making good progress… only to crash at the end. I could tell very clearly that I needed to sleep, and I knew that I needed to do something about being woken at 4 a.m. by exuberant birds.

So, I pulled out a sleep mask and earplugs I picked up a couple of months ago. I had tried to use the earplugs before, but they felt strange in my ears, and I hadn’t tried again. Last night, I was beyond caring how they felt in my ears, and I fit them in as far as they could go. I also found an extra fan and turned it on low — to circulate the air in the room and to drown out background noise. Then I pulled on the sleep mask, laid back, and counted my breaths that were echoing loud in my ears.

One of the problems with wearing earplugs with me, is that it makes the tinnitus louder. I have constant ringing in my ears, which gets almost deafening when I stop up my ears. It’s the craziest thing, and it drives me nuts. But last night, I was in no mood to care. I just laid back, focused on my breath, and dropped off to sleep.

And wonder of wonders, I actually slept till nearly 6 a.m. A record for me lately.

And I’m feeling great. Really ready to take on the tasks ahead of me today and make some good progress. That’s a good thing. Because today is D-Day for this project. Deadline Day. And I have to be sharp. Dullness is not an option.

Tomorrow I’m going to try the sleep mask and earplugs again. Little by little, I’ll work my way back to being able to sleep. And take care of all these little niggling sleep-related problems as I go. It just amazes me, how much a good night’s sleep does for my mental health and overall performance. It’s like night and day.

Sleep matters

When I’m overtired, I become moody, can’t focus, have problems with thinking tasks, become over-reactive, and I have a tendency to melt down. It gets ugly pretty quickly, and then I have to work double-time to make up for what I’ve said and done and try to repair the havoc I’ve created around me.

But when I’m rested, I’m happy, hearty and whole, and no matter what life throws at me, I can handle it. I’m a productive, positive partner and team member, and people love to be around me. No obstacle is too much for me, when I’m rested. And no event I’ve experienced is too big to overcome.

Which makes me wonder how much unwarranted exploration I’ve indulged in, during past therapy sessions, when I was trying like crazy to understand why I was so depressed and down… why I was struggling so. I overturned all kinds of rocks and plumbed the depths of my aching soul… and was unable to come to terms with just about anything I found there.

But magically, when I slept and had enough rest, suddenly it all became clear. And I could not only deal with what I found, I was also able to use it and change it and shift it and have it be an asset, not a liability in my life.

And I wonder how many other folks have similar issues to mine — psychotherapy clients struggling with lots of stuff not just because of the nature of the events, but because they haven’t slept well in weeks, if not months and years… and psychotherapists themselves being thwarted in their work because the person across from them is physically incapable of a positive, healthy outlook on life.

If I were a psychotherapist…

One of the first things I’d do in dealing with my clients, is find out how they’re doing physically. I’d find out of they’ve been sleeping, how they’ve been eating, if they’ve had much exercise. I’d find out what their physical health is like, find out when they’re at their best and when they’re at their worst, and try to schedule time with them when they were at (or near) their cognitive peak — or at the very least, avoid seeing them when they were at a low point.

I wouldn’t waste anyone’s precious time, processing their “stuff” when they were over-tired or hadn’t been eating or exercising regularly. And I wouldn’t agree to see someone who wasn’t taking care of themself. I suppose I would start out with a new client who wasn’t in the best of condition, but if they persisted in neglecting their bodies and not getting enough sleep, I would drop them like a hot potato. Sure, they would be a natural source of unending revenue, but if I only took clients who were likely to need my help till the end of their born days, I’d be a pretty crappy therapist.

Most of all, I’d focus on the sleep thing. Especially if someone had sustained a TBI. Sleep deprivation makes you crazy, overly suggestible, unpredictable, and easily manipulated. Spy/intelligence agencies have known that for years, and they’ve used it to their advantage. But getting enough rest each night is one of the primarly building blocks of good health. If you don’t care about your health — mental or physical — then how much you sleep shouldn’t matter. But for me, it matters a whole lot.

And I look forward to getting more of it.

Shoring up my reserves

It’s been a really rough 24 hours. I finally got to a breaking point, and melted down in a huge screaming/crying jag last night. I just ended up pushed over the edge by my fatigue and exhaustion and being overloaded by a lot of extra issues, including homeowner concerns — maintenance, upkeep — and health problems.

My newest concern is not having adequate dental coverage. It’s a huge added stress in my family that I know I need to rectify. Dental bills can run into the many thousands, as Judge Sonia Sotomayor can attest (she’s got $15,000 in back dental bills according to her personal financial records), and it doesn’t feel good, even in terms of hundreds of dollars. I’m not over my head in hock over dental bills, at this time, but I could get there quickly, and I need to arrange for coverage, so I don’t get to that place.

But the prospect of doing that drives me nuts. I get so turned around and confused by all the information, and then I never know if I’ve made the right decision, and I’m afraid I’ll end up paying all this money and making decisions that can’t be reversed very easily. I know I need to keep my head on straight about this and not panic. I just need to figure out how to do it, map out my plan, and do it. But I haven’t been able to manage that. I’ve just been kind of marginal, lately, and I haven’t been able to get a lot of the things done that I need to.

So much of this TBI business really is about having adequate resources to deal with what life throws my way. Whether it’s learning new things at work, handling odd jobs around the house (which I’ve been lagging at, too),  or arranging for medical/dental coveratge, how rested I am, how involved I am, how strong I’m feeling all have a huge role to play. And my resources have been slowly but surely eroding away, over the past while. I haven’t been sleeping well for months, now, and that makes it difficult to handle much of anything. My temper’s short, I don’t get the things done that I need to, I tend to push off all but the most exciting and interesting activities (which means I push off about 85% of what I’m supposed to be doing), and I have trouble learning and processing information.

For a while, there, I was pretty intent on keeping my sleep deficit to a minimum. But then I got sick of having to live such a limited life, always going to bed at a responsible hour, sleeping a full 8 hours (or at least 7), and being very deliberate about everything I did.

How boring!!! I didn’t want to have to tip-toe through life, always anticipating everything I did and said and thought, and adusting my behavior to be nice and acceptable. Plenty of other people wing it, and they’re fine. And I’m sure a lot of people out there have sustained TBIs and don’t even know it. Does that stop them? Not always. Sometimes… maybe lots of times… But it seemed to me — and it still does — that life is a messy prospect, at best, and in the end I’ve always been more of a creative bohemian type, even if I am a software engineer, so I’d much rather enjoy my life and be flexible and keep up my activity level and have a good time and do things that interest and uplift me, instead of playing it safe all the time and being so careful about every danged thing.

It was such a relief, to just stay up past my 10:00 bed time and watch a good movie till the end, without needing to watch the clock. It felt so good to just get up first thing in the morning – around 5:00 or so – and futz around with this personal resources management program I’ve been designing. It felt so great to not be tied to a schedule, to not force myself to be on some hour-by-hour time-clock, day in and day out. Maybe that works for some people, but it doesn’t work for me. It works for maybe a few days, but then it starts to break down, and my self-management techniques turn out to be more of a burden than a help.

Of course, I’ve found out the hard way (again…) that I can’t keep driving and driving and driving myself. Even if it’s all fun(!) I need to pace myself and give myself time to recharge. Last night, I headed off to bed at 10:30, and I got to sleep around 11:00. And I slept till about 6:00 this morning. Seven hours is the longest I’ve been able to sleep in weeks — I usually clock in around 5 or 6. I don’t know if it’s that pineal cyst that’s throwing me off, or it’s my stress level, or it’s my pacing during the day.

I know I’ve been spending too much time, late in the evening, on the computer. My diagnostic neuropsych tells me that computer screens emit light that is very similar to daylight, so our bodies think it’s day, and they need to wake up. That could explain why sitting down to my laptop in the evening always makes me feel better. And it could explain why I have a hard time winding down later in the evening when I log off. I know I need to change that. It’s not like I don’t have anything else I could be doing. Relaxing is a lost cause with me — I’m also in a lot of pain, these days, so unless I keep my mind busy, I am in a lot of discomfort. But I can find other things to do that relax me, don’t get me all charged up. Things like washing dishes or folding clothes from the dryer. Things that need to get done, boring or not.

It could also be that I’m so tired, I can’t rest — which is what happens with me. I have to do something extra-ordinary to drag myself (kicking and screaming) into slumber. Left to my own devices, I’ll just keep going…

I think this weekend is going to be a Benadryl weekend. I don’t have any outside commitments that are overly demanding on my cognitive abilities, so I’m going to just take the drugs and sleep as long as humanly possible.

With any luck, by Monday, I’ll have gotten at least a little bit back on track.

Yesterday was a wash

… Just about.

I had carefully made up a list of all the things I needed to get done — I’m on deadline at work, and it’s vital that I get the things done that I started, and that I do them on time. But I never checked my list until about 3:30 p.m., and then it was too late to do a lot of it.

I was just exhausted from the weekend — lots of activity and staying out too late. It was fun at the time, but it took its toll. And the people I’m working with are not pleased.

I’ve just got to let it go. I can’t start out today feeling bad about yesterday. It’s a new day. And I also have to remember that I’m not the only one in my group who’s struggling with work, right now. We all are, pretty much. We’re a challenged bunch of people with divided attention, conflicting interests, and way too much going on in our lives, overall. We’re also getting used to working together in new ways. There’s old bad blood that keeps people stuck, and there’s new opportunity to move forward. Main thing is, keep moving forward. But yesterday that didn’t happen nearly as much or as well as it should have.

I have to do something about this. I have to get out in front of my tasks. I know better than to do this. But the part of me that was playing all weekend wanted to keep playing, so I ended up messing up some stuff — and feeling badly about it.

More than anything, what takes the biggest toll is the emotional stuff. Feeling badly about myself. Feeling badly about how I’m doing. Feeling incapable and incompetent. And then, even if I’m doing okay by most people’s standards, my performance is thrown off even more. Because I’m feeling badly about myself and my abilities.

But it’s a waste of time to feel badly. My brain is just different now, than it was before my fall in 2004. It just has different needs and inclinations, which I have to factor in and accommodate/adjust to, if I’m going to have the level of ability that I desire. If I’m going to accomplish what I set out to, I need to use my tools — my planner, my notebook, my to-do list.

And I need to have just enough things on my list to keep me moving, without overwhelming me.

The thing about lists, though, is that I have to keep all the items I have on my plate (short- and long-term) in front of me in some way. I have to keep all my priority items in plain view, or I just forget about them. Other people look at my list, and they get all freaked out.  They tell me “It’s too much!” But for me, it works. I don’t mind all that stuff in front of me. I’d rather have it there, than forget about it — which is what I’ve done in the past … only to remember that I’d forgotten things I seriously needed to remember.

Until I find a way to remember everything — or hire a secretary/executive assistant to do the remembering for me — the stuff I need to do eventually is going to stay on the list.

But back to yesterday. What did I do which didn’t work, that I can do differently today?

  1. I didn’t check my list, first thing in the a.m. — I’ve checked my list for today already, so I’m good with that.
  2. I got down on myself for falling behind — I’m not going to do that today… get down on myself. I’m going to try the best I can, and leave the rest to fate.
  3. I thought the whole problem was me — I know I’m not the only one having issues. It’s just that the other folks I work with are really good at covering up their shortcomings and problems, and so of course (since I’m very open about the areas where I am lagging), I end up looking like the one who’s bringing everyone down. Matter of fact, I’m not — in fact, one of the reasons I’m behind on my tasks is that the folks I’m working with made a total friggin’ mess of it before, and nobody bothered to sort it out, till I came along and said, “This will never do!”
  4. I didn’t take time to plan my day and catch myself up — Today I am taking the train to work, so I can read and prepare.
  5. I let myself lollygag around in the afternoon, when I was tired –– Today, I need to pace myself and do at least something in the p.m, when I hit my low point (as I always do). If I plan for my lull, and I do something like walk around the office or take a break away from my desk when I’m tapering off, I may have better luck. There is a common work area I can go to that’s far away from my desk — I’ll try going there today and see if the change of scenery helps.

These are just a few of the things I can do differently today. I already feel better.

A beautiful day to pace myself

Well, I’m happy to report, this day is off to a really good start!

First off, I was able to sleep past 7:00 this morning! I can’t remember the last time that happened, even on a weekend. I took some L-Tryptophan last night, even though I was exhausted. I’ve used it in the past to help me sleep, but it didn’t seem to do much for me. I tried it again last night, and lo and behold, the first time I looked at the clock this a.m., it was 7:20, not 5:20. What a change!

Second, I have a lot to do today, but I have a good handle on what needs to get done. I have a bunch of chores I need to take care of, but I’ve figured out that I can do most, if not all of them, in the space of an hour or two, each. That will leave me more than enough time to:

  • rake the lawn and seed it
  • clean up dead leaves from last fall
  • clear out my garden spaces
  • take the trash to the dump
  • go for a walk in the woods
  • take a nap
  • work on some job stuff that is still outstanding
  • read up on my technology stuff and play with it a bit
  • take another nap
  • write a little bit
  • do more work on my job skills

It might sound like a lot to do, and it is. If I devote an hour to each of these activities, plus a little extra rest time before and after, it will take me through to supper time, and then I can relax, fix the meal, and watch a movie before I head to bed at a decent hour.

The key to doing this well is only doing each activity for an hour or so. I have to pace myself, because all these things really need to be done — they’re overdue, in fact. So, I’ll make hay while the sun shines and do what I can, an hour at a time. Even less, if I can.

I’m learning to really hold myself to shorter bursts of energy for important tasks. I’m finding that I’m better able to get things done, if I don’t leave myself a lot of “breathing room” to do it. I need to focus myself intently on what I’m doing, in order to get it done. I can’t do what I used to — just leave myself wide open spans of time to do this, that and the other thing as the spirit moves me. That used to be the only way I could get anything done. But that was 10-20 years ago. Nowadays, my brain is different than it used to be, and I need to sit down with myself ahead of time, think things through, get clear on my priorities, and then move through them briskly, not getting mired in details and ending up drifting far and wide beyond what I’m supposed to be doing.

I must keep myself from wearing myself out on one activity alone. I must keep myself from becoming confused and frustrated when I drift off-course. I have to hold myself to what I planned to do, and keep my “contracts” with myself about what I will (and will not) do.

I can get all this done. And I can have a good time doing it. If I stick with my schedule and track my progress, it can all work out.

Getting to Sleep… a meditation of sorts

I have a lot of trouble getting to sleep, some nights. A lot of nights, in fact. I have trouble relaxing, and once I am in bed, I have a hard time turning off my head and relaxing my body. Here is a kind of “meditation” I use to relax myself, stimulate my rest-and-recuperate parasympathetic nervous system, and eventually get to sleep. It incorporates pieces from guided imagery I listen to, techniques I’ve learned over the years, and elements of neuroscience.

Try it… you might like it.

First, lie down flat on your back in bed. Make sure your head and neck and spine are all aligned and well-supported by the bed beneath you. Shift your body a little bit, so that you release some tension and are better able to let your body rest fully on the bed beneath you.

Now, feel your body from head to toe. Feel how tense it is in places… Imagine that you are encased in a hard shell of tension…

Now, taking a deep breath, imagine that you are sending a deep breath down into your feet, into the very tips of your toes… As you inhale, imagine your skin is like a balloon, and your breath is expanding it around your toes and feet, inflating the “balloon” of your body…

Imagine the pressure of your expanding shell cracking the hard “case” of tension that’s surrounding you. When you have inhaled fully (and comfortably), hold your breath for just a split second and feel the little crackles of broken-up stress float free in the breath “in” your feet.

Now, exhale slowly and comfortably. As you do, imagine the little crackles of stress being carried out of your body on your breath. Exhale fully and comfortably, and when you are done, rest for just a split second before inhaling again.

Feel how relaxed your feet are, from your toes through the arches of your feet, up to the tops of your feet. Feel how relaxed your muscles are… how warm and soft and comfortable they are…

As you inhale the next time, send your breath down into your ankles, and “inflate” the “balloon” of your body around your ankles. Feel the warm breath warming your feet and ankles, and feel the rigid tension of your body breaking up into little pieces…

As you exhale again, slowly and easily, imagine the little free-floating pieces of tension being carried out of your body by your breath…

Feel how relaxed and comfortable your ankles are… Feel how warm and soft they are… almost as though they are falling into a sound, peaceful sleep…

Now, take another long, slow, deep breath, easily sending the breath down your legs to your shins, where they “inflate” the tough shell of tension around your lower legs. Feel the breath expanding the space around your calves, your shins… crackling the tension into tiny little pieces, so it can be carried out of your body…

As you exhale, feel the breath carrying the tension far, far away from you, leaving only warmth and relaxation behind it…

Keep moving up your body, “breathing into” the different hard places that are surrounded by a shell of tension, and letting the out-breath carry away those little broken-up pieces. Work your way up your body, from feet to legs to torso to arms, to shoulders, to head. Take your time and breathe deeply and comfortably. After each out-breath, let the parts of you that you breathed into relax fully and fall into sleep. Don’t worry about going to sleep yourself, just let your body relax and let all the tension fall away… It’s all good.

I have been doing this meditation a lot, lately, and on a good night, I can get to sleep before I’ve gotten past my thighs. The progressive relaxation helps me let go of the tension, and the deep breathing helps to stimulate my vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system in general. Focusing on my breathing and my body keeps my mind from being driven to distraction when I’m trying to sleep. And just lying still and letting my body sink into the bed makes it possible for me to just… let… go… which is oh, so hard for me to do under waking conditions. Also, I have read that 15 minutes of conscious relaxation — not sitting around doing nothing, but actual relaxation, is like taking a 30-minute nap.  So, even if I/you don’t fall asleep right away, at least the body is getting some benefit from the experience.

I hope you find this helpful as you try to get to sleep.

When in doubt… sleep

Last night I officially wore too thin.

It was not a good night. After what felt like an impossibly long day, I just fell apart and broke down around the time I should have been going to bed. I got into a fight with my partner and shouted and slammed doors and stormed off and wept bitterly for about an hour.

This morning I feel hungover and groggy and stupid for having let everything get to me.

Note to self: When it’s all getting to be too much, stop trying to think things through and just get some rest.

Looking back, I can see how everything just piled up on top of me. The session with my therapist, that left me feeling like an idiot. The challenge of keeping functional at a job I’m only going to be at for another week. The pressure of learning specific skills I need to have, when I start my new job(!) in a little over a week. The insecurity I feel at stepping up my career path at this dream job of mine, which is a continuation of what I had been doing back before I had my fall in 2004. I’m terribly concerned that I’m not going to be able to hang in there and do the work. And I’m worried that my TBI stuff is going to get in the way.

But instead of paying attention to all that and slowing down and taking care of myself, I’ve been pushing myself harder and harder. My “Perilous Relief” has now swung around to bite me in the ass, and I melted down. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t pretty. And now I feel like crap.

This is something I really need to pay attention to. I haven’t been getting the kind of sleep I need, lately. I’ve been too busy, too wrapped up in all kinds of important stuff, too worried, too everything. I’ve been driven by my anxiety, my insecurity, my bubbling borderline panic.

Letting that get hold of me is no good. And it just makes my headache more intense. I need to pay attention to my warning signs… and do something about them.

So, what are my warning signs?

Being 150% convinced that a new project is something I must do.

I find myself starting to come up with new projects to work on that suddenly infuse me with all sorts of energy and fascination. I come up with things like creating 6-week courses in online job-seeking skills, or writing a full documentation set for a favorite software program that needs more detail, or launching a new career as a technical translator. In actuality, those projects are ill-conceived and not practical. They appeal to me on a high level, but I do not have the stamina — or the sustainable interest — that is necessary to make them “fly”. And I don’t usually think them through well enough at the outset to realize that there’s a whole lot more detail and involvement in them than I’m ready or willing to devote myself to.

So, I end up canning the ideas in the early implementation stage… and I get down on myself for having gone down that track.

In reality, what I am really doing is infusing my tired brain with energy. It has nothing to do with my life’s work or my chosen path. These new projects are just ways to invigorate a brain that’s pulsing a little more slowly than I’d like.

Not bothering to sleep.

The more tired I get, the harder it is for me to sleep. Funny how that works… I have been so caught up in running here, there, everywhere, tending to stuff, tending to what needs to happen, that I haven’t slowed down long enough to get some rest.

That’s bad. Fatigue is a huge stressor for me and it turns my triggers into hair-triggers.

Going too fast.

I have been kind of going a mile a minute, lately. I’ve been cramming in all kinds of extra activities into my days — running errands, writing emails, doing chores, picking up extra projects. Some of it has been really important, of course — like getting my new job situation lined up. But some of the other stuff has been non-essential — like trips to the library to get books I don’t need to be reading. I’ve been careening from one activity to the other, instead of taking my time. And that’s caused me to make little mistakes along the way, like forgetting to do certain chores and forgetting to send the emails that I do need to send. Little mistakes throw me off and turn into larger issues.

Not self-assessing.

It doesn’t really take much for me to self-assess each week. Or even each week. But I’ve been avoiding it like crazy, and it’s not helping. I’m not keeping tabs on my different issues, so they get out of hand, and I literally forget that I’ve got problems in certain areas. It’s just not good. Ironically, knowing what problems I’m having alleviates them. But ignoring them and pretending they don’t matter just makes them worse. Some people (who I say belong to the “think happy thoughts” school) say that you shouldn’t “give any energy” to troubling conditions, as though paying attention to them makes them worse. But in actuality, not paying attention to them makes them so much more problematic, than if I blithely disregard them.

So, what do I do about all this?

First, start self-assessing again.

Pay attention to what’s going on with me.

Second, get some sleep.

Real sleep. In the pitch-black guest bedroom at the back of the house.

Take looooong naps on the weekend.

Make sure I start going to bed no later than 10:00 p.m. each night.

Enlist the help of my partner to make sure I do this religiously, until I’m caught up.

Listen to my guided imagery to help me with restful sleep.

Deprioritize everything that is not essential, until I am caught up and am feeling better.

Third, stick to my plan.

I actually do have a plan for my life and work. I have specific steps I am going to follow to set things in order and keep myself on track. And I need to abide by it. Stick with the program. Don’t deviate. Just follow it through, one step at a time. Having a specific, expressed plan of action takes the pressure off the part of me that gets anxious about unknowns. And sticking with the plan makes my life a whole lot simpler — and less stressful.

Fourth, write… write… and write some more.

Writing really soothes me a great deal. It helps me focus, it helps me get in touch with what’s going on with me, it helps me keep my act together. I just need to write in ways that are structured and on-p0int. For many years, I kept journals that were rambling, stream-of-consciousness explorations of my inner world. They seemed to make me feel better, while I was writing in them, but in actuality, they were a kind of drug that numbed me to my troubles. They didn’t help me overcome them; they actually got me mired in them even more — I filled them with perpetual, rambling detail that was meaningless to everyone except me in that moment.

The kind of writing I need to do now is very pointed, very lasered, very specific to the real world I experience around me. It’s not all meant for public consumption — I have a number of writing projects behind the scenes that will probably never see the light of day in my lifetime, if at all. But the discipline of writing in a deliberate, structured way is good practice for my life.

In a way, I think that writing is my spiritual practice. I’ll have to write more on that later. But for now, it’s time for me to get on with my day. Take care of some errands I need to do, and prepare for a day of work at a job I’m phasing out.

I actually have a lot of really wonderful things happening in my life. But if I’m not rested and fully functional, all the wonderful things become a terrible burden for my little brain, and the sweet nectar of life gets gooey and a little rancid.

Yes, yes, yes… When in doubt… Sleep.

PTST – Post-Traumatic Stress Tetris

This has not been an easy few weeks. I tend to make light of my difficulties, and try to not get all mired in them, but between my job stress, money problems, social issues, and the resurgence of some pretty intense pain that just won’t quit, it hasn’t been a walk in the park.

I don’t want sympathy, but I do need to say it out loud, so I don’t keep denying the impact it’s having on me.

I think that Natasha Richardson’s fatal accident also threw me for a loop. There’s part of me that doesn’t understand why I could have so many bad falls and survive, while she didn’t have as rough a tumble (from what I read), yet she’s gone. On the one hand, I’m so very grateful to still be here. On the other, I am feeling some survivor’s guilt that is buried very deep and is taking a while to get to the surface.

On top of this, I’ve been dredging up some rough old “stuff” that happened to me 25 years ago that was pretty bad. Basically, I got my wires crossed with the wrong person — I wasn’t reading their social cues very well, and it turned ugly, and that person was not only an active addict and alcoholic, but they were overly aggressive, as well. So, I got my ass kicked. More than once.

It left me not only physically injured, but it set me back pretty intensely in other ways. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong, I couldn’t figure out why it had happened, and I ended up isolating and acting out in un-helpful ways, and generally going downhill and ending up with some nasty post-traumatic stress.

Now I’m dealing with it in therapy, and it’s not pretty. I couldn’t have picked a worse time to deal with this, considering everything that’s going on with my job and health and bank accout. But there’s never a good time to deal with this crap, so what-evah. Fine. I’ll deal with this, too.

I’ve not been sleeping well, and I’ve been having flashbacks. Unpleasant stuff. Trying to navigate all this is bad enough, but my TBI situation isn’t helping. I’m pretty much at an impasse with what to do.

One thing that has helped me with my flashbacks, playing Tetris at http://www.gosu.pl/tetris/.

I don’t know what it is about the game, but I’ve been playing it, on and off over the past couple of weeks, and it actually seems to be helping me with flashbacks. Something about the movement and the colors and how emotionally neutral the shapes are, is very soothing.

I had read something about it helping with ptsd flash backs — and why it may work. I’ll have to dig that up and write about it. It’s pretty interesting, I think.

But for now, I’ve got to get going to work and see what the day ahead of me brings.

Nap a little now… Sleep a lot later

I finally was able to get a bunch of sleep over the past 12 hours. I got home from work yesterday, and I was utterly exhausted. I could barely stop at a gas station to top off the air in my car’s left rear tire (which has been low for some weeks, but didn’t fully catch my attention till I really took a close look at it yesterday). Once home, I took a long, hot shower to take the edge off the pain I’ve been in and help me relax, then I debated whether to stay up and spend time with my partner and hit the hay early, or just take a little nap to take the edge off my fatigue.

Not feeling particularly … “viable”… I opted for the nap. I would have been lousy company had I stayed up, anyway, and why do that to someone who’s also had a really long day? I crawled into my “cave” — the quiet guest bedroom that’s at the back of the house that is my own little retreat at home — and lay down around 6:30 last night. I planned to get up in an hour or so, when supper was ready, but when my partner came to rouse me, I couldn’t budge. I couldn’t even fully wake up. This was probably around 8:30 or so… My beloved decided to let me sleep, as I’ve been so edgy and antsy, and it was abundantly clear to them that I needed to rest.

‘Round about 10:30, I woke up a bit — had to use the bathroom — and I joined the rest of my household for a little warmed-up dinner. I generally try to eat supper before 8 p.m. (which I know is probably too late — should probably be before 7) but last night was different. I was a little concerned that I might not be able to get back to sleep, if I stayed up and had “dinner” and watched a little television, but I gave it a whirl.

And wonder of wonders, I was actually tired — yawning — the rest of the evening. I headed back to bed in my cave around midnight (I have a long day ahead of me today, and I need uninterrupted sleep all by my lonesome in my cave when I’m having trouble with insomnia). I did write a little in my journal about some PTSD stuff that’s been coming up for me, lately, but when I lay down and relaxed, I went right to sleep, which is nothing short of a miracle.

I did wake up earlier than I wanted to, this a.m. — I had hoped to sleep till 7:30, but I was up before 6:00, as usual. Oh, well. At least it was closer to 6:00 a.m. than 5 a.m. Maybe my body is preparing for Daylight Savings Time, which begins this weekend. And this way, I have time to post some info before my day starts. Not a bad thing. At least I got another 5-1/2 hours of sleep between my nap last night and right now.

One thing I noticed when I woke up this morning, was that I was extremely tense. My body felt like it was spring-loaded and ready to spring into action. This is not new for me. I usually feel this way when I’m waking up, and try as I might, I cannot seem to release the tension, first thing in the a.m. I think that’s what’s been waking me up — being really tense and tight, first thing in the morning. It’s almost like my body is gearing up for the day, in advance. Like it knows I’m going to be waking up soon, and it’s getting all charged up in advance.

I have a hard time, sometimes, getting out of bed. Literally and figuratively. Not only do I have to muster the courage to get out of a warm bed into the cold air, but I tend to not be very coordinated, first thing in the a.m. Especially when my vestibular system/balance is off, I can be very wobbly and sick-on-my-stomach, when I get out of bed. I am sometimes not very coordinated about it — I hit the floor a lot harder than I intend, and I wake up my partner, which is a PITA for both of us. So, I tend to tense up and gather myself physically — and mentally — before rolling out of bed.

You wouldn’t think getting out of bed would be such a challenge, but some days it’s just the first of a long series of difficult things I’ll have to do.

Another thing that I noticed this a.m., when I was waking up very tense, was that when I relaxed, my body started to ache and throb. My joints have been giving me a lot of trouble, lately, as has my lower back. It’s not really muscular — it’s along the areas where my muscles connect with my bone, like along the top of my pelvis in my lower back — the iliac crest, I think it’s called. My shoulders and neck and hips and back just ache and throb and burn. And it gets worse when I relax.

About 20 years ago, after a car accident that didn’t seem like that big of a deal (but sent me spiraling downward — I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me when they talked, and I couldn’t keep my job and I started drinking pretty heavily). I started having terrible, awful problems with debilitating pain. It started in early 1988 and persisted for about five years — eventually the pain got to the point where I couldn’t hold down a permanent job, and I literally couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. At the time, fibromyalgia (as well as chronic fatigue syndrome) was not widely recognized or well-understood, so even though I had a lot of the symptoms of it, then, I was never diagnosed. Comparing notes with others with FMS (or “fibro”), I see an awful lot of similarities, so I’m “lumping” my experience under the FMS banner, sans official diagnosis. I’m not sure I’ll be able to work up the nerve to see a doctor about these symptoms — my ordeal 20 years ago was pretty gruelling and debilitating in and of itself, and nothing the doctors told me or subscribed for me really helped. Ultimately, I made some lifestyle changes — stopped smoking, started taking better care of myself, quit pushing myself so hard all the time, changed my shoes from hard-soled boots to soft-soled loafers, and I started eating right — and the pain dissipated considerably. I’ve been in pain, off and on, over the years, and I tend to use it as a barometer for how well I’m taking care of myself. I must not be doing a very good job of that, lately, ‘cuz I’m in terrible pain, these days.

Then again, it could be the weather, too. All I know is, I’m in a lot of pain, these days, and it’s keeping me from sleeping. And relaxing. I think in some ways, the relaxing problems bother me even more than the sleeping ones.

How much does that suck… I mean, it’s bad enough that I haven’t slept, and that my days have been crazy-busy, and I’m having trouble with figuring out how to deal with my work. But when even the simple pleasure of relaxing is off-limits to me, and it actually increases my pain and discomfort, well, then I start to feel like the Universe is really out to get me.

I hate to be a whiner, so I’ll stop right now. But let the record show that I’m not really happy about not being able to relax without pain. I’ll have to work on that. Use my acupressure points, drink more water, exercise more… maybe work some exercise into my morning routine to release some of the tension before my day starts. And quit eating so much sugar!

Well, the day is waiting. I would prefer to not be in pain and to be able to get through the day without exhaustion and tension, but you can’t have everything. At least I’m able to get through the day on my own steam, and I have plenty of activities to distract me from my discomfort.

Life, on the whole, is not bad at all. Onward…