Author Archives: Kelly

Contemplating My Place in the World

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Saturday brought significant snow fall to Norfolk.

Snow 2

Snow 1

Since it’s still early in the season, I’m welcoming the snow with open arms and a profound sense of joy. I think part of that has to do with my new dog buddy, Dodger.

Dodger in Snow Edited

At the request of his human mom, I’ve been walking Dodger a few times a week. He’s a frisky pup who likes running and adventures, so when I arrive on their doorstep to pick him up for our walks, you can imagine his excitement. Not only do I receive lots of licks and paw offerings, but he likes to sit on my lap and lean into me like we’re hugging.

Eventually we end our love fest and get on with the walking. But first, I have to get Dodger past the electric fence in his yard. Even without his collar on, he refuses to cross the boundary line. Sometimes, he won’t even get in the car when he thinks it’s too close. But once I drive him out of the yard, we are good to go!

We then head off to a local field for some excellent romping. On the way, I’ve taken to singing Dodger songs, since he’s so happy and I can’t help but feel happy around him. Also, the name Dodger lends itself well to many holiday songs.  For example:

Dodging through the snow

In a one-dog open sleigh

O’er the fields we go

Barking all the way

Woof Woof Woof

Bells on Furry Rings

Making Spirits Bright

What fun it is to Dodge and Sing

A Dodger Dog tonight

Oh, Dodger Dog, Dodger Dog

Dodger All the Way!

Oh what fun it is to Dodge

In a one-dog open sleigh, hey!

Dodger seems to enjoy my singing despite my awful voice.  He definitely enjoys the snow more. Though if I’m being honest, I can’t imagine there are things in this world he doesn’t enjoy.

Dodger in Snow

As we walked through the woods, the snow freezing in my hair, on my hat, and on my scarf, I almost started crying for how beautiful the world looked. I said prayers of gratitude for being allowed to experience the moment; not just the quiet solitude of the snow, but also being blessed with the companionship of Dodger.

Not once when I was a college professor did I ever feel so at one with the world and my place in it than I did for those moments with Dodger in the woods.

I often joke these days that I should start replying to people when they ask that my PhD is in Professional House and Dog Sitting. I know it doesn’t quite have the same prestige as a PhD in psychology, but I didn’t truly belong in the classroom as a professor.

Yes, there are some students out there who have let me know throughout the years that I had a positive impact on their lives; similarly, there are some students who impacted me just the same. I’m not saying I don’t have some wonderful memories of teaching or that I didn’t enjoy certain aspects of my job.

But my heart was never truly in teaching, at least not teaching statistics and research methods. I knew in year 2 of my PhD program that I was in the wrong field. For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t brave enough to quit then.

Once I graduated, I picked a job I thought I would like and one that had many appealing qualities, especially a flexible schedule and summers off. In retrospect, I learned the hard way that when I lived a life I was not passionate about I was slowly poisoning myself. It’s no wonder I had so many health issues for so many years.

Since leaving teaching, I’m still asking the question where do I belong? It’s scary not to be sure, but at the same time exhilarating because I’m open to so many possibilities.  I may never end up knowing the answer for certain, but for right now I can say with enthusiasm and joy in my heart that I belong in the woods, with a dog, writing about the experience. Thank you for your willingness to read my words.  And WOOF! From Dodger.

 

Shoulds Versus Values

Zootopia Title

I spent three full days in Washington DC last week and logged nearly 37 miles of walking, which is the equivalent of 87,954 steps.  Most of those steps took me to one place – the National Zoo!

National Zoo

I know there are so many wonderful educational and cultural opportunities available in DC, yet every day I couldn’t bear not seeing the pandas (pun totally intended).  Although, I did experience some angst that first evening as I debated where I should visit the following day.

After “shoulding” on myself for about half an hour (i.e., I should go here,  I should go there), I realized I had a choice to make.  I could visit several museums or monuments that are iconic of DC and have a rich and storied history, or I could go back to the zoo, visit the pandas again and see all the other animals I didn’t get a chance to because I literally spent hours watching Bei Bei sit in a bucket that first day.

Bei Bei in bucket 2

Bei Bei Video #1

Bei Bei Video #2

The choice wasn’t really a choice at all.  I went with my heart and headed to National Zoo again on Tuesday and then Wednesday, as well.

Panda Mom

Beaver

Elephant 2

Lionesses 2

Red Panda

I know what makes me happiest, and even though I value intellectually enriching experiences, at this point learning about art and history is not a priority in my life.

As I wrote about in my blog last week, I feel some sort of shift coming in my life, especially as I relate to the natural world around me.  My few days at the zoo reaffirmed these feelings.

I know some people may think of zoos as an awful place, a jail where animals are held in captivity.  But I like to think of zoos as the proverbial Noah’s Ark of the 21 century.  Some animals will not survive without the work zoos are doing on a daily basis and many zoos are the bridge that first connects people, especially children, to these wonderful animals.  Without these connections, we stand to lose even more animals, habitat, and natural resources that are so precious and necessary for human survival.

Most zoos today are leaders in animal science and conservation. They have accrediting bodies with standards and quality of care for the animals they house and every day they devote time, money, and personnel to scientific advancement and achievement.  I celebrated these facts for three days as I marveled at the animals I observed, loving every minute of it, and smiling along with the other zoo guests.

Seriously, if you’re ever feeling depressed, head to a zoo and listen to people watching the animals.  Their laughter and joy will warm you from the inside out.  I felt nothing but gratitude and inspiration at the chance to experience such exuberant joy

Those three days in DC were a wonderful gift.  I’m so glad I know myself enough to not waste time on anything else that’s not going to fill my heart with joy.  Next time, I hope to completely skip the “shoulding” on myself and head right for those bears.  I sure do miss them.  I wonder if they miss me?

Kelly with Panda 2

After Thanksgiving Reflections

What Comes Next Title

Thanksgiving is now behind us!  I’m delighted to report I’ve kept nearly all my daily habits, including writing, exercise, and mindful eating for the entire time we’ve been at my parents’ house.  Not only does it feel good, but the positive reinforcement motivates me to keep going.

We’ll see what happens when my family and I head to Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane today.  I suspect there may be a peanut butter hot fudge sundae in my future.

One of the best parts of being in Harrisburg is that my 21-year-old niece is also visiting.  She’s a junior Chemistry-Economics double-major at UT-Austin, and the smarty-pants that she is, she’s participating in the Archer Fellowship in Washington DC this semester as a science policy intern.  Note: NOT scientology, which is what my Dad heard her say at the Thanksgiving table.

My niece seems to be fully embracing my anti-consumeristic, eco-justice, pacifist tendencies.  She also seems to be passing me on some levels of intelligence, which is both scary and awesome.  Although, I will never let her live down this sentence that she wrote for a class paper a few summers ago when she was feeling more than a little burnt out: War is wrong and bad.

Someday I hope to have this saying printed on a t-shirt.

But, honestly, how could I not be proud of someone who creates Snapchats like this:

IMG_0766 IMG_0826

My niece and I are going to take a bus back to Washington, DC tomorrow so we can hang out a little bit longer. On our agenda are the National Zoo and a walking tour of the National Monuments.  I can’t wait to see the pandas!  Although I appreciate our Founding Fathers (and Mothers, but you don’t see much representation of them), they aren’t quite so roly-poly:

When I was younger, I used to have a fantasy that I’d be famous enough to be a guest on a talk show that coincidentally happened to be the same day Jack Hanna was also a guest. And he just happened to have brought roly-poly baby animals with him.

Okay, maybe I still have this fantasy, but as an animal lover I just can’t help.  I think this is why my niece and I get along so well.  We both feel a kindred sense of connection with all creatures great and small.

As I get older and become more aware of my place in this world, I’m realizing just how much my love for animals is a major driving force in my life.  Before I developed a host of health issues, I was a vegetarian because I felt hypocritical for loving dogs and eating cows.

Now that I’ve regained good health, I slowly find myself returning to my vegetarian ways.  But because I did have such severe health problems, that return is limping along at a snail’s pace.  I suppose it’s partly fear – I don’t ever want to be that unhealthy again – and partly selfishness – animal meat can taste delicious.

This year I’ve stopped eating pork and next year I plan to stop eating fish.  I suspect giving up fish will be quite easy as most fish now consume so much plastic that’s been dumped in the ocean, it’s found in their bodies in significant quantities.  So gross!  Humans can ruin everything, including the ocean.

Whenever I start feeling depressed over our ravaging of the environment, I remind myself of the incredibly bright and motivated people, like my niece, who are working to protect our planet. Sometimes I’m also one of them.

Lately, I’ve been thinking I should be doing more.  I feel some sort of positive shift coming with my connection to the natural world.  I don’t know what exactly and I’m feeling excited.  I’ve had a couple of ideas that I’m slowly refining, with some forward progress. I’m not quite sure what it’s all about right now, so I can’t really share more.

In the meantime, I will keep my eyes and heart open to the natural world around me.  Perhaps something will inspire me, or I’ll receive guidance from an unexpected source.  Maybe I’ll get to hold a baby animal at the National Zoo?  Probably not, but I’ll never stop dreaming.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  My love, gratitude, and appreciation for your continued support and encouragement.

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

It's almost Turkey Time

Mid-November is apparently the time of year when things almost fall on my car.  This photo is from November 12th, 2015:

Tree bRANCH THEN

And here’s today’s photos:

Fall brnach today 3 fALL BRANCH TODAY 2 Fallen branch today 1

I could have been driving on Route 44 when that big honkin’ tree came down!  Talk about kick-in-the-pants gratitude.  I always welcome these small moments into my life that remind me how truly lucky I am.

There is a downside to this fallen tree (HAHA, downside – get it?).  It stopped me from meeting up this morning with one of my writing partners.  She was, of course, understanding and gracious about my last-minute cancellation.  I just hate wasting people’s time and she didn’t get any of my emails informing her of my blocked street.

I also don’t get the benefit of discussing writing craft with her, sharing our weekly writing updates on our projects, and commiserating over the long and arduous path to publication.  Since next week is Thanksgiving, it will be a few more weeks before we can reconnect again.  So, I’m doubly bummed about missing out on all the writing fun we have together.

In the meantime, my husband and I will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, to spend the holiday with my parents, brother, and niece.  I’m quite looking forward to it and this will be the first real test since September to see if my writing and exercise habits that I’ve been developing stick.

I’m at the half-way point towards my 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week interval training goal.  Using Dr. Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot as my guide, I’m building this habit slowly, by tacking on an extra minute of cardio every week to my already established 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week strength training regime.  For example, today I lifted weights with my upper body for 20 minutes and then I alternated in 30-second increments of frenetic dancing with marching/dancing in place for a total of 10 minutes.

Confession: Today I exercised a little bit longer so I could finish dancing to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the FeelingI dare you to try listening to it and not dancing to the entire song.

Normally, I abide by my strict time limits because I don’t want to get ahead of myself and then build the activity too quickly.  I know myself too well and that is a surefire way for me to burnout and then give up.

Adding one minute on each week seems to be the trick for me to keep up with this routine.  Although sometimes I forget that my morning exercise routine now takes longer than 20 minutes and I do occasionally feel rushed.

Anyway, it’s easy to have my morning habits in place when I follow the same pattern every day: Get up around 5:30-6:30am, feed the dogs and let them out, hand write 2 pages of my latest novel, hand write a prayer to start my day, which will also serve as a first draft prayer for a daily devotional I’m writing, meditate for 20 minutes, and then workout.

With the time I’ll be in Harrisburg and the few days after that in which I’ll be staying with my niece in Washington, DC, there’s sure to be disruption along the way.

One of the keys to disruptions that Dr. Carter writes about in The Sweet Spot is to have a plan already in place so you know how to deal with them.

I expect the biggest disruption will be that my daily wake-sleep schedule will completely fall apart.  Traveling makes me feel even more tired than usual and I tend to have very vivid dreams when my schedule is disrupted.  If I wake up feeling exhausted, then I’m less likely to get out of bed in a timely manner.  Then, when I do get up other people in the house are awake and my concentration and time is diverted.

This solution will be easy enough because I’ve had many mornings this past fall where I’ve struggled to get out of bed.  I don’t like writing in bed, but sometimes it’s the compromise I make for being productive and respecting my narcolepsy.  So, I’ll sleep with my notebook and a pen on the side of my bed.  I’ll also keep my phone and headphones nearby.  That way I can also meditate before getting up.

Note to self – un-install social media and gmail apps on my phone, lest I get distracted by those time wasters before accomplishing any of my usual morning goals.

I suppose I could also visualize exercising before getting up, which is my current fallback plan for if I am too exhausted to get out of bed.  But that hasn’t happened yet and I want to use it as a last resort.

If once I am up and about, I’m unable to exercise the way I’d like, my backup plan is to do short, mini-exercises for one-minute increments throughout the day sneaking them in whenever I can.  Ideally, I’d hit 20 increments but 10 is going to be my starting point.  Again, this is a fall back plan so hopefully the 10 versus 20 increments is a moot point.

I’m kind of excited to see how it goes; the other parts of me are worried I’ll chuck everything by the wayside and spend my days gorging on junk food and reclining on the couch.  Psychology tells us that most of what we worry about is imaginary, but having succumbed to the treats at my parents’ house and the comfortableness of the couch one to many times over the past few years, I know this a real and valid concern.

But if nothing else, I have learned by forming my new habits that just because I have behaved a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean I have to behave that way in the future.  It’s up to me to make my choices and I know I will do my best.  That’s all I can ask.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving next week!  I am so grateful for your love and support.

Getting My Nature Fix

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This fall has been particularly gray and wet in Norfolk.  To give you some idea, here’s what the Norfolk Creek that runs on the property looked like recently after a few days of steady rain:

 

Here’s what the creek usually looks like:

 

 

We also had our first wintery mix of the season this past Tuesday, too:

 

Wintery MIx

 

I happen to like winter.  The peace and solitude of the season nourishes my soul.  Then there’s the fun and magic of a newly fallen snow.  Winter can be simply wonderful!

Yet, I also love the sun and I’m pretty sure I’m solar powered.  So on Thursday when we had blue skies with fluffy white clouds and a sun that peaked out every once in a while, I wanted to get out of the house and enjoy the feel of sunshine on my face.

I didn’t realize it at first that getting out of the house is what I wanted.  I sat at the kitchen table for a long time Thursday morning feeling like something wasn’t quite right.  My husband and I ate breakfast and then with a whole morning stretching in front of me I thought I would get down to writing.  But something prevented me from getting out my computer and opening up one of my writing projects.

After wasting time on Facebook for a little bit, I forced myself to get up.   I headed to the shower thinking the water would energize me.

Leaving the table ended up being the best choice I could have made, because once upstairs I realized: I needed to get out of the house! Sure, I had been several places throughout the earlier part of the week, but because of the rain I limited a lot of my activity.  I didn’t even crack 4,000 steps on Tuesday.  Monday and Wednesday were hardly any better.

I also had the great idea to take a dog with me.   What an extraordinary afternoon:

Tobey running

I reaped so many benefits from that hour and a half – I felt joyful, energized, creative, and inspired.  It was exactly what I needed and being outside served as a good reminder that for me, nature really is the best medicine.

I kept this idea forefront in my mind Friday, too.  Another gloriously sunny day, though we’re also experiencing record colds for the second week in November.  I decided not to let that stop me from walking to someone’s house approximately 1.5 miles away for some tea and conversation.

A few people expressed concern that I’d be walking in 20-ish degree weather.  But I had a hat, scarf, gloves, long underwear, and a feeling of excitement to be out in the sunshine moving around.  I left with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

Besides, the distance wasn’t that far.  I once headed out on the Las Vegas strip to walk four miles to a handstand yoga class a Whole Foods was offering.  The concierge, bellman, and doorman all told me NOT to walk.  I said various forms of ”pshah,” to the them – I could walk four miles no problem.  Didn’t they know I got an A in my walking class in college?

I quickly learned a four-mile walk in the desert, even in April, is right up there on the list of stupid things I’ve done, especially when you have no water, don’t wear a hat, and forget extra sunscreen.  I’d put that walk slightly below breaking my ankle while chasing after a bird on the ancient Inca trail in the Andes Mountains of Peru and then thinking I could walk the injury off.  I felt pretty confident walking 1.5 miles in the cold, on a populated path, while completely bundled up, wouldn’t even compare. And I was right!  Looks like my intuition is finally getting better.

A little over halfway on my cold-weather sojourn, I received an IM from my husband: Hey babe. Are you cold? My response: Exhilarated!

I made it to my destination no problem and even managed to snag some quality time with a dog.  His name is Max and don’t tell Tobey, Smudge, or Faith, but I LOVE HIM!

Cropped MAz

What another wonderful day.  It’s amazing what a little sunshine and time outdoors can do for the spirit.

As we head into more wet weather before the snow arrives, I’m going to be more mindful of how I can work with the season to stay connected to nature.  As long as I take proper precautions, there’s no reason I can’t be outside when it’s rainy and cold.  I shouldn’t let those conditions stop me.  The same indomitable spirit that overcomes me when it’s sunny is still there when it’s raining.  I just might have to dig a little deeper to bring that spirit forth.

Happy 21st Birthday to My Niece!

Happy Birthday BT

HB Now

Tomorrow marks an important milestone in my family’s genealogy – my niece turns 21! I can hardly believe it.  I remember when she was a little nubbins of a human being, super sweet and quiet, barely making a sound.

Little Nubbins 2

Since then she has grown into an extraordinary adult.  And although I can no longer pick her up, some of us still can because her nubbinsy-ways have carried forth.

Jori and Heath,

To celebrate this momentous occasion, here are 21 reasons why my niece is AWESOME, in no particular order.

#1.  Her nickname is Monster because she was so quiet and good-natured as a baby that I had to somehow create excitement for her; thus, an ironic nickname.Jori Baby

#2. She loves dogs nearly as much as I do (she’d probably argue that we are on equal footing when it comes to doggo love; however, as I’m older that means I’ve had more time to love them).

Jori and Faith

#3.  In the Harry Potter Universe, she’d totally be a Ravenclaw. That girl is SMART! and I’m not saying this because I’m biased (and I’d totally be in Hufflepuff, by the way).  She graduated from high school with the highest science GPA in her class, she got accepted into the Honors College at UT-Austin, she double majors in Chemistry and Economics, and she’s living right now in Washington DC as part of a prestigious fellowship program.

Harry Potter motorcycle

#4. Her motto is, “God made the dirt and dirt don’t hurt.”  Don’t we look GOOD in our detox mud masks?

DSCN2210

#5. She totally gets my narcolepsy frustrations because she has narcolepsy, too!

SNug as a bug in a rug

#6. Even though she has narcolepsy, she was totally on board with my let’s go watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon plan during our 2016 southwest springbreak roadtrip extravaganza.  As she said when the sun started to rise, “Narcoleptics Prevail!”

Grand Canyon

#7. Speaking of roadtrips, she’s always up for one! So far we’ve gone from San Antonio, TX to Chapel Hill, NC, by way of Hot Springs, Arkansas, with stops in Austin, Murfreesboro, and Memphis; Phoenix to Las Vegas, with stops at the Petrified Forest, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon; and a mini-tour of CT ala the television show Gilmore Girls.

Jori on bridge

with dinosaur

Gazebo

#8. Together we created only one rule for our roadtrips – if you see a stone staircase, you have to take it!

Stone stair case

#9. You should always stop at botanical gardens, too, especially when they’re on a top 10 list.  That’s not an official roadtrip rule, but I think it’s good practice.  I almost didn’t stop because I thought the admission fee was too high.  That would have been silly, but she was okay with that. This glass chapel helped me see the error my ways.

Glass Chapel

#10. She’s enthusiastic about llamas, as we all should be!

Jori and Jack the Llama

#11. If you ask her to make a face like a tiger, she quickly obliges.

Tiger Face

#12. She also quickly obliges when you ask her to play games like Memory. I will never get tired of playing games like that, especially with someone as fun as she is.

DSCN2147

#13. Her advice is excellent. When I asked her how I should tell my parents my husband and I eloped in Nashville, she suggested I spell it out during a game of Scrabble since my mom and I play every time I visit home.

Married with Jori's picture

#14. Hamburger cakes are just weird, but because she wanted to try one I now know differently.

Harburger Cake edited

#15. She believes in reduce, reuse, and recycle. See these awesome sandals?  She wore them for a few seasons then passed them on to me when I needed a pair.

Sandals

#16. Even though she’s sleepy a lot of the time, she’s always willing to be a co-pilot. Even when we have to drive to the airport at 4:00am.

Copilot

#17. We both hate Las Vegas. That right there makes her an outstanding individual.

Las Vegas

#18. She always has a book to read.  And she takes it with her everywhere!

Jori Reading

Always book

Jori with Book 2

#19. My extreme sun safety protective measures – she always supports them.

At the beach

#20. Have you seen her smile?  Beautiful, always.

IMG_1388

#21. She is a bright light in this world. Literally and figuratively.

Inner beauty

Happy 21st birthday!  These last 21 years have been a true gift.  Thanks for being one of the best parts of my life.  You are amazing and I love you.

 

The Benefits of Taking a Break

Title

We’ve been having some extraordinary weather in Norfolk this fall.  It’s been in the 70s and 80s and from what people have been saying, the fall foliage hasn’t been too spectacular.

I beg to differ.  Here’s exhibit A:

Exhibit A

And Exhibit B:

Exhibit B

The weather has cooled off a bit and it looks like we’re going into more days of rain with more decreasing temperatures.  So I’m glad I took some time off from writing this week to meet up with a new friend.

I met this friend at an artist’s opening we both happened to attend in early September.  I knew some of her local photographs, and with my husband who is also a photographer, we struck up a conversation about how much we love Norfolk, amongst other things.

We then became friends on Facebook.  One day last week, up popped in my Facebook feed a notification that this friend was attending an event at White Memorial Conservation Center.  My husband and I have driven by White Memorial many times, most notably on our way to Arethusa Dairy to get the best ice cream in CT and possibly the United States (rumor has it they wash the cows’ butts with Pantene Pro V every day to avoid tail poop contamination with their udders), but we had never stopped there.

The event looked fascinating.  A Scottish naturalist and biologist named Bernie Lundie would lecture on what it means to be wild.  Having an interest in the nature-human connection, I thought attending would be well worth my time.  Plus, I’d get to hang out a bit more with my new friend.

My friend and I chatted about the event on Facebook Messenger for a bit, before she ended the conversation with a temporary farewell as she had to see to her pig.  Of course, I wanted to know more about that.  So that’s how on this past Monday I ended up at her family’s farm outside of Norfolk.

farm

OH. MY. GOSH.

Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe scenery.  I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful fall day.  Then there are her animals.  I am delighted to introduce to you:

Abe R Ham the pig

Hammy 2

If you love him as much as I do, he has his own Facebook page.  Just search for Abe R. Ham @AbethePig

Zorro the goat

Zorro

A frisky little fellow who has a very sweet, playful personality.

And Drummy the turkey who is as majestic as he looks.

Drummy

There was also a peacock out and about but he never made his presence known.

What a wonderful way to spend the day! I sat surrounded by everything I love about nature – changing leaves, fluffy clouds, a placid lake, and ANIMALS!  Plus, I got know my new friend a little bit better and I have a feeling we’re going to be friends for a long time.

After such a wonderful day outdoors, I felt refreshed on so many levels – mentally, physically, and spiritually.  It’s a good reminder for whenever I feel myself become too time invested in my writing.  There are benefits to taking a break – friends, pigs, goats, turkeys, and fall foliage are just a few of them.

The Positive Ways Narcolepsy Has Affected My Life

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After writing last week about how frustrated and angry I felt with having narcolepsy, a funny thing happened.  I began to feel better about the situation.

Initially, I debated even writing that post.  Narcolepsy is a part of my life, but I didn’t want my struggles with it to define me.  I wondered if I shared my feelings, would I suddenly be “that person who can’t cope.”

Why that would bother me is a post for another day, but in retrospect, I realized it was silly to think a one-time post would become the essence of who I am as presented to the world, more so than my dozens of posts about writing, playing with dogs, procrastinating, and dreaming about seeing bears in the wild.

Instead, I felt free from the hold that my poor-quality sleep had on me.  Once I got out all my feelings, the anger and resentment stayed on the screen and allowed me head space to start moving on.  I thought to myself, well, if this is how it’s going to be for the rest of my life, does that change anything?  I realized, no, it did not.  I still have goals and dreams I’m working towards and I’m not going to stop.  I may be more tired along the way, but I didn’t come this far to quit now.

My gratitude habit also kicked in about 24 hours after I wrote that post.  For years now, I have either written prayers of gratitude for the blessings in my life or I have practiced gratitude in a meditative form.  I honestly could not help but think of all the ways narcolepsy has improved my life.  The biggest way is that I realized if I only have so much energy to expend, then it’s going to go towards things I value the most:

  • prioritizing my health

flip flops

  • writing

Writers Group

  • being an animal enthusiast

Snake

  • serving others with the best of my talents

COP

  • connecting to nature

SMudge at HayStack

  • traveling to new places (preferably with my husband and/or family)

Library

  • growing my spirituality

TObey and Erick

  • and now that I’m married, loving my husband as much as I possibly can (super easy; he’s such a good person and so cute!)

Heath edited

Not on the list of things I valued was being an associate professor of psychology, and so my narcolepsy was one of the biggest motivating factors to give me the courage to quit my job, and give up tenure, amazing benefits, and a matching retirement account.  Thank you, narcolepsy.

I also didn’t expect the amount of love and support I received from friends and family who read my post.  My phone blew up with blog comments, Facebook comments, IMs, emails, and pictures of polar bears, all from people who wanted me to know they heard what I had to say.  I received validation, empathy, and sympathy, and let me tell you it felt really good.

These responses were especially meaningful to me because there was a time when I lived a rather isolated experience.  At that time, my closest friend at work had moved on, my office had changed locations to accommodate my narcolepsy so I could have a space with natural sunlight from a window and my new suitemates didn’t have the same level of socialization as my previous ones, I wasn’t on social media, and most of my friends (the few that I made since moving to Illinois) lived more than 30 minutes away (on a good day), and the ones who lived close by were married with families.  I felt lonely for many days and then a doctor told me, “you need to spend time with people.”

It took me several months to really buy in to what the doctor said, but once I did I began to realize just how important community is.  Especially when you are dealing with chronic illness.

So, thank you to everyone for showing your love and support.  Two days after I wrote my blog post last week, I got a decent night’s sleep.  And the night after that, and another night after that.  For three days in a row, I felt like I had won the sleep lottery.  I believe it can happen.  I plan on using a natural sun light for when the Connecticut mornings are dark and dreary.  I’m going to utilize my health insurance for therapy to help me cope on sleepy days.  I’m also going to investigate acupuncture as an option.

There are so many wonderful things going on in my life.  It looks like narcolepsy just may be one of them.

Living with Narcolepsy AKA Today, Life Sucks

This blog post is brought to you by frustration, irritation, and anger.  As a generally positive person, I don’t usually succumb to these feelings.  But as a recovering academic with a PhD in psychology, I know full well that when I have these feelings I am at perfect liberty to actually feel them.

Case in point: Dr. Daniel Wegner’s classic psychology study on suppression.  In this study, which was published in 1987, Dr. Wegner asked undergraduate psychology students not to think about a white bear.  If they thought about the white bear, they should ring a bell.  Then, he told them to go ahead and freely think about a white bear if they wanted to.  These students ended up thinking about a white bear more often when they were “allowed to” than a control group who had not been asked to suppress their thoughts in the initial testing round.

So today, I am feeling my feelings and let me tell you I am blankety-blank sick and tired of having narcolepsy. It has been weeks since I’ve had a good night’s sleep.  I can’t tell you the last time I woke up after 8+ hours of sleep and didn’t have deep dark caverns under my eyes that would make a racoon jealous.  It takes me hours (that’s right, plural) to get out of bed some mornings. I have even broken one of my cardinal rules of good sleep hygiene and I’ve started writing and reading in bed in the mornings.  It’s the compromise I have to make because I have no energy to force myself out of bed.  Dreams about snakes and death and being stuck in never-ending time loops will do that to you.  Plus, it’s dark outside and I wake up before the dogs, so I don’t even have external motivating factors to get out of bed.

This morning while meditating at the kitchen table I fell asleep twice.  I had only been out of bed for 20 minutes.  I had already spent three hours being awake.  I suppose I should be grateful because I still manage to be productive – I finished Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Lit as an Adult, I wrote over 400 words on a new manuscript I’m working on, and I wrote a prayer for my daily devotional manuscript for people who struggle with chronic exhaustion.  Yet, I am not grateful.  I am mad.

In my quest to treat narcolepsy with lifestyle and diet choices, so I do not have to take medications with other effects such a paranoia, delusions, bedwetting, suicidal thoughts, anorexia, etc., I have cleaned up my diet, meditate for 20 minutes at least once a day, mostly twice, strength train for 20 minutes six days a week, and run interval cardio drills six days a week (I’m now up to five full minutes).  I do not eat white potatoes, my favorite food (well, French fries) because they are a night shade.  I limit technology at night.  I used to wear amber glasses around the house at to block out additional blue light until I left my glasses in Nashville.  I wear a sleep mask and ear plugs.  I keep my room as cool as possible.  I do not drink caffeine or alcohol (although that one is super easy for me because I think alcohol tastes gross; most times, I can’t even stomach the smell of it).  I go to bed relatively early and I get up relatively early.  WHAT MORE CAN I POSSIBLY DO?

It flat out sucks to be doing everything “right” and still struggle with the one thing I desperately want more than anything else.  Is this my cross to bear?  Am I missing something?  Is there some physical, emotional, or spiritual component at play?  Do I just accept it and move on, do the best I can?

As I typed the above paragraph, I am reminded of another psychologist, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.  She developed the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Perhaps that’s what I’m experiencing now: I am grieving the loss of hope that I will ever get a good night’s sleep again.  Realistically, that may happen.  And part of me thinks it’s so silly to be crying as I type this because there are people living in this world right now without access to any healthcare, without love, without hope, without goals and without dreams.

Should I really play the what sucks more game? Seriously, what sucks more than not getting a good night’s sleep for, well, years now?  Okay, now that I’m thinking about it:

Terminal illness

Sexual assault

Child abuse

Animal cruelty

Poverty

Famine

Genocide

Homicide

Mass shootings

Illiteracy

Terrorism

Climate change

I have to admit, I do feel a teeny tiny bit better when I look at this list, though now I am questioning what it says about me as a person that I use things like climate change and genocide to make myself feel better.  I can’t win.

The truth is, I don’t think any of us can win.  We all have struggles, and they are all personal and individual to us.  I’ve chosen to share my struggle today in the hopes that someone somewhere may be reading this and feel like they have a comrade in arms going through the same tumultuous experience we call life.  Narcolepsy is frustrating, awful (comparatively speaking), and a part of my life.  It’s okay to hate that part.  The important thing is to know that the hate and frustration are feelings.  They are not permanent and they are not who I ultimately am.

If you believe in prayer, I would appreciate some.  If you don’t, then just send thoughts of baby polar bears my way because those of you who read my blog know just how much I love bears.  I would have been awful in Dr. Wegner’s experiment.  They would have had to throw out my data – why is this woman thinking about white bears every five seconds?

And special thanks to my husband, who is incredibly supportive through all the narcolepsy ups and downs.

A Lesson in Time Management

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On Tuesday morning I met with a friend to discuss writing.  I shared with her how I seem to keep writing new material, while my older manuscripts hang in limbo waiting for me to edit and revise them.  I then told her about my plan for how I wanted to tackle this problem: on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I was going to block out time specifically devoted to manuscript revision.

Why Tuesday and Thursday afternoons?  These were the times in my past life as a professor when I typically taught research writing.  I couldn’t just cancel class on a whim, though on really nice days I did sometimes move us outside to have class next to Lake Benedict.

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As a self-proclaimed self-help junkie, I know that many experts recommend this approach for getting high-priority tasks done.  By scheduling time for them on your calendar, you are validating that, yes, this task is important to me.  I resolved to make editing and revision a recurring appointment on my calendar.

Then yesterday I received a text message from someone who wanted to meet with me to discuss a new writing project.  She asked about my availability next Thursday.  Funny thing is, I hadn’t actually blocked out Tuesday/Thursday afternoons for manuscript revision and editing on my calendar.  Since I like this person and find her writing project to be quite interesting, I typed out on my phone, “My schedule is wide open.”

I knew I was already breaking my commitment.  I can always start the next week, I said to myself.  Then I’ll definitely add it to my calendar. 

Just as I was about to hit SEND, I stopped myself and asked why was I so willing to break my plan.  Hadn’t I declared only a few days earlier my intention to prioritize editing and revision?  What was wrong with me that I was willing to put it off?

The deciding factor came down to other plans I had already made for the following week.  Next Tuesday, my writing friend and I were going to meet again to continue our discussion.  I somehow felt that if I didn’t follow through with my revision and editing commitment, I would have to admit that to someone other than myself.

You know what self-help advice also recommends for getting your work done?  Find a partner to make yourself accountable.  I’ve read that advice so many times, but I’ve never applied it to my writing. How interesting to see that it actually works.  Well, so far.  We’ll see what happens next Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (and beyond).

I ended up retyping my response text to say I was available to meet on Thursday until 1:30pm.  It felt quite good to honor my commitment and then I rewarded myself with a head nod and “way to go!”

Of course, I laughed at myself because self-help books also recommend recognizing your achievements with intrinsic rewards.  After 20+ years, it’s good to know the advice is finally sinking in.