Tag Archives: Sleep

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 1

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition

A few weeks ago, I led a TED Talks discussion group using Candy Chang’s talk, Before I die, I want to…. You can watch the TED Talk here.

Two of my discussion questions were:

  1. How would you fill in the blank — Before I die I want to __________?
  2. How would your answer change if you knew you only had one year left to live? What about one week? One day?

A lively discussion ensued. One gem of wisdom shared by a participant was that a year was a luxurious amount of time. How grand to know you have a full year ahead of you!

Juxtapose that idea with the basic premise of Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, whereby the average human lifespan is only four thousand weeks. Four thousand does not seem nearly enough.

Since the reality is we really don’t know how much time we have left, I take time every year to reflect on my own death. This practice helps me ensure that no matter what happens, I know what’s important to me, which in turn, helps me make decisions in both the short- and long-term for living my best life. Previous death meditations inspired me to quit my tenured position as an associate professor of psychology, to volunteer for seven weeks at a science center in sub-Arctic Canada so I could see polar bears in the wild, and to recognize that my perfect day includes time for rest, self-care, being with loved ones (and a dog), some play, and some productivity.

This year, I reflected on my death while at a winter solstice sunset meditation program at Naumkeag. Naumkeag is a beautiful house in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, set on a rolling hill with the Berkshire Mountains as its backdrop.

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 2

Picture taken on Autumn Equinox in 2021.

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Picture taken on Autumn Equinox in 2021.

Having been there before, I knew Naumkeag is a magical place. What made the night even more magical is the house and grounds glowed with thousands of colorful lights as part of their winter lights festival. I could not have asked for a more perfect place to reflect on my past year and find inspiration for living my best life in 2022.

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2021 was a hard year for me. The grief of losing family, friends, and dogs in 2020 carried over, as did the uncertainty of the pandemic. Add to that a terrorist attack on the US capital in January, a constantly mutating virus because not enough people are vaccinated, and a debilitating sleep disorder that has been getting progressively worse for years, which, in my opinion was so stressful it reactivated a shingles infection in my body in August, and I’ve got a year that really sucked at times.

And yet, because I’ve taken time in the past to consider my time and mortality, I also experienced a pretty wonderful 2021. I have never been more in love with Heath than I am today.

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He is an amazing teammate, best friend, and husband. A lot of times when I panic that I’m 44 and if I live to the same age as my dad then I only have 30 years left, the panic is because I feel like that is not enough time to love Heath. Since there is literally NOTHING I can do about my eventual death, my way forward is clear: just love Heath to the best of my ability each and every day.

Last year, I also had a dog fall asleep on my head! Best. Day. Ever.

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In those moments, as Fergus snoozed away, I thought I might explode with joy. I also thought I might never be able to move again, because I couldn’t bear to wake the little guy up.

Knowing how dogs have a special place in my heart, I mostly kept up with my twice weekly walks with Annie. Even in my darkest days of sleep and health challenges, being with Annie in the woods was a wonderful tonic which helped me keep going.

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2021 is also the year that I learned how to write a novel on my phone. In my work at the Norfolk Library, I led a program on habit formation using James Clear’s Atomic Habits book. From his insights and practices, I finally let go of wanting to be a person with a habit of jumping out of the bed first thing in the morning. That kind of habit is impossible for me when I feel severely sleep deprived and depressed due to narcolepsy. Instead I used the techniques and information to develop a habit of writing on my phone, which makes a lot of sense considering how often I use my phone and how my phone is almost always within arm’s reach. Six months and over 37,000 words later, I now have the first draft of a middle grade novel that is just waiting for revision.

I also spent a lot of time querying agents in 2021. I received several requests for full manuscripts or more work. Although I was not offered representation, I did receive personalized rejections, some with encouragement to keep going. It’s not what I hoped for, but I’m certainly not giving up now.

In reflecting on 2021, one area of my life other than sleep also seemed out of balance: my work life. When I quit teaching in 2016, I never wanted to work full-time again. The hours and stress of working full-time did not seem possible while also trying to prioritize my sleep health.

In the beginning of 2020, I worked 12 hours at the Norfolk library and 10 hours for the Congregational Church. That combination seemed perfect for my personal and professional goals. By the end of 2020, I was working 35 hours a week — 25 for the library and 10 for the church. I needed to work 25 hours at the library so that after 1 year at those hours, I would be eligible for health insurance. During 2020, our market place health insurance monthly premium went from $60 a month with state assistance to $1,069 a month with no assistance.

Perhaps if I didn’t experience downward-spiraling narcolepsy symptoms in 2021, I may have been able to sustain a 35 hour a week work schedule. Unfortunately, my sleep health was so poor in 2021 that I knew I couldn’t continue working this way. I made the difficult decision to resign from my position at the church. I will still volunteer for various church initiatives, since they have such a wonderful presence in Norfolk and beyond. But I now have the discretion to say no when I am simply too tired.

Which brings me to 2022 — How do I want to live differently, if I knew 2022 would be my last year?

The answer to that question came almost immediately while I was at Naumkeag. On that cold dark Night, we were led through a rainbow tunnel of lights.

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During that walk the words colorful creativity popped into my head. I knew the instant I heard myself say those words that my creativity is missing an important component.  So much of my creativity goes to writing: I write for my job at the library; I write for the Norfolk Now monthly newspaper; I wrote for the church.  I also write in my free time in hopes of being a traditionally published author someday.

What I don’t do is use my creativity simply for fun. I don’t create for play. I don’t create simply to create. There is always a purpose. That stops in 2022.

This year, my year of colorful creativity, I will prioritize using color in creative ways. I never have considered myself a visually artistic person. I think that’s an important point. I am choosing to spend some of my time on artistic endeavors that have no higher goal, other than to simply create something colorful.

I find this idea both exciting and terrifying. I feel excited because it’s something new and different. It’s terrifying for a few reasons. One, I still think of myself as a minimalist and I’ve already bought some art supplies which creates cognitive dissonance with my minimalistic values. So that’s something I’m reconciling as I go down my colorful creativity path. Two, I know how precious time is. It’s terrifying to give up some of my writing time or otherwise free time to play. I don’t have to worry about giving up time with Heath because we know have art dates every Monday.

We’ll see how it goes. I decided to get a head start on my year of colorful creativity and made before the official start of 2022.

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 9I call it Polar Nights. Here’s to more colorful creativity in 2022!

My Greatest Achievement in a Long Time (Debatable)

I’m on day two of a treatment for narcolepsy. As I wait and see how much the medicine helps, I continue to celebrate small wins. Figuring out how to create a video of Annie on our walk last week with a particular song playing in the background is top of my list for small wins that equal REALLY BIG FEELINGS OF ACHIEVEMENT.

You can watch the video here and make sure the sound is turned ON: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CV35021pzM3/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

I’ve noticed that lately I’ve been a glass half empty kind of person. The first night I tried this medicine, which I took before from 2008-2015, I had the following thoughts: what if I die? What if I stop breathing? What if it makes me lose my mind? What if it doesn’t work. I worked myself into such a state of anxiety, that I decided I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep without wearing my Apollo Neuro Touch Therapy Device.

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From their website:

Apollo Neuro is scientifically sound, wearable touch therapy that you wear on your ankle or wrist. Apollo’s silent, soothing vibrations speak to your nervous system, telling you that you’re safe and in control. Developed by neuroscientists and physicians, it’s a safe, non-invasive stress relief tool for adults and children, without drugs or side effects. 

I had invested in the Apollo Neuro to help my sleep, which I can’t say that it did. But I have found it to be soothing in certain situations. So I slapped it onto my wrist and curled into the fetal position.

I woke up a few minutes later thinking I was having a panic attack because my whole body was shaking.

Except it wasn’t really. It was just the Apollo Neuro. Unfortunately, the way I contorted myself resulted in the device vibrating directly against my chest.

The next night went much better, and I certainly had less dramatic thoughts. But these other thoughts never once crossed my mind: What if this the best thing to happen to me? What if my sleep completely improves? What if everything starts getting better?

I suppose the good news is that now I’ve realized I’ve been glass half-emptying it, I can switch my thought process. Part of me would like to understand why I became a glass half-empty kind of person and part of me doesn’t care about the why.

Then there’s the other part of me that says, isn’t it more important that the glass is refillable in the first place? 

I’ll save these questions for another day. In the meantime, here’s to the best night of my life! Hopefully.

 

 

There's Something in the Woods.... 11

There’s Something in the Woods….

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I don’t want to alarm anyone in Norfolk, but there’s some sort of creature hanging out on the Swamp Trail in the Barbour Woods.

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This creature enjoys splashing and swimming. Every so often, she jumps out of the swamp and shakes off her coat all over innocent bystanders.

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If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get to see her. Be forewarned: encounters with this creature result in moments of pure joy and lots of smiling. I mean, honestly! Just look at those ears!

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It moments like these that I hold onto because the narcolepsy continues. Of course I’m still sleepy.

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Today, however, I am also hopeful.

When I spoke with my sleep doctor last week, we agreed to try a medicine that worked wonders for me for seven years. Overtime, its effectiveness diminished and the side effects became more pronounced. I’m hoping because I haven’t taken this medicine since 2015 that my body and brain will have completely reset itself.

Now, the challenge is getting the medicine. It’s only available at one pharmacy in the country and there’s a lot of paperwork and verification that needs to happen first. So far, I’ve had to email the pharmaceutical company a copy of my marriage certificate and license since the last time I took the medicine I had a different name ,and then on Friday I received notice I have to fill out a new enrollment application.

So, I wait.

In the meantime, Norfolk is on the brink of being a cornucopia of fall foliage. Now’s the time to get outside and enjoy it. Even better, bring a dog!

There's Something in the Woods.... 17

Spring Has Sprung! 18

Spring Has Sprung!

Hello Spring! Now that we’re officially one full week into spring, I’m starting to see some signs of change throughout Norfolk.

First and foremost, bulbs are starting to bloom! Here’s the first little one I saw last Tuesday when I went to take Annie for a walk.

Spring Has Sprung! 19

Speaking of Annie, there is a direct, positive relationship between number of spring days elapsed and how muddy Annie gets on her walks. Here in Norfolk, spring is often referred to as mud season. These photos of Annie from our walk last week are perfect examples of why.

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Spring Has Sprung! 21

I’m also feeling a sense of optimism and hope now that the days are longer and there’s more sunshine. I’m still grappling with the aftereffects of the time change, but it’s much easier to get out of bed in the morning when the sun is close to first light.

Spring Has Sprung! 22

Even with all my struggles as of late with narcolepsy, I’m delighted to report that I *finally* finished a writing project yesterday I started in November! I say *finally* because I thought I would have it finished by January. That thinking was ridiculously optimistic, considering my sleep challenges, and essentially working full-time again. Nevertheless, I am now the proud writer of the first draft of an adult fantasy novel. It’s for adults who miss the whimsical world of Harry Potter but want more romance and comedy in our fantasy stories.

I still can’t believe I wrote a manuscript that is over 96,000 words. I first started this manuscript back in July of 2016. Heath had given me a writing prompt of the word box. I then remembered one of my colleagues at Benedictine University telling me she thought there was a portal to another dimension in her apartment because her cat kept disappearing. I put those two ideas together and started writing. About 35,000 words and several weeks later, I stopped writing. I felt frustrated at how long the writing was taking, and I felt scared that I would never be able to finish a story of that nature because even at that time I knew it would be somewhere around 90,000-100,000 words.

So, I put the manuscript aside and started working on other projects. I have since written 8 books (!!!), the longest of which is 56,000 words (which, fyi, is a relatively low word count for adult books, but more on target for middle grade and young adult, which I was mostly writing). I guess that’s what I needed to do because I finally felt like I could re-commit to this project. Plus, Heath kept asking me to finish writing it because he loved the idea and some early pages I had shown him.

I re-started the project on November 1, 2020, with the kick off of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In NaNoWriMo, you’re considered a “winner” if you write 50,000 words in 30 days. I decided to start my story from scratch, but because I already knew these characters, and where the story was going, it was relatively easy for me to get those first 50,000 words. The only day I missed writing in November was the day Faith died.

After 30 days of writing sprints, my stamina petered out a bit. I made it a goal to write at least 100 words every day, just to keep momentum going. Even though 100 words a day isn’t a lot when you’re aiming for 90,000 words, it at least kept me moving forward. And, on most days, I ended up writing a lot more than 100.

Some days, I didn’t think I’d ever make it to the finish line. But on March 27, 2021, I typed the words The End and closed my computer.

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I did a victory dance around the living room, messaged Heath, and then life very quickly went back to okay, what do I do now?

At that point, it was close to bedtime so that’s what I did. For the next two weeks, I’m taking a break from writing. This blog post will be the last thing I write until April 11th. I’m kind of excited. I’ve never consciously chosen to take a break from writing like this, and I’m both terrified and relieved to give myself that kind of time.

Enjoy these early days of spring! And to those who celebrate – Have a happy Easter next week! See you in two weeks.

Spring Has Sprung! 24

View from the walkway outside the Norfolk Library

And So It Begins ... Again 25

And So It Begins … Again

Today marks my least favorite day of the year. For people with narcolepsy, daylight savings can wreak all kinds of havoc on our already precarious sleep-wake cycles. If my past is any indicator of my future, It will take me weeks to recover from this loss of one hour.

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Morning #1 of Daylight Savings 2021

In the meantime, I hold onto the small things in life that bring me joy. Here are two examples:

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First, meet Fergus! I had the delightful privilege of caring for this little fella for a few days recently. For such a small dog, he has taken up a big space in my heart.

Second, the artwork! The Norfolk Library is known for its rotating art shows. During the pandemic, the Library featured several shows from Norfolk Artists & Friends, a community of visual artists in Norfolk. When this piece was displayed in December/January, I told the artist, Hilary VanWright, how much I loved it — the colors, the message, the exuberance. When it came time to take the show down, Hilary gave the piece to me. Just like that! She didn’t have room for it and she knew how much I appreciated it. Every day I look at this art and I feel not only gratitude, but encouragement to keep going.

Since it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, here’s another small thing that has brought me joy lately:

And So It Begins ... Again 28

The president of the Norfolk Library Associates brought in shamrocks for us to give to patrons. I love coming into the kitchen every morning and seeing the bright pop of green and the lean of the flowers towards the sun.

That’s what I’ll be doing these next few weeks. As I try to work within my disabled sleep to get back on schedule, I will lean into the longer days of sunlight. I know I’ll make it through these next weeks no matter what. But it’s good to have a literal beacon of light guiding me forward.

Stay rested, my friends! And may the luck o’ the Irish be with you this week.

 

Hello, Daylight Savings Time! I Hate You.

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Welcome back, Daylight Savings Time! Except, you’re not really welcome here. In fact, I kind of hate you. Not that I mind the extra sunlight. It’s losing that hour of sleep. For a person with narcolepsy, daylight savings time can be especially challenging. Keeping a consistent sleep/wake cycle goes a long way towards managing my narcolepsy symptoms. With daylight savings time, there’s nothing I can do about it other than accept the loss of the hour and try to recover the best I can. Sometimes, it can take weeks.

Good thing I have an excellent napping companion with Smudge.

So, on that note, I give you my latest blog post: Pictures of yawning dogs (that I personally know and love) because I’m too tired to come up with anything else.

I hope you enjoy!

Love,
Kelly

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Hello, Daylight Savings Time! I Hate You. 33 Hello, Daylight Savings Time! I Hate You. 34

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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.

The Positive Ways Narcolepsy Has Affected My Life

Title

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.

In 20 Weeks From Now…

Title

We are officially back in Connecticut!  One of the best parts of housesitting in a small town is how easy it is to run into people. When my husband and I went for a walk around town center our second day back, we saw a few people we know and I got to meet two new dogs. Technically, I already knew one of the dogs. But, I hadn’t formally met him, so I felt thrilled to learn the dog I had nicknamed “Giant Cocoa Puff” is really named Tucker. I now refer to him as Tucker Giant Cocoa Puff, which I think suits him.

Tucker Giant Cocoa Puff cropped

3,000 + miles are a lot to drive in two months and many of my (supposed) habits fell by the wayside by the lack of consistency in my daily routine. For the most part, I did manage to keep up with daily meditation (sometimes even twice a day!), since I’m a big believer that meditation is the single greatest action that can change one’s life (feel free to ask me for advice on how to start). I also kept up with 20-minutes of strength training every day except Sundays; again, for the most part.

I can’t remember when I started the 20-minutes of strength training. I believe it was January, but I’m not very good at keeping track of things, even when I try. Case in point: On July 10th, after I finished reading Gretchen Reuben’s The Happiness Project, I typed 13 daily tasks to promote my happiness and well being in a spreadsheet and started marking “X” when I completed the activity or “O” when I didn’t do it. The last marks I have are on August 6th.

Resolution Chart Cropped

I’m not sure why I stopped keeping track, but I have to seriously consider that somedays I am too lazy to turn on my computer and/or open a specific file. This failure on my part makes me marvel even more at one of my former students, who I caught up with while in the Chicago area. As of August 22nd, he was on DAY 127 of 50 daily push-ups. This student is currently working as an OT aide, while applying to OT schools. Even more remarkable, this student suffered a traumatic brain event in 2009. Considering everything this student has been through and what he’s accomplished since (bachelor’s degree, finding work in his desired field, being a generally upbeat and positive person), I should be able to turn on my computer to make X’s and O’s.

Except, I know that if there is an extra step that doesn’t have to be there it makes me more likely not to do something.

One of the books I read while on the road this summer is The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine Carter, a happiness sociologist.

Sweet Spot

In her book, Dr. Carter detailed how having more productive and efficient daily habits related to your life goals can increase happiness and wellbeing. Yes, I know, this is essentially a duh finding, yet I am still not living the fully productive and efficient life I desire, so I clearly have more work to do.

Dr. Carter wrote about taking “tiny steps” to establish our habits. She states the key is to find a trigger for the habit and then start the habit with the least amount of effort possible. For example, if you want to establish a daily meditation habit, link meditation to something you do daily, like brushing your teeth in the morning (this is the trigger) and then immediately after your morning brush, go sit on a meditation cushion for 30 seconds. And that’s it. You don’t even meditate at first. You increase the time of sitting there on a weekly basis and then you start with the meditation, again which is something you would build up to (meditate for one minute and sit there for another nine minutes).

So, I took a page out of The Sweet Spot (haha, pun totally intended) and started taking tiny steps with the least amount of effort possible in establishing new habits. For me, least amount of effort means: 1) I am not going to record my daily progress because that’s extra effort I don’t really want to do (and apparently am not good at); and 2) I am only going to focus on one habitat a time.

Since every single aspect in my life is infinitely better when I get a good night’s sleep, and I know I sleep much better the more exercise I get, my new habit is to increase my amount of daily exercise. The 20-minutes of strength training is going well, and to it I’m adding 20-minutes of high-intensity interval training.

Here’s how establishing my new habit is broken down with The Sweet Spot method:

  • FIND A TRIGGER – Easy!  I’m already exercising 20-minutes every morning after I meditate.
  • LEAST AMOUNT OF EFFORT – 30 seconds of a high-intensity cardio move (this week I selected mountain climber), 30 seconds of rest, and 30 more seconds of cardio, then DONE! Seriously. No more, even if I feel good and want to keep going. Though now that I’m almost a week in, holy bananas is my butt already getting kicked and I don’t think I could continue much longer anyway.
  • REWARD – In addition to the natural high that comes from exercise, I play a fun pop song from one of the already created playlists in Amazon Music while I complete the interval. So far this week I’ve listened to Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon, Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, Firework by Katy Perry, Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen, and Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, all which can be found in the 50 Great Songs from the Last 10 Years playlist. In case you’re interested, I usually listen to an audiobook during my strength training and right now I’m finishing up the Sookie Stackhouse series (for probably the 4th time), which the HBO show True Blood is based on.
  • PROGRESS – On Monday, I will increase another minute of exercise/rest. And that’s it for the rest of the week!  Each Monday, I will increase by only one-minute intervals.
  • HAVE A BACK-UP PLAN – In the event I cannot complete my target time for whatever reason, I will do 1.5 minutes of interval cardio. In the event I am sick, I will visualize my exercise. These options are the “better than nothing,” approach that Dr. Carter writes about and because they are so easy, I can’t imagine not being able to complete them on any given day.

Yes, I realize that it will take me 20 weeks to establish just ONE of my desired habits. But I would much rather build towards one high-priority habit, then go all in right away on multiple habits, burn out, and completely stop exercising or writing or eating healthy or whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish because they all get lumped together with too high expectations. I am investing in my health and sleep for the long haul and I think this is the best way to do it. I will certainly give updates in the future, and in the meantime, if anyone has recommendations for some fun cardio exercises, please let me know.