It’s time once again for my annual death meditation. Every year, I imagine what my life would be like this year if I knew it was my last one on Earth.
Previous death meditations have prompted me to visit more National Parks and go all in with my writing. Last year, because I knew 2023 would be filled with immense change, I made it a goal to keep breathing to get through what I knew would be stressful times.
Now that 2024 is here, I still need to keep breathing. The stress and uncertainty that lived with us for 2023 is sticking into 2024. Despite my best efforts, I still don’t have a job. And finding decent housing in Boulder is proving to be much more challenging than I ever thought possible.
But through it all, I’ve learned what I really and truly want, and that information is priceless. It’s just three things: a bed, a home, and a Heath. Anything else is a bonus.
What I want more than anything in 2024 is my own bed. A bed that I picked out for its features, comfort, and design. I want to buy my own sheets (bamboo for warmer days and flannel for colder ones) and comforter (style and material yet to be determined). I want to wake up feeling refreshed and energized, ready to tackle whatever comes my way. I don’t know if that will ever be possible because of narcolepsy, but I’m ready to do all I can to get a good night’s rest.
I also want that bed in my own home. I love housesitting and meeting new furry friends. Taking care of dogs brings me joy and purpose. But I also need my own space. A place to return to that holds the most important things in my life. Heath has been my “home” for nearly eight years, but we both need a physical space that belongs to us. Heath has been saying this for years. I am now 110% on board.
Thankfully, I already have a Heath. At least for now. The future can be amazing and wonderful. It can also be challenging and cruel, a reminder to never take anyone for granted. We all know what it’s like to lose someone too soon.
I don’t think I’m asking for too much. I’m certainly willing to do the work. Fingers crossed that the stars align sooner rather than later. I have never been more ready than I am right now.
A few years ago, I got the idea that I wanted to live in Colorado. Maybe not forever. Just to give it a try.
This idea was much in the same vein as my desire to live on a New England beach. I even started looking for jobs in Colorado after a particularly bad night in Norfolk when multiple nights of narcolepsy-related sleep deprivation culminated with a nearby house having a loud, never-ending outdoor party (complete with DJ). I thought Heath might have to take me to the hospital to be sedated I was so agitated. The police were also unavailable to help. Seriously. I called them multiple times between 9pm and 12am, begging them to put a stop to the noise.
Anyway, I eventually recovered from that bout of sleep deprivation. But my desire to live in Colorado continued.
So when we found out our 6.5-year housesit in Norfolk was finally ending, I immediately began looking for a housesitting job in Colorado. We found one for five weeks in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, applied, and got it. YAY US!
We left Norfolk on May 14th and arrived in Highlands Ranch on May 24th. We were immediately blown away by the area.
For starters, this house is so well-designed! I could say that about the entire Highlands Ranch area. Everything seems new, as well as intentional. This neighborhood, in particular, has tons of walking trails. Not only among the houses, but also at the back of the neighborhood where trails take you through 8,000+ acres of wild backcountry.
The only thing I found weird about the neighborhood was that after meeting many dogs, none of them were golden retrievers. I reported this observation to Annie’s human mom, which I called “highly suspicious.” Sure enough, a few days later I met two goldens. Annie apparently has magical powers to bring goldens to me, wherever we land. I always knew she was an extraordinary dog.
Annie, the magical and extraordinary golden retriever
Now if only Annie had magical powers to fix my sleep. It turns out that sleep issues are a common problem when people move to high elevations. Highlands Ranch is over 5800 feet above sea level. Most people experience fractured sleep at night, with less time spent in deep sleep. Essentially, I have narcolepsy times two now. Suffice it to say, I am tired. Three-naps-a-day kind of tired.
So it’s probably for the best that we decided to test drive Colorado as a potential place to live. It may be beautiful, there may be a lot of dogs, and it may be fun. But none of that will matter if I can’t stay awake!
Roosevelt & Watson, who I met at the Home Depot in Highlands Ranch
A few weeks ago I attended a Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Conference in New York City.
I debated for weeks if I should go. The conference itself is expensive, especially if you schedule a professional critique (which I did). I’m also not a fan of NYC because I find the people, noise, pollution, and general BIG CITY ENERGY exhausting.
This would also be my first conference since before the pandemic. I haven’t used my brain in ways this conference would require FOR YEARS. There’s been no navigating a subway system or reading train tables or walking along city blocks. Any trips I have been on always included Heath, my best and favorite co-pilot.
Heath, however, needed to stay in Norfolk because we were taking care of Fergus for the month, so I was on my own.
The conference itself took place at the Mid-town Hilton. I, however, opted to stay at my friend’s uninhabited apartment on the upper west side, which she so generously offered me. I celebrated my economical ways at the time of planning my conference trip, as well as my good fortune for having a friend with an apartment that overlooked Central Park.
What I did not take into account was what it would be like to be at an all-day conference and not have a hotel room an elevator ride away in which I could take a nap. My friend’s apartment was two subway lines and approximately 30 minutes away.
So by the time I found myself in NYC for the conference, grumpiness had infiltrated every nook and cranny of my attitude. I did not want to be there. I did not want to be trapped in a windowless, below ground conference room for two days. I did not want to make small talk. I did not want to have to pay attention and focus on someone speaking for hours at a time.
Yet, I did anyway. I paid for the conference, and, by golly, I would participate.
By the time I got back to my friend’s apartment that Saturday night, I wanted Heath to come pick me up. Nothing about the experience was what I wanted, and I didn’t think it would get better.
Spoiler alert: I was right. About the conference.
But something unexpected did happen. That night in my friend’s apartment, I had an AMAZING night’s sleep. I woke up on Sunday morning feeling like a new person. There was no tiredness. No reluctance in getting up. No fractured sleep to weigh me down. No traumatic dreams to work through.
How did that happen? Not only was I in a bad mood, but the apartment was hot. I had forgotten my ear plugs. I ate deviled eggs I had bought at Whole Foods and gobbled a few up right before bed. Everything about my environment and my choices suggested a poor night’s sleep.
By Sunday night, I was back to truly awful sleep. Since then, I’ve had a few nights of okay sleep. But nothing like the magical 9+ hours I had in NYC.
Back in 2007 when the final installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, At World’s End, came out in theaters, I became incensed by the ending. I had invested four years in that story only for Keira Knightley’s character, Elizabeth Swann, to be separated from Orlando Bloom’s character, Will Turner, for the rest of her life. Oh, wait. No. He could visit her EVERY 10 YEARS.
That anger is how I feel about my sleep right now. Because the last time I had sleep equivalent to what I had in NYC was in October 2013 when I was dogsitting in Naperville, IL.
Have I been cursed to only get good sleep every 10 years?
I hope not. I can’t decide if my magical NYC sleep is a good thing or not. It’s awesome to know my body is capable of that kind of sleep. But for it to be so elusive, so unpredictable, and so unattainable on a regular basis is cruel.
I started having sleep trouble when I was three years old. Enough is enough, already.
Though I can’t help but wonder – what if living in NYC has been the answer all along for a good night’s sleep?
For someone who loves the woods, the mountains, and the rugged New England coast, that would be quite the kick in the pants. I don’t think we’re going to up and move to NYC any time soon. But it will be interesting to see if I can figure out what made that night so special.
Well, it’s that time of year again. Happy Birthday to me and happy birthday to my blog. I turn 45 years old tomorrow and my blog turns six. I wish I could say I’m feeling festive. Unfortunately, I just feel tired and beaten down. In lieu of my typical blog birthday photos with dogs wearing party hats, here are dogs covered in dirt because that’s all I can muster today.
A friend recently told me that they lost one of their teeth. It’s going to take a few weeks until they can get an implant, but in the meantime they told me they’ve been getting the best sleep of their life.
“Which tooth?” I asked them. There’s not much I wouldn’t try at this point to get a good night’s sleep.
So, if you see me without a tooth in the coming days, weeks, or months, know that I still haven’t given up hope that someday I’ll get decent sleep on a regular basis.
Could we please stop with daylight savings time? Forcing me into unnecessary sleep disruptions seems cruel. I have enough sleep struggles at the moment.
I am no longer cautiously optimistic my sleep medicine is working. I know it is. I’m finally getting into deep sleep. But it’s coming at a high price in terms of other effects.
Because the medicine is a central nervous system depressant it can cause breathing issues. Not only do I now snore, but the snoring is LOUD; I have both earwitness testimony from Heath and my newly downloaded SnoreLab app. The app literally calls my snoring “epic.” I sound like an angry swarm of bees attacking an equally angry dragon.
There have even been a few times when I stopped breathing. The medicine I take has been shown to trigger sleep apnea, so now I have a sleep study scheduled in mid-May to see how dangerous a problem I have.
I’m also back to waking up drenched in sweat every night. I had a brief reprieve when I made the switch from Xywav (the newer formula of the medicine) to Xyrem (the older formula). I had to switch because the Xywav includes an artificial sweetener as an added ingredient and I was having all kinds of GI issues as a result. I then had a few wonderful nights of absolutely no sweat. It felt glorious to wake up warm and dry! Now I wake up feeling cold, clammy, and uncomfortable. Sometimes I even have to change my shirt in the middle of the night when I take my second dose because I’m soaked with sweat.
These effects are not what I signed up for to treat narcolepsy. All I want is a good night’s sleep. And then we had to throw out a perfectly good hour this morning. I was a shaky, anxious mess this morning.
Here’s what’s keeping me going:
Thank goodness for this little guy. I’ve had the privilege of taking care of Fergus since Tuesday. We sit on the couch together for hours. He watches out the window; I read a book. He chases his ball and I laugh. These moments are pure joy. How lucky I am to be with Fergus. He reminds me that there are still good things in life. I know because he’s one of them.
So is Heath. He’s been super supportive. He knows the snoring and the challenges with taking Xyrem aren’t my fault. Still. I love Heath more than any other person in this world. I hate that my quest for good sleep is negatively affecting his.
Thankfully, Heath has travel plans taking him to Illinois in about a week and a half. He’ll be gone over a month. Even though I’ll miss him terribly, there’s relief in knowing that I won’t be affecting his sleep.
I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue taking this medicine. I feel terror and relief at the thought. There has got to be a better way. I just wish I knew what it was.
the light streaming through the trees in the Barbour Woods;
Okay, I know this one is a little weird. But lately my body and mind have been craving functional forms of fitness and shoveling snow will give me that fix every single time.
I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying walking Annie through the snow-covered woods for the same reason. It’s such a great, blood-pumping, muscle-engaging workout to walk through the ankle-deep snow.
And last, but not least, these mashed potatoes:
I made a low fodmap vegetable stock recipe the other day. You throw a bunch of vegetables like leeks, the green parts of scallions, carrots, parsnips, parsley, and potatoes in a big pot with water and let it simmer for an hour. Then the recipe says to strain the liquid and discard the vegetables. Heath questioned the part about discarding the vegetables. I told him, “that’s what the recipe says.”
Yet, when the time came to actually discard them I looked at the wonderfully soft potatoes and thought, surely I should mash these instead of throw them out. Which is exactly what I did. And, oh, my, potatoes! They are the most delicious mashed potatoes I’ve ever eaten, a sentiment also shared by Heath.
So that’s where I am these days. My sleep is improved enough that I find mashed potatoes marvelous. Life is good.
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:
How would you fill in the blank — Before I die I want to __________?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I call it Polar Nights. Here’s to more colorful creativity in 2022!
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.
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 ApolloNeuro Touch Therapy Device.
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.
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.
This creature enjoys splashing and swimming. Every so often, she jumps out of the swamp and shakes off her coat all over innocent bystanders.
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!
It moments like these that I hold onto because the narcolepsy continues. Of course I’m still sleepy.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.