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One Year Progress Report

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Today is my blog’s one year birthday. Woo hoo! Who would have thought that I could write 159 posts? Before I started this blog, I never showed anyone a single paragraph of anything I had written. And I had to do all this research just to figure out what a blog was. So blogging for a year is truly an accomplishment.

In honor of this special day, I thought I would see how far I’ve come in my practice of self-acceptance. My first 4 posts covered some of the most common themes in my blog, so I thought I would give an update on where things stand in these areas.

1. Night Owl Syndrome. I have come to the conclusion that, although my mood is vastly improved when I abide by a “normal” sleep cycle, I cannot get up early unless I absolutely have to. Now that I’m working again, I’ve been going to bed earlier (12-1 a.m.) and waking up earlier (7:30 a.m.), with an occasional short nap thrown in when I have time. Even though I prefer to sleep more, I function pretty well on 6-7 hours.

The only problem is, knowing this will not make me wake up early when I’m on vacation again. But I’m not going to worry about that right now. I’m just going to enjoy being in a good mood.

2. Divorces. As of August 14, 2014, I am officially divorced and am finally at peace with it. We are on as good of terms as we can be. In fact, he just strung my racket last week and informed me that I had a nail in my tire. My first reaction when he pointed out the nail was fear about not having someone around to inform me of things like the condition of my tires.

But then I thought that perhaps it wasn’t an accident that my ex happened to be there when I dropped my racket off and that he happened to notice the nail in my tire. Maybe God was looking out for me, just like when my car broke down on the freeway over the summer. So I will try to have faith that He will continue to do so.

3. Massages and Stress Relief. I love my job, but it is stressful. The commute is hard on my body, and seeing back-to-back clients is mentally and emotionally taxing. I’ve started getting massages again, but unlike a year ago, I don’t obsess about how much they cost anymore. I accept that it’s something I have to do for my body. I also have a phone session with my therapist once a month, even if I think I don’t need it, because I feel better when I talk to her.

And this year, I’m going to try working from home one day a week to cut down on my driving and to preserve my time for blogging. I’m a little nervous about waking up early and being productive that day I work from home, and about fitting all my clients in the other 4 days, but we’ll see how it goes.

4. Knitting and Relationships. I still love a challenge. I still like complicated patterns and I am still drawn to complicated relationships. I am proud to say that I have been single for almost a year, and I am surprised to find that I enjoy my freedom. I’m actually a little afraid to start dating again, because I don’t yet trust myself to know when a relationship may not be worth the effort. So for now, I’ll limit my challenges to complicated patterns.

My latest project received the most likes of anything I have ever posted on Facebook. Not sure whether to take it as a compliment or an insult that my knitted top looks better than I do.

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The Paradox of Productivity

Have you ever noticed how you’re actually more productive when you have less time?

I had grand plans for all of the stuff I was going to accomplish over the summer. I was going to crank out blog posts 3-4 times a week. Learn how to write a book proposal and a query letter. Find an agent.

I did skim through a book on writing non-fiction. I actually wrote fewer blog posts than I do when I’m at work because I didn’t have very many deep and meaningful thoughts over the summer. I pretty much only thought about my sleep cycle, tennis, and what I’m going to eat. You can only write so many posts about those topics.

I was going to get my jewelry business going again. I was obsessed with making jewelry several years ago and sold a lot of what I made. So I bought all these beads back in January and planned to make some new items over the summer. Take some pictures of them, even. Sell them on Etsy. The only thing I made were some earrings (the purple pair on the left) for my tennis team to match our uniform, but I didn’t make any money. I just wanted my team to look cute!

I was going to knit more. I sell some of my jewelry and knitting at my friend’s store, The Stitchin’ Post, and my knitted items have sold the best, but it takes forever to make the things that I like. I was also going to knit this cute top for myself:

This is the picture from the pattern. I haven’t finished mine yet. I’ve made it to the armholes, but by the time I finish it, I might only have a few weeks left of warm weather, because the top part looks pretty complicated.

I was going to get in better shape. Play more tennis. Add more low-impact cardio like riding my bike. Do some strength training. Throw in some yoga.

I tried to ride my bike, but I couldn’t figure how to put the bike rack on. My ex was kind enough to help me do it, but then I couldn’t load the bike onto the bike rack by myself. And it was going to take 2 weeks to take it to the shop to get a tune up. I bought something to lubricate the chain that was supposed to be easy to apply, but it still seemed too hard and messy to do by myself. In fact, the whole bike preparation experience made me feel so ill-prepared to live my life alone that I stopped trying because it was depressing me.

I did play tennis more, and I stretched almost every night, but that’s about it.

I was going to read more books. I keep track of what books I read throughout the year, and I’m way behind from where I would ordinarily be. So I started reading more when I realized I only had a few weeks left before I had to go back to work. The only problem is, since I read on my iPad, the longer I read, the harder it was to fall asleep because of the back lighting. So then I had to read less so that I could fall asleep before 4 a.m.

All in all, I fell short on almost every goal. Perhaps I was being a tad unrealistic about what I could accomplish in 2 months.

Plus, when I have less time, I get more done because I have to make the most of every minute. Squeeze in a trip to the grocery store right after work, even if I’m tired. Write a blog post if I have a no show. Read a paragraph if my client is running late. When I have all the time in the world, I tell myself that I’ll get stuff done eventually. No need to rush.

But I’m not feeling too bad about myself for falling short of my goals. It’s good for me to set goals, not because I have to meet all of them, but because it gives me something to strive for. After all, isn’t life more about the striving than the end result? At least that’s what I tell myself to feel better.

Beginnings and Endings, Part 2

My job follows the academic calendar, so today is my first day back at work. I was never one of those kids who looked forward to the beginning of school. I didn’t care about seeing my friends; I didn’t want to have to do homework. I didn’t want to have to go to bed and wake up early. I pretty much have the same mentality now that I did when I was in elementary school. Some things never change, I guess.

My summers follow a distinct pattern: I have a hard time transitioning from being stressed and having to be super-productive to not having a whole lot that needs to get done. Boredom doesn’t do justice to the intensity of how badly I feel during that adjustment period. It’s more like, my existence is a complete waste of time. I have nothing of value to offer to the world. I know it’s is my inner critic talking, but it still makes me question my worth. I think that’s why most people would rather be stressed than bored: it makes you feel more useful.

However, by the time I have about 2 weeks of vacation left, I start panicking about having to go back to work. I don’t want to feel stressed out again–to be on call, have back-to-back clients, rush to get my nightly routine completed. By the end of the summer, I feel like I could quit my job altogether. But I have no one to support me, so that’s not an option.

This summer I had the added adjustment of being alone for the first time. Braking down on the side of the freeway alone. Attending weddings alone. Spending holidays and weekends alone. At least when I was working, I was guaranteed to see people every day. Over the summer, I had to make plans to motivate myself to leave the house, and sometimes I couldn’t do it.

Plus, I was also going through the steps to finalize my divorce, so I no longer had the illusion that I could return to the more stable state of matrimony. I didn’t date anyone or even have someone I could fantasize about dating. Well, I guess there’s Federer, but even in his case, the most I could imagine was being one of the nannies for his new twin boys. Not terribly romantic.

Despite the struggles with boredom, reversed sleep cycles, and solitude, I think the highs and lows actually helped me tolerate my emotions better. I would remind myself that boredom and loneliness are painful sometimes, but I’ll be busy eventually. (Usually the next day, because I played in 7 tennis leagues and captained 5 of them over the summer.) And when school starts and I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll remind myself that I have a long break to look forward to at the end of the term.

I think it also helped that I spent the past 2 weeks on vacation with family and friends. It was the highlight of the summer, but it was also hard to be around people 24-7. Now that I am accustomed to extended periods of solitude, I realize how much I need down time to feel sane. So by the time my vacation ended on Friday, I was ready to go home. Ready to catch up on tennis, blogging, and even work.

This summer was a good reminder of how, even when something seems intolerable, that feeling will pass. And you might even find value in the experience that you hated so much at that time.

Darkness and Light

Sometimes I feel like a less murderous version of Jekyll and Hyde. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard to get my sleep cycle under control.

I feel the most alive late at night. Before I go to bed I have all these ambitious plans for what I’m going to get done the next day. My mind is racing with ideas for my blog. It’s all I can do to keep myself from starting a post at 3 a.m. But I can’t, because I’ll run the risk of staying up all night and reversing my sleep cycle. A big no-no when you struggle with depression. So I take drugs to force myself to fall asleep, even though I like this version of myself the best.

By morning that cheery, motivated version of me is replaced by this sullen person who prefers sleep over life itself. No amount of yelling, begging, or bribing can get her out of bed before she wants to. And even after she gets up, she’s still in a bad mood for several hours. Why would anyone want to go to sleep at night if that’s who you have to face the next day?

In Jungian psychology, Jekyll and Hyde is an example of the persona/shadow archetype. Jung argued that, although most people would prefer to identify with their persona, it is important to acknowledge our shadow in order to be whole. Dr. Jekyll is so horrified by his dark side that he commits suicide in order to destroy it–which is the exact opposite of being whole.

This blog is probably the first time that I’ve publicly acknowledged my shadow. And I have to say, it is the thing that people thank me for the most. Because it gives them permission to acknowledge their own darkness. It assures them that they are not the only ones who feel and think the way they do. So Jung has a point. Who would have thought that acknowledging one’s darkness would be the thing that makes people feel the most connected to one another?

So maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on that sullen person I will see when I wake up tomorrow afternoon. She’s given me a lot of material for blog posts.

Guilt

I talked to my therapist last week. She gave me permission to stop feeling guilty about my sleep cycle. Told me that I have no reason to get up early, so I don’t need to worry about it. That when I have to wake up, I will do so.

It helped some. Today I woke up early for a tennis clinic. But then I took a nap afterwards, which was well-deserved but still somewhat guilt-laden. But I’m writing a blog post now, to prove to my inner critic that I am not completely worthless.

Those quotes about letting go kind of annoy me. If guilt were something I could just let go of, I would have done so long ago. It’s like telling someone who is anorexic to just eat. Put food in your mouth. Chew. Swallow. What’s so hard about that? I envy those people who find it so easy to be free of their demons.

Therapists often ask clients what it is that they fear will happen if they let go. I guess I fear that without guilt, I really will become a terrible person. Someone who doesn’t care if she hurts other people. Someone who is not living her life with integrity. Maybe I’ll go too far in the other direction. I’ve done it before.

In Shame and Guilt, Tangeny and Dearing argue that guilt is a healthy emotion. It let’s you know that you have done something wrong and motivates you to make amends, correct it. When you feel shame, however, you don’t just feel like you’ve done something wrong; you feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with you. You are broken beyond repair. Shame leads people to lash out and project their faults onto others, or to lie and hide.

I guess I am somewhere in-between, because I worry that there is something wrong with me, but I am motivated–determined, even–to become a better person.

My latest strategy for coping with guilt about the past is to tell myself that I don’t have to continue entertaining this memory. I can take it out of the rotation. Throw that record out. Or in more modern terms, remove it from the playlist. I have enough things to feel guilty about in the present without revisiting every mistake I’ve ever made in the past.

For whatever reason, it works. In part because I think it’s funny, imagining myself tossing all these record albums behind me. It doesn’t get rid of all of the guilt, but it creates some space in my head for more guilt-free thoughts. That’s something.

The Battle Against Depression

I really wish that so much of my existence did not revolve around obsessing about sleep. I’m tired of writing about it, and I’m sure you’re sick of reading about it. But this is the reality of my existence at the moment, and I am committed to being honest about my current state of mind.
 
Today was another day that was filled with sleep. It makes me feel like such a failure. My colleagues don’t struggle to make it to work because they can’t get out of bed. The physicians in my family never even take a sick day. Some depressed people manage to take care of their families. I can barely take care of myself. What is my excuse for my weakness?
 
Then I thought of physical conditions that leave people debilitated. Migraine headaches. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Lyme disease. Do the people who suffer from these conditions feel paralyzed with guilt and shame when they can’t get out of bed? Or do they accept their fatigue as being part of their illness rather than a personal failing?
 
I think about the recommendations I give to clients who are depressed. Exercise. Get sunlight. Be social. Regulate your sleep cycle. If someone had the flu, you would tell them to rest. Listen to your body. But with depression, we tell people to ignore what their bodies and minds are telling them and to do the opposite. Fight it! Don’t give in!
 
Don’t get me wrong. I do all of these things when I can, and they work. After sleeping most of the day, I forced myself to do laundry, get some lunch, wave at my neighbors, put together my tennis schedule for the new league, and play tennis for 3 hours to make up for my lack of steps from yesterday. And I’m writing this blog post now.
 
Because if I gave in to the desire to do nothing, I wouldn’t really be trying to get better. I wouldn’t be taking responsibility for my illness. But I don’t think it’s fair to hold it against someone if their depression is so severe that it’s too much effort to go outside and get sunlight. Because sometimes I’m that person, too.
 
When I have a client who cannot will themselves to follow these recommendations, I don’t judge them for it. But I tell them to keep trying to do them. And no mental health professional that I know would tell a client that if they felt like they need to sleep they should listen to their bodies and rest.
 
There is an article circulating on the internet about how for some depressed people, positive reframing doesn’t work. Telling the person to be positive actually makes them feel worse. That it’s better to support them by expressing empathy for their feelings.
 
Perhaps someday, researchers are going to find that listening to your body when you are depressed is sometimes more effective than fighting it with wakeful activities like forced exercise and socialization–two things that can be difficult to do even when you’re not depressed.
 
I’m going to do my own case study to see if this works.
 

Being Neighborly

Today was one of those tough, lonely days. Even when the day starts out slowly, I usually have tennis in the afternoon, which helps me to feel productive. But no tennis tonight because of the rain. So it was hard to will myself to wake up after a long nap when there was nothing to look forward to but errands.

I did finally manage to bribe myself to get up with kettle corn. (I ate all of it, so I’ll have to think of something else for tomorrow.) And I talked myself into walking to the mailbox to get some steps. I ran into some of my neighbors, who chastised me in a friendly way for not being social. Which made me feel like a terrible person, of course.

I mentioned in a previous blog that I don’t socialize with my neighbors as much as they would like me to. In addition to not being retired, playing tennis almost every day, and not having much in common with senior citizens, the truth is, I’ve never been very neighborly. I think it’s because I hate small talk. I avoid it at all costs.

To make matters worse, when I am home alone I am usually sleeping because it’s so unbearable to be awake when I have nothing to look forward to. I thought about telling my neighbors that. How I’m often too depressed to overcome my aversion to making small talk to be neighborly. That leaving the house to check my mail was a big step for me. But that seemed like TMI.

I know they genuinely want to get to know me and want me to feel welcomed, but I wanted to cry after talking to them. I felt like this was just one more thing I should be doing that I was failing at. Right up there with regulating my sleep cycle, adhering to my GERD diet, and getting 10,000 steps. I hate it that my inner critic turns everything into an opportunity to fail.

So I’m blogging about this incident to diminish my inner critic’s power to make me feel bad about myself. I’m doing the best I can do. There will always be more that I could be doing. I can only focus on my goals for today. I made it to my dentist appointment. I freaking walked to Kroger, which is a huge accomplishment (but sadly, only got me about 3,000 steps). And I am writing this blog post.

And I talked to my neighbors when I got my mail. Which wasn’t even on my list. So there!