Category Archives: sleep

Giving up the written word

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The other day when I was meeting with my Kalyana Mitta group (basically a Buddhist support group and book club), one of my sangha mates said. “I have to confess I was naughty and brought a book with me on retreat.” I looked around the room to see the reaction to his revelation. For the most part, everyone looked understanding and sympathetic to his disclosure. On the other hand, I probably looked fairly puzzled. Doesn’t everyone bring books with them on retreat? Oh god, am I the only one?

Of course, I have read and heard teachers advise against reading or writing during retreats. It breaks the continuity of mindfulness. The oft-used analogy is if you put a kettle of water on the stove and then take it off, then put it back on and take it off, the water is never going to boil. Same thing with our mindfulness. If we keep losing it by getting lost in words (written or being written), it breaks the continuity of the mindfulness and we’re never going to get the full benefit of the extended practice period. OK, yeah, I get it. But, honestly now, are people actually holding to that?

Apparently, people do.

Tomorrow I’m off on retreat again – five days up at Spirit Rock at a silent retreat co-lead by my golf club wielding teacher. When I met with him yesterday, I wanted to get some clarity on the reading thing.  He confirmed what I had heard before and whipped out the ol’ kettle analogy. I get it, but what I can’t understand is what people do in their rooms after the last sitting and before they fall asleep.  We have no access to electronic media – there is no cell or WiFi signal out there. And certainly no TV. Do people simply sit in their rooms staring mindfully at the walls?

My teacher looked at me rather gently as he told me the obvious: after the last sitting, people simply go to sleep. Oh right. Sleep. At 9:30 at night. Sleep. With no need to wind down, no transition. What a concept.

I have often marveled at how many of the dorm windows are dark when I come out of the last session at 10 or so.  I’m usually one of the last to leave the sitting, so I know all my  fellow yogis aren’t in the hall. Maybe they’re down in the dining hall enjoying a nice rice cracker and a cup of tea.  Doubtful. So the only other option is that they are already in bed. At 10 o’clock. Does not compute.

As you may have surmised, I’m a night owl. I tend to go to bed between midnight and 1 am.  Trust me, I’ve tried to go to bed earlier, but it doesn’t work.  I even diagnosed myself with a mild case of Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder.  I’m fortunate, it doesn’t impact my life that much since I tend to stay away from jobs where I have to be at work early or where my boss is a stickler about tardiness.

I’m also one of those people who cannot simply hop into bed and fall asleep no matter how tired I am. I need time to wind down. Even if I get home really late, I watch a little TV to let the mind know it’s time to stop thinking. So, on retreats with no access to mind-numbing TV, I will spend some time journalling and then take a dharma book with me to bed and try to read myself to sleep. And even that doesn’t always work, especially when I’m struck with anxiety or energy surges from a long day of meditation. As much as I love Spirit Rock and being on retreat, I’ve had plenty long dark nights of the soul there when I’ve found myself battling anxiety and sleeplessness.

Since this is a short retreat and with my teacher co-leading, I’ve decided to push myself a bit. I’m giving up the written word for the duration of the retreat. No reading, no writing.  I’m going to keep my kettle on the stove. If that means I’m still in the hall meditating at 2am, so be it. Basically, I’m going to meditate until I’m exhausted and can hopefully fall asleep without my routines.  (Though, don’t expect me at the 6:30 am sit.)

It sounds a bit extreme, I realize. But, worry not, I’ll still have a book tucked away in my suitcase if my plan doesn’t work out.

LB’s big adventure

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I’m know I’m kinda funny this way, but I like my sleep. I need my sleep.  And probably like every middle-aged person (at least the ones I know), I don’t get enough of it.  And that’s not because I’m out partying or feeding a crying baby. No, like millions of us, I suffer from insomnia.  And it sucks.

So, I’ve taken Benedryl, Melatonin, Valium, some kind of anti-itch medication that is like Benedryl-lite.  I’ve tried lulling myself to sleep with recordings of rain, and new age chimes over some weird supposed brainwave pulsing thing. My sleep hygiene is decent – I don’t watch TV in bed, the room is dark and quiet, and I tend to go bed around the same time each night (albeit rather late).  And all of these methods have worked – for a while.  But still there are those nights where I toss and turn and turn and toss and end up wandering around the house muttering to myself until 3 or so in the morning. It ain’t pretty folks, ain’t pretty at all.

The one thing that has worked for me in putting me to sleep (though not necessarily keeping me asleep) is marijuana. While that sedating effect was less than beneficial in my 20’s when I was a big ol’ unemployed, unmotivated pothead, it’s just what the doctor ordered for me in my 50’s.

California is one of 13 states in the US where medical marijuana is legal.  All you need is a note from a doctor that marijuana would benefit whatever condition your suffering from.  I believe there is an official and long list of ailments, and  insomnia is one of them.

Of course, you need to find a doctor who is supportive of medical marijuana.  And since I work in management at the same place where I get my health care, I decided against asking my personal doctor for a recommendation.  Instead, after obtaining my medical records which confirmed my diagnosis of insomnia, I looked at the websites of a handful of clinics in Oaksterdam that do medical marijuana evaluations and chose the one that had an available appointment on Saturday.

The clinic was in a well-maintained older building in downtown Oakland.  The office itself, however, seemed a tad temporary, as if they could pack up within an hour or two and not leave a trace.  But the receptionist was pleasant and professional and asked me to fill out a three page health history form.  She attempted to take my blood pressure, but the machine wasn’t working.  Oh well. The waiting room was not exactly comfortable nor inviting with its cheap Costco folding chairs and a vinyl couch that looks like it was found in the Free Stuff section of Craig’s List. The six or so people waiting there were a mixed bag. Some of whom seemed quite respectable, while others, if I saw them on the street, I would probably pull my purse close to me.

After waiting a while, the doctor called me into her exam room. Like the rest of the office, there wasn’t much to distinguish it, but it served its purpose.  She reviewed my medical history form and the records I bought in to support my diagnosis as well as the prescriptions I had been given for my insomnia.  I was pleasantly surprised that it really did seem like a clinical visit and that she was caring and professional.  For some reason, I expected it to take just a couple of minutes with a shady doctor who simply went through the motions before signing my letter.

At the end of my visit I was given my official medical marijuana recommendation letter as well as some information about how to get an official identification card, though most dispensaries will accept just the letter.  And with that, my next stop was a dispensary.

After doing some research on Yelp and the California NORML website, I opted for my first visit to be to the Haborside Health Center in Oakland.  Seriously, visit their site and watch the video.  It’s pretty freakin’ amazing.   Very professional, clean and welcoming.  After getting a tour of the facility and getting my letter verified, I got in line and waited for a “budtender” to call me over.  The sales counter looks like a cross between a bank and a jewelry store.  My budtender was a hip looking young fellow who, by the look of his eyes, had been sampling the medicine.  Yes, that’s right. Don’t call it pot or weed or any other slang. It’s medicine.  Anyway, the selection of medicine was overwhelming.  You could get it in edible form, tincture, aerosol, butter, and of course, good ol’ buds.  There were probably at least 20 varieties, all marked with their concentration of THC.  After telling my budtender what I needed it for, he gave me a recommendation for a certain strain, which I got along with with a bottle tincture that you can drink rather than smoke.

On my way home, my car smelling of some really stinky bud, I felt as if I had been a very naughty girl. At one point there was a CHP officer in the lane next to mine and I got really nervous despite being everything being on the up and up.  This is going to take some getting used to.

Later that evening, I took my medicine and watched the movie Man on Wire.

Well, I watched part of the movie.  Within minutes I was fast asleep on the couch.

Panic!

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I was in my mid-20s when I had my first panic attack.  It came out of the blue.  I wasn’t involved in something that frightened me, or unnerved me, or any type of thing that you can imagine that would inspire panic.  No, I was laying in bed watching TV – something highly familiar and comfortable.

I can’t remember what triggered it.  It was probably just a numbness in an arm, or an odd pain.  But soon I was feeling as if I was going to lose consciousness.  Nay, not merely lose consciousness, but actually die.  I needed to get outside where someone may see me or rescue me, some place where I could breathe.  My legs felt like they could not support me since they had gone numb like much of the rest of my body.  At the time I lived in an apartment complex where I had become friends with one of my neighbors.  I managed to ring her doorbell.  I couldn’t really describe my symptoms besides, “I’m dying.”  I guess she didn’t take me too seriously since she didn’t rush me to the hospital as I expected her to do, but instead rang the doorbell of yet another neighbor, a nurse.

The neighbor-nurse asked me a few questions about my health history, medications, symptoms, etc.  The diagnosis came quickly: I was having a panic attack.  Despite my mother being an agoraphobic (which is basically the end result of untreated panic disorder), I knew nothing about panic attacks.  The neighbor-nurse offered me some orange juice and let me lay down while she gently explained what was happening and reassuring me I wasn’t dying.  A half an hour later the symptoms had subsided and I went home, feeling shaken but relieved it was over.

It wasn’t until years later that I had another attack.  This time I was older and there were no kindly neighbors to talk me off the ledge. Again, it happened late in the evening while relaxing in front of the TV.  First a numbness and then the thought, “oh my god, I’m dying.”  I drove myself to the emergency room.  I suspected it was just panic – I knew a lot more about it by then – and I just wanted someone to take my blood pressure and tell me I wasn’t having a heart attack.  But, it was a busy night, so I spent much of the night in the waiting room.  The comfort of knowing there were a gaggle of doctors just beyond that swinging door and the distraction of a busy ER calmed my symptoms quickly.  Why I continued to wait, I don’t know.  It was probably close to 4 hours before I saw a doctor who, upon hearing my faded symptoms, and my family and personal history, quickly diagnosed panic.  My blood pressure was slightly elevated, but nothing to be alarmed about.

In the years since I have gone through periods where I tend to have more panic attacks.  Always it is the same:  at night, alone, triggered by some minor ache or pain.  The type of ache or pain that most people would react with maybe an “ouch” or “maybe I should change my position so my arm doesn’t fall asleep.”  Not me, my mind goes from “Ouch! What’s that?” to “No doubt that is  symptom of a heart attack, or some kind of blood clot that is going to cause my imminent death.”   If I don’t catch it in time with some  rational self-talk or mindfulness or distraction or Valium (or all of the above), the next part of the routine is getting dressed in preparation to drive myself to the emergency room.  Eventually, I calm down enough so I can start distracting myself until all the symptoms are completely gone.

I don’t know what the point of this post is.  I’m tired.  I woke up with a cramp in my leg at 2am, which, of course, triggered a panic attack, so most of my night was shot. Sleep has been hard enough these days without adding in the odd panic attack or two.  I’ve done the cognitive behavioral therapy thing – I recognize what it is, and that is probably what has kept me from multiple trips to the ER.  I’ve done years of therapy, including for PTSD.  I think this is just part of the genetic heritage left to me by my mother who, for my entire lifetime with her, rarely ever left the house because of her panic disorder.  I know it could be a lot worse, so I guess I’ll just deal with the occasional attack and be grateful it doesn’t control my life.

Weird Monday

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Weird day here at the office.  Normally, Mondays are a bit crazed.  People save up all their crazy over the weekends and then come in and dump it on us.  But today?  It’s uber-quiet.  One of my staff requested to take half the day off because he was bored.  Hey, if he has the hours and that’s how he wants to use them, why not? 

This stance has apparently made me the hero of other departments where being bored is not a valid reason for leaving early.   If someone wants to leave early they need to come up with some kind of elaborate ruse of feeling sick, or having a sick relative, or some other pressing issue.  But, is it really worth anyone’s time and money to be hanging around doing a whole lot of nothin’?  That’s my philosophy.  If you have the PTO (Paid Time Off)  earned and you want to take off,  and your leaving doesn’t have an adverse affect on business operations, then please go with god, my child.

After only maybe 3 1/2 hours of sleep, I was tempted to call in “tired” this morning.  I should have, really.   I’ve got 9 weeks of PTO on the books, and a boss who shares my philosophy when it comes to time off.  

I don’t know what is going on with me and sleep lately.  We used to be on such good terms.   But now?  When I finally go to bed, sleep doesn’t want to come with me.  And when it does finally join me, it decides to leave me around 3 am and want to wander around until 4:30 or so.  At 5 am, sleep finally settles down and starts to get deep.  But, when the alarm goes off, sleep wants to keep going.   So every morning is a damn struggle between sleep and I.   There are no winners in this war sleep and I are having.

I’m glad it’s a weirdly quiet Monday so that I can get my requisite blog post out of the way while I’m being paid to sit upright and capable of composing sentences.  That frees up my evening to sprawl on the couch and watch “Intervention” and “Hoarders”.  Good times.  Good times.