Monday, October 28, 2019

Poor sleep.. the penny drops!

For as long as I can remember now I have had trouble sleeping. Getting to the morning and feeling worse than I did before going to bed in the first place on some days. Waking throughout the night at the slightest sound, it has gone on for years.
Since the arrival of my first sleep app, or activity tracker / sleep monitor , I have seen on screen just how bad and disrupted my sleep actually is. As the devices have gotten smarter, so the numbers have become more depressing. If I spend 8 hours in bed, 45 mins will usually be deep sleep, the rest of the time its splatters of REM, or light sleep, complete with some time spent awake. It is as regular as clockwork.

When you look at the breakdown further, a pattern appears. After laying around for a while I will eventually drop off, usually falling into deep sleep quite quickly. 30-40 mins, and it is all over. I am usually awake again, or at very least drifting in and out of light sleep.
It is quite common for me to be awake and sometimes up by 1am, trying to get my mind to settle, and get back off to sleep, even if it is light.

For a long time now I have put this down to anxiety, and my own periods of depression and anxiety. With the disturbed sleep becoming the norm now, even when not in a dip. However... Last night, during one of my waking moments, the penny finally dropped. When I lay there and put two and two together, the answer was finally, without doubt, four!

Thinking back to even 6 months ago when Tuvaaq was still with us, I would wake and hear him walking up and down the hallway. Not making a lot of noise, just the tippy tap of his claws on the flooring would get my attention. Eventually when he settled, I would drift back off to sleep. Even now, the slightest sound wakes me, and gets me focusing on it til I know what it is, and it passes.  But why? When did this start.

Well, as I worked out last night (early hours of this morning), it was about 2008.

Finally, I remembered. After being diagnosed with COPD a good few years before her initial cancer, mum had breathing difficulties. With the onset of the cancer, and the meds affecting her health, her breathing became much worse, and all quite suddenly. If I woke in the middle of the night to go to the loo, I would hear her coughing away, borderline choking. Eventually she would clear her chest, and go back to sleep as quickly as she had woken. Sleep was never an issue for her.

However, on coming home from work one day, and finding her already in bed, curiosity got the better of me, and I went to check on her to see why she had gone to bed so early. It turns out that was a good move, as I found her cold, and non responsive. Barely breathing. Ambulance called, rushed into hospital, and things were sorted. Back home a few days later, and "back to normal". Or so I thought.

Turns out, from that day on, or should I say night, I have never slept properly since. Thinking back, I can now clearly recall waking up each time she was coughing, listening out to hear the right sequence of sounds to know she was OK, and not going back to sleep, or even trying to, until she was safely back asleep. Regularly I would go in to check on her to make sure she was breathing after an episode.

So THAT is where the light sleeping began. Over the few years she was at home, in the different rooms of the house, depending on her needs, the process remained the same. When she finally moved into the lounge with her hospital bed, I think the listening intensified. Now with carers coming in 4 times a day, starting first thing, I had to be on my A game to make sure they made it into the house OK, that she was not being awkward or combative, and that indeed they were doing their job properly. Given some of the interactions with the carers, I was thankful I was home, and sometimes wondered how they would have coped had I not been there to help or refer to.

After a few years of living like that, I guess it is only natural it has become routine for me now. However, given than mum passed over eight years ago now, I would really love to get back into a routine of better sleep. It was kinda handy being that alert as Tuvaaq got to the end of his days, but now, I would really love a good nights sleep.

So what is the next step? The doctor mentioned to me a while back that CBT was one of the things they use when treating sleep issues. Trying to overcome the over thinking of the anxious mind etc. I guess that is one option. In fact, dealing with how my mind works, and perceives the "risks" of falling into deep sleep, is the only way to overcome things. I don't particularly think it is a physical issue, and now that I have recollection of how and when it started, it all makes more sense to me.

Maybe I will book an appointment with the GP anyway, and see what they can come up with, then go from there. Yoga, mindfulness and relaxation certainly play their part in a settled bedtime routine for me.

If there is one positive to take from this, it is that I can officially separate the sleep issues from the anxiety I struggle with at times. I know now that when my mind is behaving, the issue remains because of the long-term routine I established a long time ago.

One less mystery in my life... Phew!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Comfort zone, or mental prison?

We are all guilty of living within our comfort zone at times. It is something which comes naturally to most, and be it a conscious or sub-conscious decision, at some point we will find ourselves settling for what we know.

Be it a regular dish at a restaurant, or a job, the idea of doing something different, and changing from the norm can be a bit of a worry. Just the thought process behind making a change for some can be more than the change itself is worth. At least that is how it can feel at times.

Why change my car, I have been so lucky with this one, over 10 years, no major repairs, high miles and still plugging on. I know people who have had almost brand new cars go wrong. I should stick with this one.
I really like the sound of that twice cooked pork, in sauce with noodles at the Chinese, but I know I like the chicken fried rice. I will stick to what I know, I would not want to waste money, and go hungry.
I'm getting really bored at work, but they have been really good to me over the years, with everything that has happened. What if I changed jobs and I don't like the new place? I should be grateful and stick with what I know!

There is a real pattern there, and it is a familiar one for many people, whether they realise it or not. I speak to so many people who have such dilemmas, but choose not to tempt fate, or rock the boat. That said, I know many people who have reached a point where change is the only logical option, like for Ann (my other half) who was recently almost (well no, actually) forced into looking for another job, after things went against her at her last job.
Sometimes, it is that shove that we need to force our hand, and in a lot of cases, things actually turn out OK.

I say sometimes, but I guess I mean, most times to be honest, especially when our hand is forced. After all, to be in a pinch in the first place suggests something is not right, and change is needed.

For some people, like me for example, the idea of change is simply terrifying. So much uncertainty, so much unknown. Why would you throw yourself into a chasm of fear, for the sake of possible improvements. Are things in your current situation REALLY that bad? The wheels start turning, the head starts spinning, and you struggle to find a way to ground yourself. Before you know it, you are back to safety, and reject the idea of putting yourself through that again. Case closed.

However sometimes the lid of the box keeps popping open, the the doubt of your happiness in that comfort zone gets questioned more and more. Are you actually happy, or just trapped in a routine of known quantity? This is a common thing with relationships for sure, and most people will confess to having been in at least one like that. Been there, done that, won't be doing that again! But while you are there, all seems OK.

I would say that recognising situations similar those which have happened in the past, is a good way to move forward, and question your current comfort zone on contention. Weigh things up rationally, and remove the fear factor for as long as you can. It is going to come calling at some point, but in the meantime, get as much thought done as possible, rationalise things the best you can, and consider the genuine pros and cons without the terror of the "what if's".

 For people who over think, worry, and spend their whole life taking only the most calculated of decisions, with the most certain outcomes, life can be really dull. But which do you choose? Dull and controlled, or exciting and chaotic? A mixture is ideal, but for some, with chaos comes confusion, and with confusion comes panic and instability.

CBT teaches a process in which you are able to try and have the rational thought process, while avoiding the spiral of doom and gloom. Keeping away from the edge by reminding yourself of positive outcomes of similar situations. Something as simple as going out to the shops during anxious times can be terrifying. Thinking about the scary things which could happen if you venture out, immediately makes it a bad idea. However reminding yourself of the good experiences which have happened when you have taken that little leap, can bring the rewards to the forefront of your mind, and in some way tempt and nurture your curiosity into make the decision to once again leap.

This same process can be applied to the cycle of the unknown outcome in the over thinkers mind. 10 years ago when I bought the car, I was worried, but look at me now. Now it has become the benchmark
When I tried that dish the first time I went to the new restaurant, I wasn't sure, but now I love it.
Sometimes things work out well, even when we have literally set ourselves up to prepare for failure of the worst kind. You just have to look back to the right experiences, and realise that sometimes, most of the time, nearly all the time.... things work out OK after all.

I guess in summary, there is nothing wrong with the comfort zone. As long as you can take a look from the outside, and say you are honestly happy. I could eat chicken, rice and veg all the time. But is change from that nice... Sure it is!
I could aspire to live in a hot country, with loads of space and all the free time in the world. But would I be happy? Probably not, my mind needs feeding regularly.

There is something safe and usually satisfying about being in your comfort zone, however, there is also something exciting about venturing outside it once in a while. The frequency is the key here, and from time to time, you just have to leap....
For the thought of any sort of change to have even entered your mind, there must be something to is, right? It isn't a random out of the blue thought. It is not a pipe dream being sold to you by a con man. It is an opportunity which has presented itself to you in a rational way, makes sense, and is worth a shot. So why let it worry you?

You know what Michael, I think you might be right!

Welcome to my thought process. The easiest way for me to see things like this is to say them, out loud, to the blog. Then read back, and hear it in my mind as a conversation. Break everything down into a format I can understand and process, and run through it again.

Maybe I am in a prison after all, maybe it is time to leap!!!

Watch this space....