Tuesday, August 7, 2007

I Got Rhythm (XL)

I also apparently got lots of titles that start with "I". I'll have to work on that. But for now, more about me. I've got chronic sleep troubles in that I tend not to get restful sleep unless I've had good acupuncture recently. The acupuncturists out here aren't quite hitting the spot, so to speak. After the success of my last treatment in Boston, I'm really hoping my acupuncturist doesn't miss the ferry and can see me again next week. I will also have to make a push to find a five elements practitioner out here. What do you want to bet he or she will be found either in San Fran near "my" new hairdresser, or in El Segundo? Which reminds me that if I can get in a wine tasting trip with my book club friends, I can also get my haircut refreshed.

The sleep thing, though, is critical. You don't sleep well and you start to feel like an old person - joints ache, hearing tests fine but doesn't function right, can't stay awake during the day, can't sleep at night, pain is intensified - and it's misery. Those people with fibromyalgia? I'm betting most of them don't get restful sleep. And 3 years of conventional treatment did nothing for me and mostly it doesn't work for fibromyalgics either. Fortunately for my quality of life, I found my acupuncturist, Lorli. (email me if you ever want her contact info.)

I never recall having any sort of internal clock. I was never affected by jet lag. Some people wake up and don't know where they are. I always know where I am, I don't always know when. Waking at 7:30 on a foggy summer day could easily be either AM or PM and I wouldn't (and didn't) know. I could stay awake all night, for nearly any reason. I would then sleep through my alarm until my roommate kicked my upper bunk and threatened bodily harm. In retrospect, I think my sleep troubles were masked when I was younger by the allergy medicine I took at night which made one "drowsy". I took it from the age of 12 to about the middle of college. A few years after graduation, though, and I was a mess. I honestly didn't know if I'd be able to hold down a job, applaud at a concert, use a childproof cap, or even think properly again.

I'd figured that I had a sleep problem, but my sleep test, with electrodes glued to my skull and everything, showed absolutely normal sleep patterns. Despite not having anything noticably wrong, I needed a 4 hour nap to recover from the sleep test after almost falling asleep at the wheel driving home afterward. I still couldn't wake up. One day, I got an early phone call from my friend T. We chatted for a while and I realized I was awake enough afterward to get out of bed. I also realized that I would answer the phone from a dead sleep even if I didn't hear the alarm clock. This was epiphany number one.

Epiphany number two was that I had to ask for help. I wasn't ready to go to my parents, but I asked T for help and this great friend called me EVERY DAY for a month and talked to and at me until I woke up enough to make the conscious choice to get out of bed. After a month of her calling me Long Distance for 45 minutes from a later time zone, I realized I had to call in the big guns if I wanted to keep waking up in time for work. A forcibly rearranged some blocking neurons in my head and I called my dad. My dad proceeded to call me every weekday for a YEAR. Long distance, from later time zone, to talk me out of bed in the morning. I'm sure some mornings he would have preferred the method of dripping cold water on my face - there's a reason I don't live that close. I asked for less risky help from home and another friend, a morning person, offered to rideshare with me even though it was very restricting for her. But I would not have made it without this help.

I had my third sleep related epiphany one day when I realized what it felt like to really wake up. I have always had extreme trouble waking up. I always figured that the morning people or kids or dogs pestered their night person spouse, parent, kids, or owners out of bed. Living on my own, while preferable in many ways, puts me at a disadvantage in this one. But my dad had my back, once I broke down the barrier and asked for help.

In the interim, I took ibuprofen for the joint pain and worked with a few docs on the abdominal pain until we found something, anything, to do about it. (Ask me about electrical nerve stimulation.) A week after I had surgery to fix a minor hernia that caused all manner of pain, I woke up a minute before my alarm went off, feeling refreshed. My first thought was, "this must be how people woke up before alarm clocks were invented. Can that trait be evolved out?" My second thought was, "This is strange. I don't need to hit the snooze. I'm just AWAKE." I had never in my memory ever felt awake like that after a night's sleep. Never Ever.

Great! I thought, I'm fixed! Ta-Da!

Not so fast, Kemosabe, said my body. After a month of waking up on my own, the scar tissue re-grew over my abused nerves and my sleep problems came back. Because of the alarm clock miracle, I finally deduced, with no help whatsoever from a half dozen trained sleep and mental health professionals, that my problem was getting restful sleep. Quantity was no trouble. Quality was elusive.
At this point though, I finally knew what better sleep felt like. I got a new doctor and I was able to get pharmaceuticals to help me sleep and others to help me wake up. The trick was, I had to wake up to take the drugs. Thankfully my dad kept calling me. My mom told me he got a kick out of it and I stopped feeling guilty. (I did finally have to force him to quit calling after three solid years of weekday morning rise and shine.)

I started doing a LOT better. But I needed a LOT of drugs. And more every month. I knew I couldn't move far away - I had a notion of working in Europe for a year that was totally off the table. Even a long vacation seemed risky. Drugs were buying me time, but were not a sustainable solution. I didn't much like my, or any standard doctor at this point. I'd recently read a study that found consistency of care - seeing the same therapist or same group regularly - could be more important to recovery than quality or personalization of care. So I decided that I would find a different "doctor" and when I found someone I liked, was going to stick it out for as long as I could manage.

Cambridge has an alternative health practitioner around every corner, and I tried out a lot of them to no avail. (If I tell you I don't much care for milk or peanuts, don't try to convince me to make a peanut milkshake a daily diet staple. Sheesh! I do love peanut sauce though.) My boyfriend at the time recommended I try an acupuncturist he'd met by taking her Adult Ed class on herbs. He thought we'd hit it off. I had had some luck with acupuncture previously for a different issue and was open to giving it a try. He sent me to Lorli and she said, "honey, you need my help. I can help you. Come twice a week, I won't even charge for the second visit".

And I liked Lorli. The process was not immediate, but I did start to feel better. I would go into the treatment room planning only for a nap and leave with so much energy I'd go swim a half mile at the Y. On days when I just went home and napped, no such swim happened afterward; the treatments were working. After a couple months, I dropped back to once a week visits. After a few more months I dropped to biweekly visits. After nine months, I started weaning myself from the pharmaceuticals. After 15 months or so I was up to three week intervals and no drugs. In the intervening five years or so, I got treated every 3 to 5 weeks and took no prescription drugs. And I only took OTC drugs to combat drinking too much caffeine.

In this time, I started to develop a daily rhythm. When I woke up, when I got sleepy. I can now just drop off at night where previously it could take hours to go from "sleepy" to "asleep". I now get severely jet lagged. (Lun.esta helps with short term upsets like that. Am.bien made me sleepwalk at least once.) These days, I can feel the rhythm of my day. Mornings start slow and ramp up. I get hungry at lunchtime. I have a low, slow period after lunch that morphs into about 15 minutes of being horny and them I'm totally reved up and filled with excitement and plans for work and home and glass and... I get lots of work done late afternoons.

But before I can execute on all those plans, especially the non-work ones, I crash. I've losing a lot of quality time with myself. I go from being full of vim and vigor to only wanting to sleep, NOW, and maybe get a snack. This crash was debilitatingly worse before my last trip to Boston. One, admittedly intense, acupuncture session with Lorli later, and I've had about 3 solid weeks of being perky me again. It's starting to fade though. I really hope to see Lorli in Boston. If I don't, I might have to make a special trip. It's that important. I don't want to go back on the drugs if I don't have to. I will, but I won't like it. And I don't think I'll have to if I can find a good practitioner out here.

I do need sleep - I've been reading the FON countdown in the evenings which leads to getting distracted and staying up too late puttering online. I probably should have gone to bed an hour ago. I'd only intended, really, to write these last two paragraphs after the opener. But I use this blog to unclutter my mind and all this stuff just fell out of the door to the mental storage closet when I cracked it open. So there you have it. My ongoing journey to find restful sleep and be able to wake up on my own. I do still hit the snooze most days, but I manage. I'm trying to figure out how to manage a bit better. I'll get there.

I'll end with a Public Service Announcement:
It took the efforts of a lot of friends and family to pull me together, but that only happened after I gave up the idea of being the "conquering hero" (conquering the job world? conquering what? I don't know.) and asked for help. If someone reading this out there is in a downward spiral of any sort (illness, abuse, addiction, bad moods) and is to proud or embarrassed to ask someone for help because you don't want friends, family, neighbors, or even perfect strangers to think you're a failure or an idiot or a waste of a good student loan... think again and ask for their help. Without help you may well wind up a failure. But with help you have more options.

Your friends and family want to help you. But they might not know you need help, or if they do, they know it won't be any use unless you're willing to accept it. Not everyone will want to help you, but enough people will, sometimes even the perfect strangers. It turns out people are much nicer to the folks who need them than they are to the "heroes" that made it to the top but ignored them on the way. People want to be part of your success story. If you need help, ask. If you don't get help, ask again. It gets easier. And you get a better shot at being a conquering hero, only this time it's you and your army, succeeding together.

1 comment:

janet w said...

Yeah, even heroes need helping heroes, don't they. Keep thinking of cliches: a problem shared is a problem halved but it's TRUE!

Great post Erika: thanks :)