Boy, am I doing a lot of sleeping and dreaming. As a matter of fact, my dreams are a hell of a lot more engaging than my life these days. It gets so I don’t want to get out of bed, because if I stay there and fall back to sleep, I will have more adventurous dreams that are more interesting than any of my daily doings.
My dream world has very specific landscapes that include a section that is some odd representation of the campus where I went to college; a distorted version of the part of the city where I worked for 20 years; a kind of Catskill Mountain vacation hotel where I once attended ballroom dance weekends; and a weird version of an apartment complex where I used to live. I am always trying to get somewhere among those places, but it’s usually a matter of “you can’t there from here”. On those excursions, however, I might meet up with friends, go dancing, play with cats, and come up with a good first line for a poem. But then I wake up, and it’s all gone where dreams go.
No matter how hard I try I can’t reclaim a normal sleep schedule. I often don’t fall asleep until early morning hours, and then I sleep until afternoon. My sleep got messed up more than a decade ago when I was taking care of my demented mother. A search of this blog for “caregiving” or “dementia” will unearth full details.
I have tried to get control of my insomnia (search “insomnia” if you are curious). Medical Marijuana worksto get me to fall asleep, but it is awfully expensive because it takes a double dose to have any effect on me.
There actually have been more than a couple of times when I didn’t get out of bed for more than 24 hours. To be honest, I there are times that I would just as soon not wake up. I kind of identify with a 1999 episode of Ally McBeal, in which “Ally’s favorite teacher from high school is dying, but she has a wonderful dream life which she would like to remain in. Ally decides to get a court order to force the hospital to put her into a coma.”
In my dreams, I have relationships, friends, hugs, interactions, adventures — kind of the opposite of life with Covid-19. (I do live with family, but that’s not the same as hanging out with peers.)
On the Late Show last night, Bill Gates suggested that it might be close to a couple of years before we can settle into some kind of normalcy. How are we all going to keep from going off the deep end before then? Will I even live long enough to see a “new normal.”
In the meanwhile, lacking motivation, energy, and inspiration, I continue to avoid my pile of half-done creative projects that are wasting away in the corner where I piled them months ago. And, also in the meanwhile, I have tracked down a former therapist and have started, again, trying to find my muse, looking for some fuse that will propel me out of this mindless funk.
Dylan Thomas wrote the poem that begins “Do not go gentle into that good night.” It’s very easy to fade away into old age, to pretend all is OK, to try not to be a burden, to keep our pain and sadness to ourselves. I guess it’s one thing if you are old and terrifically healthy and still run marathons and such. It’s another if your bones acknowledge the wear of every year — and that is the situation with most of us.
Most younger folks have no idea what they might be in for because we often try to accommodate to their expectations of us. Well, I say that we need to own — and own up — to whatever fragilities we have earned. Let the rest of the world become more aware of what the realities of aging are for most of us. Maybe then they would be more patient when we drive more slowly, or take longer at the check-out lines, or struggle with hearing loss.
I refuse to pretend that I don’t need help getting up and down stairs or getting out of a chair, or opening a jar of pickles. For sure, getting in and out of a car.
My family, with whom I live, understands my struggles because I don’t hide them. My reality is not very gentle: my gait isn’t always steady, my fingers don’t always hold sure, my rest isn’t always enough. And I think that is the reality for most of us, and it is a reality that most of those who are still young will one day face. They might as well see it coming.
So I believe in complaining — in the sense of being honest about what it is like, for most of us, to be old. We should be brutally honest, rather than gentle, about admitting — as Bette Davis supposedly admitted — “Old age is not for sissies.”
This is what I think about as I lay, sleepless at 3 a.m.
But I think of other things too — the projects I would like to do if I could find the energy and focus, for example. I am realizing that most of my life has required a great deal of both, and I have always had to move fast, decide quickly, shift gears while still in full-speed mode. I never had much patience for long-term planning (not a good thing); I’ve never had expectations of perfection (a good thing). But I always had the energy and focus to get done what had to be done.
Now, I spend an awful lot of time sitting in my rocker/recliner, staring into space, not thinking, or planning, or hoping. I spend an awful lot of time awake when I shouldn’t be and sleeping when I should be living.
Life with Covid-19 sucks, and it sucks even more if you are physically feeling your old age, isolated from your peers, and disconnected from outside stimulation. Yes, that’s how I feel, and I have to believe that I am not alone.
There was a time in the history of this weblog that talking to myself, here on these pages, got me through some rough times because there were folks out there eavesdropping with whom I eventually connected in a reaction of mutual support and camaraderie. That connection was the whole purpose of personal blogs, back then.
But it’s a different virtual world, now, and if all I do is talk to myself in these pages, that’s fine. I learn a lot about myself that way, and, although what I learn is not always pleasant, it’s enlightening.
This box marks the end and the beginning. What follows below this post is who I was. What precedes it is who I am and will be. With the Covid-19 Pandemic, with my achieving octoganarianism, came a sea-change, and this blog will reflect my life yet to be lived, as I persist.
If I have strong enough marijuana to ingest, I can sleep, but I still don’t fall asleep until 3 a.m. If that stops working for a while, I revert to taking night time cold medicine — double dose. (I can’t drink alcohol because of my Reflux disease, and I can’t get a sleeping pill prescription because of my age.) My brain seems to ignore the effects of sedatives unless they are pretty potent. It makes me wonder if some synapses in my brain have become immune to sedatives.
When I do sleep, I dream — elaborate scenarios, filled with people I know and people I don’t. One of the people I don’t know is a guy. I never see his face, but he is obviously someone I am close to, emotionally and physically. He hugs me, holds me, whispers in my ear. Obviously, I am compensating for these things I no longer have.
I have been missing that kind of interaction for more than a couple of decades. That is how long I have been without a relationship with a man — more because of situation rather than choice. My situation has also taken me away from close women friends that I have had for more than 40 years. And Covid-19 makes it very hard to be optimistic..
So I have a much more enjoyable dream life than my awake life. And so I sleep. A lot. Yes, it’s an escape during these depressing times, and yes, I take an anti-depressant. There are days I sleep from 3 or 4 a.m. until my daughter wakes me for dinner the next day. I need to find a prescribing psychiatrist to determine if I should be taking something else and to help me figure out the rest.
For now, I am addicted to sleep and the dreams that come.
Years ago, I saw an episode of “Ally McBeal” that featured an old woman who is dying in a hospital and was put in an induced coma. When they woke her up, she insisted to be put back in the coma, where she lived a whole other life as a happy, young wife and mother. She was much happier in the coma, and she was dying anyway. I get it. I’d rather be sleeping and dreaming rather than experience the dreariness of what my daily personal life has become.
I used to be able to amuse and entertain myself creating stuff — sweaters, upcycled t-shirts, learning to paint and draw, cooking….. Not these days. I used to dance for exercise. Not any more with my escalating arthritis and torn rotator cuff that will never really heal. I used to go for short late afternoon walks. Instead, I now sleep.
Maybe the results of the coming election will lift some of my depression. But not all of it. I have to figure out how to get rid of the rest of it. I’m assuming the psychiatrist will help.
But in the meanwhile, my life will be what it is, and my dreams will be my escape.
It’s so frustrating that my sleep issue is one that so many elders experience. We create vehicles that explore outer space, but no one has figured out how to solve the problem of elder insomnia (which must be associated with how the brain ages). And neither has anyone figured out how to make a removable partial dental bridge that actually fits and works.
I never worried about getting old. I figured that I would deal with it when it happened. Well, it happened, and I’m not dealing with it very well these days. Objects seem to fly out of my grasp. I’m constantly misplacing things. If I get down, I can’t get up without help. I trip when there’s nothing there to trip on. The technology that I used to use without a second thought now requires too much figuring out. It doesn’t help that, back in March, I accidentally sent my removable partial denture down the garbage disposal, making it unusable, and it’s taking forever to get a new one. I lose track of my finances and find myself owing more than I thought. My crazy sleep pattern doesn’t help, of course.
It wouldn’t have helped if I had worried about getting old before it happened. There’s no way to have known what it was going to mean for me. Everyone is different. My mother lived until she was 94, but her last 10 years were lost in dementia.
I wonder who those old people are who go out dancing, marathon running, paddling canoes. Of course, I’m assuming the Pandemic has put the kibosh on all of that now — unless they are the deniers. Good luck to them, I say.
I finally let my hair go gray more than a decade ago, and I was very happy with it. Only now, my hair is thinning. Not so happy, now.
The other day I took a magnifying mirror outside so I could see my eyebrows, which are also thinning – except for the long wiry white ones, which I plucked out. I suppose I could get one of those eyebrow stencils, that so many of the folks on tv seems to be using, but I think they look horrible. Not many choices here for me.
Over on Ronni Bennett’s blog, she has been chronicling what it’s like to get older. Exactly my age, she is now chronicling how she is dealing with the pancreatic cancer that is literally killing her. She is heroic in dealing with her situation. I wonder how I would handle it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful that I can still drive, blog, see the tv, chat on the phone with the one close friend I’ve been able to make in the ten years since I’ve moved here (more on that another time). Grateful for the support of my family, especially during this time of quarantine.
All around me. All around my insides as well as my outsides.
I am used to being able to have some control over my life of 80 yeas. I get it that Covid 19 is in the driver’s seat right now. One of my “talents” has always been that I am able to find some pieces of myself to hang onto even in the midst of various forms of chaos; but I can’t seem to find any of those pieces.
As grateful as I am for the support and protection of my family, that all comes at a cost. And the cost is my sense of self at a time when very little is making sense at all. My reality has succumbed to the total chaos that rages all around me.
I am bummed that I don’t seem to be able to handle any of it. Mindfulness? Meditation? Forget it. Chaos rules my mind. I just want to sleep until I can wake to a better reality. And so I sleep. A lot.
I used to be able to gird my loins and launch myself into some creative craft project that would, at least, surround me with a brain buffer. I used to be able to take that chaos and re-purpose it into pretty decent poetry.
Is it so terribly hard now because I am old? Because I have used up my finite resources? I feel totally depleted. I don’t know who I am or why I am.
My late once-husband, who tended to be single-minded, once told me that he wonders what is at my “core”; he saw me like an onion. The layers get pealed back and there’s nothing at the core. And this is how I saw him.
.House cactus. You stand firm and fundamental in your solitary nesting place apart from your leafing, budding sill-mates. You remind me of someone I know
So, I am an onion. Each layer is a period of my life that I created and lived and survived. My layers are what I am. Does that mean I have nothing at the core? Nothing solid, impermeable? Does it matter?
Maybe it does, if I find myself adrift in a chaos that is being absorbed by whatever is left of who I am. Do I even have another layer in me, or is that all there is?
Here I am, already having missed a day venting my madness. This being late seems to be a trait I developed in my very late years. I used to arrive at my destinations at least 10 minutes early. None of that matters much any more anyway — and not because of the Coronovirus Pandemic, which has caused a lock-down and which gives folks too much time on their hands.
Today I’m mad about “Time.” It really seem to go faster as you get older. It takes me longer to do everything, including figuring out new things on this blog platform. You might have to bear with me for a while as I continue to climb the learning curve.
When I moved in here with my family, my grandson was 5 years old. Now, at age 17, he has completed his high school education as a home schooler. Twelve years, in the blink of an eye.
Today, I’m mad at Time, which can take me at any time. And I can’t turn it back to fix what I screwed up.
I have not been motivated to write on this blog.since the beginning of the year. Adjusting to chronic insomnia with no remedy that works is exhausting. It’s also depressing. As is the fact that I unknowingly sent my removable dental partial down the garbage disposal and so I have no front teeth until I can get to a dentist and go through the whole process all over again. And the fact that my plans to get some shots for my painful arthritic knee have been postponed while I shelter in place. And I planted some seeds indoors that are not doing well.
Yet, all of my “Little Picture” angst is just small potatoes compared to this frightening global pandemic exacerbated by the corruption and stupidity rampant throughout tRump’s America. This “Big Picture” is enough to make me not want to get out of bed in the morning. As life goes on, the more depressed I get.
They say that “depression is anger turned inward.”. Well, if I have a choice, I’m going with anger, which has fueled my writing before. So herewith, I will be indulging my Mad Old Lady anger while I still can. Feel free to commiserate in the Reply options.
I am challenging myself to write something every day; you can subscribe (see bottom of right hand column) to be notified when I post.
I don’t mean that we Elders are the plague; I mean an awful lot of us Elders are afflicted with the same “plague.” It’s called There are lots of kinds of insomnia and there’s no cure for any of them. There are a host of “remedies”, however, and I have tried all of them (see the end of this post), to no avail. So had the author of a book I read several years ago, Insomniac, by Gayle Greene. The book was published in 2008, and you would think there would have been some progress made since then with a treatment that works. I contacted Greene last year to see if she ever found a way rid herself of insomnia Basically, she said no; all she could do is schedule her life around it when she can, take sleep meds when she has no other choice, and keep looking for a solution.
Here’s a review from The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: Insomniac, by Gayle Greene, provides an interesting perspective and offers support to those with treatment resistant insomnia. It also offers a fresh perspective to readers who are also medical providers. The author defines insomnia in a way that sets the stage for the discussions that follow, as “Insomnia is when you can’t get the sleep you need to feel good, for no reason other than that you can’t.” By the end of the third chapter, the reader has a very clear understanding of the problems faced by insomniacs.
Greene’s book is both a memoir and a research paper. If you don’t read the book, read the whole review. Here are some of the facts she shares in her book
⇒ A third of the American population suffers from insomnia enough to complain about it; in people over 65, estimates are as high as 60 percent.
⇒ Sleep has little part in medical curricula today, when doctors get an average of one or two hours’ instruction in sleep and sleep disorders. The patient with a chronic complaint of insomnia will usually be referred to a psychiatrist.
⇒With all due respect, this is so ass-backwards, Greene states. The reason I want more sleep is so that I won’t feel depressed. I need sleep not to avoid my life, but so that I can live it.
⇒ This is what she learned from interviewing a range of sleep researchers and experts (all given citations in her book). We do not know….the nature of the basic neural mechanisms underlying primary insomnia. Nor do we know the identity of specific neurotransmitters that might be involved, or even whether specific neurotransmitter systems are involved. The genetics of the disorder are also not known.
⇒The behavioral model (change your attitude, change your ways) has had, perhaps the unfortunate consequence of discouraging research into the neurobiology of the disorder.
⇒Insomnia is a subjective state.. There’s no blood test that it shows up on, no biopsy or x-ray that picks it up, and it doesn’t even show up on the EEG….. How much easier it is to tell us, as many clinics do, that we have “sleep disordered breathing,” or apnea.
⇒Exercise helps some people, but not all. “In order to make a difference, it has to intensive, enough to raise the core temperature (inside body temperature) to two degrees Fahrenheit for about twenty minutes, which happens with twenty to thirty minutes of aerobic exercise….. Since only people who are in shape can sustain vigorous exercise for twenty minutes or more, they’re the ones whose sleep is likely to be improved.
⇒ Some billionaire who has a relative with terrible trouble sleeping…should endow a private foundation. There should be patient advocacy groups for insomnia, but they’ll need to stay independent of the pharmaceutical companies.
I wish every sleep doctor would read Greene’s book, which explores the various and complex reasons why folks have insomnia, including the gut-brain connections and the individual ways that insomnia manifests itself. For example, I have the kind that prevents me from even falling asleep, from having my brain trigger what Greene calls the “sleep switch.” I get relaxed and tired, but that last step evades me.
At the end of this month, I will have a sleep study. I am going to give the doctors there a copy of this post.
Of all of the remedies I have tried for my insomnia, I have to admit that I like the effect of medical marijuana (and I like the buzz I get before I fall asleep). But trial and error has proven that I need sometimes 4 times the recommended dose to have any effect on my sleep. That would cost me several hundred dollars a month, and I can’t afford that. CBD helps with my daytime energy and mood, but has done nothing for my sleep issues. And it’s not cheap, either.
I even bought some EMF fabric shield to cover my electronics at night. At my age (80), doctors will not give me prescription sleep meds. Hell, I’m 80. What’s it going to do, kill me? Not sleeping is killing me and is depriving me of having any kind of satisfying life.
I no order of chronology or non-effectiveness, here is a list of what I have tried. Soto Bio-tuner; hypnosis; environmental changes; behavioral modification; yoga breathing; every pain and sleep-associated OTC on the market; a range of herbal, amino acids, and other supplements (sometimes combined); oxycodone (I’m running out of my old dental RX; I only take it when I can’t take the sleeplessness any more); binaural beats; relaxation, meditation, and music tapes; hot showers; massage (when I can afford it); decades of depression meds; tapping……..
Badly arthritic knees and a troublesome torn rotator cuff preclude me from doing the kinds of exercises that might tire me out enough to crash into sleep.
“Set your alarm and make sure you get up every morning even if you are tired,” they tell me. Yeah, sure. After finally falling asleep at 3 a.m. or so every night, I’m not about to get up at 9. Maybe 11. Sometimes noon or later. When I finally sleep, I often sleep deeply and have great dreams. But I miss half of the day.
There are still no advocacy groups for and by insomniacs to help spread the word and urge researcher and doctors to keep digging to discover the biological insomnia triggers and causes. There are plenty of support/forums for patients, but all those do is give us more places to complain.
How different my holidays are from when I was a child, part of a large extended Polish family, for whom Vigilia (Christmas Eve) was a major event, with all of the traditional foods and traditions.
The only thing I have left is one ornament that says Merry Christmas in Polish.
After I got divorced, since my kids would spend Christmas Eve with me and Christmas Day with their Dad, we started our own food tradition. I let the kids choose. They wanted a meat fondue. And we continue that tradition today. Having to wait for our chunks of protein to simmer until ready means that we have to sit around the table for a while (unlike our usual “eat dinner together and then go our separate ways”).
We tend not to eat beef, so we usually have chicken; but this year we broke with tradition so that Lex, my grandson, could try beef. (Which, unfortunately, he likes.)
We did manage to make and decorate some cookies — from Baby Yoda (which Lex devoured rather quickly) to the wreath “painted” by my art-major son-in-law. (I have to say that I love that Lex wears the “Jughead” hat I made for him all of the time.)
My daughter has successfully installed replacements for the traditions I left behind. Over the past week or so, she has cooked dinners from the various ethnic traditions of our genetics — German, Swedish, Lithuanian. We often have Polish and Italian food, so there was no need to repeat those. And it’s a Christmas Eve tradition for us to watch Polar Express together after dinner while we have dessert. I decided to forego yet another watch and retired to my computer to struggle with this post. (I am still have problems using this new fangled WordPress platform; but I’m intent on figuring it out; I have been at it for three hours now.)
Somewhere in Yonkers, my younger cousins are feasting on their home made pierogi, carrying on the old traditions,using recipes that have been handed down for generations. I have yet to find store-bought peirogi that come anywhere near those our mothers made. I’m too lazy to do all of the work to make my own.
I don’t know if they sing Polish “kolendy” (Christmas Carols), but I know they get their families together and share old memories. I’m not in touch with them these days because he is their president, and he’s not mine.
I have fond memories of those Polish Christmases as a child. I probably don’t remember them the same way that my cousins do.
I’m a poet. I am all Eye.
December 24, 1948
There is no mistaking this immigrant clan for anything but a matriarchy, bringing from its Polish homeland the fundamentals of family, earthy foods, a deference to the will of the grayest female.
The men earn hard money, revere their vodka, as it was on the farms of the old country. The rest is woman’s right and work. So, when the magical time of Vigil Eve draws near the men disappear into their smoky enclaves to share sad fatherland memories,
while the women gather in her kitchen, a determined lineage of daughters, by birth and marriage, armed with the culinary legacies of generations.
For days, they roll, flour, fill, and pinch, while we children sit on the floor, eye level to legs, playing with scraps of pasty dough, lulled by the soft humming of female voices, the steady rumble of snowy urban streets.
The night flows with prayers and feasting, as families gather at the gray lady’s call, reviving ancient rites of pine and light, singing the language and history of their people carried across oceans of fear and hope.
They sing of homeland yearnings for freedom and faith, of the tears of mountaineers displaced and despaired, of the battles of heroes to free the heart’s land, of mystical mothers and magical births.
Generations of voices in harmony drift through the lace-curtained windows open to the cold winter night, that night when animals talk, wishes are granted, and ancient rituals forge the primal bonds of blood.