I wote this in 2004, four years into being the full-time, live-in caregiver for my mother, who had severe dementia and the object of the abuse heaped upon me by myi brother. It is a reminder that I have been through writer’s block before.
I think I remember a time when I could focus on one thing at a time — a poem, a person, a pleasure — when the process was as important as the product. I’m trying to remember when the last time was that I felt that focus, that stillpoint. Oddly enough, I think it was was a decade ago when I used to go out on Thursday nights to dance the Hustle for hours on end. I would follow the lead with such total focus that all I was aware of was my blood humming to the rhythm of the bass and my body carving sharp arcs through the smokey air.
I think I used to know that same kind of focus when writing a really good poem, feeling the rhythm come, hearing the hum of swarming words. But that was when I lived alone, with long, quiet moments to feed my focus. That was when I would have hours of down-time at work, alone in my own office, with nothing to do but let myself succumb to the processes of dream timethink what happened is that I got really good at my job — multi-tasking, meeting deadlines, serving many masters. Scheme thinking. Quick thinking. No time to dream, alone, in a corner with a window.
I think what happened is I learned t.o care too much. I think what happened is that I let the world nibble away at my layers so that I lost my deepest secrets.
“The Many Breasted Artemis,” my shrink once noted, as I unloaded my distress at being expected to always be the nurturer, the feeder, the source of unlimited resources, the problem-solver, the responsible one.
I thought that when I retired, I would be able to find, again, that dreamy focus. Instead, it takes me until midnight to finally breathe evenly and deeply, to let go of all of the knowing. It takes me until midnight to finally feel the yearning for deep secrets.
But to have secrets, one has to have a life beyond the giving of care.
I’m waiting for my time to come again, when I will, again, simmer and stir, ladle, at last, into mounds of midnight words, that witch’s brew.
Over the past decade, I consulted with various sleep specialists, none of whom ever mentioned DSPS as a diagnosis. I finally had to diagnose myself. All of them told me that I, indeed, had a sleep disorder and provided various suggestions, all of which I tried and documented here. The last sleep study I endured, several months ago, required two Ambien to even get me to sleep on their schedule. Then they woke me up after 4 hours (5 am) because I had to leave, and I was barely able to walk out of the lab and find a place to sit and wait for my daughter to pick me up. I have found that few doctors do the investigations necessary to actually find an accurate diagnosis. It has become cookie-cutter medicine. One size fits most.
Three months ago, I had a serious emotional meltdown, which prompted me to find someone to prescribe more effective anti-depressants, since there would be days I would only get out of bed to eat and go to the bathroom. Struggling to change my circadian rhythm — and failing over and over — finally sent me on an internet search to see if my 3 or 4 am to noon or later sleep schedule was something others were experiencing. And they are. Many. All of the world. Almost all just learned to live with it because nothing worked when they tried to change it. One woman who lived on the east coast took a job on the west coast because she figured that would put her bedtime at midnight, and she could live with that. But it didn’t take long for her body to relapse back to a 3 am bedtime, even on the west coast.
This household shuts down around 11 pm each night. That leaves me with a good four hours to find something to do that won’t wake them up. It’s so easy to just sit, watch tv or read, and eat. I wish I could use that time to write poetry.
Anti-depressants, at the potency at which I am now consuming them, dull the sensibilities that I need to be inspired to create poetry. Even my prose becomes drab and spiritless. But now that I have a diagnosis and an actual official name for what I am experiencing, I will try to ease off some of what I began taking to climb out of the Major Depressive Disorder that I fell into because of all of my failed efforts to change my circadian rhythm.
What I wonder is, why now, since most folks with DSPS are adolescents or young adults. I think there’s a connection to the 5 year trauma I lived through taking care of my increasingly demented mother while dealing with the constant harassment and abuse heaped upon me by my brother. During that time I had no set sleep schedule and often had to resort to sleeping pills to get any rest at all. While enduring my recent meltdown, I realized that I really do have PTSD as a result. Knowing is always better than not knowing.
I’m back writing on this blog to fill up some of that time until 3 or 4 am, when my sleep switch activates. That’s really what it feels like. While I feel relaxed and tired during those wee morning hours, there comes a time when I simply fall asleep, as though a switch is flicked. There is nothing I can do to make that happen. When my brain is ready, it shuts off. And then I sleep deeply for 8 or 9 hours and wake up rested.
So, this is my life now, at age 81. It could be worse, and I try to be grateful that I can still see and hear (with help) and drive (but not at night) and I don’t have any serious medical conditions. I can live with that.
March Madness is a crazy time, a neither/nor time. Neither winter nor spring. An in-between time. Neither asleep nor awake.
Mad March targets the tales of those who hide behind the shroud of surety and secrets, takes hold of souls wrapped in remnants of reason, sending them into the mad March wind, freeing the poet’s wonder to unseat what is mean, what is mad, what is best left to the whinings of past seasons gone to seed. Beware the March Hare, unless she is your cup of tea.
A maze is a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle that includes choices of path and direction, may have multiple entrances and exits, and dead ends. A labyrinth is unicursal i.e. has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center then back out the same way, with only one entry/exit point.
These two structures have different, although related, meanings. Yet they are incorrectly used interchangeably all of the time
A labyrinth, while sometimes having very convoluted-seeming pathways, really only has one way in and one way out. Walking a labyrinth invites patience, focus, care, introspection. The goal is not to find your way out or in. That’s all laid out for you. You can’t get lost.
There is no set ritual for walking a labyrinth, but there are books and lectures to assist you in performing a labyrinth walk. The basic advice is to enter the labyrinth slowly, calming and clearing your mind. This may be done by repeating a prayer or chant.
A maze, on the other hand, invites you on a challenging journey to find your way in and your way out. Its pathways are meant to be disorienting and its goal is to confuse you. According to Wikipedia:
A maze is a path or collection of paths, typically from an entrance to a goal. The word is used to refer both to branching tour puzzles through which the solver must find a route, and to simpler non-branching (“unicursal”) patterns that lead unambiguously through a convoluted layout to a goal. (The term “labyrinth” is generally synonymous with “maze”, but can also connote specifically a unicursal pattern.) The pathways and walls in a maze are typically fixed, but puzzles in which the walls and paths can change during the game are also categorized as mazes or tour puzzles.
The Minator lived in the middle of a MAZE – a maze with such complex pathways that Theseus, sent to kill the monster, might not have been able to find his way out after he completed his task. So he tied a ball of string to the entrance to the maze and unwound the string as he went in so that he could follow it back and be able to get out.
So, while a labyrinth can be classified as a “maze,” a maze is not the same as a labyrinth.
This is what I was thinking about the other night, waiting for sleep. (Sleep doesn’t come easily or me).
I am thinking that some folks seem able to walk the safe, set pathway of the labyrinth life-model. Some by choice, like cloistered nuns and monks, who are relieved of the kinds of personal choices that are constantly confronted by those who find themselves navigating various stressful life mazes. Others, because of personality traits or very careful controlled planning, find their lives moving within the ease of the Labyrinth. There are still others who allow themselves to be absorbed into a cult mentality that provides the boundaries and makes their choices for them, making hard life choices simply by giving them a labyrinthian framework to follow. If they don’t deviate, they will make it to the goal (however the cult defines it). Organized religion also provides that clear pathway, so much easier to navigate than that messy maze.
Most of us, however, can’t avoid the stresses from the constant choices with which we are confronted along the maze-like journey of our lives. We constantly bump into dead ends, go around in circles, sometimes just sit down wherever we are, too tired to go on. I also think that if you are a creative person who engages with life to find inspiration, motivation, questions and answers, you have no choice but to take your chances in those messy mazes.
Like a Stone Labyrinth
Life leads you.
You set your alarm,
choose your shoes,
gather friends for tea,
count your changes.
Until one day a corner comes,
slipping you a glimpse
of that line of stones
shaping your shadow’s edge.
And then a perfect black cat,
with eyes like glowing stones,
races across your path
and waits in the early ferns
for you to cross hers.
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.
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?
I crave the cosmic and the common,
refusing to sever half my soul.
I choose to grow in all directions:
to grow both fruit and edible root;
to glory in the ground and desire the sky;
to stretch roots across acres
and reach for the bedrock;
to rejoice in the changing shapes of the seasons.
I eschew the single minded vision.
I am all Eye.
I wrote this when I was in my mid-thirties, when life was an adventure. At almost 80, my life now is a different kind of adventure.
And it’s more than the eyes. The WordPress I used more than a decade ago is a different animal. I’m on a very slow learning curve. But they say that learning new things is good for the brain. Maybe so, but it’s not always good for the stress..
As I get older, I need things to be more simple. Only nothing is simple these days. Even though the “Ayes” had it in Washington and voted to impeach the Big Orange Turd, it’s still complicated, and it’s not going to be easy.
This is a film that my late once husband shot with an 8mm camera. B!X was recently contacted by someone who is working on a Netflix documentary on “The Toys That Made Us” to ask about using some clips, but that didn’t happen.
Since we all latched onto the original Star Trek television series with great enthusiasm, it’s not surprising that b!X’s bedroom walls became the Star Trek bridge (drawn with magic marker); a blue-painted foam board and a picture of the universe became the view screen.
There really weren’t any cosplay outfits available yet, so I painted the Star Trek logo on 4-year old b!X’s shirt (we called him “Kit” back then) so that he could play Captain Kirk, armed with laser gun and tricorder. The special effects are totally primitive, but the kids had fun making it and watching it.
As my kids were growing up, I would take a day off from work and let them play hooky from school every time a new Star Trek movie came out so that we could all go to the first showing. That tradition continues with my grandson, as we all go together to see all of the Star Wars, Avengers, and just about every sci-fi/fantasy movie that comes out.