It’s Not Insomnia, It’s DSPS

I don’t have insomnia, I have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.

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.

“to sleep, perchance to dream”

Yes, that’s from Shakespeare.

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.

Do Not Go Gentle

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.

“Too soon old; too late smart”.

Or as my Polish grandmother used to say “starość nie radość”.

Dream Addiction

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.

Dear Diary: I’m Adrift in Chaos

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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-diagnosed adult autistic son writes about trying to understand who he is in the context of his undiagnosed, fragmented journey.

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?

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Dear Diary: Of Course

Of course, I’m late again. Of course I’m still trying to get my crazy sleep schedule under control. Of course I’m eating too much chocolate. Of course I’m still experimenting with medical marijuana, which is the only thing that can get me to fall asleep. Last night, I put some alcohol tincture in a glass with V8 juice. It tastes like a Bloody Mary.

It still took at least an hour for me to fall asleep, so while I was lying there, I listened to one of my playlists on Spotify. It includes most of the songs I liked over the past 50 years. As I listened, I realized that I could put the songs in an order that reflected where I was in my life at the time each song was popular. I might try to do that at some point.

Listening to each song brought back very specific feelings, some of which I wish I could choose to forget. I have always tended to make choices based on what I wanted or needed. It’s not that I didn’t consider the wants and needs of others involved; but, ultimately I did what I wanted.

When I lie in bed at night, waiting for the THC to kick in, I let each song take me back, like the images in a photo album, to past places. When my mind reviews what my life was like each time, I feel regret. Regret about how little I understood myself and what little wisdom I had. Regret that I never learned how to “plan” — financially, physically, inter-personally. Regret that many of my choices negatively affected other people. Regret that I must have been very emotionally immature.

Throughout these 80 years I never set long-term goals, but rather I took advantage of opportunities (which worked out fine as far as my various careers, but not so fine in terms of my various relationships.)

It’s obvious to me, now, that the men with whom I chose to have a relationship were chosen because I knew they would not be around long. (The exception was my late ex-husband, but that’s a whole other story.) I knew, instinctively, how to get them to leave when I was ready to move on. In the meanwhile, each contributed, in his own way, to something I wanted or needed in my life. (Perhaps I also knew, instinctively, that there was no one man who could give me all I thought I needed; and now I see that I didn’t particularly care what they needed as well.)

From the perspective of decades, I am finally realizing several things: I am a bit of a narcissist; I am good at manipulating situations and people; I need people more than they need me; I like beginnings and endings and don’t do well keeping things going in the middle; I never knew who I really was. I’m not sure I even do now.

Dear Diary: Late, Again

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 will try to be on time tomorrow.

Dear Diary: This is How It Is

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.

Starting Over. Again.

Once I was a prolific blogger. Once I was part of a larger blogging community. But that was almost 20 years ago.

The onslaught of social media drove personal blogging out into the internet hinterlands. But, as folks get fed up with the advertising and limited opportunity for actual communication on platforms like Twitter and FB, there is a growing interest in resuscitating old blogs and setting up new ones.

I originally got into blogging through the example set my my son, who is inspiring me, again. I haven’t written anything in over a year (including poetry), so I’m hoping this current effort will get me inspired.

Meanwhile, I continue to slog through the the depressing overtone of our times, hoping for impeachment, hoping my adult son, diagnosed with autism three years ago, will be able to find the help and support he needs from “the system.” Writing helps both of us deal with the struggles of our lives.

Well, here goes “starting again.”

Beginning a New Adventure: My Jungian Journey

I have been through the process before, and blogged about it decades ago (somewhere on my old blog, which is only partially still available on blogspot). Severe sleep issues, depression (only partially helped with meds), and writer’s block have led me to try it again, this time with a different analyst, because my previous one is focusing these days on veterans and PTSD. Jungian analysis connects well with Shamanistic “soul retrieval”, in which I’ve also engaged before and which also has been successful.

One of the concepts Jung espoused is “synchronicity”, which, simply, is meaningful coincidence. And there already have been several as I work with this therapist: we both use a pen with purple ink; we both have hair issues; we both sport wearables that identify us — me my t-shirts and she exotic necklaces. Jungians also deal with dream interpretation, and I had one last night that is rife with meaning.

In real life, I am always worried about getting locked out of the house if no one else is home, so I found a very esoteric place to hide a key, which I wrap in plastic before I hide
it. Last night I dreamed that someone I was with wanted to come into the locked house, so I went an got the hidden key, let us in, and then started to re-wrap the key. Except I was having a hard time manipulating the plastic. I woke up before the story ended.

I have only had three sessions, but already stuff is shaking out.

One of the fascinating techniques that Jungians use is “sandplay.” My therapist has walls of shelves with various figurines, from realistic to imaginary, to use in setting up a sandplay scene. The figure at the beginning of this post was the one I picked to begin my scene. (I didn’t know why until I got home and started analyzing why I might have.) The actual figurine did not have that Celtic Raven on her shoulder, but she did have some sort of a black bird. I replaced it with a Celtic Raven because I have become fascinated with its mythology — and this representation of it. (I even made a shirt with a Celtic Raven on it.)

I have named her “Baba Bogina,” Polish for “Crone Goddess.”

So much is happening, and I have just begun. One of things I will be doing in the next few weeks is making an appointment with a nurse who is also a shaman, to do a “soul retrieval.” Those of you who read my blog eight or so years ago, know about the traumatic five years I spent living with my demented mother and my emotionally volatile brother — resulting in what my Primary Care doctor was convinced is PTSD. There is stuff still stuck in my subconscious that I can feel is keeping me from moving on. I’m still feeling angry. I’m still feeling guilty.

I was in a similar place after my divorce, and, thanks to my former Jungian therapist, I was able to move on. Follow me if you want to get a idea of how Jungian therapy can work from a very personal perspective, as I learn to access the wisdom of Baba Bogina, who is an archetype and who is a part of me.