Stress and Health: How I Became A Sleep-Evangelist

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Hi. I’ve missed this space. Missed writing. I’ve missed you. It has been a really rough 2 years. 2011? 2012? Kind of a blur. Things have just not been going well. Continue to not go well. Really, we are barely hanging on.

For the last part of 2012, I clung to the belief that 2013 was going to be the Year Awesomeness Returns.

So far it is not. Luckily, it has nearly a full year to redeem the crappy start, because it started in dark place. As I mentioned the other day, my Dad went into a (brief, though terrifying) hepatic coma just after New Years. He STILL doesn’t have a new liver, despite remaining at the top of the list for a full year. The good news is that he got out of the hospital yesterday. The bad news is that he is that any transplant is on hold until he has some further tests today. So, we are waiting. Still always waiting. For the phone to ring. For a new change. More varices. For more confusion.  For the next potential complication. For the latest set-back. Waiting. When I get a call or text, I now instinctively hold my breath. The Babylady wants to know immediately if Bapa got a liver and if I will be going away for a “long” time to be there. It is a constant, underlying source of stress and it has gone on for over 2 years now.

dad and babylady iowa grow and resistMy Dad and the Babylady shucking corn in Iowa last September

There are too many other big stressors to list. It seems like there are seemingly weekly additions to our stress pile and none of it that ends. My partner has had ongoing, unresolved health issues the past few years that impact pretty much every activity of our life. Completely unrelated to her medical issues, she also had 3 surgeries (sinus, knee, and shoulder) in the last 5 weeks of 2012. And, despite having great medical insurance, the medical costs are ridiculous. Finances are a huge stressor. While I know that I am incredibly privileged, it is still ridiculously stressful to not know if we can make the monthly payment on our underwater mortgage every single month.

Our dog suddenly became very ill and died a few months ago (our 2nd dog death in 3 years). A person close to my partner committed suicide. A friend got diagnosed with terrible cancer. I’ve found out someone who I truly love, adore, and admire might have a new potentially debilitating disease. Our commutes are long and in horrible traffic.

dogs grow and resistOtter (L) RIP 2009, Zia (R) RIP 2012

Sometimes, it is just too much. It has been incredible stressful… all this illness. Disease. Death. It is hard personally and it is really hard to parent through. To deal with it ourselves is one thing. To then have to talk about it with the kiddo is harsh. To be so constantly spent and remain the kind of parents we want to be is hard.

I am hurt. I am exhausted. I am just so, so weary. And, I’m getting to the sleep part. Promise.

I recently had my own health scares. I have always had really low blood pressure. My heart rate is always low-normal. This was still true as of early fall. And then it was suddenly 146/104. Consistently. Resting heart rates of 110-128. Throughout the day. Upon waking. Needless to say, this scared the crap out of me. And hanging out with a heart rate of 128 doesn’t feel great. It feels like a panic attack.

The big bump came after soon after I had my Effexor dose upped. Hypertension (and maybe tachycardia) is a known side-effect of Effexor, but hadn’t been an issue for me on lower doses. Freaked out, I decided to taper off (under supervision). And, holy HELL, that sucked. I had terrible palpitations, weird chest pressure, and terrible anxiety. I logically knew that the symptoms were related to medication withdraw, but I was going off the medication because of potential cardiac issues. So having MORE cardiac symptoms were alarming and anxiety producing. As a bonus, Effexor withdrawal also filled me full of intermittent, unpredictable rage. Yes, I was a HOOT to be around. Loads of fun. An anxious, pissed off, palpitating woman who has had 2 incredibly shitty years. Life of the party, I promise!

meg cardiac

Being the alarmist I am, I got into the cardiologist asap and had some tests done. And by alarmist I mean: I take some medical situations and symptoms seriously. And, while I don’t talk much about being a nurse, I am one. History has shown that if I think you need to see a specialist, or go to the ER, or see your doctor, you should really listen to me. You really, really should. I saved a lot of lives the past 2+ years by being pushy/bossy/advocate-y. Hell, even if I am just telling you how to manage your narcotic-related constipation, you should listen to me. Good nurses don’t let their peeps stop pooping. Seriously, if I love you, you will have no better advocate than me.

The tests all came back totally normal and my blood pressure and pulse are once again completely acceptable. Not as low as my baseline, but good. And the withdrawal symptoms of rage, palpitations, and anxiety have ended. Collective sigh of relief from anyone that came near me.

It the midst of all this, I found out I have some endocrine issues happening. If you don’t know much about the endocrine system you can fully overwhelm your brain by reading here, or you can just know that (quite broadly) all the endocrine loops affect each other in a giant mass of communication that I like to envision as a tangled slinky. Or maybe like the earbuds on Portlandia. Know what effs up your endocrine system? Stress. Chronic stress. My adrenal system? Kinda shot. Cortisol? Yeah, I don’t really have any. Know what happens when you have an jacked up endocrine system? You have possible thyroid, blood sugar, and hormonal imbalances. And I’m having them all.

Anyhow, that is a lot of back story to what is really on my mind. And that is sleep. (Took me long enough to get here, eh?)

I started seeing a naturopath (ND), in addition to the MD that started unraveling all of this. I started taking a few medications that I won’t bore you with. Some supplements. Some things improved. More testing. Then I found out just before the holidays that I likely have reactivated mono.

I wanted to scream. Orders: Sleep 9-12 hours a day. Nap 1-3 hours a day. Only light exercise and only if I don’t feel tired. How would that even be possible?

It felt like a slap in the face and a permission slip all in one. Sleep. (You mean I can just let myself sleep?) I don’t sleep enough. Ever. I am never rested. Not ever. (You mean I can just stop. Stop and not do?) A body needs consistent, restorative sleep to function optimally. Sleep to be able to handle stress. I have heard and seen it mentioned that sleep before midnight counts double. Now, I don’t know if that is true or not. But, for me, it is a helpful thing to think about. And when my naturopath went through the checklist of symptoms I was having related to sleep deprivation, I was stunned into submission.

I have essentially no control of any of the things that are stressful. But it became clear in that moment with my naturopath both how important sleep is and that it is also something that only I can control. (And, as a bonus: YAY! I get to control something!)

All I can do is sleep. So, I’m sleeping. I made rules for myself and it is helping. I can feel myself slowly rising out of a fog. Or at least recognize how poor sleep was worsening some already crappy situations. I’m preaching sleep from the highest rafters.

Sleep. In 2013, I will sleep. Heal and sleep.

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