Digging deeper on sleep…….and anxiety

I look back on this massive period of transition  and realise there are many angles I could come at to have something to say about sleeping. I sleep normally now – the eight hours or so a night; but it has been bumpy at times within the period of transition. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that while it was an unexpected benefit of making other massive changes, it wasn’t until the anxiety, which I lived with and accommodated as ‘normal’ , began to alleviate that things changed for the better.

I was never really bothered about being awake at night. Perhaps it is the lot of someone who drives themselves hard, as I did, that being awake at night, far from being a time of worry, was, oddly, space to think, to dream, to imagine. It was a time when I could consciously allow myself the solitude I needed and revel in it – in that sense I was colluding, but I’m letting myself off the hook from a whipping. It was a constructive place to go – longing is real; it comes through in its own way and its own time.

I have learned that I am an introvert – I need a lot of time to decompress. I need a lot of silence and a lot of stillness. I am smiling as I remember that in first year of university, as a group of students, we volunteered to join a cohort of under-graduates to take a series of psychological profiling tests. Part of the deal was that we could get the results – I don’t remember what all the tests were, but I clearly remember thinking it was absolute nonsense that I profiled as an introvert……Thirty years later, I realise they got it right.

Things I did to comfort myself  in the period of change which contributed to improved sleep………

I did a lot of time lying alone in a darkened room – some may think this a sad thing – not me. I loved it and it was a great way to be good to myself. I didn’t want the stimulation of television and I have to manage an obsession with social media. I had the concentration and attention span of a gnat – reading was so difficult, and often pointless – I could not retain anything. The dark was my friend.

I put flowers in my room (- good on you Joni Mitchell.)

I took great care with bedlinen. I bought myself stuff I really liked. I made a point of ironing it and took care about making my bed, tidying my room. It was, after all, defensible space – the one place I had control over. I also bought an electric blanket – oh, yes, the life of the singleton! Getting into a cozy bed…… bliss.

Lighting – I made sure I could dim the lights.

I stopped taking showers. I took baths instead. I had come to associate showers with a high-speed lifestyle. Showers were about getting clean and out the door to the next task and the next job, the next meeting or the next flight ASAP……To take a bath, was to take time for myself. Baths were by candlelight and I read poetry.

Showers are not book-friendly. Poems suited my attention and concentration span – a single poem could be read and re-read – if necessary a single line or a stanza could be mulled over for some time. I could let the water out a bit and heat up and full up the bath again, if I needed to. If I wanted a bath, twice in the day, I took it…… it was good for soothing pain.

I experienced a lot of physical pain, during the time of transition. It was non-specific mostly – lower back, joints, aching muscles. Sometimes, my skin felt like it was smarting. Mostly it was a physical manifestation of just feeling raw. Somatising is the word. It was real, prolonged and was grounded as a reasonable reaction to the huge changes I was experiencing , in my circumstances and in my self, in my sense of well-being.

I was and remain – hyper-sensitive to noise. On the occasions when my adult children came to visit me, I realised I would prefer to text them, or ring them to the top of the house, to let them know to come for dinner – I could not bear to raise my voice to call out to them. I could not bear when they would call out to me. I needed ordinary conversation, at an ordinary level of decibels and the physicality of shouting out or calling out was too much.

Meditation- a friend had told me about the meditations podcast. It’s available on iTunes – Google it.  It was a  place to go in the night if I happened to be awake. Sometimes, I fell asleep, which defeats the purpose of meditation – but achieves the purpose of sleeping.

I walked. Another friend had helped me set up a routine of daily exercise and worked with me specifically on the habit-forming aspect of it. Somedays this was just 10 minutes, but on many days I walked for an hour or more. I could think at that pace, or not think. I could just be.

I did ‘morning pages’ – Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ was the source of this particular tool – notebooks were a home within which to externalise the ‘white noise’ in my head, as well as to process a lot of ‘stuff’ and to clear the way for creative things. It was invaluable.

These were all simple ways to be gentle with myself – to be loving with myself.  I was miserable.., it was reasonable to feel miserable and let it have its day, so it could pass. Misery in itself is not a crime –  but doing nothing about it just might be – it does nothing for you and isn’t likely to win you the kind of friends you need. The repertoire of ways in which to sooth myself developed, but simply. It sounds like such old stuff and the kind of thing that gets trotted out easily…… ‘love yourself’. It is true – you do need to love yourself – but you need to know what it is that makes you tick and what works for you.

The ultimate thing that sealed good sleep into a habit.. was the love of another person…… but that’s for another day. Stay tuned!

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