Sunday, 31 January 2010

Gentle Advice For the Chronic Insomniac

My insomnia started as a result of emotional trauma, some ten years ago. As I was against taking drugs I resisted for a year, but got increasingly burned out and had to give in to them in the end. Herbal sleeping aids may help some but is not strong enough for me. Contrary to what many doctors tell you, some of the drugs that are supposed to help you fall asleep (but not necessarily stay asleep all night which a real sleeping pill would do), can actually work for years (Zopiklon in my case, you may need to look up the generic names, e.g. Lunesta in the USA). Doctors prefer to prescripe other "non-addictive" things such as Seroquel, which in higher doses is meant for epilepsia and psychoses... Well, it makes you drowsy and may work, but I'm not convinced the sleep quality is very good. One of the problems for many insomniacs is the lack of deep (restorative) sleep. This is for instance true in cases of fibromyalgia or chronic stress, where the nervous system is not able to wind down. Amitriptyline which is an old fashioned anti-depressant may help a bit in this case, but the side-effects are not very nice. They include dry mucus (for instance resulting in tooth decay and trouble speaking) low libido, and god knows what else that I have now forgotten. Anyhow, sleeping disorders may be very complicated and it's hard to get proper help. GP's and many psychiatrists like to make you think that you don't really have a problem because they don't understand the workings of the nervous system and the mind-body connection. I thought to compile a little list of things that I find helpful though, hoping that some of it might help others.

  • make sure that your bedroom is clutterfree. This is really, really important. Make it into a really cosy sanctuary with lots of soft cushions, a fluffy down duvet and good quality bed linen that has NO polyester in it. Change your sheets quite often, at least every fortnight. Make sure there are many layers of cotton underneath you if you have a foam mattress. Make sure the bed is soft enough to induce a feeling of security. The bedroom should never be used for anything but sleeping. I can't stress this enough! It really makes a difference. Sometimes sleeping on the ground floor can be a problem because you subconsciously may feel that someone could come in through the window. Try and see if this is the case. If you only have one floor, make sure the window is well blocked at least with heavy curtains if not in other more drastic ways.

  • make sure your bedroom is dark enough, and that it's neither too warm or too cold.

  • you might need to wear ear plugs. I have worn them for years...

  • According to Feng Shui, your head should face the East. You can always try... I turned my bed around but made other changes too so it's hard to tell whether this could have made a difference. Feng Shui also tells you not to have mirrors facing your bed, and to me that's really just common sense.

  • research has shown that having some carbohydrates before going to sleep is helpful. So the old adage about milk and cookies is correct. I find it calming to have some soyamilk or night time herbal tea along with a sandwhich or cake. Some say a small piece of dark chocolate is helpful.

  • alcohol can be bad for the quality of the sleep but sometimes a glass or two of wine can be helpful in calming the nerves. Don't make it into a habit, though.

  • lavender oil (make sure it's essential!) can be burnt in an oil burner or sprinkled onto something close to your nose. I find that it really does have a soothing effect. You might like to experiment with different brands, possibly from different countries of origin.

  • some incense may help. I find that some cheap incense from Thailand has a woody note that soothes me. You have to experiment to find out what works for you. There is also lavender scented incense but again you have to see which brand works for you. For me, the scent of rose is also conducive to positive feelings. If you can, keep some beautiful fresh flowers by the bed.

  • sit up in bed and meditate before sleep, if you can. If you have a helpful partner, he could stroke your back while you gently fall asleep.

  • get enough exercise in the daytime, for instance a half-hour walk or more. Then do some gentle exercise such as yoga or light weight lifting in the evening.

  • Qigong is very helpful in tuning in with your body and calming the mind. There's something you can do when you're already in bed - it's an exercise called LaQi, but it's by no means exclusive to Qigong. You hold your hands in front of your navel as if holding a bowl or a ball (the hands should not touch each other). Slowly separate them by moving the hands further apart, about half a meter. Then move them back again, slowly. Keep doing this for a while and find that your energies settle a bit (you're "collecting" and "building up" energy between your hands).

  • lying on a bed of nails (look it up online) for half an hour before bed is helping me feel more relaxed.

  • try and remember that your body does know how to fall asleep and don't buy into the mindclutter that tells you that you just can't. Breathe deeply, connect your mind with the whole body, and have faith that nature knows what to do. Don't get frustrated if this doesn't immediately solve your problem; rest assured that at least it's helpful...

  • going to bed at the same time every day is an important thing to strive towards even if the mind may make all sorts of excuses to avoid it. One problem could be the feeling of not wanting to get up the following day, and so you postpone going to bed... try and counteract this by sticking to the schedule and finding reasons that make getting up in the morning into a more pleasant experience. It could simply be having more time to wake up and having something nice to drink or eat that you can look forward to. If watching TV first thing in the morning works for you, then go for it! Whatever helps...

  • it really is best not to watch TV before bed, especially not an engaging movie. For some, reading a boring book helps but in my case it makes me have to focus and so it has the opposite effect. Looking through a magazine and dreaming about a beautiful home seems like a better option.

  • whatever is on your mind needs to be dealt with, so write it down or settle an argument before sleeping. Seriously consider cutting the cord with people who distress you on a permanent basis. Do whatever it takes!

  • footmassage to yourself with some pleasant oil is a good idea.

  • sometimes, soft music can help you drift off to sleep. The choice is obviously yours, it could be New Age music, nature's sounds (birds, rain, waves) or something alternative. There was a time when Steven Reich's drumming was helpful to me. Now I prefer complete silence.

  • last but not least; a sense of security is really important. You need to address the emotional issues that may make you feel insecure. Try and feel that nothing out there is out to get you, or that you are surrounded by benevolent forces that keep these negative energies at bay while you sleep. Having another person in your life that helps you feel safer could be a solution to some of these problems. Feeling vulnerable is not a crime...
As a side note, I'd like to add a few viewpoints on the way doctors often look at insomnia, especially in relation to a chronic illness of sorts. It's rare to meet someone who truly understands what it's like. You usually get referred to a psychiatrist, but they may not know much about insomnia per se (for instance, which medicines are really useful and not just "horrid addictive ones") and even less about the physical issues involved. If you're one of the unfortunate who suffer from ME, CFS and/or fibromyalgia, for instance, then the condition will affect your sleep in every conceivable way. It's all very well to talk about regular sleeping schedules, but when you're overly fatigued one day and extremely hyper the next, following a regular schedule can be next to impossible. It's also very disruptive if you are in a phase when you wake up a lot and thus loose hours of sleep. You may not be able to cope with the loss of even one hour of sleep. Getting up to do something else is just plain stupid advice. You might also find that you have to leave a party much earlier than anyone else because you can't cope with a disturbed schedule the next day).

I find it very stressful to try and juggle with medicines so that I can rest assured  that I will fall asleep when I'm supposed to. It's already hard enough to motivate myself to stick to schedule! Doctors rarely understand any of this. A shrink I had said that for one thing he doesn't believe fibromyalgia exists, for another I just need to stay up for two days and then I'm sure to sleep! Yeah right. I'd sleep for 24 hours, wake up bright as a morning bird - at four in the morning! Try and stick to schedule - it does help. But you might have to be prepared for some anxiety in relation to all the arrangments that need to be made to ensure that this really works.

Artwork: Digital photograph by author, all rights reserved 2010

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

From Victimhood to Victory (Victim Mentality Deconstructed)

There have not been any blogs for a while because I was thrusted into the whirls of an intense new relationship that demanded my full attention 24/7. Before this happened, I had experienced yet another burn out from the stress caused by dealing with the callous people at the social services, and other personal issues to do with dating. It is only now that I have a bit of time to get proper rest and let my mind wander around... I'm not sure what exactly to write but lets see what comes out. The theme is in any case victimhood, made into an even more of a burning topic due to the earthquakes in Haiti.

I think it's more than obvious that there are generally speaking two categories of people in the world; those who are victims and those who are oppressors in one way or another. Powergames are unfortunately to be seen anywhere from within personal relationships to the relationships between citizens and their authorities. Sometimes, as in the case in Haiti, nature appears to cause us great distress and loss. In the following I will focus on the interaction between humans, however. We obviously gain from the security provided by those in power of sorts but we also pay a price that compromises our integrity. In my own life, I have experienced victimhood in many ways. When your body is not strong enough to keep up with the Joneses, you easily get pushed aside by other people and seen as a lesser being. If you're not doing your share of the "work" within society, then why should you have any rights? Of course I was grateful that I was granted the choice of not being in working life but little did I realize how stressful the situation would become nonetheless. Instead of the state paying me a decent allowance I was made to crawl in front of the social services every month in order to get some extra money for electricity, heating and medicines that the pension would not cover. This autumn, the situation eventually became psychologically speaking so unbearable that I saw only one option, and that was to cut the cord to the social services. It was a scary thing to do as I would have very scanty means of surviving, but I had to do it in order to regain a sense of dignity and to remove the stress that these people were causing me. I had to rely on other people for help but it was still a better option in this case. I also made a report to the court of justice but there was no will of taking my complaints about the way I had been treated seriously. I had to swallow my frustration, try and forget my feelings of being wronged, and move on.

Another area in which I have recently felt helpless has been that of dating. I went through a great deal of stressful connections that seemed to only reinforce the feeling that no one wanted me and that no one was on my wavelength. I had to muster the last scraps of self-confidence and inner strength so as not to fall prey to utter despair. In the end I said alright, I shan't continue with my teeth clenched. I had felt that I was at a great disadvantage because of suffering from a condition that few can truly relate to and also because of my physical location. Who would find me here in this solitary and remote corner of Europe? It was all so bewildering. In the end I had to let go and think, well, if I'm meant to meet the right person, then I will. If not... then I have to accept my lot in life. My deepest feeling was, however, that I did not want to remain alone and that in fact I was not really equipped to manage life on my own (and maybe I really shouldn't, as perhaps we are all here to help each other rather than fight wars!). I needed someone by my side but not a parent-figure who would nanny me. I had great doubts that the right sort of person existed but I kept on hoping while I loosened the reins... and at that moment the right man appeared.

One of the first things this man said to me was that he would not have contacted me if he had felt that I was into victimizing myself. He could see that I was a "victim" in terms of being forced to rely on the goodwill of people of all sorts (doctors, the social people, the state, ignorant people in general, men I've tried to date or have relationships with, and so on) and that I was a bit of a mess because of it, but he also saw that I was fighting for my sense of personal freedom and integrity. Thank goodness! I am indeed very lucky... someone finally perceived me for who I believe I am. Thing is... it's alright to feel weak and vulnerable - allowing such feelings is healthy as they are natural and should not be repressed. It's alright to have moments of doubt and even feel sorry for yourself. It's human! I'm the first one to admit to having trouble with the kind of helplessness that comes from fatigue, physical weakness and from being a highly sensitive person. But it's the general attitude that counts... being able to say alright, this is my life and only I can take responsibility for it.

My new partner and I quickly established a working relationship that is based on the idea of teamwork, so that our various strengths complement each another. He has the physical strength and stamina that I lack and so I feel that I can finally let go of some of the heavy burdens in my personal life. I am hoping that I am now transitioning from simply "managing" life to actually living and enjoying it. This would not be possible without the help of someone who can fill in certain blanks in my private life. It seems that I might be able to move away from the dreadful feeling of being "helpless, weak and dependent" to a state of being in which I can develop my true potential rather than spending all my energy on practical trivia. The practical side of life is quite difficult for me because of my condition, but when I get to share all the decision-making and the activities that life calls for on a mundane level, life truly takes on a whole other meaning and various fears and apprehensions may turn into positive anticipations regarding the future. It is not about co-dependency, but a case of relying on another person for assistance because you have reasons to trust them. And of course, in the end it's about true equality and a balanced given-and-take though it can be hard to see what exactly you're giving the other person!

In the West, we live in a society that celebrates independency and freedom but most of it is an illusion. Like I said, we're in it together, aren't we? However, there is a difference between unhealthy dependency based in powergames, and a healthy working relationship of assisting those in need (see early blogs on this topic). We should certainly strive to remove ourselves from the sense of victimhood because nothing good comes of it. If we find ourselves in a place that provokes an experience of dependency and victimhood in relation to authorities or other people in general, we must fight it... there is always something good to be found in terms of learning experience. I am not saying there are no victims; in a sense we are all victims in one way or another. That's the way the world is today as we are not yet living utopia. Though I hope things will gradually improve, I am also not in favour of the typical New Age idea that it's wrong to even talk in terms of victimhood. I have been attacked by such people way too many times, as they have perceived my occasional despair as their favourite topic for conversion to New Age ideals. As soon as you even as much as whisper that you feel overwhelmed by external forces, it is not unusual to hear that you're being negative and only interested in pretending to be weak in order to get sympathy from others.

There are indeed energy suckers who do that sort of thing but obviously, it's not always that simple. As usual, I prefer to take the middle path. On a spiritual level it is possible to see all this from a different perspective and as a game within the frame of dualism that helps people learn about a more genuine and caring interaction based in empathy rather than pity (for instance, the case of true caring tends to creep up when natural disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti occur). It can also help us establish boundaries and decide that other people have no real power over us. I know this bit is very difficult and hard to grasp. All I can say is, that everyone has their own quest and may or may not be able to see things from a more spiritual point of view. I think that we do need each other and should never deny this; on the other hand we must be very clear about our personal integrity and not allow others to take advantage of ourselves or throw ourselves into a pity-party. The latter is a sort of passive-aggressive way of attempting power over those that seem to exercise power over us. It surely goes without saying that it's not a constructive way of solving problems!

Incidentally, both myself and my partner have exes that have tried to use their victimhood as a way of getting to us. My ex in the USA refuses to send me my personal belongings and artwork although I have paid him to do so. He goes on and on promising this, promising that... nothing ever happens and the last thing I heard was that he can no longer find the things that were originally neatly packed in one box. Of course, in his mind I am the evil one who doesn't have the patience to wait for my things or even ask for them in the first place (this has taken two years). This is someone who is clearly unable to care for others because he's so engrossed in the wrongs that other people are doing onto him. People who perceive of themselves as the ones who are always being wronged by others will usually become quite manipulative as demonstrated above. My partner's ex who felt wronged because he didn't feel she was right for him was stalking me online and trying to manipulate me into believing that my partner has so and so many flaws (of course the last one in a row of many evil men). When that didn't work as she had hoped she tried to manipulate him into believing all sorts of horrible things about me based on bits and pieces of information that she had gathered on the internet by infiltrating into spaces where she had no business to be in the first place (posing under an assumed identity). Apparently this is due to some form of stifling victimization and unability to let go and let live. Of course, the trick is to try not to feel like a victim of those who victimize themselves... not always easy, true.

So how do you recognize people who victimize themselves so that you can be on your guard? Well, apart from the obvious fact that they blame everyone else for their misfortunes, my experience tells me that these people tend to appeal to other people's emotions repeatedly and excessively. You also get the sense of speaking to a child when you confront them about issues of conflict. That's because most likely, they got stuck in some pattern as children and were not able to resolve it back then with the help of an adult. As adults, they should take responsibility for their own deficiencies, however. Of course, it's always advisable to seek help and counselling, but the first step of recognition and desire to open up repressed issues obviously comes from themselves (who else?).

All you can do is to decide that these kind of people do not have power over you and re-align with your true self and integrity. You may have to cut a few cords in order to do so. I still find it very hard so I can see that it's one of those major life lessons. Each has to find their own way of setting boundaries. The main thing is that we don't fall into the trap of feeling pity, which is a way in which those with a victim mentality can keep us tied to their energy. And do not listen to all the "I had a dysfunctional childhood" talk if it seems a bit too obsessive. While the things that were going on as we were helpless children might have been seriously disturbing, the truth is the majority of all people have had some kind of dysfunctional background. It's all very well to talk about it and recognize where your issues come from, but don't use it as a way of provoking pity in others: it's ridiculous. Use it only as a means of deeper understanding and if you are so inclined, as a way of spiritual growth. While it's also true that many of us are in a weak position and feel very helpless at times, there is always a way out. It may take time, but the way I see it is that life "wants" to evolve and thus we also will if we only have the incentive to do so.

Artwork: digital photograph by author, all rights reserved 2010