Recovering Sleep

 

I slept so well last night that I woke early and charged for my day. I generally sleep really well–although for about a decade in the worst years of being sick, I couldn’t sleep. All day, I’d be exhausted and nearly delirious and when it was finally time to go to bed, I’d suddenly be awake. At the time, I didn’t even know that there was adrenal fatigue or that my disturbed sleep was indicative of it.

What shifted my sleep from being a very few hours of tossing and turning into deep, refreshing sleep was Reiki–and then mediation. For years, my doctors had tried to give me things to begin sleeping well again, because (as I wrote about here) you can’t heal without sleep, but nothing–not the adrenal support or herbals that were supposed to make me sleepy, cutting out caffeine and chocolate or taking sleeping pills–helped. And then, following my first Reiki session, I went straight home and fell (at four in the afternoon) into a deep, deep sleep. I slept that day straight through the afternoon and the night and woke up the next morning feeling, for the first time in well over a decade, refreshed and ready for my day.

Without sleep, it’s really hard to function well (and the detrimental effects have been well documented. you can go here, here, here or here, just for starters), to recover from sports or illness and depression creeps in. After that first Reiki session, I continued sleeping well but after each session, I’d sleep incredibly deeply for a few days. The same thing yesterday. I had a Reiki session, cleared a bunch things that have been holding me back, came home and slept like pro. I feel fantastic today.

 

Gratitude

There was a time that, when I thought of myself, the image that came to mind was of an old clay pot, dropped and shattered and badly put back together again. At that time, I was in so much pain, I hobbled when I walked and was so tired that I became anxious at the thought of leaving my apartment. I was 22.

These days, I write posts on healing, on compassion for the body—your body and how to train when dealing with a chronic illness. As I write, I always return to the time that I was sick for understanding, for a way in, for compassion on what my clients and readers are dealing with in their bodies.

Yesterday, I wrote on pain and when I did, I remembered when the pain and the fatigue were hardly indecipherable from each other. I was so tired that it hurt to be awake; I was in so much pain that it exhausted me. I remembered, as I wrote, how weak I used to be, as if a strong breeze could take me down. As I wrote, I recognized how strong and resilient I’ve become and how the sick person I used to be is no longer true.

When I think of myself now, I have an image of a giant trampoline, of its ability to bend deeply to the blows of people landing and regaining its shape so rapidly that it throws them in the air again.

I remember how it used to be, when there was no end in sight of Lyme Disease for me, just an endless slog of days marred by illness. The end of Lyme finally came but it seems that I was so busy living my life that I hardly noticed it until it had passed.

Pain is your body in conversation with you

Pain can be scary. It’s uncomfortable and also indicative of something not right in the body but when it has no obvious source—not a burn nor a fall nor an accident, but just shows up, seemingly out of nowhere, and lingers, it can trigger fear and anxiety, interrupt sleep and make it harder to cope with let alone heal. Especially if you don’t know what to do to fix it.

 PJ-BB600_HEALTH_G_20110704185119I am no stranger to the downward spiral of pain creating fear and anxiety and disrupting my sleep. It begins with pain, becomes more pain and then fear that my body is disintegrating shows up followed by anxiety: am I injuring my body more? The fear and anxiety, I’ve noticed, usually cause the pain to intensify and spread. Lyme is a really painful disease. There were weeks when I couldn’t even walk for the pain in my knees and days when I couldn’t do anything but lay on my back for the spinal pain. At the time, I never knew what set the pain off and, until I was diagnosed with Lyme, no doc or PT I saw could figure out its cause either. The joint pain was so rough that it felt like, just by using my joints, I was contributing to their deterioration. For a dancer and athlete, this was a heartbreaking thought. I gave up so many activities I loved by the time I was twenty and just hoped that I would still be able to walk when I was thirty.

These days, my joints are stable, move fluidly and never even ache but I fully understand what so many of my clients are going through when they come to me because of pain and fear or with anxiety about “What is happening to my body?!”

When pain comes from a straight forward injury, it’s easy to understand and, as tough as it is to deal with it, you have a pretty good sense that the body will heal and the pain will pass. When pain comes from layers of muscular imbalance, skeletal misalignment, compensatory patterns, and inflammation, it can be hard to get to understand the root of it and hard to see an end in sight.

I try to disarm people first. By which I mean, to get them to unload the emotions around pain. We immediately jump to evaluating whatever state we are in: if we’re happy, that’s good. If we’re sad, that’s bad. If we’re in pain, that’s bad. What if, I ask my clients, you could just experience the pain? It is simply a sensation and assigning a negative judgment to it makes it worse. Uncomfortable, yes. Scary, possibly. But bad? No.

In fact, pain is an incredibly useful tool. It is your body in conversation with you. This hurts, it is saying, stop what you are doing because it’s not good for your health and survival. Pain if you touch your hand to a fire–you can see the immediate need to pull your hand away so you don’t burn it off, but pain in the low back from a lifetime of sitting isn’t necessarily as clear a direction. Pain will get you to stop and take a look around and see what isn’t working in your life, where you’re forcing yourself through situations that are hurting your body and make changes. The real trick is, do you stop and listen when your body speaks up? Are you learning how to listen to your body? It is yours, and you’ll be with it your whole life. If you listen now, you’ll be in better shape in the long run.

Fear, Lyme & Nairobi

It has been years since I was in intensive treatment for Lyme Disease. These days, even though my body is healthy, I find that I am still trying to undo the ways that being chronically ill for so long changed me. I hadn’t even noticed when I began to build up my beliefs of not being able and stocking up on fear, even as they came to limit and define me during the time that I was sick. I am finally letting go of them.

Four years ago, I was out nearly every night of the week. I didn’t drink and I didn’t stay out late but it was destroying me all the same. At the time, I was better than I had been in years and I believed that I was as well as I would get. The life I was living was all the life I believed I could have and going out every night of the week, even though I would be gritting my teeth to not yawn on the dance floor, was my clawing, desperate struggle for life. In the mornings, I’d get up and struggle through the near-paralyzing fatigue, yawning through work and stagnating in every aspect of my life.

I still made half-hearted rounds of health care and an acupuncturist I was working with finally asked me, “How often do you go out?”

“All the time,” I said.

“You need to go to bed at 8pm,” she said, “You’re too sick to stay up to ten, eleven, midnight. And no drinking alcohol or coffee.”

I looked at her blankly. 8pm? That wasn’t even dinnertime to me.

The next time I saw her, we had the same conversation. And the following week. And the following, until I ceased to even hear what she was saying. One week, though, she changed it up.

“Just don’t go out on weeknights,” she begged me on a day that I was already calculating when I’d get some sleep against my work schedule and all my plans for the week, through to the weekend, four days later. It clicked and for the first time, I cancelled all plans that week, and the next and then stopped making plans during the week.

I completely flipped. As much as I’d been going out, now I hid under a rock. I slept. I took naps, slept late, stayed in. I stopped working out, at all, and rested. Three years later, I am so bright and have so much more energy than I’ve had in years. I still hardly go out and put sleep first. But I’ve also developed, without realizing it, an intense layer of fear. Fear of disturbing my schedule, fear of not getting enough sleep, fear of anything that might weaken my body and take me down again. Fear of getting sick again.

One of my best friends, one of the ones I used to be out with any night of the week and until all hours of night, is Kenyan and invited me to come with her when she visited her family. Before I was diagnosed, every time I had two coins to rub together, I was off to some part of the world or another. I moved frequently: Ireland, NYC, Italy, California, Costa Rica, bouncing around the world learning languages and having adventures, in spite of or perhaps because I could feel my body and mind disintegrating as Lyme disease pared away at my health. In the years since I was diagnosed and the seemingly interminable years that I was in treatment, I hardly traveled: a flight from San Francisco to San Diego knocked me out so completely that I was in bed for weeks. A four hour drive north meant I never left my hotel room the entire trip. I love to travel and had demurred on visiting her family in the past, always for fear of getting sick. For the way I’ve conflated financial poverty and poor health, my energy level and ability to interact with people.

This year I went. I flew into Nairobi and the next morning, was up with the sun, heading out with Blue Sky Adventures to go rock climbing in Hell’s Gate, three hours drive North West of Nairobi. I was tired, sure. 26 hours of travel and a ten hour time change will do that to a person. But I climbed seven or eight routes all the same, chatted with people and belayed all day. The next day I was up early again, to fly to Moshi, Tanzania and three days later I was heading back to Nairobi and then off to the Masai Mara for a three day safari. I was tired, but not destroyed. I never got sick, never had to limit what I was doing. Once I was back in Nairobi, I met up with my friend. We went out, staying up until five in the morning and then running around during the day. We bounced from her parents house to her sister’s to her good friend’s home. We jetted to Mombasa and ran around Nairobi and I never got sick. It was exhilarating to finally be doing the things I’d told myself that I couldn’t do, things I’d told myself I couldn’t do for so long that I’d come to believe that I never would be able to do them. My trip, as travels do, shifted my perspective about where I come from and what place I have in the world, but this trip also broke through my limiting fears and beliefs about myself. To come home with the new knowledge that I can, that I am able is powerful indeed.

On Knowing Myself in Motion

I was on the wall last week and as I was working my way up a challenging route, the thought percolated up to me: I know myself best when I am in motion.

When I am climbing, as when I am running or dancing, doing yoga or pilates, capoeira or boxing, walking, biking, swimming or any of the myriad other sports that I have done throughout my life, my mind quiets and my whole self integrates into focused movement: I know myself best when I am in motion.

It is also when I love myself the most.

Which is why the hardest thing for me in the years I was sick with Lyme Disease was giving up nearly all forms of movement. When I was diagnosed, I was 25 years old and I was a mess. I was fully in third stage Lyme and could no longer read or write, could barely speak, routinely got lost, even in my hometown. I’d lost my hair, couldn’t keep any weight on, had had a migraine for four years and was so tired I didn’t leave the house for anything but work for six months. My doctors ordered me to immediately stop anything aerobic, as it opens up the blood-brain barrier and allows the Lyme bacteria to pass into the brain, where it destroys neural synapses, memory, coordination, decision-making, you name it. They also told me not to push myself physically, to keep my efforts under thirty percent, to take slow and gentle walks, to do restorative yoga, to make sure that my body had the energy to heal.

I wanted to get well badly enough that I stopped do anything other than walks, yoga and pilates, but I still pushed myself hard enough that I’d get fevers and be exhausted for a few days. As the seemingly endless years of treatment have rolled by, I’ve gotten better, then stagnated. Or relapsed. I’ve tried to start new things, a dance class, maybe, or trail running or even just getting to a regular weekly yoga class but I’ve always had to quit after a few weeks because I just wasn’t recovering, because each class or run seemed to build my energy deficit, I’d get sick again and then take a few months to get back on top.

It’s different now. I’ve been consistently climbing and in the gym. Instead of being destroyed my efforts and stopped them to get better, I’ve steadily gotten stronger—both on the wall and in my constitution. I am beginning to be able to add in other activities, to explore the limits of my body without fear of collapse and I remember that being in motion is, to me, the purest form of joy that I know.

I am beginning this blog for several reasons. I’d like to talk about getting, being and staying physically active with a chronic illness. Movement, being in my body in motion is, like writing, an act of discovery for me, the way I know and learn things about myself. It allows things to percolate up, usually about my understanding of healing and I want to share that. This will be a mix of personal narrative, with training and healing tips and write-ups of my exploration into the types of body and energy work available in the Bay.