Category Archives: Sleep

On sleep, work, the baby, and balance (or haven’t I been here before?)

I find myself reminded on a daily basis that sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

I am functioning, but only just. It isn’t even that P’s sleep is all that dreadful, more that she’s up twice every night so the sleep I do get is always fragmented into three blocks, compounded by her for the last week or so getting up for the day before 6 a.m.

Every morning I find the last line from Samuel Beckett’s novel, The Unnamable rolling round and round in my head (“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”)

I can remember being in a very similar stage at a very similar point during E’s infancy (I wrote about it here). The situation wasn’t identical, of course, but it was eerily familiar: I had a baby who was waking up to nurse twice a night, guaranteeing I couldn’t get a block of sleep longer than four hours, and I had a looming academic deadline. In E’s infancy it was the first chapter of my dissertation. This time around it’s the first draft of the book chapter for an edited volume.

We’re running a workshop for the volume in mid-July and all contributors are meant to have the first draft of their chapter available for circulation by the end of May. Given I’m one of the editors (and Q. is another- the book project is really his baby), there wouldn’t be serious consequences were I to miss that deadline. But that’s certainly not ideal.

When we first organized the workshop and mapped out the deadlines, I can remember thinking (this was before P. was born), “No problem. I’ll start reading and collecting sources in March and then I can write the chapter in May.”

I didn’t seriously believe, you see, that I could end up with TWO babies who would get up twice a night to nurse in the second half of their first year. Surely, I thought, by the time P was eight or nine months old she’d be sleeping better than E was. And then she was such a good sleeper for her first two months that she lulled me into thinking she’d be an easy baby.

Ha.

So here I am, with an academic deadline and a brain that feels like mush, and what really gets me is the whole thing is just so.damn.familiar.

Last time around, when I was assessing the impact of my long-term sleep deprivation, I noticed this:

I’m breaking things.

In the last month, I’ve smashed at least four things in the kitchen- a glass, a port glass, a plate, a bowl. I don’t think I’d broken four things, total, in the previous ten years. They were dumb accidents too- I’d reach for something on the counter and knock something else over instead, or I’d pick something up and drop it on something else. They were dumb enough that each time I remember standing there amidst the shards of glass or pottery, thinking, Really? I just did that?

Yep. I’ve started dropping things or being unable to properly hold them when I go to pick them up. It’s like I’m losing my hand-eye coordination.

And there was this:

I forget things.

I forget everything now, if it isn’t written down, and half the time I still forget it even if it is recorded somewhere. Given I’ve always been the memory of this family (Q. being a very clever man but a very absent-minded professor), this is quite disturbing. It makes me feel weak.

Yep. I forget appointments, plans, ideas, even words. A normal conversation in our house now looks like this:

Q. (wrestling with tangled cables): “We should set up a charging station for the mobile phones.”
Me: “Yes! I want to get one of those…things.” *gestures helplessly* “You know! The things with all the things that you can plug in.”
Q.: “A power bar.”
Me: “Yes! Fuck. I want a power bar for my desk downstairs so I can have a charging station for the iPad and my phone and my laptop.”

I have these kinds of conversations with E. all the time. My FIVE YEAR OLD fills in my vocabulary gap when I can’t remember challenging words like “gate”, “streetcar”, or “upstairs” (these are all real examples).

I invited some of E’s friends and their parents to come on a nature walk with us a couple of weekends ago and got the start time wrong. Luckily it was a beautiful day and the family who came didn’t mind being there thirty minutes early, but still.

I had to take P’s passport application in twice because the first time I went to submit it the nice lady behind the desk had to tell me that not only had I forgotten to sign it (which was easily rectified right there in the office), but I had neglected to get Q. to sign it as well (which was not).

I cannot emphasize enough how NOT LIKE ME these types of things are.

My sense of my innermost self is built on a foundation of BEING ORGANIZED.

I am the one who is always on time for everything. Always. Even with two kids.

I remember appointments.

I fill out forms correctly.

If Q. is the absent-minded professor in our family, I am the steel trap memory.

I know the sleep deprivation is temporary- E has taught me that much.

But its effect is enormously difficult for me to cope with, not just because it makes me bleary and fuzzy and short-tempered each day, not just because it means I cannot imagine how I am going to maintain the needed focus to do the research for this book chapter, let alone actually write the thing, but because it fundamentally erodes a not insignificant part of who I believe myself to be.

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Filed under Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, P.- the first year, Sleep, Writing

What the mirror doesn’t show

Take a look at the Mum and baby in the mirror. The baby is smiling- she loves looking at the baby in the mirror. The Mum is smiling too, because who can not smile when looking at such a smiling, happy baby? The Mum has big dark circles under her eyes and her hair probably could use a wash but her clothes are clean and they’re not pajamas.

The baby is, by any definition, adorable.

The Mum looks like she is doing a Good Job at being that baby’s Mum.

And she is.

The baby is healthy and growing. She is fed whenever she is hungry. She is cuddled whenever she needs a cuddle.

She is loved.

The Mum loves the baby so much she thinks sometimes her heart will explode. She didn’t think she could love anyone as much as she loves the baby’s older brother, but she loves this baby just as much.

But the mirror doesn’t show how the baby gets up every two or three hours at night, every night, and then won’t go back to sleep at 5 a.m. unless she gets to snuggle in bed and nurse (which means the Mum can’t go back to sleep because she is too worried about having the baby in the bed with her).

The mirror doesn’t show how the baby gets bored during the day and fusses and frets because she is still a baby and doesn’t want to be.

The mirror doesn’t show how the Mum gets bored during the day, even though she loves the baby so very much and couldn’t imagine not being at home with her.

The mirror doesn’t show how the Mum has to choose, every day, whether she will shower or sit down and have a cup of tea, because there is rarely the time to do both.

The mirror doesn’t show how the Mum has to read every label of every item of food she eats, how the baby’s tummy still isn’t quite right sometimes even though the Mum tries so hard to be careful. It doesn’t show how much the Mum misses her comfort foods. The Mum thinks she would probably dream about cheese if she wasn’t so tired she no longer remembers her dreams.

The mirror doesn’t show how the baby’s big brother is still struggling to adjust to the demands of school, or the meetings the Mum has had with the teacher, with a developmental paediatrician. It doesn’t show the question marks that have been raised about the big brother’s development, nor how much the Mum worries about him sometimes.

The mirror doesn’t show how much the Mum worries about her mother, newly widowed, or her father, still in the hospital, still paralyzed, still (and forever) unable to breathe on his own.

The mirror doesn’t show how sad and worried the recent election has made the Mum, how hard she has to work every day to keep from being overwhelmed by the reality of the world in which she has suddenly found herself living.

The mirror doesn’t show how worried the Mum is about her sister and the baby who is coming soon. The Mum tries not to worry but she can’t shake the fear that this horrible year has one last terrible outcome waiting around the corner. She does not think she will truly relax until she hears that the baby is born and both the baby and her sister are healthy and well.

The mirror doesn’t show how the Mum has a moment before she gets out of bed on the mornings where the baby has had a particularly bad night, having already been awake for an hour or two with no tea and no breakfast, where she wonders how she will be able to make it through that day.

She does.

She gets through that day, and then the next day, and then the one after that.

She takes the big brother to school and picks him up. She helps the baby to take her naps (because who wants to nap when sleep means you miss out on something). She gets the laundry done and the house cleaned (most of the house, most of the time). She makes dinner (some of the time). She makes snacks and reads stories and answers questions (so.many.questions). She changes the baby, and nurses the baby, and sings to the baby, and cuddles with the baby.

She tries to remember that her husband is also tired.

She tries not to engage in score keeping, but to instead notice and appreciate everything that he does.

She tries not to resent him for being able to use the bathroom when he needs to, for eating breakfast uninterrupted, for going to work and having adult conversations.

Some days she is better at all of these than others.

She is doing a Good Job.

But she is so very, very tired.

She knows that things will get better.

She knows that the days are long, but the years are short.

The baby’s big brother is almost impossibly grown up now. He is losing the teeth that the baby will soon be getting.

The Mum is reminded, every day, when she looks at him that babies are not babies forever. And when she kisses him goodnight and tucks him in one last time before she goes to bed, she still smooths his hair and marvels that he will now sleep through anything, even the crying of his baby sister who has been woken up by the sounds of her parents getting ready for bed, just like he once was.

Still. Some days are very, very long.

The Mum gives the baby in the mirror a big kiss.

The baby gives one of her full-body smiles, where she waves her arms and kicks her legs and wriggles around and beams with a wide, gummy grin.

This smile is not for the other baby. This smile is for her Mummy.

The Mum smiles back.

The mirror does show love.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Choose Happiness, My addled brain, P.- the first year, Sleep

We lost too

I am having a very hard time with the election results.

I feel like I’ve been having a near-constant anxiety attack since Wednesday morning.

Part of it, I know, is that P’s nighttime sleep is particularly terrible at the moment, and lack of sleep is a major trigger for my anxiety. I am sure I would not be feeling quite as awful as I am if I had been facing a Trump presidency well-rested.

But.

I would still have been feeling awful.

Maybe I shouldn’t be as sad and frightened as I am. After all, I am Canadian, not American. I couldn’t vote in the election. He’s not going to be my president. And I’m white, middle-class, heterosexual, and of Christian heritage (if an agnostic now). I could argue that I’m not one of his major targets for intolerance, insult, and hate.

Except, I am, of course, because I’m a woman. And as Trump made it abundantly clear during his campaign, he doesn’t care about women. He doesn’t respect women or their bodies (and don’t get me started on women’s autonomy over their own bodies). He bragged about sexually assaulting women and then normalized the assault by claiming it was “locker-room talk”, as though it is just something men do, gosh darn it, can’t help themselves.

I think he is vile.

And while he may not be my president, his presidency is going to affect and shape my country.

Not just because he claims he wants to rethink NAFTA.

If he pulls the USA hard to the right, Canada will have our hands tied on so many issues.

His poisonous platform that relies on inciting fear of the “other” could creep up north of the border.

In our last federal election, one of the defining moments was when the Conservative party (then in government with a majority) revealed their plan for a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline in which you would be encouraged to dob in your neighbour for doing strange and frightening things (translation: not taking the kids to hockey and stopping at Tim Horton’s on the way back home).

It was revolting.

It was disgraceful.

And it was decisively rejected by the Canadian electorate.

The Conservatives relied heavily in their campaign on fear and intolerance and Canadians all across the country stood up and said (politely, because after all, we are Canadians), “No, thank you. That’s not who we are.”

We gave Justin Trudeau and his Liberals a majority government, something which the polls had not suggested was within striking distance.

But.

THE DAY AFTER Trump won, the same Conservative MP who had been the face behind the barbaric cultural practices hotline, and who is now a contender for the leadership of that party, went on the record saying that Trump’s win was “an exciting message” that was needed in Canada.

I hope registered Conservatives reject her embrace of intolerance just as decisively as the general voting public did in October 2015.

I hope we do not follow the same path as Brexit, as Trump, as the rise of right-wing parties in Europe. I hope we continue to champion freedom and equality.

But even if we do, it seems like we’re going to be the lone voice crying out in the wilderness, and there’s only so much one country can do.

******

I am so sad for Hillary Clinton.

I so sad for women everywhere.

I am so angry that competence and intelligence and experience could be twisted into something negative, reasons to vote against a candidate rather than for her.

I am so afraid of the damage that can be done in four years.

******

It is a measure of my anxiety that one of the first thoughts I had on Wednesday, when I realized Trump would be president was this:

“I better get Q. to hurry up and get P.’s Australian citizenship sorted so we can get her a passport. Then at least he’d be able to take both kids and get out of the country if it came to that.”

I said this to Q. a few days later. I was trying to reassure myself, to make it into a bit of a joke.

It turns out Q. had thought the exact same thing.

Our current prime minister’s father, when he was prime minister, famously once compared Canada’s relationship with the U.S. to be like sleeping next to an elephant. He said, “No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

What happens when the elephant throws a giant temper tantrum in bed?

******

Friday was Remembrance Day. I bought E. a poppy and he wore it all week. We had lots of questions from him about the symbolism of the poppy. I told him over and over how lucky we were to live in a safe country, to enjoy freedom and prosperity. E. said he didn’t like thinking about the reason we wear the poppy. I agreed with him, but said it was important to spend at least one day every year remembering those who fought and died so that we could be free and safe. I told him it was a reminder of how terrible the world wars were and a promise that there would never be another one.

I have always, always believed that.

Now, I’m not so sure.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Grief, Sleep

Baby Sleep Bootcamp, Redux

E. started school last week, which means that P. and I now have about six hours a day together. I’ve spent the last week helping P. learn that she is able to nap in the bassinet (after eight or nine weeks of exclusively napping in carriers).

I know I said I wasn’t going to compare the two of them any more (or at least I was going to try not to), but it is honestly funny how identical this process has been.

I’m using the same routine- white noise machine, lullaby, shush/pat until asleep, and then place in the bassinet with enough awkwardness that her eyes pop open again so (hopefully) she will be eventually able to put herself back to sleep at the 45 minute transition mark.

And P’s reaction has been just like that of her older brother (which I described in detail here). From the shrieks of outrage, telling me that she is NOT TIRED, MUMMY! CAN’T YOU SEE THAT? punctuated by huge yawns to the desperate last attempts at socializing right before falling asleep. In this respect, at least, she is exactly like her brother.

The main difference, I think, is in me.

P.’s napped a couple of times a day in the bassinet every day since we started the baby sleep bootcamp. It’s impossible for her to have all of her naps in there because I have to take E. to school. So the first nap is usually in the carrier and the final late afternoon catnap is too because by then E. is home again and I can’t be sure I’ll get the uninterrupted time I need to get her down.

She hasn’t slept longer than 45 minutes yet, but it’s early days.

At this stage with E., I was basically hysterical. I felt he was so over-tired (true) and I worried he would never learn to sleep properly (did not turn out to be the case). I worried all the time that he wasn’t getting “enough” sleep or the “right” amount of sleep for babies his age.

With P., my reaction has been more along the lines of: “Look at you sleeping in the bassinet while I ate my lunch with two free hands and checked my email! You slept for 45 minutes! You’re doing so well!”

I am taking the long view, and I have confidence in both myself and P. that eventually she will be able to sleep on her own, just like E. eventually did.

Sometimes I wish I could have been a second-time parent the first time around.

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Filed under P.- the first year, Sleep

Boxes

I think of my worries in boxes now.

I have so many of them, I can’t let them all come out to nag at me at once.

There’s the “worried about my Dad” box, which is huge and overflowing. It resists my every effort to close it. Sometimes I manage to get the lid down a little way, but it always springs open again.

Now there’s the “worried about my stepfather” box, which is smaller than my father’s worry box, although growing rapidly (much like his tumor). The worries were there before but they were mostly lumped in with general worry about my family. But now, after Thursday’s CT scan, he has a box of his own. A subsidiary of this box is the “worried about my Mum” box, which is really attached to the “worried about my stepfather” box, because what I am mostly worried about with my Mum is how she will cope if my stepfather dies. No one has said to me that my stepfather is going to die, and certainly the doctors are quite confident that there are things they can do, but I think the odds of this cancer killing him (or causing another cascade of medical issues that eventually prove fatal) are much higher than they were with his first bout, and I am very very worried.

There’s the “worried about the baby” box which has fluctuated in size significantly over the course of the pregnancy, reaching its maximum size after the anatomy scan. The follow up scans this past Thursday showed that everything continues to go well and that the right kidney is bigger than would be expected at this stage, suggesting it is doing exactly what we hoped it would- growing to compensate for the missing one. I had just about succeeded in wrestling that box closed until I learned that my stepfather is in renal failure because of the way the tumor is encroaching on his kidney. It is not that I think it all that likely that my baby will also develop colon cancer that will affect the kidney when s/he is approaching 65, more that this is a situation where it is a VERY GOOD THING that my stepfather has a backup kidney, and this of course reminded me that our baby has no backup. So I am back to worrying irrationally about the baby, although I am trying to curb this because I can only worry so much for so long without losing all ability to function.

The “worried about the baby” box also contains the usual post-infertility worries about the baby dying at birth or just before from a cord accident or some other tragic, incredibly unlikely occurrence that somehow feels not all that unlikely right now given my family’s current strike rate for freaky, fluky, unexpected medical disasters (see: my father being paralyzed for life by a wave as exhibit a, and my stepfather’s colon cancer that is not behaving like colon cancer usually does and is thus a source of great interest to his doctors as exhibit b).

And then I worry that all this worry is bad for the baby, because s/he is certainly not getting an optimal uterine environment right now. So that’s in the baby box too.

Then there’s a “worried about work” box, which is only allowed to get my attention when I have to do something related to the very next class I have to teach. Marking and seminars and conferences are not on my radar right now, even when they should be. I am very much in survival mode and just taking these last three weeks of the semester one day at a time.

My general worry box about all the other aspects of my life (E., Q., the cats, the house, the rest of my family) has been shoved to the back of the stack because I just cannot open it up right now. We still have not entirely sorted out the vomiting cats issue (in fact we think the food change has stopped one cat from vomiting but caused another to start getting hairballs), but I cannot put any time or energy into fixing it right now. I am vaguely aware that I am asking an extraordinary amount of Q. at the moment, but cannot rouse myself to try to rebalance. I try to be present for E., but it is harder than it should be.

It is all starting to become more than I can cope with.

I am either numb or exhausted most of the time.

I am not depressed- I have been depressed before and I know what it feels like- but I am struggling, even more so than I was a month ago. It is unrelenting. There is no end in sight.

And now I am officially worrying so much that it is affecting my sleep. For the last week or so, ever since my Dad had a conversation with my sister where he was able to express his own worries about what is going to happen to him and how the decisions will be made, I have been waking up at 5 a.m. or earlier and I have not been able to get back to sleep. This used to be standard operating procedure for me, but I fixed this well over a year ago (or possibly two years ago- I have lost track) by taking my mother’s insomnia advice of refusing to get up or do anything else but lie there and wait to fall back asleep. I retrained my brain and my body and I have slept exceptionally well ever since.

Now I wake up for no reason in particular at some stupidly early hour and my brain immediately tries to fix the worst-case scenario. Typical would be waking up to have my brain start planning how we might convince my mother to move to our part of the province if my stepfather dies and whether she would be able to afford to buy a condo and would she want to be in a condo and what would happen with my grandmother but it would be great for my mother because she would have all the support and access to good transit options to go see her siblings when she doesn’t want to drive, etc. etc.

This is not something I should be trying to fix. This is not something I should even be thinking about. But my anxiety has always manifested itself as catastrophizing- I jump to the worst-case scenario and try to fix it. So I know this is my anxiety seeking an outlet, because I am bottling it up as much as I can during the day to get through. But it is impossible to turn your brain off and go back to sleep once you are engaged in thinking about worst-case scenarios, even when you know that they will hopefully NEVER HAPPEN and you are completely wasting your time thinking about them.

I am really good at planning and organizing. It is one of my strengths.

At five in the morning, though, I’m coming to realize it is also one of my greatest weaknesses. Because my brain seems to think I can plan and organize my way out of these crises, that if I can just get enough details sorted out and enough ducks in a row, everything will get better.

I don’t know how to make my brain understand this isn’t helpful.

And right now I’m too tired to even try.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Family, Grief, Me? Pregnant?!, Medical issues, Sleep

Rest Easy

One of my resolutions for my Happiness Reset project was to “Make Time for Exercise”.

Worst.Resolution.Ever.

I am now in my third month of my reset (a full update to come soonish, I hope) and I have YET to wake up early to go running, like I had planned to do.

It is no longer dark and cold and miserable like it was back in January and February.

It is a beautiful time of year to be running.

I’ve been choosing sleep instead.

A funny thing happened over the last couple of months.

I’ve been saying on here for years that I don’t need as much sleep as I did before E. was born. Here’s a typical quote, from this post in November 2013:

I’ve been convinced for close to two years now that I don’t seem to need as much sleep as I did before E. was born. Give me six hours in a row, and I’m good to go for the day. I hate waking up in the night to use the loo because if it’s after 3 a.m. I usually don’t get back to sleep, and prednisone just makes my disordered sleeping so much worse.

At Christmas that year, I had a long chat with my mother, who also has terrible problems with insomnia. She told me the only thing that worked for her was just to refuse to get out of bed until it was 6 a.m. Didn’t matter how awake she was, or what time of night it was, she would just lie there and not do anything interesting. And eventually she started going back to sleep again, and gradually it got easier.

I tried this. It took months, but it honestly worked. I started to be able to go back to sleep when I woke up at 3 or 4 a.m. At first it took me an hour or longer, but gradually my body relearned how to fall asleep.

Now, eighteen months after I first started using my mother’s strategy, I’ve realized that my sleep needs HAVE NOT CHANGED since E. was born.

I was just coping really well with constant sleep deprivation.

I was used to disordered sleep patterns.

I was getting so much more sleep (and good quality sleep) than I was when E. was an infant, that I figured I was good to go.

But it turns out, I’m still the same “eight or eight-and-a-half hours a night” girl I was before I had E.

And that’s why I haven’t been running.

I’ve chosen sleep instead.

And it has been GLORIOUS.

Because Q.’s been under less work pressure, we haven’t had to set as many early morning alarms. We’ve been able to wake up more naturally, with the light. There were nights where we slept for over nine hours, but I think now we’ve mostly caught up our deficits. I’m starting to wake up right around the eight hour mark or a little before. Sometimes I’ll be woken up (by E. or one of the cats) at 5:30 a.m., and I just go right back to sleep! This is unheard of for me (at least the me of the last five years).

I miss morning runs, but I’m just not ready to disrupt my body. It knows what it needs.

It’s about time I started listening to it.

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Filed under Choose Happiness, Running, Sleep

It’s the most miserable time of the year

I’m depressed.

Not clinically, at least, not yet. But I’m definitely in a major slump. I’m crying a lot and sleeping a lot and I feel tired all the time. Everything exhausts me.

Part of it is weather-related, because this time of year is always so dark and cold, and even though it’s not all that cold right now, it is so dark for so long.

Part of it is lack of exercise because I stopped running during the tww in our last FET and then didn’t start up again because (see above) it was cold and dark in the mornings and E. started waking up unpredictably early.

Part of it is Christmas burnout. This is the first year I have really, really not wanted to be buying presents. It’s just felt overwhelming. Q. and I have decided to do “presence, not presents”, so we’re each in charge of organizing six dates over the the course of 2015, which I’m excited about. I’m also in discussions with my family to stop gift exchanging (other than for E. of course). Anything we really want/need we can afford to buy ourselves, and I’m so tired of buying stuff to give to people because they’re going to buy stuff to give to us. We have so much. Too much, really.

Part of it is trying to engage with the end of treatments. Today I packed up a duffel bag of clothes and three bags of books and toys for the son of a very dear friend from high school (we’re going to see them over the holidays). I felt both happy and relieved to be able to give them these things and heart-broken that we were able to give them away because we were never going to need them ourselves.

Part of it, a big part, is missing the little person who was supposed to be here but isn’t.

And part of it is finishing the PhD. I didn’t think this was going to affect me as much as it has- I handed in the final draft of the dissertation in early October and I didn’t touch it again until December, so I thought I’d had a break from it. But I was clearly still focusing on it, even unconsciously, because ever since the defence (and the celebratory party the day afterwards), I’ve been out of sorts.

I haven’t googled it, but I would bet money that feeling depressed after finishing a PhD is completely normal and probably expected. After all, I’ve spent the past six years working on it.  It’s not helped by the fact that I’m not starting a new job immediately afterwards. I’m still figuring out what I want to do and what will work with our family. So there’s a lot of uncertainty and not a lot of answers right now. I know that will change, but the here and now is a challenge.

I’ve been trying to push everything down until after Christmas, but it’s not really working. So, as of today, I’m trying something new: acknowledging that this probably won’t be my best Christmas, but there will be other years ahead when I won’t feel this way. I’m giving myself permission to grieve, to mourn, to feel adrift. It is a year of endings, after all.

And now that I’ve dumped out how I’m feeling, I’m going to turn off the computer and go for a run while the sun is still shining.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Friends, Grief, Life after the PhD, Loss, Mirror, Mirror (Body Image), My addled brain, PhD, Running, Second Thoughts, Sleep, Three's Company