Month: January 2020

Relearning Sleep

My mind is a noisy place. It processes, analyzes, and tracks things all day long. This has lead to frequent problems with sleeping. Sometime last year I found the perfect image to illustrate the problem:

Image courtesy of Not certain who the original artist is.

Of course I’ve had the problem for more than the past year. Several years ago I found a way to short circuit the problem. I was laying on the couch with Howard watching a familiar show and I drifted off to sleep. Then when the show was over and we moved upstairs to bed, I found myself wide awake thinking about All The Things. So I grabbed ear buds and a small device capable of streaming the show. I listened to the show while falling asleep. It worked beautifully. I could listen to the voices of familiar characters going through a familiar adventure. It was just interesting enough to keep my mind from wandering into fretting territory, but because I already knew the end of the show I felt no need to stay awake and find out what happened.

This became my nightly habit for several years. I made some changes like downloading episodes onto my device rather than streaming, I pick shows with lots of episodes so that I could work through them slowly. If I listened to a single episode too often, it became so familiar that it was no longer effective at keeping my mind occupied while sleep arrived. There were challenges with earbuds and laying on my side, but I figured those troubles were worth it to simplify sleep. I also kept the volume really low, just on the edge of audibility.

Yet in the past six months the number of inconveniences with my sleep system had increased. Streaming apps got much more rigid about allowing downloads, thus forcing me to stream episodes in order to listen. This meant that instead of playing a single episode and then stopping, the device would play three or four episodes, chewing up bandwidth while I was already asleep. Also even when a show has fifteen seasons, I would eventually reach the end of them. And as my device aged, there were more and more nights where I would lay down to sleep only to discover I had to spend thirty minutes or more troubleshooting the device. Late night tech support when all I want to do is sleep, is the worst.

On top of the logistical concerns, I began to be aware that perhaps drowning out the noise in my head with more noise might be treating a symptom without solving the problem. That perhaps I needed to be addressing and facing the noise in my head rather than trying to keep it at bay. So in the space after the wedding was over, when my executive function was burned out, I began to re-learn sleeping.

My basic practice right now is that when I’m trying to fall asleep, I use the meditation technique of focusing on my breathing. I pay attention to my breath, to relaxing my muscles, and to feeling the fatigue in my body. When my mind begins to wander into plans for tomorrow or anxieties about the day just past (and it always does) the minute I realize my mind has wandered, I gently pull it back and refocus on breathing again.

It can take me an hour or more to fall asleep using this method, where as listening to a show frequently had me asleep in less than ten minutes. Yet in the few weeks I’ve been practicing, I’m getting better at it. My time-until-asleep has shortened. The key is to be patient with myself and with my body. I have to recognize that practice is required to teach my mind to let go of being in charge long enough to fall asleep. Yet learning this skill doesn’t only help me with sleeping. Every night I am practicing being calm. I am practicing accepting my body and breath as they are. I am practicing letting go. All of these things are skills that are also applicable in my waking life. Remembering I’m practicing skills helps me to be patient with the process.

I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know when life will hit me with an overwhelming quantity of things to track that lead to insomnia. But I do know that the work I’m putting into re-learning sleep will help me be more centered and focused in facing whatever comes next.

Closing the Book

I have a one notebook approach to journaling. My long form journal entries are in the same book as To Do lists, jotted down phone numbers, and random notes. I began this notebook on June 2, 2019. Today I close it and call it done. That means this book exactly brackets all the chaos of the past 8 months. All of the insurance claims, construction, financial fears, putting kids into college, pulling kids out of college, child becoming engaged and married, acquisition of a new family member, holiday planning, and wedding planning. All of that happened while I was filling these pages. The book is battered and worn. The art I did on the cover has mostly worn away. It will now go on a shelf next to a dozen other notebooks. I am grateful for every single thing that is recorded on the pages of this book.

And I am grateful to move on to the next book.

Dreaming Big

I’m on an email chain with a group of writers. Once per week one of us will send out an email with writing tips, inspiration, or encouragement. The email for this week invited all of us to recognize how often we limit ourselves to only imagining what we feel is realistic instead of dreaming big. We were all invited to respond with the writing dreams we have that feel really big, the ones which are unrealistic, the ones which we know aren’t actually in our control, but we want anyway. It took me some time to even find mine, because the email was correct. I do really tend to focus on making sure that my goals are concrete and within my control. And that is as it should be for goals. They should be measurable and attainable. But dreams are different. Dreams are how we know where to aim our goals. The are the lodestone which helps us pick a direction, even when we know that the terrain ahead is going to force us to change that direction dozens of times.

So I sat with myself and waited for the dreams to surface. These are the ones I found:
To be invited to give a keynote at a writer’s conference
To end up in the acknowledgements of other people’s books because I put in the time to help other writers develop their craft and survive this crazy ride of writing/publishing.
To revise my middle grade novel so I can start submitting it to agents by the end of this year.
To pay off my debts so that I have more head space to focus on creating the things which feel important with less concern about the things that make money.

In comparison with some of the other dreams in the thread, (be a best seller, have a book made into a movie, travel the world on book money) my dreams seem small. Perhaps they are. Perhaps I need to find the courage to dream even bigger. Yet for right now, these are the writing dreams that ring true to me. These are the ones that ring like true crystal when it is struck.

Interestingly, every single one of these dreams is served by the same goal: make time to write every day. I was working on a 500 word per day habit in November until holiday brain fry followed by wedding made focusing on anything else quite difficult. This past week I’ve cleared away the brain fog and have begun to make inroads on the physical mess. That means it is time for me to put 500 words per day back onto the calendar. Because, paths to big dreams are made out of small goals and it is time for me to get to work again.

Lovely Realization

I’m still wandering around in a bit of a brain fog today. My brain can only hold onto one thought at a time. Fortunately I know this simply means I need to rest and before long my usual capacities will return. However, I did have time (when I was looking at photos from the wedding again) to realize that we had zero mental health meltdowns on the wedding day. I can’t tell you how many photos I have of happy events where I also have a clear memory of the hard things which also went on during that day. This time, everyone was happy. We all reached points of mental and physical exhaustion, but no one was clobbered by depression, anxiety, imposter syndrome, or panic. We were just… happy. For once I can look at the pictures and only think about the events in the picture. That is a huge gift for which I am exceedingly grateful.

Day After the Wedding

So very tired today. But happy. I slept poorly after the reception because my brain was too full of unprocessed things, but mostly I was able to keep my anxiety from latching onto anything and making up terrible stories. It was a lovely day. All the bits that were boring, or hurried, or stressful mostly fall away and I’m left with memories and photographs of the best bits.

Obviously I love the beautiful professional art shots, but there are also the moments I caught with my own camera.

The moment with them smiling and the bride’s ratty slippers peeking from under the gorgeous dress.

Descending the staircase while carrying a snuggly blanket to stay warm.

And in a huge labor of love, which was kind and sensitive to our desire that the newlywed’s car be left alone, a large group of extended family rented a truck and decorated the interior as a honeymoon suite to greet the couple as they exited the reception.

All these moments and hundreds more. So many treasures to process, but through the fatigue, I’m just happy. It was all so beautiful. Everyone who came to the temple or came to the party, or sent kind thoughts via message, they were all beautiful too. I can’t think of a better start for a young pair than to be able to see how very surrounded they are by all the people who wish them well.

Day Before the Wedding

“Do you need any help?” They all ask, eager to be of assistance.
I answer them honestly “No.”
The wedding is tomorrow, and I feel some anxiety about how all the events will unfold, but it is the normal amount of anxiety that I feel before any social event. I have no feeling of doom. As long as the ceremony takes place, then all the rest can turn into a rolling disaster and I would just roll with it. And laugh. I’ve had a lot of practice laughing at unexpected disasters in the past eight months.

I don’t have a long list of last minute things for friends and relations to help with. That is by design. Months ago I decided to pay professionals to take care of the major pieces of the celebration specifically so I would not have to scramble and do things myself. My major task for today is to spend the day quietly. Me and mine need to introvert today because tomorrow will be full of social.

I don’t know if the lack of last-minute tasks is the result of my decades-long experience with event planning. After running a Gen Con booth and booths at Comic Cons, hiring some vendors to help me throw a party is pretty simple. It could also be the result of ditching some of the usual traditions. We’re skipping rehearsal dinners, speeches, bridesmaids/groomsmen matching attire, requiring anyone to wear a specific color, flowers, and probably a half dozen other things that are traditional. Instead we’re telling people to wear what makes them happy, making sure the music is friendly to sound sensitive people, using a side room for a board game/ puzzle area, providing food, and telling everyone that they’re allowed to opt in or out of any portion of the celebration that they want. My house is full of neuroatypicality, so the celebration is designed to be as flexible as possible for individuals. I think it is going to be a fun celebration.

The other question people ask me is how I’m feeling. There is this set of emotions that people expect a mother of a daughter getting married to have. Maybe I will have them, but my emotions tend to be out of sync with events. I either feel things far in advance or the emotions show up later. I felt a lot of things about my daughter and her wedding in early December. Right now I feel calm and happy, because she is happy. I can see the ways that her new life suits her well and I can finally trust that anxiety won’t make her Nope out of the whole thing. As for how I’ll feel tomorrow, I’ve no idea. Odds are good that I won’t know how I felt until I have time to sit down and sort afterward.

For now, I’ve got a few items of clothing to steam iron then we’re good to go.

On the Eve of Wedding Week.

It took me almost two weeks longer than I wanted, but I found words to help me shape how I want 2020 to be. I wrote them in my first Newsletter for 2020:

Thus I return to the idea of creating a portion of joy and peace that I can carry with me no matter what surrounds me. I’ve tried visualizing it like a bubble, but bubbles feel fragile and of necessity keep everything at a slight distance. Instead I envision a cloak of joy and peace that I can wear across my shoulders and back while my hands do necessary work. A cloak I can wrap around myself and vanish into on days when everything feels like too much. Inside this cloak I need a pocket to collect the words of friends who value me and the words of those who inspire me to be better. Words that shine when the pocket is opened. At times I can pull out these shining words and release them in a cloud around me to be a shield of fireflies to protect me and light my way when things feel dark. So this year I guess instead of having an intention, I have an image to carry me through the months to come.

(You can read the full Newsletter here.)

I’m glad a focal point showed up. This coming week will be full of things. Wedding events begin tomorrow with relatives arriving in town for a bridal shower. Then there are the last pieces of preparation for Wednesday. We’ve almost reached the point where things are either done or they aren’t. It is a relief to getting to this point, because now instead of planning and preparing, I can just roll with whatever comes. I don’t know what feelings are ahead of me for the remainder of this week, but I have a cloak I’m going to wear through it all.


Tonight I feel quiet. I’m aware that outside my house, in national and international news, there are events that have many people stressed and upset. Yet I am focused on the inside of my house and the inside of my body as both recover from mild traumas. Most people pay no attentions to the sensations of swallowing, I’ve had to for a couple of years. Since Friday’s procedure the sensations have all changed and I don’t know yet which changes are part of the healing process and which are my new normal. I haven’t choked on food since Friday, so that is something.

In a similar way, I’m putting my house and family rhythms back together after all the upheaval of 2019. School starts again tomorrow, which would usually be the moment when a new year settles in and establishes itself. But the one kid I have who is still in school is currently sporting a temperature of 102. He’s going to spend another day or two on the couch recovering from flu. And our path to normal life patterns is still on hold. I don’t think we’ll get anything resembling normal until after my daughter’s wedding in ten days. For me 2020 doesn’t begin until after the wedding is complete.

This next week is littered with small preparation tasks for the wedding. I have jackets to alter, a haircut to schedule, a kid in need of hair dye, printed materials to order, catering to finalize, some airport pick ups, and I should probably pick out what I’m going to wear. Yet none of these tasks are mission critical. I could fail at all of them and the wedding will still go forward. I just hope no one else catches the flu. (We’ve kept the bride and groom quarantined away from the sick kid.)

Medical Results

I’ve been home from my scoping procedure for four hours now. I’m not loopy but I’m forbidden from driving for twelve hours, and I can feel enough grogginess to understand why.
Good news, we have a firm diagnosis and it is a familiar problem to my GI doctor with a range of standard treatments. EOSINOPHILIC ESOPHAGITIS (EOE) Most human throats are 20mm wide and flexible. the base of mine next to the stomach was 8mm wide and stiff. (For reference, 8mm is the size of a drinking straw.) They stretched out the constriction to 12mm which was as far as the doctor felt comfortable without risking a perforation. Now I get to heal up for a few weeks and see what that does for me. It is possible that this will solve my issues. It is also possible that I’ll need additional dilation. Some people with this condition have dilation once per year. Others once every five years or so. Others only once ever.

For right now I’m home, on my couch. My throat is sore, my voice is hoarse, and I’ve got people to take care of me. Everything else can wait a day or two.

Medical Update

At the onset of a new year, I’d like to have a philosophical post about my intentions for the coming year. Instead I’m sitting between an ER visit yesterday and a medical procedure tomorrow, knowing that Howard and I are likely to tweet about our experiences and friends will want to know what is going on. So here is what is going on, advanced warning GI discussion and vomit. Philosophical musings about even writing this post follow after the update.

Twenty five years ago I had a non-cancerous tumor in my throat which required two surgeries and six weeks of radiation therapy to kill. It also left me with a party trick where I tip my head back in a way that makes people notice the scars while joking that a man (the doctor) slit my throat and took all my money.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with “Dismotility of the Swallow Mechanism” after two swallowing studies where I got to eat barium in front of an X Ray machine. In case you were wondering, barium is not tasty and doing a test where I attempt to demonstrate how I choke on food was not fun. After diagnosis I was sent to a physical therapist and told to take small bites, chew thoroughly, and eat slowly. I figured that it was just one of the long-term consequences of surgery and radiation exposure.

Sometime in the last year I went from sometimes having trouble swallowing food to having food clog up in my throat in ways that took me up to an hour to clear. And I usually had to clear things by bringing them back up. Fortunately since the food never actually reached my stomach, it didn’t contain stomach acid which is what makes vomit so unpleasant to taste or smell. Unfortunately I could not predict what would clog or when. It got subtly and progressively worse until I started making jokes about my magical ability to choke on water. I was starting to think I needed to go talk to a doctor again because things were worse (clogs about 3 times per week), but then we had a summer full of house disaster and repair where I became a general contractor, A fall with further house upheaval, a daughter getting married, and a pile of additional debt that made me reluctant to spend more on doctors. I managed to get an upgraded insurance plan for 2020 which would make seeing a specialist less expensive. I planned on addressing the issue once the wedding was done.

Two nights ago, on New Years Eve, I ate some food and my throat clogged. I performed all my usual throat clearing steps, food came back up, but the clog did not clear. After three hours, Howard did some googling and found out more information about esophageal dysfunction in five minutes than I’d been told by the doctor two years before. The information made us more determined to see a doctor ASAP because there are better treatments available than “eat carefully.” It also helped us be comfortable waiting until morning to see if the clog cleared. It didn’t. At that point it was New Year’s Day, no doctors were in their offices, but I’d been 15 hours without food or water. I was already starting to feel the effects of dehydration and waiting an additional 24 hours didn’t seem wise. Also, according to the Instacare I visited first, the equipment necessary to help me was only available in hospitals anyway, and an ER was the only way to access that equipment urgently. It was so strange to be sitting there feeling healthy and hungry, but to know that without medical intervention I could be dead in 3-5 days. We went to the ER.

At the ER I described my trouble and they instantly knew what to do. It was a familiar problem to them, one they could solve. Within an hour, using IV meds, the clog was cleared and I could eat again. I was sent home with a referral to a gastroenterologist to send a scope down my throat to fully diagnose and treat the cause of the problems. (The doctor I’d been to before was an ENT. I should have been sent to a gastroenterologist.) I’m scheduled to be scoped tomorrow. I’m certain that Howard or I will tweet about it because medical stuff is fascinating to our writer brains. Also because one of our defense mechanisms when we are stressed or scared is to make jokes. Laughter is medicine. (Not the best medicine, mind you. No amount of laughing can fix my throat, which is why I’m going to have a medical professional stick a scope down my esophagus.)

So that is my medical history. I have mixed feelings about posting it. On one hand, it is fascinating information for writer people who may be able to use details for stories they want to write. On the other hand, medical information is exceedingly personal and often kept private. The gripping hand is that the nature of my job and my friendships is that there are a lot of people out there who honestly care about me, and who I care about, that I only communicate with via the internet. The tweets that Howard and I made from the ER yesterday brought in many concerned and well-wishing responses. So I find myself making a public post about medical conditions where strangers could come along and offer criticism of my life choices. But also where my truly loving friends can come read about what is happening in my life and hopefully be a little less worried.

It is all going to be okay, in fact at the end of this particular emotional (and financial) ride I’m likely to have better quality of life where I don’t have to carry vomit bags with me any time I choose to eat more than five feet away from a sink. There is an entire post I should probably write sometime about coming to terms with an invisible disability. But not today. For today I’m doing urgent tasks, only eating liquid food, and trying not to let my anxiety make up too many stories about my procedure tomorrow.