Meeting without Sleep

4:38am

I guess I should have expected this. I got one brief night of reprieve, but am otherwise definitely riding a solid hypo-manic/up period, including the sleep disturbance.

cafe-conversation

I mentioned previously that, being awake early can be a problem if an early morning meeting is later. Particularly if that meeting is around the time when I’d be getting my “catch up” / second cycle of sleep in.

Should I try to push though and stay awake? Should I use some caffeine to help make that happen?
When should I cancel such a meeting, even at the last minute? Sometimes, like today, that doesn’t feel like a real option for me: the costs would be too great in this case.

It’s a struggle, I’m unsure about what to do.

I’ve come a long ways to making peace with and accepting my condition, especially regarding this impact of lack of sleep that it can have. So my stress from the lack of sleep isn’t that high.

But I’m definitely concerned. I don’t have a record of trying various options in this scenario. That partly because I work to avoid being in this scenario. And partly because when I’m not hypo-manic, then this can’t crop up.

Yet here I am. In the middle of a hypo-manic period which is disturbing every night of sleep for nearly two weeks running, with an important, early morning meeting. Like two oncoming trains, the only question was when, not if, they were going to collide.


The only small changes recently to previous trigger lists are caffeine and interaction.

I allowed myself slightly more caffeine yesterday. It’s a weakness of mine. There was a weak justification I told myself in my head, but I drank more coffee because I wanted more coffee.

There was more interaction yesterday, after having less. In particular, the interesting and exciting interaction of new ideas and new connections (and again, fueled further by caffeine). When I got home, I said to myself that I was going to be awake in the middle of the night[1].


Maybe the sole bright spot is that there isn’t a song in my head this morning. Hopefully that is an indicator that this mania is subsiding.


 

[1] Long-time readers know that’s the easy bet: multiple days running of being awake, I’m in a hypo-manic period. Any given night will probably not be the first night of a changed sleep schedule. But still, I knew the ideas had hit me very profoundly and they would upset my internal emotional balance.


Photo Credit: Dave Gilbert

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Meeting without Sleep

The Progress is Slow & Thanks to Helpers

5:07am – again. So many days in a row too early.

A bit stuck and confused these days.

strong

I haven’t dipped back into being down, but I’ve been struggling more than I’d expect for being up. Some of the difficulty is anxiety that may be orthogonal to the up/down of the cyclothymia. But I had expected to struggle less while I was, overall, up.

So that’s not fun.

 


Check-in: (aka “reviewing my triggers and coping mechanisms”)

“Information Diet”?: New category, this title isn’t right. This also overlaps / is similar to “interaction”.

I’ve been far more liberal with information recently. Both in ingesting but also participating online. And, while I think that can be OK, I know it can be difficult for me. With some other increased anxiety this week, I decided that I had to reduce this drastically to mostly not ingesting/participating. I can’t control all the inputs of anxiety but this can be a source of trouble and I can control it. So, no more for now.

Ingesting: this is mostly about news. And this can be problematic in two ways.

  1. More outside news input takes effort to cope with.
    This isn’t my primary concern as, usually, I can handle this fairly well. However, when I’m low on overall energy or have acute stress, I’ll take all the energy & effort that I can muster and so if cutting this down helps me even a little, that’s worth it.
  2. Participating.
    The boon that is social media and online communities takes a bit toll on me. I know this clearly and, mostly, don’t participate very much. However, there are a few places where I do enjoy and get sucked in. And I’ve been doing more of that.
    I’ve had the energy and “mental overhead” to handle this, so that’s a valid decision. But, as I mentioned, recent shifts mean I need to conserve energy. So I’m reducing this for the next while.

 

Caffeine: Strict none/little continuing.

At this point, I feel like this is probably more or less the life-long choice. It’s still to early to know, but it feels like having extremely little is sustainable long-term. Also, that little bit allowed just “starts” my brain & mood in the morning. It’s probably worth trying a longer period of no caffeine again to see if I can normalize to that. But it is helpful to have it now, so that’s where I am at.

 

Diet: Eating well, long stretch of this.

I’ve got several weeks in a row (two brief pauses) of eating well. I haven’t seen much effect of this one way or the other, I don’t think. But increased anxiety, stress, or down = less likely to be eating well. I think that’s the correct causal direction, not diet –> mood.

 

Interaction: Limited amount over the last few weeks. I’ve handled it exceptionally well.

I’ve allowed several interactions that are normally stressful and I’ve managed them like  a champ. My ability to manage them is probably the mot positive indicator of all in my list.

Part of the coping is simply being more aware of the cost and then allowing myself time to recover from the items that I know are going to be stressful.

So, part realist expectation for myself: “The day after X, I’m going to feel very down but that’s just my reaction to expending that energy. So plan to chill out and have a lot of quiet time / rejuvenating activity”. I try to remind myself that there is a physical element to this and it’s similar to sleep: I can choose to stay up all night or run a marathon – but then I’m going to be tired and will need sleep and rest. Same applies to my mental “energy”: I can spend it where I want, but some things “tire” it out and I need rest.

And part of my success is… mindfulness? I’m not sure if that’s right. But the “being aware” of the reaction and not having it “own you” or “define you”. The expectations and coping stem from the awareness, but the awareness is itself beneficial. It provides a level of separation that is helpful on its own.

 

Exercise: Not so good. I hate having this item here, since I continually fail.

Over the last few weeks, it’s been a mixed bag: a bit of good effort and then less so. However, having this item on my list reminds me that there is another thing I can do to help my mental health. And, given that I need more help, I’m going to do it more starting today.

That said, I have invested some time to get myself ready to exercise more (reviewing current exercise tools and resources and testing/fixing them). So that is a small step in the right direction, and something that needs to be done before I will exercise more.

 

Stress: Mostly low. But this week has been rough.

The stress this week came from unexpected sources, making it harder to handle, and I didn’t even realize its effect at first. That lack of realization is such a source of frustration on its own. But that’s part of my journey: recognizing what this mental health looks like and learning to manage and identify inputs and efforts.

There was a particularly acute source of stress and it wasn’t until a few hours after that I caught myself behaving in a stress-induced anxious way. Seeing those symptoms of anxiety was what made me realize that I was having a problem. In this case, it was the OCD-like symptoms (wanting to be ultra-precise and repeating something as needed to get it “right”) that I caught myself doing automatically.

 


It’s not ideal that I have to deal with these things. But that’s part of who I am right now, so I do manage them. And I’m getting better at doing so.

I do have some control: I’ll continue with the low caffeine, I’ve cut down my “information diet” (still the wrong name), and I’ll do some exercise that helps my mood and overall evenness. I am not without agency. Feels good even to say that and to know it is true.

In a moment like this where I feel like I understand the long-term nature of my mental illness, feel some power and ability to grow and manage better as a human, I’d like to thank those who have helped me get to this point. So far, those people haven’t been people who I know in person, so I can’t yet – but may some day. Because I can’t thank them, I feel a burden – they have gifted me this hope, and I want to return the favor. That’s probably part of why I seek to help others around me with their mental health, where I can.

So I’m saying thanks for helping: R, W, M, & J. You have guided and inspired and I’m better for your effort.

 

… also, this blog was started on just a “do it” feeling. But I think it’s been very helpful for me. The thoughts are nascent in my head, but the thinking is refined when worked into full sentences for the blog. And I benefit from understanding myself better.


Hey look, a song in my head.


Photo Credit: eltpics


 

The Progress is Slow & Thanks to Helpers

I hate being right (or, 1 weird trick to get back to sleep)

2.39am

If there is one weird trick to get back to sleep, I don’t know what it is – but I think it’s like a unicornasaurus: mythical.

I wasn’t sure if I was just starting a (sub-)manic phase. Well, definitely yes. There have been several things I would have expected to make me “drop” down out of (sub-)mania, but they have not had that effect. Instead, the (sub-)mania just hums along like an unstoppable* freight train.

So I am awake in the quiet of the night, punctuating the stillness with typing and pushing back the dark with the soft glow of a screen.


Options

I’ve tried several methods to handle these periods. Before I started to recognizing this as a “sub-manic” period that has a symptom of disruptive sleep, I thought of this as a sleep problem: waking up in the middle of the night. I have some sleep problems, this was another symptom. When it inevitably went away it was because I had conquered that problem with the right mix of actions.

Years ago, I didn’t fight it at all. In much more of a “fixed mindset” about myself, I thought: “I just have insomnia.” Which is somewhat true, but even still I can make change and have some effects.

Some things I’ve tried:

  • Fighting the “Sleep Problem”
    This was trying to treat it as a sleep problem. Trying to do things to be able to sleep through the night, or get back to sleep when I awoke.
    Working with lights, timing of going to bed, what activities doing in bed, working on better sleeping habits, evaluating noises, light, temperature and other environmental issues …
    I would try a few things and then the sleeping problem would just “go away” at the beginning of next phase of cycle. So it seemed like a win. But I learned that what “worked” one round usually didn’t work the next time.
  • Medicating
    This is really a sub-category of fighting. I didn’t get into a lot of sleep medications, just light over-the-counter (OTC) solution, but I know there are people who medicate to sleep more or less for their entire lives.
  • When Awake: Relaxing Activities
    I tried various techniques to relax. This was still “treating a sleep problem” but the different here was that it was aiming at the acute “sleep awake” moment. So reading, or listening to relaxing things. I might get up for awhile and read and then go back to bed. Various common methods for dealing with sleep issues.
  • Treating the “mind racing” Symptom
    Since the waking up in the middle of sleep was often accompanied with a mind racing with a million thoughts, I tried to treat that symptom as well. Thinking that maybe that was the root of the problem.
    I had a way to write down the thoughts, so I could deal with them later by getting them out of my head (still a good idea). I tried various methods so I could avoid light while doing this. I tried being careful about my pre-bed activities: aiming for a calm mind.
  • “Roll with It”: Get Up
    Getting up for a period and doing something is straight-forward. If you think of a sleep problem, then this might be accepting the problem or giving in. You might restrict what you do.
    But since I don’t see this as a sleep problem at its core, I don’t stress about what I do or don’t do when I get up. When you’re awake during the daytime, you have ways of deciding what you’ll do – same rules apply here.

 

I think that a lot of the sleep hygiene and training mechanisms are helpful. And sometimes probably some of the awakeness periods can be lessened with such techniques. But it is a bit like treating a leaky hose by applying tape to the leak in the hose. It can be work and you can spend time finding the right tape. But turning off the spigot is a lot more effective**.

 

That last method – getting up – is what I am doing now. I had tried this previously for periods of time but hadn’t been doing it recently***.

I’d like to think that along with “rolling with it”, I’m also trying to deal with it on a deeper level. In the hose analogy above, I’m seeing the leaking hose and thinking: “I really should turn off the water”. And I’m trying to figure out the cause of the water and ways to slow it or turn it off.

 

If you have a method that works for you, I would love to hear it as I need more good ideas to try.


This is the music that fills my head this morning.

 


* For now. I know this is is unstoppable just for now – for this phase of the cycle of the cyclothymia (“sub bipolar” / “sub manic depressive”).

** It’s a metaphor, it breaks down quickly. In this case, even if you turn off the spigot, you have to do something about the leak in the hose. Yes, I know, it’s very imperfect. Which analogy would you suggest?

*** For one thing, I hadn’t been having such strong “awakening” issues recently.

I hate being right (or, 1 weird trick to get back to sleep)