The Menopause and Bad Dreams

Before the menopause, I’d go to sleep at night and wake up 8 or 9 hours later feeling refreshed and ready for another day’s crap. I’ve slept through storms and earthquakes and that’s despite being over-sensitive to noise in the daytime. It was one of my better points that I could lose myself in my sleep. Nowadays, a cat farting in the next street wakes me, and that’s despite being deaf in one ear.

I’ve always had vivid dreams, but they’ve often been pleasant ones. The kind of dreams where you don’t want to wake up, like the one with Nick Cage, myself and a jacuzzi. However, once I entered into the peri-menopause, my dreams started to get weird, bordering on nightmares. So now I’m convinced that Quentin Tarantino writes my dream scripts because they are so f**ked up. Dreams of headless horses and eight-legged frogs hanging out of my bottom? And those are not the worst ones. Even Freud would shit himself. Trust me.

I naively thought my sleep would go back to how it was once I was post-meno, but that’s not how this thing works because Mother Nature is a COW. So, like any self-respecting autie, I got researching and after a few hours trawling the internet, I found out that bad dreams are a problem for many menopausal women and if I had to take a wild guess at why it happens, I’d say that it’s partly to do with the lack of oestrogen.

To explain it, we need to go back to the scurge of womanhood.

PERIODS!

Oestrogen levels plunge at week four of the monthly cycle and the lower it goes, the more you want to stab people and eat your own weight in chocolate. You get your period and you’re a grumpy bastard for a few days, (especially if you have painful periods). In that case, you live on painkillers and walk around with a hot water bottle permanently strapped to your pelvis area. Once the levels start to rise your sanity is restored and your family can breathe easy again because the beast is back in it’s cage, albeit temporarily.

So, you get the picture that oestrogen is the calming hormone, right?

Well, there is a natural decline in oestrogen during the menopause and once it’s gone, it’s gone, unless it’s replaced with HRT, and even then it’s only a temporary measure.

I remember that my dreams used to turn nasty when I was on my period, so maybe it’s not so surprising that nearly all my dreams are bad now I’m menopausal?

So, what to do about it?

I’ve been back and forth to the doctors desperately trying to find answers for my sleep problems. Gotta be honest here, they don’t have a clue and if I hear the word, ‘anxiety dear’ one more time, I will strangle the offender with their stethoscope.

HRT is no longer an option for me, and even if it was, once I stopped taking it I would go back to having shit dreams. So, I might as well get my head around the fact that bad dreams are my new ‘normal’ and work on what I expose my brain to throughout the day, because, believe me, it’s relative.

So, what can we do to improve our sleep?

Positivity

Negative thoughts find their way into our dreams, especially when ‘good cop’ oestrogen is no longer there to beat the shit out of them them with her truncheon. REM is the part of sleep where we process our emotions, so it stands to reason that negative thoughts throughout the day will manifest as nightmares, yes?

The answer is simple: Be mindful of your thoughts.

The World

The world can be a scary place. The news highlights high mega-shit humans can be and exposing ourselves to these horrors can be detrimental – as can watching disturbing movies and TV. For instance, I like my psychological thrillers, but I can guarantee a crap night’s sleep if I watch them before bed. I try to remind myself to do some light reading or watch a life-affirming movie or comedy. That said, I had the ‘frog up the arse’ dream after watching Victoria Wood – a comedian. I managed to decipher the dream (ish) and remembered her talking about some bloke in the same hospital as her who had ‘accidentally’ sat on top of his Dyson hoover attachment. As you do. So, that explains the arse bit. However, I still can’t explain the frog. Or why it had eight legs. Where is Freud when you need him, eh?

Calcium and Magnesium

Some women swear by taking calcium and magnesium supplements before bed. I’m doing this, but as I have only been taking them for a few days, there’s no improvement as yet. I would recommend taking citrate versions of these supplements as carbonate can be constipating. However, if you have diarrhea based IBS, carbonate might help to dry you up a bit AND help you to sleep. Win and win!

A Sodding Great Big Glass of Gin?

Alas, no.

Alcohol might propel you off into sleepyland quickly enough, but you will have weird dreams and wake up in the early hours with a dry mouth or needing a big wee. Sorry, but no alcohol before bed if you want to improve your dreams and sleep in general.

Eating Late

Eating big meals late at night can cause sleep disturbance and vivid dreams. This is because your digestive system requires a lot of energy to digest food. Your heart-rate will rise for a start. Light snacks (non-sugary) won’t affect you as much. In some cases, it will help to balance blood sugar levels because being hungry also interferes with sleep.

Sleeping Pills

As they are designed for short term use, I don’t recommend them because this isn’t a short-term problem. Sleeping pills are addictive and you might find you can’t sleep without them. If so, you are most likely addicted and that’s not great.

Our bodies play a part in bad dreams, especially with anxiety cases like me. I think our brains respond to stress hormone surges as we sleep. I have noticed that I typically wake up between 4.30 and 5.30. The dreams I have just before I wake (with my heart hammering) start off being fairly boring, but they always take a sinister turn. Just before my eyes fly open, in strolls Tarantino, and my dream turns into Reservoir Dogs. For example, this morning I was screaming in my dream. I was in imminent danger of being harmed by something unseen, but sinister, when I woke up with my heart pounding. Our heart rates naturally speed up during REM (when we dream) and my sensitised brain associates the increase in heart rate as danger and wakes me up. Clever, but annoying as fuck.

If this is you, my advice would be to get up once you wake up. No matter how early that is. It’s tempting to try and go straight back to sleep, but here’s the thing: Adrenalin is surging through your body and even if you manage to fall back to sleep, you will continue to have vivid dreams. It becomes a cycle. Get up, move about a bit and burn some of that adrenalin off!

We worry because it’s our hearts. Surely, all this waking up with rapid heart beats will cause us harm? The reality is that our hearts are designed to withstand adrenaline surges because this natural response keeps us alive. It’s unpleasant, but not dangerous. A few deep breaths and my heart rate is back to normal because I don’t add fear to the mix anymore, so I rarely have full-blown panic attacks. However, if these kind of symptoms are new for you, and are accompanied by chest pain and breathlessness, you should seek medical help.

There are many reasons why we have bad dreams. In being mindful of what we ingest, via our bodies AND minds, we can improve the situation. But I also think we just have to accept that some nights we are going to have crap dreams. So, lets not worry about it too much because that in itself will earn us a bad night’s sleep.

“Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” Stephen King

 

 

 

Autism and Burnout

Burnout is a chronic state of stress which leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. It might manifest as anxiety or depression or both.

The Signs Of Physical and Emotional Exhaustion

  • Fatigue: You lack energy and feel more tired than usual.
  • Insomnia: Starts with the occasional bad night and progresses to the inability to sleep or stay asleep every night.
  • Concentration: Lack of sleep affects concentration and the ability to complete tasks.
  • Physical Symptoms: Palpitations, chest pain, chills, stomach aches, headaches and hundreds of other physical symptoms that make you worry that you are gravely ill which in turn forces you even further down the wormhole.
  • Illness: Your body becomes more susceptible to immune related illness.
  • Appetite: You may lose your appetite or go the other way and over-eat, especially sugary or high-carb foods.

Alongside the physical signs, there are emotional signs.

  • Loss of enjoyment about things you love.
  • Negativity: You become pessimistic about everything. In my case, it isn’t glass half empty. It’s glass smashed into smithereens all over the floor!
  • Isolation: Socialising is hard work for most autistic people but during burnout, we don’t have the energy or inclination to socialise at all. This includes social media.
  • Detachment: As an autist, I have always felt detached from everybody else but detachment from burnout can be a detachment from everything including yourself.

When you reach this stage it is illness.

A lot of autistic people will reach burnout stage at some point in their lives. The reason is that trying to exist in an NT world is stressful and exhausting and the human body can only take so much battering from stress hormones before it starts to burnout.

Burnout.

Nervous Breakdown.

Shutdown.

Call it what you will but it ALL amounts to the same thing.

Your body has had enough and is no longer whispering words of warning to you. IT IS SCREAMING AT YOU TO FUCKING DO SOMETHING!

The whispers started for me as a small child when I constantly felt sick or threw up and was living in a constant state of fear.

The whispers got louder as a teenager when I developed an eating disorder as a way of trying to gain control of my own life.

As a twenty-something the whispers told me that it wasn’t normal to be seeing ‘black things’ scurrying across the floor that nobody else could see or imaginary spiders in front of my eyes.

At thirty-something I tried to shut the whispers up with alcohol.

At forty-something my mother died and I had my first nocturnal panic attack.

At 46 years of age I had a nervous breakdown.

Finally, my body said ‘ENOUGH’.

Physically and mentally, I burned out.

My body has pumped so much adrenalin into my system that my fight or flight response now triggers when it shouldn’t – like in response to my dreams or the heating coming on. This is why I have insomnia. This is why I wake up in the early hours every morning.

Why do autistic people burn out?

The more ‘highly functioning’ we are, the more is expected of us and the more we push ourselves to be neurotypical. People can’t see what’s going on inside of us. They just see somebody who ‘looks’ perfectly normal. The effort it takes to be able to pull this off is phenomenal and sooner or later, the consequences will be burnout.

A lot of autistic people suffer from anxiety and anxiety means fear.

We fear walking out of the front door into a noisy and confusing world. We fear having to socialise. We fear having to make small conversation at work. We fear that we will lose control. We fear people being able to see past our pretence of being neurotypical. We fear rejection. We fear there being no escape route.

We fear.

Our hearts beat faster. Our bodies are constantly primed to fight or run. The fight or flight response is triggered numerous times a day and over time it takes longer for our bodies to recover from it. Eventually, even the fittest of us will succumb to illness. Either physical, mental or both.

Once you have had a breakdown you are never the same. It’s an invisible scar. A wormhole opened up and you know that it won’t take a lot for you to lose yourself down there again. As if life wasn’t already tough enough? Now there is this fragility about you. The difference is that by now you know you have to take better care of yourself and your needs.

You learn to say no.

You learn to let go of people/situations that drain you.

You accept your limitations.

You will hang up the neurotypical ‘skin suit’ for good.

What the fark is a skin suit?

If you’ve ever seen Men in Black, you’ll be familiar with the big ol’ ‘bug’ who comes to Earth. The alien nicks farmer Edgar’s skin so he can look less, er, conspicuous. Only it’s not his skin, so it doesn’t fit. He looks weird and it makes him uber cranky because it feels pretty shit to be wearing someone else’s skin. A bit like trying to cram yourself into size ten jeans when you are a generous twelve..

Feeling ‘alien’ is a feeling that a lot of autistic people identify with. We feel like we don’t belong here and a lot of us pretend to be neurotypical in order to not stand out. It’s an act and acting requires effort. When we shut the outside world out, it’s such a relief to finally be us.

My breakdown coincided with my diagnosis and even though I am still fighting to rid myself of panic disorder and insomnia, I am finally free of the constricting neurotypical suit I’ve been inhabiting for the majority of my life.

I feel lighter.

I don’t push myself to be ‘normal’ anymore.

If I can’t go to social functions I don’t beat myself up about it.

If I can’t face shopping in the supermarket, I’ll do it online.

I haven’t given up on life. I just find ways that make living a little easier.

When I get overwhelmed I shut myself away like I have always done. The difference is that I no longer feel guilty about it. People can think what the hell they like because you know what? They will anyway because that’s what people do.

This is no longer about them.

It’s about you.

It’s about self-care.

With social media, I get overwhelmed pretty quickly so I have learned to give myself breaks from it and to limit time spent on the internet. The internet can get pretty intense and I soak up the negative stuff like a sponge. Bad news and hate is all over the internet. It affects me, then I get ill. Yes, we live in a computer age and the internet can be useful but it can also be damaging to your mental health so it’s up to us to police our internet time so it works for us not against us.

I have also accepted that I can’t do ‘life’ on my own so now I ask for help when I need it. Being autistic, there are certain things that I struggle with. Asking for help, isn’t being weak. It’s self-care.

The thing is that I’ve have put so much effort into existing that I’m exhausted and for what?

To fit in?

So I don’t offend people by saying no?

I’m done with all that.

We should all be done with that, right?

If you can identify with this post. Please don’t let another day go by where you live your life on somebody else’s terms. If it hasn’t already, it will make you ill.

It’s time to be the fabulous human being you were born to be.

It’s time to be you.

“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy. Expect to be accommodated.” ~ Victoria Moran – Lit From Within

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety: The Night Shift

 

What were you doing at 2am this morning?

Chances are you were asleep.

Me?

I was cleaning my kitchen.

Are you insane?

Well yes, but I don’t usually snap on the Marigolds in the wee early hours of the morning..

Thing is. I went to bed at 10pm last night and woke up having one of my not so wonderful nocturnal panic attacks. I’d been dreaming so I presumed it was around 4 or 5am, which is the time I usually wake up with a racing heart..

Then I looked at the clock.

IT WAS 11.30 PM!!

There was an ‘What the actual fark?!’ moment, right there.

I’d only been asleep for about an hour?

This was alarming in itself as I am used to waking up around 4 or 5 am. I have woken early on other occasions but when you are half asleep things are confusing and unfamiliarity intensifies fear which intensifies the sensations of anxiety.

I my breathing exercises but on this occasion they didn’t work. I was just too wired.

The adrenalin surged through my body affecting every part of me from my head to my toes. This is the sensation where my body feels electrified combined with a horrible feeling of foreboding. It’s a majorly shit feeling but I’m used to these sensations. I’ve experienced them more times than I can remember. Mostly, the deep breathing works, but sometimes my heart races on regardless.

That’s when I have to get up.

This was one such occasion so at 11.45, I gave in and got up.

On walking into the kitchen, my dog looked at me as if to say, ‘What the fuck are you doing, Human? I was having this totally awesome dream about me, a fit Dalmatian and a pallet load of Bonios and in you walk lookin’ all pale and shaky. Don’t expect me to lick your sweaty face anytime soon, yeah?’

Then she started licking her arse..

I don’t blame her. Like me, my dog is a creature of habit and doesn’t like surprises. I often wonder if she is autistic too?

My first job was to flick the kettle on for some herbal tea. Ginger for the nausea. Then I filled in one of my trigger forms for health anxiety. This is where I talk myself down from my state of irrational fear by asking myself what my worst fear is and what factual evidence I have for it. For instance, my fear might be that I will have a heart attack or my heart will stop and I will, like, die. Factual evidence for this thought are my symptoms – such as palpitations and chest pain.

Then I consider the evidence against this thought. In my case, I have had recent and extensive tests which all showed my heart to be working as it should albeit a bit fast due to anxiety. There is no evidence of heart disease. Also, I have had these episodes for the last 6 years and I am still here.

I remind myself that even if the worst was to happen, I have experienced and come through a major health scare when I was bleeding internally in my 37th week of pregnancy. My life and that of my son was in danger. However, despite understanding the seriousness of the situation, I felt no fear and did not panic. This suggests that if the shit was to hit the fan, I would cope.

I also remind myself that, relative to it’s power input, the heart is the strongest organ in the human body. It’s designed to keep going despite stress or trauma. This organ kicks arse yet because of the sensations of racing and humping, I imagine it to be frail or delicate? There is no medical evidence to support heart failure or disease. My heart is merely responding to the fight or flight mechanism. A necessary bodily function. It’s there to keep us alive. My brain doesn’t know that it’s my thoughts that are triggering the response. It’s simply doing it’s job.

Next, I consider the other possible explanations for the panic attack. What have I done differently?

In this case, I had eaten too much sugar and too many cups of decaf. Even decaf has a percentage of caffeine, so if you drink enough and are sensitive enough, it will affect you. I also ate a spicy meal which I know affects me. When I woke up, my mouth felt like a flip-flop, so I could also have been dehydrated and dehydration can trigger panic attacks.

So what did I do to cope with the situation?

I cleaned my sodding kitchen!

I worked with the adrenalin instead of feeding it with irrational shit.

I completed my worksheet by coming up with a realistic thought about my situation and this is what I wrote..

This is unpleasant but I have been here hundreds of times before.

These sensations always pass.

I can cope with this.

At around 3am, I reevaluated the intensity of my thoughts, emotions and sensations and noted that it had gone from 90% fear to 10% with my physical symptoms being less intense, so much so that I was able to go back to sleep.

It’s 8am as I am typing this. I have had four hours sleep and I feel exhausted but I got through another night shift.

I didn’t add fear to the fear.

I didn’t phone for an ambulance.

I didn’t disturb anybody else.

I will not fear going to sleep tonight.

If I have another panic attack, it won’t kill me.

It never has.

“That’s the advantage of insomnia. People who go to be early always complain that the night is too short, but for those of us who stay up all night, it can feel as long as a lifetime. You get a lot done” ~ Banana Yoshimoto

 

 

 

 

The Many Moods Of The Menopause

Most women are used to being moody for two weeks out of every month, right? Our significant others understand that all a woman wants during her premenstrual and menstrual phase are painkillers, a hot water bottle and a family size bar of chocolate and if we don’t get those things we’ll be up on a manslaughter charge. Diminished responsibility, obvs.

Here’s the thing..

Menopausal women don’t get a break from the mood swings. The length of time it can take for things to settle down vary but it can take up to 15 years for all the symptoms to subside.

FIFTEEN YEARS!

When it comes to our ever changing moods – think of them as a relay race where Happy starts off and passes the baton to Irritation – who passes the baton to Anger – who passes the baton to Psycho – who passes the baton to Melancholy – who passes the baton to Guilt who sprints through to the finish.

THEN IT ALL STARTS AGAIN AND NOR NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER.

Irritation

Everything and everybody irritates you. Nuff said?

Psycho

This is turbo-charged irritability.

Scenario: Mrs X has struggled with hot flushes ALL day. Her boss is an inconsiderate arse biscuit who’s fed up of her numerous visits to the loo to stick her furnace face under the cold tap. She fights her way home in rush hour traffic, then opens her front door to find her living room is a shit-tip. The carpet is 50% dog hair, 50% Pringles. The dishes are doing the leaning tower of Pisa in the sink. The house smells like somebody died in it and the culprits behind the chaos are staring lifelessly at the X Box in some kind of gaming-induced coma. The only reason Mrs X knows they are alive is because their thumbs are still moving..

Mrs X realises that while she’s been slaving away at work, the lazy oafs she heaved out of her vagina sixteen years ago have been sat on their backsides killing zombies all day and calling each other ‘dude’ or ‘man’.

‘Pass the Pringles, Man’

‘Dude. WTF?! You killed me!’

Mrs X starts to feel the familiar sensation of heat rising from her chest upwards..

This is where she goes from irritated to PSYCHO.

She starts yelling. This may or may not be coherent. Then, she starts chucking stuff. First, her handbag hits the wall. Then she frenziedly starts yanking wires out of sockets, spitting out a few effs here and there. This gets her offspring’s attention because to prematurely end a gaming session is like shutting off a life support machine. If you were to look closely enough, you’d notice that they were turning blue..

Once the X Box is in bits all over the floor, Mrs X slams off upstairs for a weep and by the time she resurfaces, the living room’s had a make-over, the dishes are done and all the knives have been hidden.

Unsurprisingly, ‘Psycho Mum’ gets things done because she’s fucking terrifying!

Anxiety

Fear loves the menopause. Having entered into this stage of life, we become more aware than ever of our mortality. We gauge our longevity against that of our mothers and grandmothers. We fear the future. We fear getting old. We fear forgetting. We fear being alone.

We fear everything.

Melancholy

Once we know our reproductive days are over, some women break out the Champagne. Others just get sad. They grieve for the babies they will never have despite knowing that they wouldn’t have had anymore anyway because they’ve, like, been there, done that and worn the tee shirt OVER THEIR HEADS!

Also, their wombs are like withered balloons.

In all honesty, if they were to heave another human out of their fadginas, they would probably need a safety net as part of the birthing plan.

So, we cry for our youthfulness because it’s apparently buggered off, dragging our ovaries with it. A few gins and Spandau Ballet’s Greatest Hits on the iPod and we’re sobbing for Britain. Why? Because when Tony Hadley first crooned the lyrics to True back in 1983 – when we were in full possession of our hormones, faculties (ish) and teeth.

Also, we had GREAT hair!

Disconnection

Sometimes women find that their entire personalities change. They don’t recognise themselves anymore. Their bodies are different. Their minds are different. They feel different.

Sometimes, women feel as if they they’re going crazy and people say: ‘You’re effing crazy, you are!’

To be fair, they have just lobbed hubby’s best golf club over the back fence in a fit of hormonal rage..

But you know what? This menopause lark is NOT easy for many of us.

If people could spend a day being us – they would understand that it’s not craziness – it’s exhaustion, depletion and bewilderment.

It’s also a sense of disconnection, as if we are observing ourselves? Rather than owning our own bodies and minds. It’s hard to understand that we can never be the same as we were before the menopause. It’s just not biologically possible.

Hysteria

Have you ever started laughing at something funny for it to morph into hysterical crying?

This happened to me.

One minute I was laughing at Victoria Wood singing about being Freda being bent over backwards on her hostess trolley. Proper belly laughing. The next I was crying hysterically and OH was debating whether or not to call the chaps in white coats to come and inject me.

The cause?

Hormones.

Those little shits are the reason behind ALL the crappy bits of menopause.

Lack of Motivation

Basically, you get days where you have zero motivation. That pile of ironing? Sod it. Need to go shopping? Sod that too! You make a date with your duvet and something with Colin Firth/ Sean Bean/whoever in it and woe betide any human over the age of 14 who tries to come between you and your 13.5 togs!

Happy

We get moments of happiness too. Hurrah! Granted, these moments can turn from happy to not happy a bit sharpish (Boo) but you’ve got to understand that it’s all down to hormone imbalance.

It won’t always be this way.

One day your feral hormones will start behaving themselves. The hot flushes will trail off. The moods will stop swinging. The brain fog will clear and you will accept your new ‘norm’.

But inside you’ll always be 16, eh?

Mullet Queen 1986

 

 

 

Why Inactivity Doesn’t Help Anxiety.

Today, I’m talking about cortisol.

‘What the chuff’s cortisol?’ I hear you say. ‘ It sounds like a mouthwash!’

No, that’s Corsodyl.

Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear (or stress) as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. Normally, it’s released into the body when the fight or flight button is activated, like when you have a near miss in the car or you can’t find your purse at the checkouts in Tesco. Once the danger is passed, cortisol subsides and the body returns to normal. When somebody has panic disorder they become sensitised and their fight-or-flight mechanism responds to EVERYTHING as if it’s a threat. Put it this way. I once had a panic attack while watching Mary Berry on TV. I mean, who knew that Mary Berry could be so bloody scary? Maybe it was the way she was chopping her carrots?

We’d be forgiven for thinking that we should be lying in bed or sitting in a chair all day because our bodies are burning calories without doing anything and in any case, we feel too tired to do anything. Right?

Wrong.

The worst thing you can do when your cortisol levels are sky high is sit on your arse because anxiety LOVES inactivity. Why? Because it means that it has your undivided attention. Rest is good. We need to rest but only if that rest includes sleep or doing relaxation exercises. Lying on our beds, tormenting our minds with unhelpful thoughts isn’t restful. In fact, we are KEEPING THE CORTISOL FLOWING.

We need to break the cycle.

We need to DO stuff that distracts the mind from our fruitcake thoughts.

The idea is to bring those cortisol levels down, so go for a run or a long ramble. Take a gentle walk or do some light housework. Have a potter round the garden. Don’t those weeds need pulling up? Paint a picture. Knit a crap scarf. Put a shelf up. Mop the floor. Clean a window. Whatever you fancy as long as it distracts you from your thoughts of doom.

‘I can’t do it. I have no energy’

‘I’m too tired’

‘What’s the point?’

‘Just leave me TO DIE’

The point is that you will feel BETTER for doing it. No matter how retched you feel when you start, you will feel better for doing it because you will have distracted yourself from those unhelpful thoughts. Each time you do this you are bringing those stress hormone levels down. Do you see?

The trick is not to think about doing stuff because you will only talk yourself out of it.

‘I’m too tired today. I’ll do it tomorrow’

Tomorrow will come with the same old excuses but meanwhile those stress hormones are running riot – like a room full of two year olds. Don’t think about going for a walk. Just DO it. Tell yourself that, yes, you feel like crap but you will feel better for it when you’ve been. Get your coat. Open the door. GO.

Even at my very worst, I understood that going out made me feel better. I have walked down the street retching into my hand. But I kept walking and when I got home, I felt better than I did before I went out. It works. It REALLY does. Trust Mrs Fruitcake because she knows her shit. By Mrs Fruitcake, I mean me.

Cortisol & The Mornings

Not the name of a band. I’m talking about cortisol and it’s role in waking us up..

Normally, cortisol levels rise during the early morning hours and are highest about 7 a.m. This is where you start to wake up. It’s a gradual process..

Normally, cortisol level diminishes throughout the day.

Normal goes out the window with anxiety disorders. With a lot of us, there is no gentle start to the day. Our day starts with some bastard standing over us with a megaphone, screaming, ‘WAKEY WAKEEEEEEEEEY!!’ – metaphorically speaking, of course.

See, what happens is this. Normally, people have really low levels of cortisol in the evenings but after a day’s worrying, the anxious person’s levels are sky high before they even try to sleep. We toss and turn for hours, then finally fall into anxious sleep. Then our bodies try to wake us up. Our heart rates increase, blood pressure goes up and hormones go FULL ON NUTS around our bodies in order to rouse us from sleep.

Think of it this way. The non-anxious person’s morning cortisol is the long distance runner. His pace is slow but steady only gathering momentum in the final few laps. The anxious person’s cortisol is Usain Bolt. Nuff said?

This waking state can feel really uncomfortable because we are sensitised.

THIS is why so many people with anxiety feel worse in the mornings.

THIS is why most of my panic attacks happen on waking.

I’ve found that lying in bed after waking up suddenly at 5am isn’t the best idea. Even if I manage to fall back to sleep, the chances are that I will have dreams of the ‘orrible kind. It’s best to get up and go and do something. I find that having a piece of toast and a cup of herbal tea helps to sort out low blood sugar levels.

It’s also worth thinking about what you are eating (and drinking) at night because if you are are eating a heavy meal late at night, you are asking for trouble as digesting food requires the body to work it’s arse off. The heavier the meal, the harder it has to work. Yes? However, going to bed hungry is just as bad. A well thought out snack an hour or so before you go to bed will help to stabilise blood sugar levels. By snack, I don’t mean crisps. I’m thinking more along the lines of a milky drink and a plain piece of toast.

Here, I will sneak in a little note about what you DO before bedtime. Are you watching horror films or psychological thrillers? Are you listening to upbeat music? If you are, you are ramping up the stress hormones. An un-sensitised nervous system will cope with Freddie Kruger at 10pm. At worst it will result in a bad dream but when you are sensitised, you are adding fuel to the fire, so be mindful of what you are doing in those few hours before bedtime. Think, ‘winding down’, not winding yourself up.

If mornings are worse for you, you could try exercising?

Work with the adrenalin. Go for a run and get those endorphins going. If elective sweating isn’t for you – or if you find it too stimulating – go for a walk or do some relaxation techniques. Experiment and see what works for you. Just don’t fear the sensations. Your body is doing what it should, it’s just that you are sensitised.

It won’t always be like this.

Creative Commons Image Via Pixabay

 

Mind, Shut Your Mouth

 

Would you like to know what my mind is like at night?

Pull up a chair. Get comfy and we will begin…

**************************

I’m dreaming. Yet another night terror. The third tonight. I try to fall back to sleep but I can’t because the dream was horrible. The harder I try to push the thoughts away, the stronger they become. Then, I notice that my arms and legs are tingling…

Oh my God. I feel weird. Weirder than usual, that is.

You’ve been here a trillion times before. They are just sensations.

But this is different. It feels different.

A wave of nausea sweeps over me and my body feels icy cold. My rational mind is fighting with the fear and somewhere in-between is a song with it’s verse stuck on repeat.

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

You know the GP has told you that the tingling is Spondylosis. You’re catastrophising!

Yeah BUT I’ve had no tests. It could be a brain tumour or MS. I’m partly deaf in one ear. What if it’s not normal hearing loss. What if it’s a tumour?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

I see myself in a wheelchair and feel the surge of stress hormones as they perceive the imagery as a real threat.

This is unhelpful. Breathe!

I remind myself to breathe from my tummy and I feel calmer for a minute.

BUT the tingling is STILL THERE!

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

How would I cope with a brain tumour?

It has to be a brain tumour because I keep forgetting stuff.

That’s part of the menopause, you loon.

Yes, BUT…

But what?

It COULD be?

I force myself to remember things. Things I know I should remember, like my name, my kids names and what I had for tea.

I can’t remember what I had for tea! I CAN’T REMEMBER!!!

See! It IS a brain tumour!

No, it’s not!

I have migraines!

Yeah, since you were 23!

How would OH cope with me having a brain tumour?

The Boy wouldn’t cope without me.

HOW WOULD HE COPE WITHOUT ME?

How would I tell my lads?

I start to cry and my breathing becomes shallow. So shallow that it physically hurts to breathe. Then my entire body shakes uncontrollably..

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Oh this MOTHERFUNGLING SONG!!

It’s ear-worm because it was the last song you heard on the radio. Think yourself lucky it wasn’t Justin Bieber, eh?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Use your distraction techniques, you KNOW what to do!

OK, I’ll think of countries and go through the alphabet.

Atta girl!

A Australia

B Brain Tumour

Oh ffs

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

What if OH has a crash on the way to work. I’d be on my own. I COULDN’T COPE OMG!!

What if he didn’t have a crash?

YES BUT..

Or what if he had one but wasn’t hurt at all?

YES BUT..

What is it with you always killing people off?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Mind shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

PLEASE.

JUST STOP!

They are just thoughts, fruitcake.

They can’t hurt you.

It’s 3.30am. The stress hormones have gone feral. You know this. Fear is LOUDEST when the world is at it’s quietest. You know this. BREATHE!

I’M TRYING TO F**KING BREATHE!

Try harder!

Keep trying. Keep doing it over and over and over. These sensations will pass. They always do.

Yeah, but this time it’s different. THIS time, I’m REALLY ill.

Mind shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!

****************************

Dawn approaches and the room gets lighter. Oh the RELIEF that night has passed. The thought clouds my mind that the days will start to get shorter soon and I will have to endure this crap for longer..

Daytime is easier because there are distractions. At night, it’s just me and my mind. I glance over to OH and resent the fact that he is sleeping soundly. I feel like elbowing him in the ribs to wake him up but I don’t. Instead, I look at him and whisper ‘You lucky git’. Because I am aware of EVERYTHING. This is when I feel that I am the ONLY person on the planet. Yet I know that I am not because there are thousands of us fighting with our minds. I want to put my arms round each and every one of you because I know how hard it is.

Exhausted, I fall into a dream, so fragmented and bizarre you’d think I was on some kind of hallucinogenic drug trip. Yet I’m not on any drugs. It’s because the stress hormones are flooding my body. I know why it’s happening. I’m a bloody expert when it comes to anxiety. It’s just that fear overrides rationality.

Sleep brings little respite for me unless I manage to get those magical two hours in before midnight but anybody with insomnia knows that a nighttime hour feels more like two, three or even four. Night time is different to day time. No distractions, see, and the silence only amplifies the mind chatter.

My mind is tired. After five years of panic disorder, it’s exhausted. My instinct is to fight but I have to accept all this for what it is. Just thoughts. My thoughts are NOT reality. If they were, I’d be in deep shit. My body is reacting as if they are but it’s up to me to change that by changing how I think. For a few months, my sleep was better. Not great but bearable so I know I can achieve it. It will just take time and instead of fearing another night, I need to accept whatever comes. You drown faster when you struggle, right? If you float, you have a better chance of surviving. That’s what I need to do. Float.

I have done my best to describe what happens to me at night and this is by no means a one off. Nor is it the worst case. I’ve gone for somewhere in the middle. But this is only about half an hours worth. Can you imagine hours of this shit? I hope you can’t because anxiety disorder is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. If you can identify with any of it, I feel for you and you need to know that you are not alone. There are thousands of us in the insomnia club.

“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.”Poppy Z Brite

 

Too Much Information

The internet is a great invention. There is literally nothing that you can’t find out via the world wide web in a matter of seconds and I quite like the fact that I can do my shopping online while wearing my rollers and tea-stained nightie. This means that I don’t have to put myself through the sensory nightmare of crowded supermarkets. I also like how I can keep in touch with people without having to physically write because I HATE writing. However, there is a downside to the internet and that is INFORMATION OVERLOAD.

The accurate term is ‘Cognitive Overload’.

Our brains are designed to take in lots of information but it seems that technology is moving way too fast for our brains to keep up. Cognitive overload can lead to stress and for sensitive people, like myself, it can make you PROPER CRANKY.

Wandering around a bookstore the other week, yes ACTUAL BOOKS, I was amazed (not) at how many relaxation/meditation books there are now with authors urging us to ‘unplug’ and simplify our lives. I came away with a book called, ‘Unplugged’. I was attracted to it because I was overwhelmed. After a four month hiatus from debilitating anxiety, I was hurtling towards burnout stage faster than a seagull after a Harry Ramsden chip on Blackpool pier..

One night I sat up in bed watching the hours crawl by (AGAIN) and I told myself that I would do whatever it took to get myself back to generally insanity, as opposed to ‘AM LOSING IT, DOC’ – insanity.

I realised that the internet is both friend and foe and that my use of technology was taking up the majority of my day, in one form or another. The first thing I did was to put an ‘out of office’ message on my Twitter. I normally just disappear for a few weeks but this time I felt obliged to inform the world of my absence. I suspect many may be praying that I don’t return ha ha.

The thing about Twitter is the volume of information in one hit. It’s a real emotional roller-coaster. On top of this emotional baggery is the news of the day – fires, terrorism, deaths, politics and Trump being a dick. It is an PHENOMENAL amount of information. The brain then has to trawl it’s way through the quagmire of info and somehow make sense of it. Is it any wonder that my dreams have been psychotic, if the last thing at night I am reading is this lot?

I’ve adjusted the brightness on my phone and enabled the night-setting. On my Kindle, I have changed my font to white on a black background which is easier on the eyes. I also make sure that I don’t have my phone by my bedside at night. If it’s there, it’s too easy to open it up and check in with the world because I will be gutted if I miss that Instagram pic of somebody’s ingrowing toenail, eh?

There is also evidence to suggest that Wifi signals emitted from phones and gadgets next to your bed can interfere with your quality of sleep, so if you are sleeping poorly and you charge your gadgets next to your bed, or worse, sleep with them under your pillow – it might be an idea to remove them from your room and see if your sleep improves? Why people sleep with their phones under their pillows is beyond me. Vibrating phones in pockets, I get. But pillows? No.

Its not the technology itself that is making me ill, well, maybe it is when it comes to migraines. It’s more to do with the amount of exposure I am getting and that choice is mine. Nobody forces me to check Twitter or look at pictures of somebody’s pie and chips on Instagram. It’s me.

I knew the amount of information I exposed myself to was hurting me. I was incredibly stressed out and needed to do something before I got back into breakdown territory. I couldn’t go back there again. NO FLIPPING WAY, HOSE!

So, I experimented..

The Experiment: To See If Using Electronics Less Improves Stress and Sleep

Monday

Kindle – 2 and 1/2 hours

Internet – 1/2 hour (e mails)

Instagram – 1 hour

Total = 4 hours

Sleep – 1am until 6am.

Reason I was so late was because ah wes watchin Catherine Cookson on telly an ‘ah forgot abyeut the time. It turk us an hoor tuh git tur sleep, pet. :/

Quality of was sleep improved.

Dreams not exactly sweet but nowhere near as funky.

Tuesday

Internet (e mails & blog) 1 hour 5 mins

Kindle (three hours)

Instagram 30 mins

Total = 4 hours 35 mins

Sleep -10pm until 7am

Woke up a few times in-between but not enough for it to be a problem. Dreams improved.

Wednesday

Internet (e mails & blog) 30 mins

Kindle – 4 hours

Instagram 30 mins

Sleep – 12am- 7.30am

I struggled to get off to sleep, probably because I’d watched another strife ridden Cathy Cookson before bed. I tossed about for a couple of hours but once asleep I pretty much stayed asleep. I had one of my reoccurring dreams where I buy the house where I was born, only it’s a lot bigger than it actually was/is. Also, it’s part house/part social club where you access the magical world of darts, pool and beer via the loft? No. I have no idea where it’s come from either. A pleasant addition to this particular version of the dream was that my parents were in it. My DEAD parents. Only, Dad was telling me I would have to get rid of some of my books.

WHAT?!

That one is easy enough to decipher because we need a new book case as I have too many books! Actually, what am I saying? You can NEVER have too many books!

Thursday

Internet (e mails & blog) 30 mins

Kindle 4 hours

Instagram 15 mins

Sleep – 11pm until 7am.

I had a few dodgy dreams but the one thing I did differently was to read my Kindle until 9.30 pm. *slaps wrist*

Friday

Internet (e mails, blog)  1 hour

Kindle 4 hours

Instagram 10 mins

Sleep = 10pm – 6.45 am

Dreams were NON ANXIETY and representative of what I had done that day.

Saturday

Went on electronics for hours on end to see if it was, like, a placebo effect.

It wasn’t.

I was wired all day and struggled to sleep at night. Stephen King was writing my dreams again and I awake from 5am on Sunday morning feeling like I’d been steam-rollered.

Conclusion

The evidence strongly suggests that my use of technology IS affecting my anxiety, sleep and general well-being and by making a few teensy adjustments I have improved things significantly and I have to admit that I feel better for it.

When it comes to dreams, my brain was starting to decipher actual things in my life instead of random rubbish via the internet and because I was getting more restful sleep, my body was feeling more refreshed on waking. I may not been Julie Andrews first thing but I wasn’t the total Mumzilla, either. I had more energy and my short-term memory was less shit. It was by no means a cure but it was a good enough improvement for me to consider spending less time on electronics for the foreseeable.

If you spend a lot of time on computers and stuff and are struggling with anxiety or sleep, maybe it’s time you unplugged?

Disconnect from technology to reconnect with yourself.

 

 

 

I Dream of Sleep

I don’t remember when I last had a good night’s sleep. You know, the kind of sleep where you close your eyes and the next thing you know it’s morning?

I go off to sleep well enough, providing I don’t do anything too stimulating in the evening. For instance, I have found that if I write a blog post after 6pm, I am unable to switch off. I can lie in bed for three hours or more before I finally fall into an anxiety-filled sleep. Then I wake up at 4am, then 5, then six…

Sleep is vital to our well-being. We know that much and if our sleep is crap, we feel like crap. It’s that simple.

Anxiety sufferers know that a good night’s sleep is hard to come by. Medication may help in the short-term but it isn’t the long-term answer because it doesn’t address what is causing the insomnia in the first place.

When we have an anxiety disorder, we are in fight or flight mode 24/7. Adrenalin floods the body, mostly when we don’t want it to, like when we are trying to sleep or relax. The saber-toothed tiger is always there – ready to rip our throat out.

IT GONNA EAT YOU AND YOU GONNA DIE!!!!

Under these circumstances, maybe you can understand why a good night’s sleep is so elusive?

I dream but my dreams are funked up. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino lives in my head with creative input from Tim Burton and Alfred Hitchcock. However, there are a few things that we can do to improve our sleep.

Routine

Keep to a routine and try to be in bed the same time every night. Do like the old people do and be in bed by 10pm with a Horlicks and a copy of People’s Friend. OK, maybe not People’s Friend but some gentle reading. Remember, what you think about before you go to sleepyland, will affect your dreams…

Temperature

Try not to have your bedroom too warm or too cold.

For the menopausal insomniacs, you’ll just have to do your best, m’dears. Dangle a leg out of the bedclothes if you’re too hot and shove it back in when you get too cold. If your other half is emitting too much body heat in summer – roll the motherfungler off the bed and throw a pillow over his face to muffle his snores.

Exercise

Go for a run or walk the dog. Any exercise is better than nothing at all. However, it’s not a good idea to exercise in the evening because it’s too STIMULATING. Maybe a bit of gentle stretching?

Light

Try and have your boudoir as dark as is possible. Use blackout blinds if needs be. If all else fails, use a sleep mask.

Noise

If sounds annoy you, shove some earplugs in. If the silence annoys you, listen to some relaxation apps, like a nice calming waterfall. Just make sure to have a big wee before you go to bed, or you’ll be up and down to the toilet, which kind of defeats the object of getting a good night’s sleep.

Gadgets

Don’t take your phones. iPad’s, laptops and other electronic paraphernalia to bed with you. They all emit a blue light which tricks your brain into thinking it’s awake. Read a book or have a shag. If you live alone, shag yourself.

Sex is good because it releases relaxing hormones called endorphins, which is why blokes are snoring like warthogs within five minutes of eliminating their ‘man-milk’. You get me?

Diet

Drink six cans of Cola a day if you must but don’t complain when you’re buzzing like a frenzied bee at 3 o clock in the morning. Ditch the caffeine or make sure you only have one or two cups, max, and AVOID AVOID AVOID after about 3pm. There are some decent decaf options around. Fair dos, some taste like camel barf but if you shop around you are bound to find something that you can live with. I recommend a nice decaf Earl Grey.

Relaxation

Breathing exercises, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, listening to classical music. It’s good practice to set aside some ‘you time’ each day.

Worrying

Don’t lie in bed worrying about paying bills or shit stuff like that. You’ll just drive yourself nuts. Tell yourself you will worry about them in the morning instead. Fill your frazzled mind with thoughts of stars, unicorns and moonbeams or just take yourself off for a walk along an imaginary beach. Imagine the waves gently rolling in and out. Then a sun-lounger magically appears in front of you. You throw yourself on it and doze off. THOSE are the kind of thoughts you want before bed. Not. ‘OMG, I DIDN’T PUT THE BINS OUT!!!’

If any of these tips work for you, let me know. Or maybe you have one or two of your own you’d like to share?

For a couple of months, I actually got my anxiety under control enough to be sleeping through. My dreams were still, er, weird, but I wasn’t waking up at silly-o-clock. But I’m a person who stops doing stuff as soon as I am feeling better. Mrs Knobhead, right?

Some people dream of holidays in the sun or winning the lottery. Me? I dream of having a good night’s sleep.

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.” ~ David Benioff, City of Thieves

Creative Commons Image Via Pixabay