Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sleeplessness and Its Discontents

I read a novel years ago called Fatelessness, written by a Nobel Prize winner – a fictional account of his experience as a 15-year-old Polish Jewish boy in Auschwitz and other death camps. One surefire way to torture prisoners is with sleep deprivation.

I am not fateless, but I am sleepless. My lack of slumber arises from many contributing factors.

The first one is the liver disease I have (primary sclerosing cholangitis or PSC). Doctors and scientists don’t know why this symptom raises its ugly head, but it is observed in, and experienced by, many patients with PSC.

Another factor is my age. Lots of older people develop sleep problems as they age. They don't get their 40 winks the way they used to.

One more factor I’ve got weighing against me is the form of chemotherapy I’m going through as a result of the type of breast cancer I had (estrogen-induced). To hold back recurrence, I take a tiny pill daily that sucks out all the estrogen from my body. Therefore, I am going through a second menopause; the lack of estrogen causes little drowsiness and lots of hyperactivity.

So, combined, these factors add up to a pretty strong physical inclination towards lack of adequate dozing at night.

I make up for some of the loss with afternoon naps, usually two hours long. Last night I stole about 10 winks of snoozing – about two hours. Most nights it’s closer to four or five hours (or about 30 winks).

I feel crazy in the middle of the night, like jump-out-of-my-skin crazy. I don’t know what to do with myself. My cat is lolling about on the bed with me – stomach, back, side – kicking out long, loud purrs. And I watch her with such envy. 

Long novels help. They don’t put me to sleep, but they distract me from thinking of taking more drastic measures. I don’t like the craziness; it even frightens me. But no matter how the night goes, at around 5 a.m. I return to a more normal state of mind. I’m not sure why this happens, but I’m terribly grateful it does.

I feel ready to add more structure to my day to help solve or ease the sleeplessness. I’m also going next week to see a biofeedback therapist and pry some help from him.

What tortures me most? The utter and complete ease I used to have with slumbering. Anywhere, any time, on any surface. The perfect amount, and if interrupted, quickly made up very soon. That was then. This is now. I hope my fate is to add more sleepfulness to my nights.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Three Reasons Not to Have a Bucket List

Wait, everyone has a bucket list, right? You have one, don’t you?

I don’t have one and here are the three reasons why I don’t and why you should give yours up.

First, you should live a good daily life. That’s right. Every day you should be living your bucket list. Who says you will even get through No. 1 on your list, if you have a list of ten things or places? Why aren’t you living it today?

Shortly after I was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (yeah, PSC is a lot easier), a serious disease of the liver with no treatment but transplant, a friend kept bugging me to go back to Buenos Aires – with her this time. She said if she was diagnosed with something like that, she’d want to travel as much as possible. I went with her. For a month. I didn’t have a bad time, but I did get sick down there and I was pretty tired much of my time there.

We were staying in an apartment in a well-to-do neighborhood and for the most part I hung out within a 10 to 12 block area. That’s where my days and my evenings were spent. That part of the trip was quite lovely, the way I spent my days.

I went to the same café every morning for coffee and breakfast. The wait staff got to know me and we would converse in Spanish. My accent improved over the weeks and they trusted to have little conversations with me.

I was writing a lot and also working, tutoring students' writing online in Colorado. I would go to two different internet shops and use their computers. At one, the guy who ran it obviously didn’t like Americans but I was always very polite and soft-spoken (in Spanish) to him. He finally softened to me and slowed down his Spanish.

The national polo grounds were only four blocks from our apartment and though there were no games then, I saw many polo players striding through the neighborhood in their tall black leather riding boots and riding outfits.

If I wanted to go downtown, I got a taxi. My friend Sandra came over and picked me up for tango one night at her favorite club. Another night she drove us out to a special place by the River Plate for dinner at a restaurant called Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Seriously. We looked across the river to see if Uruguay was visible.

I took private Spanish lessons a couple of times a week at a school around the corner from the apartment. And every day and every evening I walked in the neighborhood.

Was it a bucket list vacation? Yes! My daily life was very pleasant and it was filled with people, some very friendly, some not so much, and some standouts. On a daily basis, it was decidedly enjoyable.

But I didn’t get on the train and head south to Patagonia to explore that magical land. I didn’t visit landmarks and as many neighborhoods as possible in Buenos Aires, city of 13 million. My life, just as it is here in Denver, was contained within the radius that I got to know well.

Second, don’t wait to travel – go now. I’ve traveled to and lived in a lot of very cool places all my life. I lived in Hawaii (yes, it is paradise) for most of a decade and graduated from the University of Hawaii, worked, played, really lived there. I lived in Washington, D.C. while Nixon was president and the Watergate scandal was breaking. I went to the Smithsonian frequently, rode the very scary bus, and spent a lot of time in Georgetown. I moved back to Florida, from whence I came, and lived right on the beach for five years, because that’s what I wanted to do. Then I moved out West, became a ski bum for one winter, moved to Denver, and skied for ten years. I never had tons of money, but I made it happen. Somehow.

Three, don’t spend your life yearning – just leave your six-mile radius (this is a scientific fact gathered from cell phone stats) and meet new people, experience new places today, this week, every week. Change your Starbucks now!

I still want to go to some places. But mostly I want to visit people I love. In California, my friend Michelle. In Washington, D.C., my niece Dayna. In Chester, New Hampshire, my nephew Jay and his wife Michelle and their two kids, Jackson and Caroline. In Flagstaff, my niece Kerry and my two nephews Kai and Kenny, and their spouses and many children. And when the weather is cool enough in Florida, my sister and her husband, Diane and Jay, and some very special friends there. That’s about it.

I would love to hear your ideas and your bucket lists and what you think of my advice. And please leave your comment here – you don’t have to put your real name down! – so we can get some fun dialogue going. I look forward to hearing from you.