Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Other Reason for Grumpiness

Another reason that I'm so grumpy has to do with my lack of a decent night's sleep. I don't think I have felt rested by sleep in almost four months; but most particularly since I got here.

At first, I blamed jet lag. The first week felt a bit fuzzy in general, and the first month had me going to bed at granny hours. That wore off, but the poor sleeping did not.

Then -- and still -- I blame the crappy beds in this Dormish Apartment. One bed is orthopedic, which means that a stone floor is more comfortable. The other is a glorified futon from Ikea, with a foam mattress and wooden slats. It sits about a foot off of the floor and I prefer to be up higher. I think so the monsters under the bed would have to jump to get me and so might lose interest. Also, there is no sheet or blanket or bedspread or even comforter that covers my entire person well. Aside from the fitted sheets, which don't fit very well, the comforters are all child-sized,  reaching from my toes to my chest, and from elbow to elbow if I lay with my arms stretched out like Jesus, but not an inch further in any direction. That means that I wake up throughout the night to find myself half covered, then I have to readjust and go back to sleep, only to wake up again to repeat the whole process. In other words, the environment for sleeping is simply uncomfortable and I can't seem to relax and get into a good sleep.

I also have bad dreams. These dreams are necessarily nightmares, although that has happened on a few occasions, two of which woke me up screaming.  Most of the dreams are simply unpleasant, the sort that leave you with a mucky feeling haunting you for the rest of the day. At first, I tried to remember all of them so that I could figure out what my mind was trying to tell me. That exercise tired me and went no where in the absence of my analyst -- god, I miss her. Now, I'm left with the mucky feeling and no plot line.

Some of the plots do linger. In one of the nightmares, a devil character, complete with blood-red skin that turned glow in the dark when the lights went out, tortured people by desiccating them alive or pulling out organs and bones. In others, the recurring pattern of protecting small and helpless creatures appeared, except in the older versions of the dream, I am profoundly upset by my inability to protect them and by becoming a danger to them myself. In this version, I felt remote, cut off from empathy. That last part also appeared in the devil dream and in general has bothered me. Another dream involved a particular, odd recurring motif having to do with my hair and its being shaved off or suddenly growing or not being able to style it. Others are the run-of-the-mill teaching anxiety dreams in which I cannot control a class because of technical difficulties, or a constantly changing room, or constantly changing numbers of students, or students who are unruly, or name your situation.

In an interesting twist on the teaching anxiety dream, I had one in which I was flying a helicopter -- very well, I might add -- but hit some minor turbulence and bailed out, leaving the machine hovering in mid-air. It stayed there, but I realized that it belonged to the school where I will be teaching next year. Then, it crashed. I tried to take full responsibility for the disaster, but the dean wouldn't listen to me and kept insisting that the crash was not my fault.

Last night, I dreamed that I had purchased some necessary item or other online, but the online store did not tell me how much I was spending. This, in fact, is exactly what happened when I ordered my prescriptions online and the store wouldn't tell me how much I would be charged because they had to clear the charge with my insurance company (which, incidentally, was not paying for this refill because I didn't have the damn card because I thought that the pharmacy would have my information in its computer system like it always does -- and that line of thought will take me on another rant). In my dream, however, I looked at my bank account and discovered that, as a result of the charge, I had only a few dollars left. In my dream, I freaked out because I have to keep paying student loans, insurance, and sundry other things that don't take a year long, unofficial sabbatical like myself; but, I am unable to earn an income while living in this country; but I can't return to the U.S. because I don't have a job there for another few months and would have to pay all of the usual cost-of-living bills.

This is clearly another sort of anxiety dream happening here.

At first, I thought that I would embrace all of my unpleasant and anxious dreams, use them to learn and grow and all of that other stuff you do to face the Smoke Monster. Now, I'm just annoyed. I want a good, restful, comfortable night's sleep in which I do not feel as if part of me is still awake, keeping an eye out for those monsters under the bed. I'm in Ireland, for chrissakes! I don't have to grade or deal with students or feel burned out or put together talks or wear make-up or do my hair or be social or do anything but drink coffee, write, run, and drink wine. This is the muthafuckin' life, goddammit! Why is my subconscious fucking with me?

Do you see why I think my next chapter is "How Will I Manage to Royally Fuck It Up?"

[Good gawd! A whole damn paragraph simply dissappeared here in the publishing. WTF! Is this my computer or Blogger? Now, I have to recreate it or the rest won't make a damn bit of sense.]

I've been having vertigo of late, and that scares me. Actually, I've have two feelings of vertigo, one literal and one metaphorical (is that a word?). The literal one surprises me because I always gravitate toward the highest point in a room, I lived on the 20th floor, I've not flown a small plane (because it would be illegal if I had actually taken over the controls and flow it over the Chesapeake and around an airport) -- hell -- I've JUMPED OUT of a small plane. Yet, suddenly, in the past few months, I will get this overwhelming terror that the viewing platform at Victoria Square in Belfast will collapse or that a strong wind will blow me off of the trail at the Giant's Causeway. The viceral fear that I will plummet to my death paralyzes me for no clear reason because I know rationally that these things will not happen, and yet my entire body has convinced itself of the imminent danger of splat!

Sill, I think I prefer this more literally irrational feeling because it is a response to actual, physical conditions and I am completely aware of the irrationality of the feeling. I know that the fear is something concocted out of the lower parts of my brain. Most importantly, the fear is so overwhelming that I know that I won't embrace the thing provoking the fear -- I won't jump off the cliff or the viewing platform. I won't accept the disaster of plummeting to my death in order to escape the stress of vertigo.

When I can see a potential for disaster in my life, I feel something very similar to that vertigo. This metaphorical vertigo frightens me more than what I feel in the real vertigo because, in this imagined vertigo, I cannot bear the anticipation of disaster, so I accept it. I let myself go and fall because the disaster of the fall seems much less painful than the anticipation of a fall and much less exhausting that the effort to prevent falling. I give up and get it over with, whatever "it" may be, and the potential for this terrifies me. I can't trust myself.

Maybe that is the source of all of my dreams and the source for this new, real experience of vertigo.

God, I miss my analyst.


Belle said...

Yeeks. I notice an ongoing undercurrent (like undertow) of being out of control. Could that be related to being dependent on somebody besides yourself? As to the sleep - Clio, do yourself a good thing and buy a damned blanket. A heavy one. You're in Ireland; they have fabulous wool products. And some wool socks to sleep in. Then go check in for a weekend sleep retreat, crawl into a warm comfortable bed and sleep the entire time. (Surely my PhD doctorate qualifies me as a doctor, so make that suggestion an Rx.)

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Second that. Go to a hotel for a couple of nights just to re-boot the sleep thing.

A lot of people find sabbaticals disturbing and disruptive. With a regular routine of writing and running, you are doing better than the people who panic when faced with unstructured chunks of time. I know it doesn't *feel* okay. But you are doing okay by the work and by yourself. Get a decent blanket or comforter (or get the GC or a visitor to go shopping if you can't face it) and that will be doing better than okay w/r/to yourself.

Feminist Avatar said...

I know that the Ikea in Belfast sells king size duvets for 12 quid, so I reckon you can probably get one cheap in Dublin too! You could also try putting the glorified futon mattress on top of the orthopaedic mattress- that might give you a nice balance. I had a very hard mattress and bought one of those thin matress like things that go on top of your main mattress from Ikea and it made a huge difference. It might not be the cheapest option though.

I would also say that your vertigo is an anxiety issue. My tolerance for heights definitely decreases when my anxiety is increased due to stress or exhaustion. (Anxiety being the preferred form of depression in my family). I guess if I was your analyst I would say that you have had a stressful year- you've moved house, changed jobs, changed your relationship status, moved across the world, and are coping with new routines and new cultures. These are all stressful and anxiety inducing things. So perhaps you need to be kind to yourself and acknowledge that while you have great opportunities this year, this doesn't mean stress free. And, then you have to think about what techniques you use to cope with stressful situations and apply them. For me, this is usually around being kind to myself (eat well, exercise, try to limit working hours, make lists to feel in control etc, enforced relaxation, don't get angry with myself for feeling stressed when I have it so good). I also find it useful to acknowledge and verbalise what is making me stressed, even if I can't change it, as that seems to make me feel better.

And finally, you might want to think about taking a Vitamin D supplement as SAD is very common in UK and Ireland due to the lack of daylight in winter, and contributes to poor sleep and feeling tired. I would also say that I need more sleep in the UK than I do in my new location (which is backed up by science apparently), so if you are trying to stick to a sleeping routine, maybe you're just not getting enough sleep for the climate.


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