My Pretty, My Precious

So, starting this blog has made me pay more attention to my sleep patterns, which I have pretty much brushed off up until this point.  I’ve decided that a further investigation of sleep aids, and maybe even a sleep study, is needed.  I will call this time period “My Search For Slumber”.

I am teacher, so initially I was thinking it would make sense that summer would be the ultimate time to test different sleep aids, since I’d have the benefit of not having to work the next morning.  This seemed pretty important, in case I woke up feeling like a zombie, like I did when I tried taking Nyquil.   At least over the summer, me being groggy or snarky or loopy, won’t be putting today’s youth at risk.  But, after a bit of thought, and some prompting from my cousin, Maggie, it occurred to me that I am often zombie-like, snarky or loopy, anyway.

In fact, my husband often asks me constructive questions such as, “Are you EVER in a good mood?”  To which I huff and roll my eyes.  But, I do recognize that I am often NOT in a good mood.  I’m exhausted.  I don’t have the energy to get everything done around the house.  Or to even do something that might be considered fun, like getting dressed up and going on a girls night out.  In a vain attempt to get someone else (Husband) to cheer me up, maybe I do complain too much. And, maybe that isn’t fair, to ask of him.  It also never works, so I don’t know why I keep trying that route.  I’m ok at putting on a façade of normalcy when I am at work.  But, that takes a lot of energy, and quite often after the work day is over, I want to collapse into a heap on the floor.  Sometimes, this is exactly what I do.

This isn’t to say that I am never actually in a good mood.  In fact, I’d say that I AM cheery and chipper, between 30-50% the time.  But, on those days, I am almost manic.   Hyper.  Energetic.  Excessively talkative.  In one 24 hour period I jog, scrub the sinks and organize my closet.  I get ahead on my paperwork.  I scrapbook, I sew blankets, make homemade cards, design road rallys, and create elaborate themes for parties, I cut out pages within old books to create secret cavities for hiding secret objects.  On these days, I am productive as hell.  I am on top of the world! If only I could harness this energy and feel like this every day. (Sidebar:  I have an irrational fear that someone will make me accidentally try heroin or meth and I will LOVE IT and feel like this every day, and I will become an addict, my face will turn skeletal and I will develop oozing sores all over my body, my husband will divorce me and I will die a pitiful, homeless, wreck.  The horror!)  If I see my sisters on days like this, they will ogle me and ask if I am okay.  One of them in particular usually tries to make me tone it down, but of course I simply mock her for reprimanding me.  This lasts for a period of days to weeks, and then I crash back down to reality.  I usually land on my face.  It hurts.

So, you might think that I possibly need to test out some other medications, than just the sleep aids.  And you are probably right. However, I’m not ready to go there, quite yet (In anticipation of when that occurs, I have already named that time period, “My Search for Sanity”.) For now, I’m hoping that helping improve the quality of my sleep will result in a better quality of life when awake.  How could it not?

So, my first test began last night.  My cousin Maggie recently went on a trip to France. She, too, experiences some difficulty sleeping, so while there she discovered a French sleep aid that she refers to as, My Pretty. In a fantastic blog about her trip, she referenced the benefits of My Pretty several times and brought home several boxes with her.  I like to imagine her scouring neighborhoods for any drug store within a 40 mile radius (or should I say 65 kilometer radius) and buying each and every one of them out of My Pretty.  I picture her purchasing an extra duffel bag for the sole purpose of bringing as many My Pretties home as possible, her throwing out the boxes to save room for the good stuff, the case stuffed to the brim with pills, and perhaps a few chocolate croissants or baguettes shoved in for good measure.  But, maybe this is just what I would do.  She generously sent me a sample of My Pretty, and has been hounding me to try them.  She sent me the informational pamphlet along with the pills, but of course it is in French.  So, I have no idea what chemicals abound within the little square tablet.  Could be carcinogens, neurotoxins, Anthrax. But, it could still be worth it.

My Pretties, French Pamphlet. Note how I greedily tore open the fleur-de-lis envelope, knowing what awaited me inside.

So, I began My Search for Slumber last night and popped of the My Pretties down my throat before bed.  I always read each night before going to sleep, and after about ½ hour I did notice my eyes getting particularly heavy.  GOOD SIGN, since generally I start becoming MORE awake after about 8 pm or so.  So, I was hopeful.  I woke up 4 times, which is the typical amount of wakeups I generally experience. But, normally upon these wakeups I feel AWFUL.  EXHAUSTED and angry about the fact that I am awake.  Last night when I awoke, I didn’t feel so bad.  So, other than the time I got up to pee (which occurs at minimum once per night), I just went back to sleep.  I woke up okay.  Not too tired.  Could it be?  Could it actually be helpful?  Suddenly I am referring to this French tablet as, My Precious.  I picture myself becoming hunch-backed, losing my hair, eyeballs starting to consume my entire face.  I see myself ready to maim anyone who might try to take My Precious away from me. We’ll see if My Pretty really becomes My Precious.   I would happily turn into Gollum, if it meant success in My Search for Slumber.

Headache-O-Meter

So, I’m 32 years old, and have been on blood pressure medication for the past 4 years.  (I have also been married for four years…coincidence? (Just kidding, love you honey!) I actually can’t extol the magnificence of this blood pressure medication enough, because as an added bonus to reducing my systolic and diastolic, it has also cleared up my skin.

Growing up, I was lucky enough to clear, unmarred skin.  But, starting in my mid-twenties my skin became my nemesis.  I began to get acne so badly that I would not want to leave the house.  I’m not exaggerating, it was BAD.  Red.  Inflamed.  Uncomfortable.  Monstrous. Distressing.  One time I was on a return trip home, from Italy, and the woman at customs who was checking my passport said my picture didn’t look like me, and was laughing, The only difference between Passport Me and Current Me, was that Passport Me had clear skin and Current Me had about 25 zits on my face.  Yes, 25.  While I’m on the subject, if you are one of those jackasses who asserts that the reason you have such clear skin is the 60 ounces of water you drink per day, or the carrots and tofu you consume regularly, just an FYI – you are being pretty insulting, implying that the reason your friend has a bumpy pod is because they must NOT be doing these things.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard people proclaim that ingesting water, fruits and veggies or limiting sweets was their remedy, which really irked me, since I am also a healthy person who drinks a lot of water, eats many fruits and veggies, and doesn’t eat a lot of fried foods, chocolate, etc…

Turns out this medication blocks androgens, and my acne was actually caused by a hormonal imbalance (PCOS).  This could also be why I have ungodly amounts of facial hair.  Or maybe I can blame that one on my Sicilian and Black Irish ancestry.  Either way, THANK GOD FOR WAX AND LASER HAIR REMOVAL.

Anyway.  Back to the blood pressure meds.  When I first started the medication, my doctor regularly asked me if I had been experiencing any headaches. Headaches could indicate high potassium levels, a signal that the kidneys are starting to fail – a possible nasty side effect.  I realized after a few visits, that I couldn’t tell if I had been experiencing headaches as a result of the medication, because I woke up with a headache almost every day, anyway.  How could I not realize I had a headache every day?  I am not sure, but I didn’t, or I didn’t think anything of it, until I was asked to let him know if I started getting headaches.  Weird, eh?

What causes daily headaches?  Clenching or grinding teeth?  Sinus pressure?  Husband complaining that I left the lights on, and cupboards open, again?  Nothing life-threatening like a brain tumor, I’m sure, just enough of an annoyance so that I couldn’t accurately answer a doctor’s question, and perhaps accounts for about 2% of my daily bitchiness.  I am not even sure why the doctor felt the need to ask me about the headaches, in the first place, since I get blood drawn at the lab every 6 months, checking on those K+ levels.  Clearly a much more accurate measure than the headache-o-meter.

These Irish Peepers Give Others The Creepers

When I was in college, I traveled to Ireland with my Scottish friend, Arlene. We began our trip in Dublin, where we drank boatloads of Guinness, while sitting by fireplaces in cozy pubs, enjoying poignant Irish ballads and laments. I obtained a new passport, since my original passport got stolen while I was in Scotland, the week before. (Sidebar:  Always listen to your dad, when he tells you to photocopy your drivers license and passport when you travel.  Even if you roll your eyes and pretend it is a stupid idea.  DO IT.)  We signed up for a week-long tour of the island, and hopped on the Shamrockers bus, along with about 35 other college age adults. After the organized tour, we took a side trip to Northern Ireland, and visited a friend of ours who lived in Belfast.

Highlights of our Irish adventure included visiting County Cork, where my Grandpa Riney’s family was from, kissing the Blarney Stone in Galway (but I didn’t have the five dollars to buy a souvenir t-shirt, as my credit card was stolen along with my passport), and partying hard while in Killarny, where our bus tour bonded as a group and drunkenly sang, in unison, the lyrics to “If You’ll Be My Girl” for hours straight as we stumbled from pub to pub. Heeeeeey!   Hey baby!  I wanna know-ow-ow if you’ll be my girl!  Uh! Ah!  Yes, we were those Americans.  Northern highlights included viewing the Protestant parades and almost getting hit by a rock thrown by protestors. My friends insisted we pose for a photo with the hulking men in army fatigues, holding semi-automatic weapons. To this day, I have no clue who these armed men were protecting, or intimidating, but as good friends do, they blamed me, the American, for wanting the photo. I humored them.

One of my favorite memories was visiting the amazingly lovely geometric fractures at Giant’s Causeway.     Eyeball the natural beauty:

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Unfortunately, this was pre writing-travel-blogs, so there is a lot about this trip that I have forgotten.

The trip was amazing, and exhausting. We traveled around the entire perimeter of the island, so we were on the bus a LOT. After late nights at the pub, this meant a lot of napping on the bus. I vividly recall waking up from one particular mid-morning nap. I thought I heard someone say, “She’s sleeping!” as I began to come to. I looked around and 6 pairs of eyes were studying me. I shifted in my seat as I glanced around at the circle of faces surrounding me. Had I been drooling? Snoring? Talking in my sleep? Did I sleep with my mouth gaping open, like my great-grandfather used to? Something was causing these quizzical expressions…but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Sara, a fellow Shamrocker, finally asked me, “Did you hear me? I was asking you a question.” I heard a collective groan. EW! AH! (not to be confused with the more lighthearted “Uh! Ah!” mentioned earlier) when I told her that I had been sleeping, so no, I didn’t hear her. One of the pairs of eyes chimed in, “You looked wide awake; your eyes were open, so she was talking to you!” Apparently, when I didn’t respond, Sara was so grossed out that her exclamations of disgust attracted the others, who were now surrounding me.

This is how I learned that I sleep with my eyes open.

A few months later, I had an eye doctor appointment. I set my alarm and got up at the last possible second, arriving mere minutes after dragging my ass out of bed. While she was looking at my eyes, she noted that the bottoms of my eyes were dry. She asked if I slept with my eyes open. Thanks to my Irish adventures, I was able to confirm, that yes, in fact, I did. In Ireland, my open lids were accentuated due to the particular angle of my head against the bus seat; typically my peepers are only slightly ajar.

 

Nyquil is the Antichrist

All I want is a good night’s rest.  Really, it does wonders.  You wake up revitalized, you have more energy for the day, and a greater ability to throw on that positive attitude.  You’re nicer.  At least, that’s what I have heard.

I have only experienced this phenomenon on a few occasions, typically one or two times per year.  It’s like I am an entirely different person on those days.   I stare at everyone I encounter that day, willing them to telepathically intercept and answer the burning question running through my head, “Do YOU feel like this today?  Do you ALWAYS feel like this?”   I really can’t imagine.  It is similar to the feeling I had the first day I got glasses.  First of all, I remember coming home after I failed the eye test at school in 3rd grade.  I was livid.  The ladies who ran the tests had no empathy.  They didn’t tell me it was okay, or warn me as we went along that I was getting answers wrong.  They just circled “failed” on a little slip of paper and handed it to me.  Gasp.  What?  I failed the eye test?  What the hell?  Those people didn’t even have any business testing my eyes!   But, those bitches were right.  A few months later when my frames came in, I slid them on and looked around.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  There were individual leaves on the trees (I couldn’t stop looking at trees, for weeks).  Light posts and headlights just look like…lights.  There were no gigantic starbursts extending feet from the illumination.   I was astonished.  I remember thinking, “People actually see like this?”  I experience that same overwhelming feeling of amazement when I arise rested.

I have yet to figure out what it is that results in the rare, unimaginably blissful, slumber.  Is it a particular exercise I did?  Or a particular food that I ate?  Or one I didn’t eat?  Was it great sex?  Or a stretch of celibacy?  Was it the glass of wine I had?  Or the two glasses?  Well, no, two glasses has been tested pretty rigorously, that’s certainly not the magic key.  (Dirty Secret:  I do keep testing it though.  For the sake of science.  Larger n = more accurate data).  Any-hoo, I have yet to find a pattern.

Nyquil is a favorite sleep aid of many.  Even my husband, who doesn’t like to take two naproxen after breaking his nose (he’s done this four times) or pulling a muscle at soccer (he does this weekly), feels that Nyquil is worth taking, if he isn’t feeling well and needs some good rest.

So far, I have found no other nighttime horror to be worse than Nyquil.  Not even the itchy twitchies of restless legs.  When I first ingest the abominable, green liquid, I feel like my normal self.  The terror begins about ½ hour after I fall asleep.  Here’s how it goes:

PING!  Eyes wide open.  Heart racing.  I feel … energetic.  Like I could clean my entire house.  Except, I am simultaneously exhausted.  Like I could collapse if I tried to get up.  I feel slightly dizzy.  I fall back asleep for 20 minutes.  PING!  Eyeballs back open.  Now I feel like parts of my body are awake.  Electrical impulses are traveling throughout my body, but they aren’t very coordinated.  It’s like the impulses that are supposed to fire together, are firing at different times.  Time passes, and somehow, I become both more awake and more exhausted at the same time.   The clock ticks…ticks…ticks…ticks…and I attempt to sleep.  I keep moving around the bed until my head is where my feet go and my feet are under my pillow.  I then roll back around.  My sheets get pulled out and are wrapped around my leg.  I get up, thinking that will help.  But, unlike with restless legs, it doesn’t help.  (And, it annoys my cat, who is trying to cuddle at my feet.  I know I have disappointed him, by moving, and that makes me cry.  Exhaustion makes me emotionally fragile)  I hardly have the energy to stand, but I am way too wired to sleep.  I go to the bathroom.  I look in the mirror.  A phantom stares back at me.  I yell out loud, “UGGHHHHHHH”.  My voice sounds muffled, unusual.  My head is cloudy, my ears are stuffed with cotton.  I lay back down and twist and turn and moan.  Finally, I fall asleep.  Ten minutes later my alarm clock goes off.  My eyes do NOT go “PING”, instead it is more of a “CREEEEAK”, like a very old, heavy door being forced open.  I cry again.  I continue to walk zombie-like throughout the day.   I cannot think or contribute to anything productive.  I am incredibly groggy.  I am NOT NICE.  The bags under my eyes are so large, they would not be able to be checked, if I were to fly Northwest.  It’s ugly.

The first few times this happened, I chalked it up to me just having a particularly bad night.  I thought maybe I was stressed, or ate Mexican food (a gluttonous consumption of nachos?) at too late an hour.  However, after this continued I finally researched the side effects of Nyquil.  Apparently I am not alone, and about 5% of us lucky ones have a paradoxical reaction to medications like this.  Basically, the medications have the opposite effect that they should.  Awesome.  Needless to say, I now steer clear of this medication at all costs.  If I were condemned to hell, I think I would be either be driving, while lost, .in a rainstorm, or be forced to take Nyquil before bed every night.  After the Nyquil catastrophes, I’m pretty leery of trying the other sleep aids out there.

Itchy…twitchy…..bitchy

One of my many night time ails is difficult to describe.  We all know that the thesaurus is a girl’s best friend, however when describing this condition, I can hardly think of one accurate descriptor, let alone a synonym. Nevertheless, I’ll attempt to illustrate the symptoms and you start guessing what it is.

Clue # 1:   It is very strange.  You might picture a circular UFO, emitting a phosphorescent stream of particles, beaming me up, or perhaps you envision me getting probed by an extra terrestrial.

Clue # 2:  It comes in the form of an itch.  You could be thinking the problem is bed bugs.   You imagine these tiny, flattened, brown, segmented parasites feasting on me as I sleep.  (Sidebar: Did you know that bed bugs are on the rise?  They are becoming resistant to our pesticides, and are growing in number, at an alarming rate.  We are no longer able to effectively kill these suckers.  They are multiplying like crazy and chomping on people’s exposed bits at hotels, nationwide.  It is actually becoming a huge problem. I’m not making this up.) Perhaps you think that last example was extreme and were really guessing the problem was eczema, since that makes people itchy, too.  You picture me scratching at rough patches of red skin, my fingernails scraping loudly across crusty bumps.  My chunks of skin served to dust mites on a cotton platter.  Or, you might be thinking dry scalp.   You wonder if they gray you see in my hair is actually dandruff, and not ….age.

Clue # 3:  The itch is located exclusively waist down.  You might guess athlete’s foot, my toes an array of colors, my feet a fungal disaster, smelling like moldy cheese and Tinactin.  Or perhaps, since I am a girl, you think it could be a yeast infection and imagine curdled, moist, panties with the scent of baked bread.    Boys can get yeast infections too, you know.

Clue # 4:  It comes in the form of a twitch.  You might be worried about me and now think I have seizures.   You imagine me biting down on a stick to prevent me from swallowing my own tongue (This perpetuates a myth, by the way.  If someone is having a seizure, do not stick something into their mouth!  They can’t actually swallow their own tongue, but they could choke on the stick).  You might be getting really worried and think I am now disclosing one of my secrets from my last post, which is that I have a horribly unkind, lethal, neuromuscular disorder.  You might think I’m a goner and may already be thinking of me in the past tense.  Here is a test:  Are you describing me as passionate, endearing, advocate, or an opinionated, judgmental, loudmouth?  One of those descriptions would be accurate, and the other would be used in my eulogy.  You could wonder if I have contracted The Dancing Plague, the delightful-sounding disorder that causes people to dance for days or weeks on end, eventually causing them to collapse in a heap and die from exhaustion.  After hearing your wild conjectures, I’m thinking that perhaps the word twitch is leading you astray.

Clue # 5:  It is definitely an ache.  Ah, you are back in known territory.  You think I have a bruise, from running into coffee tables or chairs, or even walls. Because I do those things.  Or, maybe you wonder if I have simply strained a muscle, picturing my out-of-shape ass attempting a work out (I did actually pull a muscle doing a hurkey yesterday – ask L.R. in B Hall).  You could possibly presume it is tendonitis, resulting from some sort of repetitive motion.

Clue # 6:  It’s my legs.

Ah ha!  Ding ding ding! You figure it out.  Restless leg syndrome!  I was starting to wonder if you would ever get it.  On many nights, the moment I lie down, I can feel my legs get antsy.  It is strange because up until I lie down they aren’t really too antsy at all.  But, once I’m horizontal, they NEED to move, it is not an option.  They get twitchy.  The longer I lie (lay?) there, the worse it gets.  The itch I referred to earlier is an odd one, since it isn’t on the outside of my skin, it is buried far below the surface.  Muscle deep.  Bone deep.  They ache so badly it hurts.   I have experimented with a few remedies.

The first countermeasure is getting up and walking around.  This helps quite a bit, actually.  One problem with this method is the fact that I am blind without my contacts, so I often run into things like doors, doorframes and my cat.  Perhaps the more critical problem is that I am unable to sleep whilst walking around (unlike a friend of mine who sleepwalks nightly, more on her later).   The walking helps, until I get back into bed, at which point the legs start screaming at me again.  So I get back up.  Sometimes this is a process that begins when I go to sleep, and continues for hours, and other times I will fall asleep, and then these legs of mine will wake me up, on fire.  Another semi-useful remedy is to repeatedly flex my quads as hard as I can, hold them there as long as possible, and then release.  I do this in an attempt to wear out my legs.  It doesn’t work that well, but I get a brief reprieve while flexing.  A third remedy I have tried involves slathering my legs with Flexall 454.  This is most effective immediately after a shower.  (If you thinking you might try this remedy, just be careful during application as there are sensitive bits located near your thighs).  I have also tried an herbal pill, which tastes sweet and dissolves quickly when placed under the tongue. I am 90% sure it is made solely of sugar, so I refuse to look at the ingredient list. I understand the placebo effect and sometimes the little pill works. No matter the remedy used, eventually I fall asleep, but just like my legs, my slumber is restless.

A remedy I have not yet tried, but have fantasized about for years involves a unique bed furnishing.  I have seriously contemplated constructing this contraption for my bed.  I know what you are thinking, and no, it is not a sex swing or some type of kinky bed-sex furniture.  What I have envisioned is a stationary bed-bike.  So, when I am laying on my back, legs refusing to let me sleep, I could go to the side of the bed, where my bed-bike is attached, by a hinge.  When not in use, the hinge allows it to fold down, on the side or under the bed.  When needed, I simply flip the bed-bike up, and I am able to use it, while positioned on my back, horizontally in bed.  I know, it’s definitely not the sexy bedroom accessory a husband may dream about, but at this point I am pacing like a zombie and smell like an arthritic anyway.

Since reading with my light on, or moving my leg or foot back and forth keeps my husband awake, I’m guessing the whirring noise of pedals circling and the bed shaking wouldn’t be very welcome.  Perhaps I should check into this bed and breakfast?

Sleeping On Your Deathbed or Yes, Those Are My Great-Grandfather’s Teeth In A Jar, On My Shelf

Recently my happy-go-lucky, remarkably polite, phenomenal great-grandfather, Ed, passed away.  (How it came to be that someone my age still has (had) a great-grandfather is a story for another day.)  As usually happens, this resulted in a family reunion, of sorts, and a lot of quality time spent with aunts, uncles and cousins we don’t generally get to see much of.  While at my grandmother’s house, a few days before Ed died, we were talking about our individual visits and how Ed looked when we went to see him at the nursing home.  My Aunt Gia said something along the lines of, “What struck me most was how his mouth was gaping open“.  My uncle made a “Hm” noise that seemed to indicate he had no clue what she was talking about.  I didn’t say anything at the time, but I knew immediately what she meant.  I had visited Ed the day before, and when I walked in, I saw him sleeping with his mouth open.  But it was more than that.  His mouth was wide open.  Really wide.  And his jaw was slightly crooked.  His skin clung to his jaw and his lips were invisible.  I actually thought he might have passed away, and no one had yet noticed.  I moved closer, put my hand on his chest – and his chest raised.  We both exhaled.  There was something about that mandible posture that just looked…..deathly.  As his end neared, and his dentures were removed, this just became more pronounced.  His lips were now completely gone, sucked into the chasmal opening of his mouth, his face more skeletal, and the gape even wider.  Still about the same amount of crooked.  It made me wonder, “Is this what my mouth will look like when I am on my deathbed?  Is this just what happens?  Or, did he always sleep like that?”

A few days passed by and then lovely Ed was gone.  But, our brief family reunion continued.  My uncle from California had just knocked out his front teeth (no fun story there, he has had a bridge since childhood, and it broke when he was eating cereal, of all things.  How boring).  As a joke, my dad thought it would be funny to bring him Ed’s dentures. Get it?  He needed teeth? (Sidebar:  There are two types of people.  People who find this type of joke hilarious and people who find this sort of thing repulsive.  If you are the type who finds this repulsive, I probably don’t like you very much.)  Since everyone in my family has a demented good sense of humor, we all got a good chuckle out of this.

But, then I asked, “What will become of the dentures?”  I mean, I’m not a sentimental collector like my grandmother (who would save an empty tissue box for 25 years if someone she loved told her they liked it), but I mean…  these are his teeth.  You can’t throw them away.  He just had them in a couple of days ago.  They were basically a part of him.   These are what could be used by the police to identify Ed, as Ed (I think, although this made me question, could you identify a body from dentures?  Are they as unique as real teeth?  I really don’t know!)  So, the question was asked, “Do you want them?”  I looked around.  Was anyone else looking like THEY wanted them?  I wouldn’t want to take them from someone who maybe was closer to Ed than I was.  Shockingly, no one jumped to claim them.  I scooped them up and put them in my purse.

Incidentally, this all happened right before I was on my way to my cousin’s fancy schmancy wedding shower.  I so respect my cousin, that I followed all of the fancy rules of etiquette and I didn’t even take them out.  Not even once, just to take a peek.  Once I got home, I went into my craft room.  I have about 30 Ball jars on shelves, used as decoration and as beautiful storage vesicles.  I gently placed the teeth in one of the empty jars, as a memory of Ed, and a reminder that even during sad times, it is okay to enjoy one another and to even make a joke.

Do you see them?

Zoom in.

Hello there, Ed!

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