sofadad has been battling the night. He has been waking at 2pm with a mind full of race and worry, and not been able to get back to sleep. This is a result of breakthrough anxiety: about the decision to move to Cape Town, what the future holds, whether they have selected the right place to move into … all valid concerns – but the main expression of his anxiety has been fear that my mother is not happy. Which has him questioning her constantly – disbelieving her assurances that she had chosen to make this move, that of course she misses her friends – but that was natural, that she loves where they are going to live, that she wanted to be in CT to be near her kids and grandkids.
This has had the effect of unsettling her as she constructs a new life, of knocking her usually steady legs out from under her. Not something either of them needs right now.
On top of it all – my father has flu that has moved to his chest and he is wheezing and gasping his way through the day. A cough will have him clinging to the closest piece of furniture. He sounds like he is dying of consumption. The upshot of all of this is that these two people, who should be having a lovely time getting into the groove of Cape Town, are stressed, exhausted and emotional.
“I’m not surprised”, said the doctor when we visited on Tuesday. “You won’t find it in my textbooks – but common sense tells us that the less we sleep at night, the more tired we are in the day, the more tired we are in the day, the less resilient we are to the happenings of the day, when we lose that resilience all the old fears and insecurities creep back in, and then spill out at night. Spoiling our sleep. Which starts the cycle again. Eventually your immune system is so overburdened it gives in to disease, which makes you tired, breaks down your resilience and … you see where I’m going with this…”
My dad did. So did I.
I have had my own tussles with lack of sleep. I need eight hours a night. And if I don’t get enough – I develop a speed wobble. I am less patient, more negative. I make bad decisions. I yell. I want to run away. I’ve written about all of that before – but there was a good 8 month period in NYC when I was taking Stillnox to get to sleep, and Sonata if I woke up in the middle of the night. The tabs had a downside: short-term memory loss. I was having to stick post-it notes to my bathroom mirror to remind myself who I was: “Your name is Sue … ” etc. I also had ongoing issues with my lungs – pneumonia twice in a year. A perfect storm of stress that led to the disassociation incident and the rest is history.
So, when Roy told me what was happening to him, I recognised it. What settled my racing mind was a smart GP, lexapro and a life change. Dr S opted for something a little stronger for Dad’s nights, and a course of antibiotics and steroids for his lungs. “There’s no need to battle through this. Let’s take a look in 60 days and see where you are. I bet things will look different.”
And they do. Two days later there is already more of a spring in his step, I heard him chuckling with Riley as they watched TV yesterday. And he told me how much he was looking forward to moving into the Retirement Village they had picked out: “I feel more like myself again”.
Sleep can’t solve everything thing – but it can take away the shadows and give perspective when things feel flat and hopeless. It allows our minds to reboot and our bodies to repair. It filters the real from the imagined and softens the muscles at the back of my jaw. The ones that clamp down on the silent fears that assail me every now and then. But, these days, my stress is less and I reach for a different tablet. Now, if I am sleepless after midnight, I pick up my iPad and select a guided meditation to recalibrate my mind. I lie there listening to k.d.lang talk about kindness, birds tweeting at a waterfall or gentle indian chanting over the sounds of the ocean.
And then I sleep.