How my Kindle saved my mind

I promised myself six moths ago that once I had settled down in the US, I would try to wean myself off my sleeping pill… again. Six years ago, I was prescribed a popular sleeping pill when I was suffering from acute carpel tunnel syndrome. Soon after I fell asleep, my hands would cramp, hurt like hell, and invariably disrupt my sleep. After several medical interventions the carpel tunnel was solved by surgery. I had carpel tunnel release surgery in both hands and it was the only thing that finally fixed it. The pain stopped on the day of the surgery six years ago and never returned. Unfortunately, the sleeping pill stuck with me. Having been an insomniac all my life, prescribing a notoriously addictive sleeping pill to me was like writing a prescription for alcohol and handing it to an alcoholic. Since then I have tried to wean myself off the medicine twice. The first time, I almost succeeded and then got pulled back, probably because I wanted just “one” more night of good sleep. The second attempt was so half-hearted that it is not even worth mentioning. So, I was hoping the third time will be a charm. When I set myself this goal half a year ago, I only wanted to do it because I was ashamed to be addicted to sleeping pills. This is such vague motivation that I doubt I would have gone very far with it . Now I have developed some real motivation to stop taking it. I started having some real troubling side-effects from it.

I realized that I have trouble remembering events that happen after I take the sleeping pill for the night. Initially it was off and on, but now it occurs all the time. The first indication that something was off was when I would sit down to watch an episode of a show on TV and the DVR would tell me that I had already watched it. I would watch it again and still not recall having watched it previously. I brushed it aside thinking maybe my husband watched it and that’s why it was marked “watched”.

Then my husband started telling me I was repeating myself – that I had already told him something the night before. But to me it was the first time I was saying it. I had such a hard time believing this because I have a really good memory. So much so, that I always thought of my good memory as more of a curse than as a gift. I always remember all the times I was hurt, what people said to hurt me, word by word. Its hard to forgive when you genuinely cannot forget! To top it off, it is a generally accepted fact in my family that my memory is better than my husband’s and it was simply ridiculous to me that he remembered things that I had forgotten (ah! pride does goeth before a fall!).

Even with these signs, I never really believed it. It is amazing how our mind conspires to fool us when we we don’t want to believe something. What finally convinced me was my Kindle. I always read before bed and lately I have been doing it less and less.  I knew I was reading less but I never questioned why. Last month, I got Stephen King’s “Bazaar of Bad Dreams” on my Kindle. A King book, and that too a short story collection! I would have had it finished in days. And yet, I still have about 40% to go. The reason finally dawned on me. It was because I was reading the same story over and over again! I would read before bed and stop halfway into the story. The next day, I would pick it up and have no memory of reading it. So I would go back and start reading it again. I would finish it and remember if I read it during the day. But if it was at bedtime, the same thing happened again and again. If this had been a real book, I would have never realized it as I almost never use a bookmark. I usually memorize the page number and come back to it. But this was my Kindle, and it opened to where I left off. Still, I initially dismissed it thinking my son had been fooling around with the Kindle and had turned the pages! But too much evidence was piling up and I finally had to face the fact that this was really happening.

I must have been subconsciously aware of it, because when I scrutinize some of my behaviors I realize that I stopped doing some things after dinner (like watching some shows or reading or anything that required me to remember it the next day) . When I finally faced up to it, it scared the bejesus out of me. There is a reason why  Alzheimer’s is my worst nightmare! Now, I have some real motivation to get off that drug! Over the past couple of weeks I reduced my dosage from 10 mg to 8 mg. Its been a hard couple of weeks and I know its only going to get worse before it gets better. But I do know one thing for sure. This time, I will get successfully get of it because now I have something that scares me worse than a bad night’s sleep.

On a side note, I think it is interesting that both the first thing that alerted me and the final thing that convinced me of my problem were both modern technological inventions (the DVR and the Kindle). So, there is something to be said for modern technology after all.

-AB

 

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A post for Carl Jung

Just before I woke up this morning, I had a vivid dream. I was on a beach with my mom and I was asking her help with a problem that was bothering me. She gave me the perfect advice that solved the problem and I woke up. My head was turned to the side where she would have been sitting and my hand was reaching out to her. I was surprised that she wasn’t actually there, (she is still in India) and I realized that I had a solution for a problem that I hadn’t even be consciously analyzing. So it got me thinking about how my dreams help with my mental housekeeping all the time.

This isn’t the first time that I have found solutions to my real-life problems in my dreams. Many a times I have woken up with solutions to problems that I have been actively working on and to those that I wasn’t really thinking about. The ones that always fascinate me is when I wake up KNOWING the exact place where a lost item that I had been searching for was hiding. I recall a dream from a year or so ago.In this dream, I was wondering where something was and thinking about the possible places it might be. I considered each possibility and eliminated them one by one until only one remained. I woke up and went and looked at that place and found it was exactly there as I had dreamed. The item was something I had been searching for days. It was eerie and though it had an air of the paranormal, I knew it was just my mind harnessing bits of information from different parts of my memory and putting two and two together to come up with the logical solution.

My husband always complains that he doesn’t have enough dreams or that he doesn’t remember them on waking. I dream every night and remember most of them upon waking. It is such a routine occurrence that most days I don’t give it a second thought. However, a majority of my dreams are borderline nightmares. Pleasant dreams are very rare. I am not talking about intense nightmares that cause night terrors, but more like ones that mainly deal with my fear of something and many a times I am just glad to wake up. My husband often tells me to “take charge” in these dreams and realize that I am dreaming and “direct” my dreams the way I want. I have tried to do that and I have gotten as far as realizing that I am dreaming but I have never been able to direct the course of the dream. Sometimes the fear goes away on the realization, other times I just feel like I have to wait it out.

I have patterns/themes to these dreams that manifest in recurring nightmares. When I was an adolescent, I frequently had nightmares of standing atop something high and being on the verge of falling. Another common nightmare is one in which my chemistry teacher from high school derides me (teachers really need to consider that they can  traumatize adolescents with their words, the effects are very far-reaching). Many of my nightmares have an educational theme to them; I attribute it to my academic struggles in high school. Although I was a straight-A student in college, I was pretty much at the bottom of the class in high school. I often have a nightmare in which I am told that I have to go back to high school to redo my last two years in order for my Master’s degrees to be valid!  Another educational-themed nightmare which really scares me (during the dream) is having to take an exam for a class I never attended. Almost always this dream involves a language class in Tamil. Recently I had this version of  dream with a math class (I blame common core math). Obviously, I have a huge fear of failure in the academic realm.

A few months before I left India, I had a recurring nightmare in which I had come to the US and had lost touch with all my friends in India. In this dream, I had friends in India who think I don’t care for them anymore, that I have forgotten them. Interestingly, after coming here I don’t get that dream anymore. My husband, when he remembers his dreams, talks about crashing his car. I might have had that kind of dream once or twice but it is not a predominant pattern.

My real nightmares, the ones that leave me feeling upset for hours after waking are the so-called pleasant dreams. In those dreams, I am living the perfect life, the one in which I never faced the turning points in life that took me in a direction I hadn’t planned. In these dreams, I am loving my life and I wake up and feel incredibly disappointed that it was just a dream and it wasn’t real. Then I feel upset about the disappointment, because it means that somewhere deep in my mind I  have regrets. Yet another type of dream is one that leaves me frustrated. These are ones in which I have brilliant insights that I don’t recall in the morning. Sometimes I think of amazing story plots that disappear like early morning fog. I have tried to remedy these in two ways. I have tried keeping a notepad next to my bed and writing down stuff either in the middle of the night or immediately upon waking. This has never helped for I cannot make any sense of my notes when I look at them at in the morning. Sometimes, I realize that I am dreaming and I instruct myself to hold on to that brilliant idea. This has a better rate of success. I sometimes remember bits and pieces. I do wonder if the reason I don’t remember these dreams is because I am not supposed to.

I think I will finish up this post with the best dream I have ever had. It was roughly two years ago. In this dream I was lying down listening to music from Lord Krishna’s flute. Someone came up to me and told me to wake up. I replied that I would not wake up, not until Lord Krishna himself came and told me to do so. Next thing I know, HE was next to me addressing me by my name and whispering in my ear to wake up. I woke up and my eyes fell on the picture that hangs in my bedroom in India depicting Lord Krishna playing his flute. I believe that there was something truly supernatural about this dream. Even now I draw strength from it.

What do you dream of?

-AB

If I were a bird, I would be an Owl

After trying and failing many times before, I have successfully completed a week of regular meditation. Seven consecutive days with just 10 minutes each day. So far, I haven’t noticed a difference in my stress levels or a feeling of ‘zen’. However, I did notice that meditation itself became easier each day. My mind does not wander as often as it used to and when it does, I catch myself much faster. It is also easier to refocus.

My sustained motivation to keep meditating this time is because my insomnia has recently taken a turn for the worse. I suffer from severe and chronic insomnia. It takes me an average of 45 minutes to fall asleep and I almost always wake up after 4 hours of sleep. It is easier and faster to go back to sleep the second time around but, there have been days when it has taken me more than an hour to fall back to sleep. Naps are a different cup of tea. Depending on how sleep-deprived I already am, I will fall asleep in about 20 minutes or not at all. The concept of a power nap or even a nap shorter than 2 hours just never made sense to me, because I just can’t fall asleep that fast. On weekends, especially Sundays, I will take a 2 hour nap.

A few months ago, I had a pretty the levels of vitamin B12 in my body hit a long time low. During that period, I used to be so exhausted all the time that I would literally fall asleep at my desk at work. Unlike most people, my dip in energy does not come after lunch. For me it hits earlier in the day around 10 to 11 AM. If I can get through that hour of the day without falling asleep I don’t need/ won’t be able to sleep at all during the day. Now that my B12 levels are back up I don’t feel that pull of sleep as much during mid-morning.

I think my weird sleep patterns primarily stems from my innate night-owlness, which makes it so hard for me to fit into a world that largely works in favor of morning larks. I just don’t feel sleepy at bed time. In fact, I feel fresher and more active and creative in the late evening. When I was younger and could get away with it, I would just stay up until I felt sleepy, usually around 2 AM.  When I lived by myself in Australia, I regularly went to sleep at 3 AM and woke up at 11 AM and it worked so well for me. Unfortunately, it just was not a long term option.

To make matters worse, being a night owl is looked down upon in Indian culture. All my life, I have had my parents berate me for waking up late and going to sleep late. So much so, that I instantly feel guilty if I wake up past 7 AM on any day. If I am up past mid-night, I have a nagging fear in the back of my mind that my mother will wake up and come and yell at me to go to bed. This happens even if my mother is half a world away! When I was in 12th grade, my mother would wake me up at 5 AM, hand me a cup of tea, and leave me in a room without a bed so that I can study. In 10 minutes, I would be asleep in the chair and will wake up with a start to face her wrath when she got up an hour later. My mother is a big believer of “its better to study in the early morning because your mind is fresh at that time”. She herself is a Lark and just could not figure out that I got my deepest sleep between 3 and 6 AM. Out of sheer desperation, she dragged me to a doctor to find out why I was incapable of waking up or staying awake at 5 AM. That doctor did me a big favor and I am still grateful to him. He sat my mother down and explained that being a night owl was just hard-wired in to me and that I would probably learn better at midnight than at 5 AM. He encouraged her to allow me to study late nights instead of early mornings and it made all the difference when I was in college. My mother trusted the doctor, but I think even now she is not fully convinced that it is not just a bad habit or laziness.

For the longest time, I struggled only with a displaced sleep. I tried everything I could to set it right. I would go out into the sunlight in the early morning, dim lights in the evening, follow a bedtime routine, have a warm shower, drink a glass of warm milk, take the herb feverfew, the works. The one thing I could not do was keep the same bedtime. I did not take any sleeping pills for a long time and just stumbled along. Motherhood made me an even lighter sleeper as my firstborn used to wake every 4 hours until she was 11 months old. Then, about 5 years ago I was diagnosed with carpel tunnel syndrome. My hands would go stiff and hurt all night long and it made me more sleep-deprived than usual. My GP prescribed a common sleeping pill to me- the magic of a good night’s sleep in a little blue pill (here in India, its a bright orange pill). No sleeping pill is meant for long term use, and the doctor should have cut me off after 6 weeks, but he didn’t. A year later I had carpel tunnel surgeries in both hands and the pain was gone, but I still take that pill.

I have successfully weaned myself off that pill twice in the last 5 years. The second time, I actually shaved a little bit of the pill every night to lower my dosage. However, every time life hits me with a stressful event, my sleep is the first to go and eventually I go back to that little pill. A couple of years ago I discovered Melatonin, which is non-habit forming and does not seem to have any known dangerous side effects. With my medical history, it is likely that I might be melatonin-deficient.  Melatonin also helped me get off that pill. You cannot get Melatonin in India and I ran out of my stash a month ago.

I have not had a full night’s sleep in a month, even with my bright orange pill. For the first time in my life, I increased its dosage on Friday nights just to get one good night of sleep a week. I am starting another stressful journey in my life right now. The big move back from India to the USA. Did you know that moving is a life event that causes very high stress levels? Only death and divorce are greater. So moving from one country to another is a pretty big life stressor and like always it is eating into the little sleep I get.

My brother sent me some melatonin yesterday and I got a good night’s sleep after a long time. For once, I woke before the alarm feeling rested instead of wondering how I was going to get through the day. But, I am sick of being dependent on medication for sleep. I also know that is is very harmful to me. The pill I take is known to cause memory loss and that is one of my biggest fears. So this time, I decided I needed to do something else, something safe and long lasting. Hence, the motivation for the meditation. It does help slow down the monkey that is my mind at bedtime. So hopefully with its help, this third time will be the charm and I will finally get rid of getting my sleep in a pill or a capsule. Wish me luck!

I believe that those who are truly blessed in life are those who fall asleep the minute their heads hit the pillow!

-AB