Exploding Head Syndrome is Actually a Thing!

The auditory equivalent of a sneeze?

This is my favorite gif.

It perfectly describes how I feel about the political state of this country, how I feel when I’m not taken seriously, how I feel when I see a blatant injustice that is being overlooked, how I feel when confronted with climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers and scientologists hellbent on recruiting and people who can’t be bothered to recycle. It’s also how I feel when my favorite Indian restaurant is fresh out of Palak Paneer after I’ve driven 30 miles out of my way for it.

Yeah. I’ve been known to overreact. So sue me.

When discussing some newly acquired frustration with a friend, I often end with the phrase, “my head nearly exploded.”

This, despite the fact that you’ll find none of my brain matter scattered anywhere on this globe. (Yeah. I’m prone to hyperbole, too.)

But when searching for this gif to show someone, imagine my surprise when instead I stumbled upon something called Exploding Head Syndrome. It’s actually a thing! Really. I swear. You can even find it in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, along with the World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.

Now, as a general rule, if someone’s head were to explode without the aid of some outside projectile, or at the very least without an unpleasant impact with an extremely hard surface, it would be safe to assume that we’d all hear about it one way or another. (You know, people talk. That’s why all of us have heard of spontaneous human combustion, but none of us have witnessed it.)

I’ve yet to hear of any spontaneous head explosions outside of the realm of SciFi. And thank goodness. That would be scary and gross, and probably a health hazard for everyone in the vicinity.

The thing that really startled me about EHS is that after reading about it, I am certain that I’ve experienced it. Fortunately, it’s not fatal or painful. It’s not even worth treating unless it’s radically disturbing your sleep on a regular basis. That’s a load off.

Here’s how EHS manifests itself for me. I’m nestled all snug in my bed, as the saying goes, and I’m just starting to drift off to sleep when… Bang! I hear what sounds like a metal pot being dropped on the floor in the kitchen. I’m jerked awake, and the transition is so abrupt that for a minute I have no idea where I am. And then I roll over and fall back to sleep.

It happens 3 or 4 times a year. I’ve never given it much thought. And even though Dear Husband is sound asleep beside me and no one else should be in the house, not once have I ever gotten up to investigate. On some level I always know not to bother.

I’m briefly startled, yes. Then I have vague thoughts that if that crash had been legitimate, and not the stuff of my imagination, then surely the dogs and Dear Husband would be reacting in some way. But they never do. So, off I drift, and I rarely even think about it again the next day.

Not a huge deal. But strange, in retrospect, that my whole life I’ve just kind of incorporated it into my being. Maybe I’ve always assumed that it was the auditory equivalent of a sneeze.

Even though the current name for this phenomenon is Exploding Head Syndrome, there has been a movement to change its name to Episodic Cranial Sensory Shock instead. That would be a hard no from me. (Not that anyone has asked my opinion on the subject.)

I think it would be fun to ask if anyone else has Exploding Head Syndrome at a dinner party. In contrast, the other name sounds painful and debilitating and frightening and would probably cause everyone to look down at their cutlery in embarrassed silence.

Very few studies have been done on this syndrome. I suspect it will always be relegated to the scientific back burner, since it doesn’t even occur to the majority of us to mention it to our health care providers. Researchers have much bigger fish to fry. And big pharma isn’t going to underwrite a study that wouldn’t result in massive pill sales.

There are theories, of course, as to what causes EHS. The one I find most plausible is that it’s triggered by anxiety, stress, or PTSD. But I imagine that conspiracy theorists could have a field day with it. An attempt at communication or torture by Martians, perhaps? If so, they aren’t very technologically advanced.

Learning about Exploding Head Syndrome has also enlightened me about a loosely related phenomenon. I now know that it’s called a hypnic jerk. I get those, too, and have therefore been searching for their proper name my whole life.

A hypnic jerk is that involuntary twitch that seventy percent of us have experienced just as we’re falling to sleep. With me, it’s usually my right leg, but occasionally it’s my whole body, which is extremely startling. And then there are those times when I’m convinced that I’m falling, and suddenly snap awake just before I hit the ground. Those definitely get my attention. For lack of a better term, I’ve always called them “body twangs.” But when I tell doctors this, they look at me as if I have two heads.

One time, I was sleeping with my arm bent and my hand close to my head. Then I had a hypnic jerk in that arm and punched myself in the face. There’s nothing quite like waking up angry, and then discovering that there’s no one but you to chastise.

I know one guy who has a hypnic jerk every single time he goes to sleep, without fail. It’s a handy clue if you need to know his level of consciousness. You just wait for the jerk. Going… going… boing! Gone.

Apparently, hypnic jerks are caused by anxiety or caffeine or stress. They’re more common in people with irregular sleep schedules. (That would be me.) But again, they’re not particularly disruptive for me. It feels kind of like my tendons are made out of rubber bands and suddenly they’re no longer stretched. Boi-oi-oi-ng! Life goes on. But it’s nice to finally have a name for what’s happening.

If you are one of the unfortunate few whose life is really disrupted by Exploding Head Syndrome or hypnic jerks, my apologies for making light of it. It must be horrible and exhausting and life changing. I hate that for you.

But for most of us, it’s just weird and mildly annoying. I’m grateful that I fall in with the majority for once in my life. I’m not sure my heart could take it if I were constantly startled out of my sleep.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

This Barbie Comes with Accessories

My insane bedtime ritual.

I’m very particular. And at the age of 57, I’m only just now discovering why. (But that is a blog post for another day, once I have confirmation.)

But, yeah, particular is what I am. I don’t have OCD. I look around at the clutter in my life and I know that if I had OCD, it would be intolerable. But I do have a few quirks.

I don’t like garbage lying about. I’m the first person to cut off a mattress tag. And feeling comfortable is of primary importance to me. If I can’t get comfortable, I’m… well… uncomfortable. This is particularly true at bedtime.

I have this whole insane ritual have to go through if I’m to even entertain the possibility of sleeping. It goes like this.

  • Let the dogs out to pee.
  • Make sure they’re back inside.
  • Lock up and turn out the lights in the rest of the house.
  • Then it’s my turn to pee.
  • Prep CPAP machine for use. (This includes cleaning, and adding distilled water to the reservoir, etc. Things were much simpler prior to using a CPAP. I could just crawl into bed, sleep on my stomach and… stop breathing several times an hour.)
  • Take nighttime meds.
  • Floss.
  • Brush teeth with sonic toothbrush. (Old school tooth brushes leave my teeth feeling gross now that I know how much better a sonic toothbrush is.)
  • Put in my night guard, or risk grinding my teeth to powder as I sleep.
  • Ask Dear Husband to put lotion on my back. (My back itches like crazy at night. I once asked a bunch of women my age or older on a Facebook group about this, and it turns out that old ladies with itching backs at night is a thing. The medical profession doesn’t take us seriously enough. It’s maddening.)
  • Ask Dear Husband to set the alarm. (I can set the alarm myself, but then I wake up several times a night worrying that I haven’t done it properly.)
  • Kiss Dear Husband good night.
  • Arrange my MedCline pillow with it’s accompanying body pillow for maximum comfort. (Since I use a CPAP I can no longer sleep on my stomach, so I sleep on my side. But without a MedCline pillow, which raises my torso up and allows me to stick my arm and shoulder through a hole, I would wake up with my shoulders hunched so far forward that I’d be in pain the rest of the day. I also created a pillow case for the body pillow by sewing together three pillow cases. That keeps it cleaner.)  
  • Wad up a sheet for under my head. (A pillow on top of a MedCline pillow is waaay too much. I’ve decided a wadded sheet works better.)
  • Arrange blankets just so (so I can kick them off and pull them on as my hot flashes come and go all night, and also so that my dachshund, Quagmire, feels welcome to come snuggle.)
  • Get in bed. (Bet you thought I was already there, didn’t you? Nope.)
  • Lotion my feet. (Dry feet scratch against the sheets, and that, to me, is like fingernails down a chalkboard.)
  • Say a prayer that I haven’t forgotten anything, because now I have greasy feet and will be loathe to get out of bed again.
  • Put on my chin strap. (I’m a mouth breather. I’m trying to get out of that habit. I had to try a half dozen different strap designs before I found one I liked. I’m hoping that if I eventually learn to keep my mouth shut at night, I can use a smaller CPAP mask that is just over the nose.)
  • Pull hair out from under chin strap. (By the time I’m using all my implements of torture, my hair is covered in straps, so I try to pull it loose so I don’t walk around during the day with “strap head”. I can always tell when someone uses a CPAP and does not take that extra step.)
  • Call out to dogs and say goodnight.
  • Ask Quagmire to come cuddle, and tell him he makes me sad when he doesn’t (which is about half the time).
  • Put on my CPAP gasket. (That’s what I call the thing, anyway. Most people call them CPAP face liners. They’re Basically a triangular shaped donut of t-shirt like material that is placed between my face and the CPAP mask. Otherwise it rubs my nose raw and I get pimples. These things also reduce seal gaps that shoot jets of air out and wake you up.
  • Put on CPAP mask.
  • Ask Dear Husband, in muffled tones, to please turn out the lights.
  • Lie down.
  • Wrestle with sheets, blankets and CPAP hose.
  • Ask Dear Husband to turn on the lights again because I can’t find something.
  • Put arm through hole in MedCline pillow.
  • Rest wrist on airport pillow so I remember to not bend my wrists up under my chin like a squirrel clutching a nut as I sleep. (Without that pillow, my wrists hurt the next day. Sometimes I have to resort to wearing wrist braces, especially if I’ve had a high stress day, because days like those really make me want to squirrel up.)
  • Listen to the sounds of relaxed breathing emanating from Dear Husband, who can fall asleep before his head hits the pillow. Must be nice. I sometimes have to resist the urge to hit him with a pillow out of spite.
  • Convince myself that I don’t have to pee again, because I don’t want to have to take all this crap off so I can see where I’m going, and then untether myself from the CPAP hose.
  • Pull a batik sarong through the part of the mask that arches over the bridge of my nose. This is to block out any remaining light, and, in the event of a CPAP seal break, it prevents the jet of air from hitting my eyelashes and waking me up.
  • By now you’d think I’d be so exhausted that I could drift off to sleep. But no. I do a mind grind for anywhere from a half hour to all night long.
  • And then of course I have to turn over and rearrange everything accordingly at least twice during the night.

For me, it takes a village to have sweet dreams.

What’s so funny?

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Running the Gauntlet to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

I actually wrote this blog post in my head a few weeks ago at 3 am when I should have been sleeping. I should have written it down, but instead I repeated it over and over again in hopes that I’d remember it, because I’m actually 5 blog posts behind in my queue, and that’s a personal record that has me stressed out beyond belief.

Yes, this is a self-imposed deadline, but not missing a post since I started this blog in December of 2012 puts a certain amount of self-imposed pressure on me, especially since I know that several people consider reading it a part of their routine. You’d think that when I switched a while back to only posting on even numbered days, rather than daily, it would have reduced the pressure by half, but no. Now my blogs seem to be longer and require more research than they once did. Again, that is self-imposed.

Since I knew that repeating posts in my head was part of the reason I could not sleep, this post is about the many things that can prevent me from sleeping. Most of them are thoughts. Some are noises.

My husband, and the vast majority of the men I know, won’t be able to relate to this at all. They can fall instantly to sleep and not wake up ‘til morning. I find this quite annoying, because they’ll say to me, “Why are you so tired? It sounds like we both went to bed at the same time.”

All I can do is tersely reply, “Well, we most definitely did not go to sleep at the same time.”

So here are the many challenges I have when it comes to getting a full night’s sleep.

  • My CPAP machine breaking its seal on my face and whistling loudly.
  • My CPAP machine breaking its seal on my face and blowing a jet of air that flutters my eyelashes.
  • My bladder.
  • Soreness in general.
  • My dogs, wanting breakfast at an ungodly hour, and therefore doing an impatient tap dance on the wooden floor.
  • The sun rising at freakin’ 5:11 in the morning and setting at 9:11 pm in the Seattle area around summer solstice.
  • The sun rising at freakin’ 7:57 in the morning and setting at 4:17 pm in the Seattle area around winter solstice.
  • My dog, snoring, and why I find it annoying sometimes and endearing other times.
  • Hearing a random, subtle sound coming from the other side of the house.
  • My dogs barking at the least sign of any sound.
  • Wondering if I remembered to lock all the doors.
  • How intensely I love my dogs.
  • My feet scratching on the sheets.
  • Funny things I forgot to tell Dear Husband.
  • Delightful conversations I had that day.
  • Negative conversations I had that week.
  • Young men with tiny little penises motorcycling or drag racing down our street at random hours.
  • Grown men with tiny little penises shooting guns or fireworks off in our neighborhood at random hours.
  • Things I’m looking forward to.
  • Things I’m dreading.
  • Am I forgetting anything?
  • The beeps of our computers or phones when one of us forgets to turn them off before bed.
  • Am I good at this marriage thing?
  • The things I do that I’m glad are not qualities that my Dear Husband possesses, and how lucky that makes me.
  • How much this blog post will upset DH, because he wants me to be able to be as positive, optimistic, and carefree as he is.
  • At what point did I lose all ability to keep things organized, and why is that?
  • What I need to do tomorrow.
  • Upcoming social obligations, and whether I’m dreading them or looking forward to them.
  • What I was supposed to do today but did not.
  • Health issues for myself and my loved ones.
  • The state of this country, and the state of the planet.
  • My next vacation, and how much of the world I still long to see.
  • Past vacations and how wonderful they were.
  • The many ways I feel I have fallen short.
  • The many ways people want me to change but I find myself incapable of doing so, despite my best efforts.
  • Did I remember to water the plants?  
  • Do I have my lunch ready for work tomorrow?
  • Which drawbridge will I be working on?
  • Which shift will I be working on?
  • Work BS.
  • Am I forgetting anything?
  • How lucky I am, generally.
  • Potato chips.
  • My imposter syndrome.
  • Do people think I’m weird?
  • Why do I seem so much weirder than most other people?
  • How can I convince people that I’m not weird?
  • Why do I care what anyone thinks?
  • OH SHIT WHAT TIME IS IT? DID I OVERSLEEP?
  • My irritation that my eyesight is so poor that I can’t always reliably see what time it is without putting on my glasses.
  • My disappointment at not being able to read more books.
  • The many new and unsettling things I’ve learned about myself in the past few months.
  • How grateful I am that I can still learn new things.
  • Aging.
  • The future.
  • The past.
  • My understandable love of naps.
  • My bladder again, and whether I should hold it until the alarm goes off in an hour, or just admit I need to pee, get up and do it, and then return to bed and try to sleep for that last precious hour, knowing I won’t achieve REM sleep in that timeframe.
  • Am I forgetting anything?
  • Attempting to change positions as quietly as possible so as not to wake the dogs.
  • Cheese.
  • My desperate need to meditate before bedtime, which I never quite get around to doing.

Welcome to my brain.

After that, I usually remember to do a body part relaxation exercise, and I fall asleep for what little time I have left.

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So Glad My Dog Can’t Talk

“INTRUDER ALERT!!!!!!!”

My dog wakes me up every morning around 5 am to go outside and do his business. Who am I to complain? I have to get up at least once myself, most nights. So, on days when I’m not working the day shift, I get up, shuffle to the door, let him out, doze off a little while leaning on the door frame, let him back in, then go back to bed.

His method of rousing me is to either do a little shake and rattle his collar, or he’ll hop down onto the wood floor and do a tap dance. Click, click, click… “All right, already! Jeez…”

Even if I do get back to sleep, he has decided that I cannot, under any circumstances, sleep past 9 o’clock. He’ll hop up on the bed and lick my face. I’ll roll over. He’ll run to the other side and do it again. I’ll cover my head with a blanket. Then he’ll lick my hand. I’ll say uncharitable things to him. He’ll ignore me. By then I’m so annoyed I can’t get back to sleep anyway.

I love my dog. But he’s the bane of my existence. It could be worse, though. He could talk.

“Ma. Ma. MA! Wake UP! I’ve gotta go! I mean, I really, really, really have to… oh. You’re up. Cool. Come on. Hurry. I’m not kidding. I really have to go.”

“Squirrel! SQUIRREL! Oh. No. That was just a leaf. Sorry. But it looked just like…SQUIRREL!”

“I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you!”

“I’m hungry. Starving. Feed me. I want food. Food. Yeah. What you’re having. That would be great. Food. Why won’t you feed me?”

“INTRUDER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!! This is bad! This is really, really, really, really bad. So very bad. Time to panic!”

“Can I come in? Can I come in? Hey! Can I come in? Can I?”

“Pet me. Pay attention. Scratch me right there. Hey. Why are you staring at that screen? I’m right here!”

I love my little Quagmire, but if he could talk, he’d drive me up a wall.

IMG_3072.JPG

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The Alien on my Face

I’d kinda like to live.

As if this Barbie doll didn’t already come with a ton of accessories (glasses, compression socks, night guard…) I now use a CPAP machine. Heaven help me.

CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, and it’s a device used to help you breathe at night if you have Sleep Apnea. Which I do. Big time. According to my recent sleep study, I stopped breathing entirely 8 times during the night, and I had 225 hypopneas, which are shallow breaths that represent an airflow decrease. Good grief. No wonder I’m always so tired. Every night I’ve been fighting for my life.

It’s not like I didn’t already know this. I snore. And I had a sleep study about 15 years ago that indicated that I had sleep apnea, but this was before Obamacare. I had no insurance and couldn’t afford the machinery. So I had to just take my chances.

That, and I’ve known a bunch of people that have gotten sleep apnea machines and given up on them in sheer frustration. One friend sleeps hot, and his mask kept filling up with sweat, so he was constantly waking up feeling as though he was drowning. Another was a stomach sleeper like me, and could not get comfortable. A third nearly strangled herself with the air hose. And a fourth had her mask destroyed by her dog.

I’ve been living with this alien on my face every night for about a month and a half now, with mixed results. Once, I woke up with my heart pounding, absolutely convinced that I was suffocating. I ripped the mask off, but I was awake for several hours before that sensation of utter panic left me.

Another time, I woke up completely unable to exhale. The thing was blowing so hard that my mouth was blown up like a chipmunk trying to carry too many nuts. Oh, I was getting air that time. Boy, was I ever. But you have to be able to breathe out, too. Again, I had to rip off the mask.

More often, though, it’s simply the fact that I’m not getting a good seal, and the air is escaping around the edges of the mask and blowing up into my eyeballs. That’s a weird way to wake up. That, and like my stomach sleeping friend, it’s nearly impossible to get comfortable.

Another unexpected side effect is that I no longer remember any of my dreams. I’m sure that has to do with the fact that I’m no longer waking up several dozen times a night. But I miss my dreams. I have a very rich inner world.

I hate this CPAP. I mean, I really, truly, completely hate it. So why am I still putting myself through this torture? Several reasons.

First of all, I’d kinda like to live. I used to think it would be nice to die in my sleep. That would be the way to go. But it turns out a lot of people have died in their sleep when they didn’t have to. I’d really rather not be one of those.

Second, I now have a husband, and he gets to watch me stop breathing. That’s got to be really upsetting. I’d like to spare him that. And he’s also a reason to try really hard to stick around for as long as I can.

But most importantly, I have to admit that I’ve never felt more rested in my entire life. Once I stop my nightly fight with the alien and allow it to assimilate me, I sleep soundly. (I don’t even have to get up to pee as often. That’s an unexpected bonus.) And when I wake up, I’m refreshed. That makes a difference. Such a difference.

So I’m going to try my best to adjust to this hateful thing. I need to be the adult in my life and make the effort. It’s for my own good. Wish me luck.

CPAP

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Ever-So-Slightly Askew

Thud. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle…
That’s what I heard. On my bed.

Thud. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle…

That’s what I heard. On my bed.

I figured it was just the dog, so I didn’t even open my eyes. I settled back in, wrapping my arms around said dog, who was on the opposite side of the bed from the sounds.

That sure made me open my eyes. But slowly. Because I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to like what I saw. And I didn’t.

It was a little black bat, fluttering on the pillow next to mine. For a few seconds, I tried to convince myself that it was a really big moth. I could live with a moth. I could fall in love with a moth, given the alternatives. But no. It was a bat.

Everything happened really quickly after that. I jumped up, screaming. This freaked out the dog, who bolted from the room. (Some watchdog he turned out to be.) It also freaked out the bat, who proceeded to fly around my head. This, of course, made me run from the bedroom as well, slamming the door behind me.

Okay, good. The bat was trapped in the bedroom. I could take a moment to figure out what to do. First, close the hysterical dog in the bathroom, so I could prop open the front door. And then turn on every single light in the house.

Now it was time to turn around and release the bat. Except, I didn’t have to do that. Because the little b*****rd had squeezed himself under the crack of the door and was already flying into the living room to join me.

We had a moment, the bat and I. I was screeching and dancing in my jammies, he was doing an acrobatic pirouette, all around my head. (I bet it looked kind of artistic, from an emotional remove, with the mute button on.) Then he darted out the door, back into the night.

So, yeah, that happened. After I spent more than a grand last year getting the bats out of the attic and replacing all the insulation, then spending days blocking what I thought were their only entrances into my house.

They’re baaaaack!

I’m not having a good day. It’s bad enough when this country already feels askew because of the political shenanigans in the white house. Now I get to wonder if I’m going to have unexpected visitors in my home. Everything suddenly feels out of control. Forget parallel universes. Just stop tilting this one, please. I need my rest.

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be the one sleeping in my car all summer.

Bat Boy

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No Owl Should Ask Its Name: Crawford Hoarding

The alarm woke me out of REM sleep again.

The alarm woke me out of REM sleep again. I hate when that happens. It takes me forever to shake the fog out of my head.

But it also allows me to take a peek into my subconscious, because I’m often still in a dream, and can actually hear what’s going through my mind for a split second. That was the case this morning, and it was so surreal I immediately wrote it down.

What the voice in my head was saying was, “No owl should ask its name: Crawford Hoarding”.

Um…What am I supposed to do with that? Who, or what, is Crawford Hoarding?

It almost sounds like the name of a mansion in one of those fascinating places where people name their mansions. If so, I suspect the place is jam packed with stuff. “Welcome to Crawford Hoarding! Please watch your step.”

And why shouldn’t an owl inquire about the place? (Or person. Or thing.) What would the consequences be for said owl? And since when can owls talk, anyway? Where were we? Narnia?

I think this would make a great book title. I should suggest it to J. K. Rowling. She could work her magic on it. And I could get a free ticket to the premier of the movie version.

Until then, warn any owls that you might encounter to mind their own business. Just in case.

owl

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The Middle Distance

I shouldn’t blog when I’m this tired. I’m seeing things out of the corners of my eyes that aren’t actually there. Furtive movements. I so rarely have the opportunity to use the word “furtive”. Why is that? Hmmm…

Clearly, I lack focus. I’m finding it impossible to think coherently. So brace yourself, dear reader. This might be a bumpy ride.

Okay, I just had to slap myself on the cheek to break my prolonged stare into the middle distance. It is stare, right? Not stair? No. Not stair. That would be silly.

The middle distance. What a seductive place. I often find myself there and it comes as a shock, because I know that’s not where I intended to go. Visiting that place has gotten me into trouble at school and in office meetings.

But the middle distance is so magical. And comfortable. It can embrace you like a lover. I’m surprised I haven’t gotten stuck there. Once I’ve arrived, it’s hard to leave.

And, better yet, it comes with glaze. I love glaze. It’s delicious. But not when it’s used on my eyes.

Nothing much ever happens in the middle distance, and yet I can’t seem to stay away. I’m not even sure I age while there. Time seems to stop. That’s why I cannot say with any accuracy how long I linger there.

It never looks the same. Sometimes it’s pretty, sometimes it’s not. I think. I’m not sure, because it’s always blurry. And there must be something in the water, or at least the air, because I lose all motivation. It’s the place I go when I desperately want to sleep but can’t.

The middle distance. The land that time forgot. It lies somewhere beyond the event horizon, just west of the Twilight Zone. You may not know it, but you’ve been there. And you’ll be back.

If you happen to see me there, say hello. And make sure I’m not operating any heavy equipment. I’ll be the one with the glaze.

http _img03.deviantart.net_8a19_i_2010_006_c_3_staring_into_the_distance_by_annoyedgirl

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How I Live Now

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I could have told you the exact amount of cash I had in my wallet, down to the penny. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, wondering how I’d pay my bills, or what on earth I’d do if I became seriously ill with no health insurance. For most of my life, I was about one flat tire away from utter homelessness. It was exhausting.

I learned to add rice to a can of soup to make it a meal. I was the coupon queen. I wore clothes until my meager sewing skills couldn’t keep them together anymore, and then I’d replace them at the thrift store. My shoes would all but disintegrate on my feet.

For entertainment, I’d play with my dogs, or take a walk, or watch PBS. I checked out mounds of library books. I knew when all the museums and galleries were free.

I’m not saying that all the joy in life is brought about by money, but life sure has improved now that the financial pressure has eased considerably.

I still keep a tiny bit of cash on hand for emergencies, but I couldn’t tell you how much. Mostly, I sleep through the night, and while I still avoid extravagant, unnecessary bills, I don’t worry about my ability to pay the ones I do incur. My health insurance is probably better than what most people have here in America. (Which isn’t saying much.) And recently I replaced all four of my tires at once without batting an eye. (Okay, maybe I swallowed hard for a second, but there was absolutely no eye batting.)

I still don’t eat at five-star restaurants, but I actually buy organic fruits and vegetables without considering them a splurge. And if I really want something in particular to eat, I figure out a way to get it. I can’t remember the last time I even opened a can of soup. I still use coupons, but I’m not ruled by them. I still shop at thrift stores mostly, but every once in a while I’ll get myself something really nice to wear. And my shoes are in good shape.

I have a lot more fun than I used to. I can afford to get out there and engage with the world. I eat out. I see the odd movie. I pay admission fees without perspiring, and occasionally donate a little extra to museums. I still love library books, though.

Sometimes I’ll look around and wonder how I got to this place. It was a long, hard struggle. It doesn’t seem real to me. I doubt it ever will. I keep expecting to wake up to another can of soup. And I doubt I’ll ever be able to retire. Because of that, I’ll always appreciate how I live now. I’ll never take anything for granted. I’ll always feel as though I’ve taken off a pair of shoes that were two sizes too small. For now, it really feels good to wiggle my toes!

Life. It’s so fragile, so precarious. Enjoy it as much as you can, while you can.

Financial Stress.jpg

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Melatonin Dreams

My dreams are strange at the best of times, but when I take Melatonin to help me sleep, I seem to descend into a Seuss-like subbasement of my subconscious, a place where only Salvador Dali would feel at home.

One time I dreamed that there were several giraffes walking on water, headed straight toward my drawbridge. I was afraid I wouldn’t get the bridge opened on time, but I did. As a matter of fact, I opened it so quickly that it flew apart and came crashing down, tons of concrete and steel missing me by inches. And yet the giraffes ambled on, without so much as a fare-thee-well. They must have been late for a very important date. The nerve of some water-walking mammals.

Dreams like that make me avoid Melatonin. I only take it as a last resort, when I’m so desperate to sleep that any warped delusion is superior to tossing and turning. It never fails to knock me out. It just leaves my unconscious mind to fend for itself.

But I can’t really blame the Melatonin, can I? I mean, it didn’t put that imagery in my brain. It had to have been there all along. The Melatonin simply sets it free.

And that makes me wonder what else is lurking in my mental warehouse. I bet there are creatures in there that I have yet to encounter. Beings with magical powers that I hope are used for good, not evil. People and things that are capable of walking on Escher’s staircases. Floating islands of thought, drifting in a psychedelic sea of creativity.

It kind of makes me feel as though I’m carrying around, deep within me, a savory stew of untapped potential. It’s strange to think that there are places in my head where I have never been, where the rules of physics are merely suggestions, and anything could happen.

How exciting! How scary.

19 Salvador Dali Mysterious Mouth Appearing in the Back of My Nurse, 1941

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