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Precious Sleep

I have a problem with an annual event that is around the corner. It isn’t tax day or any of the holidays; it’s the day when daylight savings begins. And it’s going to happen this Sunday, March 10. I call it Daylight Wasting Time.

I don’t like losing an hour of sleep, but even worse, I am irritated by the loss of morning light. On Saturday, March 9th, the sun will rise in my part of the world at 6:24 AM. The next day, my groggy body will greet the sun at 7:22 AM.

You may point out that I’ll get the extra hour of light on the other end, that instead of a 6:03 PM, the sun will set at 7:04.  To me, that is nonsense. My body doesn’t reset its clock with the digital world. My body won’t be hungry just because my analog timekeeper tells me it’s dinnertime.

My sleep cycle won’t have had enough darkness to prepare for my usual bedtime. I usually find myself reading an hour later. The next morning I wake up to an annoying alarm, necessary because my body’s circadian rhythms are still intact. Missing another hour of sleep, I’ll blunder through the day. It will take me a few weeks to catch up.

Perhaps you think I am protesting too much. However, I have the weight of scientific research on my side. Scientists have rigorously studied sleep, and anything that affects quantity or quality of sleep is a health threat.  In Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker provides a litany of what insufficient sleep can do. These include:

  • Loss of concentration, memory and increased risk of dementia
  • Increased risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke, colds, flu and other diseases
  • Weight gain and all the weight-related health problems, such as diabetes
  • Premature death

The Bottom Line:  Sufficient sleep is the bedrock of health. Without it, life can be shorter and miserable.

To learn more about the importance of sleep, I recommend an article in the Washington Post by Carolyn Y. Johnson titled, “Go to bed! Brain researchers warn that lack of sleep is a public health crisis.” (January 24, 2019)

As for daylight savings time, I’ve been preparing for the last two weeks by going to bed earlier. Also, I am not laying awake at night complaining about something I can’t control. I’ll get that hour back in the fall. Perhaps I should move to Arizona and stop complaining altogether.

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What Does Quitting Look Like?

One of the joys of being a hospice volunteer is that sometimes it turns everything I know upside down. People who are on the edge of death see things that I haven’t yet seen. And sometimes I get a window of opportunity to learn from them.

A case in point. Often when people are diagnosed with cancer, they tell me that they will do everything they can to stay alive. For example, a friend who was told she only has a few months left to live told me, “I am not a quitter.”

I hear that a lot. Family and friends feel the need to encourage the sick to “not give up.” Patients reassure family and friends by telling them that they are fighters and will give it everything they got.

I wonder if we tell someone to give it the good fight because it makes us feel like we are doing something. It creates an illusion of control when feeling powerless. On the patients’ side of the equation, staying in the fight even when they are miserable and fighting against the odds, can feel like a huge contribution towards reassuring others, even if it goes against their sense of what is right for themselves.

The big problem with this is that people sometimes feel blindsided when death comes. “But he was fighting it.” Or, “Maybe she died because I didn’t encourage her enough.”

I think the problem is with the word ‘quitting.’ There is the kind of quitting that involves giving up. It is passive. But letting go and taking charge of the kind of death you want is entirely different. Dying with dignity is not quitting; it is an opportunity to embrace death, and in doing so, embrace life. It bestows a legacy of bravery and peace to those we leave behind.

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Lifted from my depression, I recall the vivid starlit sky, as if seeing it for the first time.

I lived with depression for roughly 20 years. The last two of those years were beyond description, other than it was soul-crushing. In his book, Darkness Visible, William Styron describes his depression this way, “The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come—not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”

Depression is the most common serious psychiatric illness. It is also one of the most treatable. Depression is a disorder that may affect your feelings and outlook on life. Persistent feelings of sadness, a loss of interest in life, hopelessness, and pessimism are common warning signs of depression. The symptoms can vary from person to person. Anyone can feel sad or blue from time to time. However, a persistent or unexplained bout of malaise—the blues—is not normal and should be evaluated.

The following are some common symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling sad or “empty”
  • Feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • Fits of crying with no reasonable explanation
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Feeling anxious, irritable, or restless
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies, social activities, or sex
  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, sometimes accompanied by decision-making and memory problems
  • Insomnia or other sleep-related problems
  • Appetite loss and/or weight loss
  • Overeating and/or weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts.

Depression may be accompanied by a number of other psychological as well as physical complaints. Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment—such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain—may be related to depression. Other physical complaints that may be related to depression include:

  • Panic attacks or phobias
  • Tight chest or throat
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Gastrointestinal complaints such as nausea, diarrhea, intestinal gas, and stomach pain
  • Muscle aches and pains

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapies, and other methods can effectively treat people with depression.

Don’t be one of the many people who don’t seek treatment. Get help. I’ve been free of depression for more than 30 years, and there is no better feeling than to love waking up and feeling alive. Describing his recovery from depression, Styron quotes Dante, “And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars.”

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A Valentine to Myself

This Valentine’s Day I am giving myself the gift of self-care. No one can care for me better than I can care for myself. I am the one responsible for how much I move, sit, eat, sleep and relax. This Valentine’s Day I can stuff myself with unhealthy foods, but the consequences are weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. Are potato chips worth the risk of losing my health? Do I really want to wreck my heart on Cupid’s holiday?

I think the expression ‘comfort foods’ needs to be expunged. Losing a foot to diabetes is horribly uncomfortable. Instead, I propose replacing the expression ‘comfort foods’ with ‘risky foods.’ This stops me short; makes me think. Is the food I want to eat worth the consequences? What about the amount?

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” I can break my health routine  today, but is falling off the health wagon a good substitute for excellence? I think not.

Here’s what I am trying: Before I eat something, I try to pause and think about the consequence of the food or the amount of food I am about to eat. This little action has huge results. Do I do this all the time? Hell, no; not even close to all of the time. But I am getting better at this.

I am not going to deprive myself on this day of hearts and flowers. I have a good walk planned, a nice dinner with small portions, and a delicious piece of high-quality artisan chocolate to end my day. Seems like excellence to me.

How are you caring for yourself today?

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Service Animals

I have a friend who has a service dog. This dog is amazing, and takes her job quite seriously. She is trained to perform specific duties and she does these perfectly.

My friend’s dog is a Papillion. Her tiny size does not interfere with the service she performs, but to the ill-informed, people sometimes doubt that this miniature pooch can be a service dog.

What is a Service Animal?

According to information gathered on the U.S. Department of Justice’s American Disability Act:

“Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.

The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.

Are emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals considered service animals under the ADA?

No.  These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person.  Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.  However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places.  You may check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.

Here is where it gets confusing. Service animals aren’t required to wear any special vest or indication of their designation. So, how do you know if an animal is a companion, comfort or service animal? You can ask, but the law limits the questions to the following:

  • Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

You can’t request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.

We’ve heard stories about various animals being declared as support or service animals. These aren’t dogs, so they aren’t service animals. Pigs, chickens and lizards have all made the news. Peacocks, snakes, squirrels and hamsters have also created headlines. These news sensations do a disservice to those who rely on their service animals.

These controversial stories make it hard for my friend. She just wants to quietly live her life and stay healthy. Her dog doesn’t bark or create any distraction, other than its cuteness can be hard to resist. But resist we must. Do not pet a service animal while they are working. They have an important job to do, and any distraction is unwelcome.

Some of us may roll our eyes at the concept; our judgments may be harsh. We may think, “Isn’t that person just sneaking a pet on to the plane?” I can’t speak for every situation, but I know that service animals can do amazing things, such as detect low blood sugar, medication needs, and seizures, to name a few. Veterans and others with PTSD have been mightily helped by service animals.

So, the next time you see someone with a service animal, keep in mind that the animal may be saving a life, which is a lot more than I get done in a day.

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Dying Twice

“They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and the second, a bit later on, when somebody mentions your name for the last time.” – Origin unconfirmed, but often attributed to Bansky

I love this quote, but I don’t agree with it. Here are my reasons:

  1. We can be breathing, but dead – dead because we aren’t exploiting the wonderful, only life we have.
  2. My name is not my legacy. Nor is memory of me. My legacy is visible every time I help someone have a little easier time; when they feel a little more love, acceptance, and support; when I give reason for someone to smile;  and when I extend the hand of hope.

I don’t know what death is, but I do know that in the grander scheme of things, my death is inconsequential. I am but a speck of dust…and that suits me just fine. In fact, it relieves me of the burden of having to be or do anything more than living.

So, why do I like this quote? It reminds me to keep saying the names of those who left earth before me. Also, it means that even in grief, as long as I remember, I am tending to the life of those who passed before me.

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