Night after night I would lie awake until 1 a.m. or later, freaking out about my inevitable exhaustion the next day, as the Santa Ana winds violently rustled the Italian Cypress trees outside my bedroom window.
Allergies have been kicking my ass for the last month. The Mother-in-Law has been declining in health for the last three months, requiring The Wife to be away for weeks at a time coordinating her care. This development has laid more burdens on my shoulders, more responsibility than I have had to maintain stress levels under than I have had to endure since going on disability.
The Son is a senior in high school, The Daughter has a job and neither of them drive yet. I have to train them to drive in one direction, getting them to their respective appointments on time in the process, and still be able to drive myself back home without triggering Meniere’s symptoms.
With all of this going on, health of relatives, my health, my children’s demands on my time, etc, I’ve still written more in the last few months than I have in years. You may well ask “why is that?” because I’m writing this article to tell you why that is, even though this is starting to feel like an infomercial from the inside, my writing of this piece. I’m three months into my CPAP experience and I credit my clearly improved outlook to my much improved sleep patterns.
To start from the beginning; I don’t think I’ve ever slept right at any point in my life. I have never gotten up in the morning on my own. It takes me hours to wake up (still does sometimes) to feel as if I am present in the world. Mornings have always been my enemy, and early arrivals have almost always been impossible to attain. The crime here is that I never thought to ask why this was. Not one time.
I accepted the blame for attendance problems, all my life. You are lazy. You need discipline. You need to do this or that fad thing. More light at different times of the day. Take these sleep aids, take this wake up pill, drink coffee in the morning, etc, etc, etc. The list is never ending and all of it has been wrong. All of it.
I used to get by on 4 hours of sleep a night, pretty routinely. Go to bed at 2am, wake up at 7am, go to work. Usually driving in the morning while not really feeling awake, having had to be shaken awake by The (ever faithful) Wife and pushed out the door with a cup of go juice after the mandatory wake up shower. I have always hated naps. I never feel like I wake up from a nap. The lethargy just continues until I succumb to sleep for several hours.
Weekends were sleep catch up times (something which has been demonstrated not to work) we would sleep well into the afternoon most Saturdays and Sundays, and still not feel well rested come Monday morning when the process started all over again.
Then the Meniere’s symptoms got worse, expanding from the Fall and Spring weeks of suffering to the months of suffering to almost every other day suffering. Rotational vertigo every week, sometimes more than once a week. I had to stop working. I had to figure out what went wrong. Why was this happening to me?
When I started paying attention to how I felt, when I started allowing myself to follow my own rhythms rather than the imposed rhythms of modern society; sleep when I was tired, eat when I was hungry, expend effort when I felt strong enough, I started noticing something about my sleep.
I slept way, way too long. I’m not talking about 9 or 10 hours. Sixteen hours was common, sometimes as long as a full 24 hours. At first we chalked this up to the side effects of the anti-nausea drugs for vertigo symptoms. I’ve always been easy to medicate. I’m a lightweight drinker, and generally another person’s half-dose of medication will have the desired effect on me. But the long sleep wasn’t limited to days when I had been taking medication. I also had very, very long periods of intense dreaming sleep. I’ve written about a few of these in the past. Most of them were unintelligible upon waking, but I really enjoyed them while in them.
Finally this year I decided to start looking into my sleep patterns to see if there was something that could actually be done to get me to sleep something like normal hours. Normal in a modern sense, not a historical sense, which is different.
I went to see a sleep specialist on the advice of one of my doctors. The sleep specialist said sleep apnea before I was even scheduled for a test. Well, that wouldn’t do. I’m not going to a doctor to be sold a treatment without a diagnosis. I was raised by a car salesman, I know when I’m being sold something, and this guy was a salesman and a half. Definitely not a doctor. So after getting another doctor, a real doctor (second opinion time) to understand that I actually wanted to be tested first, I did the sleep study. Eight hours of misery with hardly a wink of sleep from my perspective, trussed up like a turkey with wires and monitors the whole time. The technician swore to the fact that I actually did sleep, and that I stopped breathing just under 30 times an hour while I was asleep. Well within the range of needing a CPAP machine to help regulate breathing during sleep. So a second study wearing the CPAP mask was scheduled.
I was very anxious about sleeping with a CPAP mask. Sleeping with a mask on has always horrified me, in an Alien stuck to your face kind of way. Don’t believe me? This was the nightmare I had while waiting to be tested.
May 19, 2016 2:52 pm – Just woke up from another intense dream. Another architecture dream. But the dream wasn’t architecture, the dream was a video game. The particulars of the dream, the game, the architecture in the game, are not important.What is important is the meaning of the dream, the game, the architecture. I awoke with a profound sense of loss. A future fraught with anguish. Is this what my life is now? Am I defined by my abilities to play a game? It’s been 8 years or so since I picked up World of Warcraft. On the one hand it has kept me attached to people, given me a reason to get out of bed even if I didn’t feel like doing anything besides stare at a screen. On the other hand it consumes a lot of time that I increasingly feel should be devoted elsewhere, if only I felt well enough often enough to do something else.
If that is true, that I am defined by my abilities to play a game, then even by that limited measure I’m not doing too good. I cannot see the game well enough to follow the various bits on the screen and know where to move in time to keep myself alive. As a raid healer, that is a serious problem. I not only have to stay alive, I have to keep others alive. When they start telling you “your job is to stay alive” they are including you in their raid out of the kindness of their hearts and not much else.
My health is deteriorating further. The dreams are a signal. They have become more intense and lengthy as my health has worsened. I can fall asleep one day and wake up almost a full day later and not feel as if I have rested. How is this even possible? The notion that someone who used to brag about being able to get by on 4 (and one half. Most important bit that last half) hours of sleep a night could sleep 9, 10, 12, 16, 28 hours and not feel rested is baffling.
So I’m seeing sleep specialists now. Sleep specialists who are hinting that my sleep has probably never been normal. That I have a problem with sleeping that they can fix. Should I let them fix it? The dreams are all I have anymore. If they make the dreams go away, what will be left that is mine?
So the anguished dream I just woke up from?
I know I am real, but the characters in the dream, they are movie characters even though they stand in for caricatures of my bosses from the past. Frank Gaffney is in charge of the firm. Grace Ripley (blonde in a blue wig?) runs all the operations. The game is part of the business, the architecture of the story. The game mirrors the events that occur in the ‘reality’ of the job, serving as an oracle for what happens next. Except that the dream, the reality, is coming to an end. The game is bugged and can’t be completed. It has to be reset. It resets reality. The characters reform in different roles and the game/reality starts over.
Without my dreams, what am I? If my dreams directed me to take up architecture, informed my designs and my goals, will fixing the sleep problem I’ve apparently had all my life destroy the creative side of my life? Will I finally fully wake up and discover all of it was a dream? The certificates and licenses? The rolls of drawings? The wife and children? What is real? What is the dream? I don’t think I can tell anymore.
I am stuck. Stuck in a cycle that has to be ended. I have to figure out what is ailing me so that I can get back to some sense of normality. I cannot continue to sleep for extended periods and marvel at the texture of the dreams. I guess it is time to really wake up. Hope I see everyone on the other side of treatment. Would hate to lose anyone to a reset.
These were my thoughts about the dream, and the dream itself, before going in for the CPAP test. You are being over dramatic, The Wife objected. Don’t publish that right now. Do the test first. See what happens. So I decided to quash my fears until after the test was completed. Let them remain unvoiced for the time being. But I did vow to start this article at the time. I would record my thoughts about my CPAP experience during and after the diagnosis and treatment. I wanted to at least do that much. Record my fears. The facehugger nightmares. The vague fears that life is passing me by and I can’t do a thing about it. But also to record my experiences with the treatment just as they occurred.
The weird part is, once I tried sleeping with the mask on, I knew I was hooked. Right away. The first test was torture. The wires woke me up. The sensors woke me up. I tossed and turned all night. The second test, the test with the mask on, was the best sleep I had had in years. Years. Longer than I could even remember. Never even noticed the wires and sensors until the next morning. Breakfast was ecstasy. My mind bounced everywhere.
I quite literally could not wait to get a machine for the house so that I could try it out regularly in an environment that I felt was comfortable. That process took a few weeks. Medicare pays, but it isn’t fast about doing it. Eventually I did get a machine for the house and that is when the actual work with the machine, the company that supplied the machine, started.
From the first night I realized that I needed to get something to hold my mouth closed at night. I would wake up with my mouth dry as a bone. The chin strap they sent me was of cheap manufacture, but The Wife is the granddaughter of a seamstress, so there was a remedy for that cheap chinstrap that fell apart problem.
Getting the supplies from the machine supplier is probably the most worrisome part of this process. They are completely unwilling to give you extra parts just in case you might need to swap out straps or masks or filters or anything.
Other than that process, dealing with insurers and medical aid suppliers, the experience with the machine has been pretty smooth sailing so far. I put on my flight mask at night and “ascend to 15,000 feet.” I am in my third month with the machine and although I still sleep as much as twelve or 13 hours on occasion (especially when the allergies trigger Meniere’s. Like today) I can get up in the morning when I need to, for the first time since early in my career as a draftsman. Get The Son to school on time with more regularity than we’ve probably done in his entire life.
I haven’t had time to play many games, what with all the other problems that have had to be dealt with this summer. I think I only managed to go swimming one time, which is a record for me. I generally spend days at a time in the pool. Not this summer. There was definitely no time to start the new version of World of Warcraft, even if I had wanted to (luckily I didn’t) and I still haven’t finished the one game I wanted to play, Skyrim.
I have done some writing though, a lot more writing than I really felt I could pull off. I’m still working on some other articles that I have to publish before the election ends, but I have little fear I’ll get to those too, as well as pick up some articles I’ve left laying around for far too long.
Best of all, the dreams continue. I don’t know why I have these extended dream periods, but I am thankful for them. They are more hopeful these days, at least. Not fraught with horrors and endings like they had been for the last decade or so. Still pretty grim, but a better shade of grim. I’ll take that.