Stress and Health: How I Became A Sleep-Evangelist

Hi. I’ve missed this space. Missed writing. I’ve missed you. It has been a really rough 2 years. 2011? 2012? Kind of a blur. Things have just not been going well. Continue to not go well. Really, we are barely hanging on.

For the last part of 2012, I clung to the belief that 2013 was going to be the Year Awesomeness Returns.

So far it is not. Luckily, it has nearly a full year to redeem the crappy start, because it started in dark place. As I mentioned the other day, my Dad went into a (brief, though terrifying) hepatic coma just after New Years. He STILL doesn’t have a new liver, despite remaining at the top of the list for a full year. The good news is that he got out of the hospital yesterday.  The bad news is that he is that any transplant is on hold until he has some further tests today. So, we are waiting. Still always waiting. For the phone to ring. For a new change. More varices. For more confusion.  For the next potential complication. For the latest set-back. Waiting. When I get a call or text, I now instinctively hold my breath. The Babylady wants to know immediately if Bapa got a liver and if I will be going away for a “long” time to be there. It is a constant, underlying source of stress and it has gone on for over 2 years now.

dad and babylady iowa grow and resist

My Dad and the Babylady shucking corn in Iowa last September

There are too many other big stressors to list. It seems like there are seemingly weekly additions to our stress pile and none of it that ends. My partner has had ongoing, unresolved health issues the past few years that impact pretty much every activity of our life. Completely unrelated to her medical issues, she also had 3 surgeries (sinus, knee, and shoulder) in the last 5 weeks of 2012. And, despite having great medical insurance, the medical costs are ridiculous. Finances are a huge stressor. While I know that I am incredibly privileged, it is still ridiculously stressful to not know if we can make the monthly payment on our underwater mortgage every single month.

Our dog suddenly became very ill and died a few months ago (our 2nd dog death in 3 years). A person close to my partner committed suicide. A friend got diagnosed with terrible cancer. I’ve found out someone who I truly love, adore, and admire might have a new potentially debilitating disease. Our commutes are long and in horrible traffic.

dogs grow and resist

Otter (L) RIP 2009, Zia (R) RIP 2012

Sometimes, it is just too much. It has been incredible stressful…all this illness. Disease. Death. It is hard personally and it is really hard to parent through. To deal with it ourselves is one thing. To then have to talk about it with the kiddo is harsh. To be so constantly spent and remain the kind of parents we want to be is hard.

I am hurt. I am exhausted. I am just so, so weary. And, I’m getting to the sleep part. Promise.

I recently had my own health scares. I have always had really low blood pressure. My heart rate is always low-normal. This was still true as of early fall.  And then it was suddenly 146/104. Consistently. Resting heart rates of 110-128. Throughout the day. Upon waking. Needless to say, this scared the crap out of me. And hanging out with a heart rate of 128 doesn’t feel great. It feels like a panic attack.

The big bump came after soon after I had my Effexor dose upped. Hypertension (and maybe tachycardia) is a known side-effect of Effexor, but hadn’t been an issue for me on lower doses. Freaked out, I decided to taper off (under supervision).  And, holy HELL, that sucked. I had terrible palpitations, weird chest pressure, and terrible anxiety. I logically knew that the symptoms were related to medication withdraw, but I was going off the medication because of potential cardiac issues.  So having MORE cardiac symptoms were alarming and anxiety producing.  As a bonus, Effexor withdrawal also filled me full of intermittent, unpredictable rage. Yes, I was a HOOT to be around. Loads of fun. An anxious, pissed off, palpitating woman who has had 2 incredibly shitty years.  Life of the party, I promise!

meg cardiacBeing the alarmist I am, I got into the cardiologist asap and had some tests done. And by alarmist I mean: I take some medical situations and symptoms seriously. And, while I don’t talk much about being a nurse, I am one. History has shown that if I think you need to see a specialist, or go to the ER, or see your doctor, you should really listen to me. You really, really should. I saved a lot of lives the past 2+ years by being pushy/bossy/advocate-y. Hell, even if I am just telling you how to manage your narcotic-related constipation, you should listen to me. Good nurses don’t let their peeps stop pooping. Seriously, if I love you, you will have no better advocate than me.

The tests all came back totally normal and my blood pressure and pulse are once again completely acceptable. Not as low as my baseline, but good.  And the withdrawal symptoms of rage, palpitations, and anxiety have ended. Collective sigh of relief from anyone that came near me.

It the midst of all this, I found out I have some endocrine issues happening. If you don’t know much about the endocrine system you can fully overwhelm your brain by reading here, or you can just know that (quite broadly) all the endocrine loops affect each other in a giant mass of communication that I like to envision as a tangled slinky. Or maybe like the earbuds on Portlandia.   Know what effs up your endocrine system? Stress. Chronic stress.  My adrenal system? Kinda shot. Cortisol? Yeah, I don’t really have any. Know what happens when you have an jacked up endocrine system? You have possible thyroid, blood sugar, and hormonal imbalances. And I’m having them all.

Anyhow, that is a lot of back story to what is really on my mind. And that is sleep. (Took me long enough to get here, eh?)

I started seeing a naturopath (ND), in addition to the MD that started unraveling all of this. I started taking a few medications that I won’t bore you with. Some supplements. Some things improved. More testing. Then I found out just before the holidays that I likely have reactivated mono.

I wanted to scream. Orders: Sleep 9-12 hours a day. Nap 1-3 hours a day. Only light exercise and only if I don’t feel tired. How would that even be possible?

It felt like a slap in the face and a permission slip all in one. Sleep. (You mean I can just let myself sleep?) I don’t sleep enough. Ever. I am never rested. Not ever. (You mean I can just stop. Stop and not do?) A body needs consistent, restorative sleep to function optimally. Sleep to be able to handle stress. I have heard and seen it mentioned that sleep before midnight counts double. Now, I don’t know if that is true or not. But, for me, it is a helpful thing to think about. And when my naturopath went through the checklist of symptoms I was having related to sleep deprivation, I was stunned into submission.

I have essentially no control of any of the things that are stressful.  But it became clear in that moment with my naturopath both how important sleep is and that it is also something that only I can control. (And, as a bonus: YAY! I get to control something!)

All I can do is sleep. So, I’m sleeping. I made rules for myself and it is helping. I can feel myself slowly rising out of a fog. Or at least recognize how poor sleep was worsening some already crappy situations. I’m preaching sleep from the highest rafters.

Sleep. In 2013, I will sleep. Heal and sleep.

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22 Responses to Stress and Health: How I Became A Sleep-Evangelist

  1. Rebecca Lane says:

    Oh honey! I was diagnosed 2+ years ago with sleep apnea. Likely had it for 10 years, during which time I was a chronically bitchy, miserable woman. And lost a few jobs due to terrible productivity. Being on APAP treatment is not fun, but I finally actually do sleep. I SO understand.

  2. Lise says:

    I am so sorry about your rotten couple of years. I can completely relate–we’ve had a lot of crap, too. I wanted to thank you for writing it. It’s not stuff you usually read on blogs, and in fact, is why I stopped writing mine (too much crap I wasn’t talking about felt fake and wrong). Sometimes, it helps a bit to read about other’s crap. I do so hope 2013 brings you and your family more joy than pain–and lots and lots of sleep.

  3. It’s hard to balance everything, even when things are going okay and then when they’re not, it’s easy to let stress get the better of us. I totally know how you feel. Glad to hear you are getting some sleep now though. I learned how important sleep was a few years ago. I was not getting enough either and I am way less crazy now that I sleep enough. It’s like how they tell you on the airplane, to put your oxygen mask on first. You gotta take care of yourself, so you still be there for everyone else that needs you. Oh and those dog photos melt my heart. We had a chocolate lab pass away a little over a year ago too. Maybe you need a puppy! If you don’t want to get your own yet, I’d be happy to bring mine over to you for a little puppy therapy 😉

  4. Here’s to not just sleep, but rest. Blessed, blessed rest. Love to you and your little family. I’ll be praying for a better 2013. ❤

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience! I always wondered how you did all that you do, and now I know. you just don’t sleep. Well, hopefully most things can be put aside while rest. Get better, find some serenity in all the chaos. Wishing you the best this year

    • Ah Margie! Thanks! Well…I’m doing far less. And, I am home with Lucy 2 several days during the week when she isn’t in preschool- so I am home a lot. My problem is staying up to late doing stupid things =)

      • Hope you are doing better. What a blessing you get to spend time with Lucy during the week. I wish I had spent more time with mine –
        I can definitely relate to staying up too late. I don’t know why I can’t pick a bed time and stick to it. I guess I am like a little kid in that way.
        Get better soon!!

      • Thanks! I am so normally resistant to sleep (I’m hesitant still to say “was” as sleep is a slippery slope for me!)… but gotta say…it is kinda rocking my world!

  6. Gena says:

    I’m so sorry to hear you’re feeling crappy, less-than-optimal… I too am a nurse and took Effexor XR for 5 years after my brother died. I weaned off once, doing a doctor-directed 2 week wean from 150 mg (150-75-0). Needless to say, I went right back on them due to agitation and general pissyness (official nursing diagnosis). That Effexor withdrawal is legendary! A year later I weaned off again doing a 3 week step down for a 4 month wean. 150-112.5-75-37.5-18 mg… kept breaking caps in half at pharmacist direction. My doc said ‘oh don’t worry’, but he didn’t have to go through it. The very gradual wean did allow me to get off without rebound or adverse symptoms.

    The med was great, worked really well, but it sure is hard to get off it. Definitely needs a long wean.

    Another thing that helped me, and might help you, is meditation. I began to study Buddhism and found some peace with many parts of it. I hope you find some harmony and peace and that 2013 is a more balanced and joyful year for you.

    • Yep, it is harsh. I went 225-150-75-off. I was a mess. I thought I was well managed on it, but I feel much, much, much better off of it. On low dose of Prozac and don’t get brain shocks when I am late taking a dose, so that is nice. And much less anxiety. Though…I’m also sleeping so that has helped tremendously! =)

      • Gena says:

        Late with a dose brain shocks – I KNOW! I do remember that and it was a reason I finally went off it. I kept thinking if I had car accident, went to ER, got admitted somehow I wouldn’t get Effexor and would have traumatic w/d. As good as it was for the depression, it caused me really, really vivid dreams and worry about missing or being late with dose. Which now that I’m reading your experience… may have been contributing to poor sleep for me.

        All in all, effective med at the time, but not worth the s/s if late or missed dose.

        Glad you’ve found a med that is helpful. Sometimes it really is a trial and error kind of thing. Like you, I’ve added holistic and naturopath docs and am feeling better about life in general. Big Medicine and Big Pharma don’t have a monopoly on health…. other ways also helpful.

        Be well.

  7. debi says:


    my heart and arms (hugs from afar) go out to you. i have fibromyalgia to deal with and several other related things that go with it (one being chronic fatigue) so i do understand when you talk about the range of emotions and wondering why am i being given so much shit to deal with that you, jen, and lucy are going thru. (i am interested in your suggestions for narcotic-related constipation).

    it is amazing how we keep on keepin’ on and when someone “gives” us permission to take care of ourselves we are so shocked! as a nurse, you are a caregiver first and take care of yourself second. sometimes “yourself” never makes it to the top of the list! i, too, am a caregiver and even tho i’ve been given permission (orders) to take care of myself, i don’t always have the chance. i try very hard, but never really seem to make it work. part of it is my fault, i love being able to help people and love to “fix” others problems. i take on too much and i suspect that you do too.

    sorry for rambling. . .

    anyway, know that i am thinking of you and only wish you the best. i hope your load lightens soon. best to your parents too and i hope his liver comes soon. the waiting must seem like a million pound weight waiting to fall.


  8. dixiebelle says:

    Oh crap. I don’t know what to say, but I couldn’t read without leaving a comment to say I am thinking of you & your family, even though you don’t know me, but I am hoping you get some sleep, and some good shit starts happening to you too.

  9. Turtle says:

    Oh wow, I hope things continue to improve for you. I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism last year, and even though the whole thing has been very uneventful (I was asymptomatic), I became anxious and nervous about my health “failing.” I guess it’s fear of the unknown. Anyway, the whole thing has made me amazed at how people deal with more serious health issues.

    And yes, sleep is definitely a good thing, so keep that up!

  10. (._.) Hoping for better for you.

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