I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: January, 2015

To Sleep

arianna-addormentata

Perchance to Dream

A funny thing has happened as I’ve gotten older (and kinder to myself). I am sleeping more. Maybe it’s the dark mornings of Winter. Maybe I am a little depressed. While I do feel subdued, I don’t feel depressed. Indeed, after the death of my mother, I feel an increased urgency to live authentically, say what I want to say, and not waste time. Sleep doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Sleep feels precious and restorative. I am less and less willing to drag myself out of bed, tired. Maybe it’s peace. Maybe it’s wisdom.

I used to drag myself out of bed. To exercise. To school. To work. Frequently to exercise. Years and years of my life, I have dragged myself out of bed in the cold and the dark for punishing workouts which allowed me to feel virtuous and smug and provided an excuse for eating quantities of food. In my disciplined way, on auto-pilot, I did not listen to whether my body needed rest, I simply got up and did whatever it was I felt compelled to do at 5 am.

Now, when I wake at 4:30 or 5:00, I go to the bathroom, marvel that I ever dragged myself out of bed so early, and go back to sleep. Sometimes I have anxiety and find it difficult to go back to sleep. I breathe, I chant (in my head – my husband would be quite perplexed if I chanted out loud in the middle of the night), I do self-Reiki, and I usually go back to sleep, grateful that I am past the awful, awful, awful (did I say awful?) years-long, chronic insomnia of menopause. And when I go back to sleep at 5 am, I dream. Wild dreams. Convoluted spiritual journeys. Dives of rebirth into deep, deep water. And of course my standby, the anxiety dream. Lately, however, I’ve caught myself mid-anxiety-dream and told myself not to go there. “Don’t go there!” I command myself. And the dream changes or stops before it gets too nightmarish. I take this as a good sign. Of kindness and acceptance of myself. I am grateful.

Being sleep-deprived used to be a badge of honor. Oh, I never sleep more than 6 hours a night! Oh, I am so tired! Oh, I have so much to do! Oh, I am so important! Funny, then, I was sicker, had more headaches, and carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. In fact, “I am so tired” was an automatic mantra. I said it all the time. Now, I catch myself when those words bubble up, usually out of habit. I pause. Am I tired? Why would I say I am tired? Is it an excuse? For what? I’ve realized that it’s usually code for I don’t want to do whatever it is I am about to do. So, I pause and check in. What am I feeling? Am I truly tired? Do I need to do something different? Maybe I need to tackle an obstacle and get through it. Maybe I need to ask for help. Maybe I need a nap.

When I stopped therapy last year, I gave myself permission to treat myself to a massage once a month. This permission is hard for me. Massages feel self-indulgent. But the truth is that I am healthier and more content. The funny thing about these once-a-month massages is that they make me realize how tense I am. On the weekends when I get a massage, I find I am more likely to cut out activities and more likely to take a nap. Rest breeds the need for more rest.

Of course, there is still that voice, that habitual voice, that whispers: “You’re going to get fat. You’re going to get out of shape. You’re going to fall behind on achieving your goals. You Are Lazy. You Are Bad.” But there is a new voice that says, Be Quiet! This is me. I feel better when I rest, restore, sleep. And when I feel better, I am more compassionate to myself, more open to others, more creative, more energetic, more able to live authentically. More myself.

The science of sleep and deep rest (Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, Massage) is fascinating. The benefits of sleep are many. Sleep strengthens the immune system, allowing us to heal from pain and wounds. Sleep prevents us from over-eating, helping us to maintain a healthy weight. Sleep eliminates the stress hormones from our body-mind and clears negative emotions, supporting us to be happier and better friends/parents/lovers. Sleep is central to our cognitive well-being, assisting us to process new knowledge and store memories properly. Sleep is crucial for children and teens – growth hormones are more active in certain cycles of sleep. Insufficient sleep is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and possibly Alzheimer’s.  That’s just the short list.

And of course there are all those magical dreams. Those dreams that only occur if you sleep enough to have REM sleep. I’ve started pausing between sleep and waking. Hanging on to my dreams. What was my dream? What does it mean? What can I learn from my dream?

Life is too short to spend it being tired. Go to sleep. Dream. Healing dreams.

Image:  Statue of Sleeping Ariadne

True Love

Maleficent-kisses-Aurora

Mothers and Daughters

After the memorial service for my mom, I returned to New York and hunkered down for a few days, a rare luxury. (Just as one is allowed a parental leave of absence on the birth of a child, we should be granted a child’s leave of absence on the death of a parent.) I slept, spent time with my family, and watched movies. I was drawn to see Maleficent, Wild, and Into The Woods. Wonderful movies with rich characters. Spoiler alert – read no further if you have not seen them and want to.

Maleficent is the story of the scorned woman, scorned by a man not worthy of her, who gets her revenge by cursing his child. It’s the more interesting and complicated story of the older woman who has lived and raged, not the story of the virginal princess who has yet to learn that “happily ever after” is a fairy tale. As the kiss scene approached, it was obvious that the prince, a marginal character, who is entranced by the princess’s outward beauty but doesn’t know her inner soul could not possibly offer the spell-breaking kiss of true love. I began to ponder the implications of Diaval, Maleficent’s raven/human confidant, being her true love, when my daughter whispered, “It’s Maleficent!” GASP! Of course! What truer love than a mother’s – or fairy godmother’s or revengeful witch’s – for the precious girl in her charge?

Next up was Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her physical quest and spiritual journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after hitting lower-than-rock-bottom following the death of her mother. I had read the book upon the recommendation of a yoga friend of mine and loved it, as I love most memoirs by women telling their stories overcoming whatever it is that is holding them back. What came through in the movie for me, even more so than in the book, was the deep bond of true love between mother and daughter. Cheryl is unmoored by the loss of her mother, beautifully played by Laura Dern. Cheryl doesn’t know how to love herself without the presence of her mother. It is mother Bobbi’s passionate insistence on choosing love and a life with no regrets, even while facing death, that is so moving. How could she regret her marriage to an abusive man when it resulted in her amazing daughter? GASP! Indeed.

I found myself sobbing into my daughter’s shoulder when Meryl Streep, the not-so-evil witch from Into The Woods who is raging at the loss of her youth and beauty, sings “Stay With Me” to Rapunzel. I, again, identified with the raging old and ugly witch watching over the beautiful princess, anxious to protect her from selfish and unworthy men and other dark evils of the world. Anxious to restore her own youth and beauty.

Stay With Me (from Into The Woods)

Don’t you know what’s out there in the world?

Someone has to shield you from the world.

Stay with me.

Princes wait there in the world, it’s true.

Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too.

Stay at home.

I am home.

Who out there could love you more than I?

What out there that I cannot supply?

Stay with me.

Stay with me,

The world is dark and wild.

Stay a child while you can be a child.

With me.

Stay with me my beautiful girl!  I not-so-jokingly sobbed.

But off she goes. Again. For her second semester of college. As she should. As I want her to. I will miss her. Each homecoming and each departure become more familiar but not more easy. My heart is bursting with love and pride. I will return to my busy busy busy life, shocked at the old face I see in the mirror. She will return to new classes, new experiences, deepening friendships, and explorations into the world of love. I want to protect her, but she must learn her own lessons.  It is her turn.

As I mourn the loss of my mother whose love for me was deep and true, I pass on a love for my daughter that is deep and true. I have new appreciation for the tears my mother shed when I left home.  When I cry at each step my daughter takes away from me, they are bittersweet tears of pride and loss.  I don’t really want her to stay with me.  I want her to go.  I will create a haven for her to return to, while encouraging her to create a life she loves apart from me, while together we figure out how to build a grown up mother-daughter friendship.

Live your life my beautiful girl! My love for you is true.

 

Photo Credit:  from Disney’s Maleficent

How Much Time Do We Have?

IMG_0604

Time Is Passing

If this new year were the last year of your life, what would you do?

Would you quit your job? Would you launch yourself on some grand adventure, sailing around the world or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? Would you start some passionate love affair? Would you play the musical instrument you wish you had always mastered?

If this new year were the last year of life for someone you love, what would you do?

Would you help them realize a lifelong dream? Would you tell them everything you’ve held back, good and bad? Would you spend the time in anger and fear, resentful of the shortened time together or would you spend the time by giving love, helping to create the best day possible?

In Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, he shares some research by Laura Carstensen about perspective. How we choose to spend our time depends on how much time we think we have. When you think you have decades, it’s easier to delay gratification and plug away, grind away, at daily life. But when you only have a short period of time, your focus shifts to right here, right now, and being with the people you love.

Time is passing.

This was the refrain my father muttered over and over again as we sifted through the chores left for those who remain after a loved one dies.

Time is passing.

He meant it in reference to the chores.  We were woefully unproductive.  But it resonated more deeply.

Time is passing.

The day is over. The vacation is over. The year is over and a new one has begun. Time feels precious and short. The face in the mirror looks older, both sadder and calmer. Old enough to know that new year’s resolutions just lead to guilt and anxiety and self-hatred.   Old enough to know that time is passing and life is short. Old enough to know that changing habits is hard, but a few strategic goals and intentions can be a guiding light, a focus for incremental change and constructive personal growth.

So this year I will try. I will try to live each day as if it were a precious gift, one that I might not get tomorrow. I will tell the people that I love that I love them. I will try to create the best day possible, whatever that means, because it changes every day. And since I tend not to be spontaneous nor impulsive (and I have a mortgage), I won’t be quitting my job or launching myself on a grand adventure (at least probably not, or not right now). I will keep moving deeper into the activities I find meaningful and speaking with honesty to the people I love. I will look people in the eye – and smile – and say the words that facilitate connection: Please, Thank You, I Love You – so grateful for my friends and family and so aware of how much I need them and how much they help me.

Of course, I will fail. I will look at the Christmas tree forlornly on the street, feeling sad that I am sad. I will be anxious about returning to work. I will be annoyed at the annoying people on the train. I will begin missing my daughter even though she hasn’t left for school yet. I will be jealous and angry at all the people who seem to manage life with more grace and ease than me.

And then I will remember to try. To do something different. Because my anxiety and sadness are habits. And that everyone struggles with their challenges, their demons.

And then I will reflect on the last year, with pride and gratitude, and remember that I haven’t quite mastered last year’s goal yet, to choose laughter. So, I’ll just keep trying.

And I’ll add this year’s intention for this new year:

Choose love.

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