Sleep…

This week I’m determined to seriously start trying to sort out my sleep.

It’s been messed up for a while. I never seem to get quite enough and don’t feel refreshed even if I do… or I wake up in the early hours and can’t get back to sleep for ages. Either way, not good. I spend a lot of time feeling like I’m existing in this sort of not-fully-conscious state with a haze of tiredness that I can’t shake off clumped around my head. (I have my suspicions about how this started. A few months of receiving abusive texts and phonecalls that you can’t get away from at all hours can do a lot to make you view sleep the way a starving African child probably views food. I think it left me anxious that I’d never get a decent night’s sleep again in my life. But that’s in the past now and it’s about time I stopped feeling that way).

So I bought Paul McKenna’s sleep book. Having grown up watching him on the telly using his hypnosis skills to make people act like chickens and forget that the number seven exists hasn’t actually put me off him too badly as a serious self help author. Some of his suggestions are a bit out there and possibly not backed up by much science. But on the plus side he writes in a very positive and engaging tone that I find more helpful and easy to read than most authors. Usually when I read a self help type book I find myself feeling alienated and thinking “This doesn’t really apply to me, I’m different from the people they’re talking about”. I never get that with Paul McKenna’s books. They have a way of making me feel that yes, this was written for me, so I’m more likely to actually take notice and persevere with the advice.

There are lots of very useful little practical suggestions, some of which I already knew I should be doing (cutting down caffeine, not napping during the day), but some new to me (like keeping a notebook beside the bed so you can write down ideas that come to you rather than have them go round and round in your head keeping you awake). I’m going to attempt to do as many of them as possible for the next few weeks. Multi-pronged attacks are good in my experience. They’re more effort up front, but there’s also much more chance of things changing enough that it feels worthwhile carrying on. There is also a hypnosis CD to help you fall asleep; I’ve tried it three times so far and twice I fell asleep before the end. So far, so good.

One “prong” is giving up alcohol (again) for a while. It may be that it’s fine to go back to drinking in moderation, but for the moment it’s another thing that could be interfering with my sleep, so worthwhile eliminating it and seeing what happens.

I’ll let you know what happens…

(Actually, maybe I won’t. I have a feeling I’ve said that about things before and then probably never did. Sorry).

 

End of January update

Well, we’re already into the second month of 2012, and once again I can’t believe how fast it’s going :O

I’m going to try and regularly track my progress on my vague-sort-of-resolutions that I made earlier.

Goal setting: has been going ok. I’ve been setting myself weekly and monthly ones and mostly been keeping to them. I am generally much more organised and on top of things than I used to be even a few months ago. Maybe I’ll write about the things that helped me get here sometime. (I’m still a bit worried that my goals are a bit aimless and not really leading up to anything coherent, but I have some longer term ideas forming in my mind. Maybe I need to give them a bit more time to form).

Meditation: good, have been doing it a few times a week, will hopefully gradually increase it over time. Some days it really does seem to help.

Weight loss: not good… still slowly gaining πŸ™ but I feel it’s low-ish on my priorities right now. I guess January is the best time of year for getting exercise if you prefer outdoor activities (which I do).

Concentrate on the people who are worth it: check πŸ™‚

Piano playing: very pleased with this. It’s going better than it has in ages and I’m enjoying it a lot. I can play the Fugue in A Minor from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier book 1 reasonably well now, which I always thought would be beyond me. Also started on something else, but it maybe deserves its own post in a bit. And I have an interesting idea for a piano-computer hybrid project which I might get onto soon.

Dancing: another positive thing. Been back to dance class not once, not twice, but three times so far in 2012. Have also booked myself on two weekends away with the dance society, both in the next few weeks. So that’s something to look forward to.

Walking and photography: it’s not really the best time of year for it at the moment. But we did have our Stirling weekend, and planning a Glasgow museum visit tomorrow.

Creativity: paid work projects are going pretty well (though very busy – I now have 3 separate things to work on, where I previously had only one. It’s lucky the two new ones are both things I can get really excited about). Spare time programming projects are going ok, though I’ve possibly bitten off more than I can chew with the latest one. On the minus side I haven’t written as much (or as interesting) stuff as I wanted on here. I do have a list of ideas though, so maybe I’ll get round to putting up something more substantial soon.

Gigs: got two gigs booked so far (Fascinating Aida and Derren Brown) and about to book another one (Ross Noble, without a doubt my favourite stand-up comedian of all time). Still want to do a festival this year as well.

Other stuff: I’ve been cooking a lot more food from scratch, partly thanks to being in a relationship with someone who does it all the time, partly thanks to the lovely recipe books I got for my last birthday and Christmas from several people, and partly just because I’ve been meaning to for ages. I’m not sure it’s actually any cheaper or healthier than my previous diet, but it’s certainly more fun and tastes a lot nicer.

(On the subject of new year and resolutions and all that, I found this postΒ on one of the blogs I like to read very inspiring. Plus I can always get behind anything that encourages me to act like a big kid πŸ˜‰ ).

Meditation

I’ve been taking a meditation course recently, at the Edinburgh Buddhist centre.

It’s been interesting, and hopefully useful.

I find it a bit hard to describe what it’s about without very quickly getting into talking about what meditation isn’t. So maybe that’s what I’ll do. A lot of this is my own misconceptions I’d picked up over the years, but I think other people may have similar ones.

First of all and most fundamentally, meditation isn’t really about drifting off into a nice relaxing place. It’s not about becoming less conscious and escaping, but about becoming more conscious, more aware of what’s happening in your body and mind and the world around you. It isn’t about avoiding difficult feelings or making them somehow magically disappear, in fact it’s more about confronting them (though “confronting” doesn’t feel quite like the right word either. Maybe just “being aware of them” is better).

Secondly, there’s not really anything religious or supernatural about it either. At least not the kind I’ve been doing. (This is just as well as I have fairly little patience these days both for most kinds of religion and for unproven “alternative”-style remedies). Although the class is at the Buddhist Centre, they’ve hardly talked about anything Buddhism-specific. It’s all been pretty similar to the meditation I’ve read about in a book which was written by some pretty mainstream and down-to-earth seeming psychologists. Mindfulness, which encompasses meditation as one of its key components, seems to be gaining ground as a practise that’s considered helpful for lots of conditions (depression, anxiety, etc.).

So, what were we actually doing? There were three main meditations taught: the body scan, meditation on the breath, and the Metta Bhavana (which means cultivation of loving kindness, though “love” in this context is more what you might think of as deep acceptance rather than romantic or affectionate love). The teacher would guide us through each one, sometimes interspersed with relevant (and beautiful) poetry… I really need to ask him the name of one of the poems before the class finishes. The first two are basically what they sound like… in the body scan, you focus attention on each part of the body in turn, feeling the sensations as you go. It’s amazing how much you can find that you normally aren’t conscious of at all, and it’s also amazing how sometimes all you need to do is become aware of a feeling of tension and immediately you can feel it releasing and the muscles relaxing without having to deliberately do anything. (Relaxation may not be the main aim of meditating, but it is sometimes a nice side effect).

The breath meditation was similar to one I’d tried from a CD, but I somehow found it much easier in a room full of other people meditating. There was nothing to get distracted by, no suddenly remembering something I meant to do and interrupting my meditation to go and do it. Also the advice on the posture was extremely helpful… it makes a huge difference getting into a position where you can comfortably sit still for fifteen-plus minutes, and I found it surprisingly hard to do that on my own.

For me the biggest thing I took from it was the idea that there’s another way to deal with your feelings. For a long time I thought you either had to bottle them up completely (which risks them coming out in unwanted ways that you then don’t even understand), or let them out and basically be forced to do whatever they want you to do. But there is another way… you can become aware of them, explore and understand them, and then consciously decide “I am choosing not to act on this feeling”. I don’t think I fully saw how different that is from bottling things up before. Meditation can be immensely helpful for this. Highly recommended.

Giving up alcohol

Think I’m going to give up alcohol for a while.

My sleeping pattern has been terrible lately, my mood has been up and down as well. Apparently alcohol can affect those things so maybe I should see if it’s the cause in my case. I’ve tried having a few days off from it and that didn’t seem to make a lot of difference, but maybe that wasn’t enough time to see the full effects. I should give it a while longer, a few weeks at least. It’s a LONG time since I went a few weeks without a drink (2007, I think).

Another thing that’s supposedly bad for the sleep and the nerves is caffeine, which I know already I’m pretty much addicted to. I should probably try a break from that as well, but maybe not at the same time or I’ll end up like that guy from Airplane.

Maybe I have picked a bad week to quit drinking… there is a huge crate of Becks in my fridge that I was going to take to someone’s house before she cancelled. There’s also Gavin’s party tomorrow. But then I guess there’s never an easy time to do something like this. On the plus side it means I’ll be able to drive everywhere, if I so choose. And I should save some money as well.

Wish me luck :).