So I think my brain is out to destroy me, or at least is trying to punish me for not doing anything more active than walking from my car to the office for the past 2 full weeks (oh man has it been that long already!?). So in the current war, SuperBrain is defeating Almost-SuperBody. If I weren’t on Ativan and Tramadol, I’d try How I Met Your Mother character Ted Mosby’s method of stopping a SuperBrain – Alcohol.
For those of you not currently on the How I Met Your Mother bandwagon (and you all should be, because it is awesome), I share with you the following, from Season 1, Episode 10, “The Pineapple Incident”:
Ted: [takes first shot] Let me tell you something about this brain, okay?
Ted: [takes second shot] Pure alcohol cannot stop this brain.
Ted: [takes third shot] This brain, dear mortals, is no ordinary brain.
Ted: [takes fourth shot] This is a Superbrain!
Ted: [takes fifth shot] This brain is unstoppable. This brain…
Older Ted: And that’s all I remember.
I think we could all assume 5 shots in rapid succession would stop my brain. But I’d much prefer not completely destroying it, even though I’m pretty sure my brain is the evil nemesis to my body.
So when I say evil, I mean I’m currently on Tramadol for crazy foot pain and Ativan because I can’t sleep, Yet here I sit: awake at 4:30am after climbing in bed 6 hours ago, and foot still in pain so badly I collapsed in a heap when I tried to walk from my bed to the kitchen to get some water. I’m in pain, and I am stressed, yet my brain is actively refusing to submit to these two drugs. Whenever I am mentally stressed, I get insomnia, which presents in one of two ways:
Option 1: The “Never Fall Asleep” Option
I try to go to sleep at my normal non-insomniatic time (between 10:30 and 11:30pm) and end up just laying there for about 4 hours. Around 2 or 3am I try to do something that will ‘reset’ my brain for about an hour – such as eating some soup, watching a tv show, writing a blog post. Then I turn off the tv and try to fall asleep. Lately, the ‘reset’ hasn’t been working, so I just end up alternating between tossing and turning and watching tv/dvds all night until I give up and go to work around 8am.
Option 2: The “A couple of 30-minute Naps” Option
I am exhausted from not sleeping in prior nights, so around 9pm I take one of my sleeping pills (Ativan) and climb in bed. I fall asleep about 30 minutes after I take the pill, but wake up about 30 minutes later, feeling painfully and nauseatingly tired, but unable to sleep. I lay there with that incredibly horrible tiredness feeling – where your eyes won’t line up to focus on anything; your muscles hurt because they desperately need whatever chemicals sleep gives them; your brain can’t comprehend why exactly you aren’t currently asleep – for another hour. Once I realize sleep isn’t coming back, in order to snap myself out of the nausea, I wake myself up a tad. Wash my face, drink some water, walk around the apartment. Then I’ll climb back into bed and fall asleep in mintes, waking up again 30 minutes later and repeating the entire process.
The first method seemed to work well enough during moderate stress times, like those I had at the beginning of getting my master’s degree. Usually this was because I had something big the next day that I felt unprepared for, like an exam or a meeting with a professor who didn’t like me very much.
As a method to clear my mind of the things I was worrying about, I took to keeping a moleskine notebook under my pillow. Any time a thought would start to cloud my head – “I need to make sure I review that one topic right before the exam… I should double check that date for that other meeting… I can’t forget to send that request to the budget office since they take forever…” – I would jot it down in that notebook and then erase it from my mind. This seriously saved me when I was working on my master’s thesis. Maybe I’d be a little tired, but I’d get at least 3 or 4 hours at a minimum every night during the week. I cannot recommend enough this method of dealing with all of the little things to fellow dissertation writers!
However, during crazy uncertain stress times like the one I’m having, I can never fall asleep. And, since my brain is evil and resisting my meds, even the option of 30 minute naps is evading me. Fortunately, I have an amazing boss who lets me set my own hours, allowing me to have a mid-day nap when my brain has given up trying to form complete thoughts. A mid-day nap of about 45 minutes is a possibility only because I think my brain lets its guard down during the day. Never underestimate the effect of a stealthy ninja-like nap. (I’m not sure what that means either).
So I can really only identify 2 reasons why I’d have insomnia in the first place, to have my brain ignore the sleeping meds in the second place:
Anti-sleeping Factor 1: Foot is conspiring with brain to hate me
Right now my foot is in crazy amounts pain, despite the fact that I’m on some pretty awesome pain killers (Tramadol, since I’m allergic to Codeine and related drugs) that have worked for everything else, including some serious SIJ injuries in April 2010 and post-op knee pain a few years ago. Uncomfy = no sleep. Plain and simple.
Anti-sleeping Factor 2: Not disappointing mentors, self on doctoral dissertation research
I’m stressed about my doctoral dissertation, and no amount of moleskin notebooks and alcohol can help. I’ve been incredibly lucky to get an amazing fellowship from NASA which allows me to do all of my own research and is sending me to Peru in May & June to do field work (someone remind me to blog about this soon – harass me on Twitter or something). It’s enough pressure to not want to disappoint a spectacular mentor, without whom I would not essentially be a pioneer in my field (using satellite imagery to predict outbreaks of infectious disease). But on top of that, being my first ever data collection trip by myself, I’m having a hard time estimating how long it will take me to collect all the data I need. Furthermore, I’m horrible at asking people for help when I feel like they’ll get nothing from it, which is pretty much all a dissertation committee is. For most of you, I could probably have stopped at “I have to write a doctoral dissertation” for you to buy that it stresses me. But I enjoy being verbose (and overusing parentheses).
So that’s the short version of my insomnia. Yes, I said short version. Just wait for me to blog about work, I’m sure I’ll go on for pages and pages. I get to take more Tramadol in 15 minutes (hooray!) and then am going to try to use the few hours it kills pain and try to sleep.
My thoughts are with everyone in Japan as well as those under tsunami watch right now, I’m guessing you’re not going to be sleeping tonight either.
Update: Got a whole 2 hours of sleep last night! Slept from 5am until 7am! I dont’t know why, but I’m psyched about it.
*Note: I have not gone insane and paranoid, thinking my brain and foot are conspiring and are out to get me. I’m just really tired. Also, the entire concept made me giggle as I wrote it, and levity is required when you’re this tired. Wait, I take that back. I am insane – insanely tired. Bam. …wow do I need sleep.