When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Squirrel of the Moment: Squirrel Scouts from Emperor's New Groove

I admit that I'm facing a bit of writer's block right now and I have somewhere to be shortly. So, I thought I would still try to maintain my new blogging schedule (Mondays just don't work at all for me any more and I have no good reason for it) by pulling from my long-overdue collection of Squirrel of the Moment candidates. Sitting on deck, ready to step up to the plate is ... Squirrel Scouts from Disney's Emperor's New Groove (2000) and it's sequel, Kronk's New Groove (2005).

So, what is so fantastic about Squirrel Scouts? Well, there is the moderate pun (Squirrel Scouts/Girl Scouts), but I'll admit I didn't really think about it until now. To refresh your memory, Emperor Kuzco and Pacha ran into a cute squirrel on their way back to the palace to try to turn Kuzco back into a human from a llama. Kuzco was not too nice to Bucky the squirrel. Karma comes around and Bucky pays back the emperor in a den of jaguars. That's not the end of Bucky's screen time. In their pursuit of Kuzco, Yzma and Kronk come across poor Bucky after his mistreatment at the hands of the emperor. Yzma is about to make a similar mistake when Kronk steps in, revealing that he speaks squirrel. Guess where he learned that? Yep, in the Squirrel Scouts! So, the Squirrel Scouts can teach you to not only treat animals well, but also how to communicate with them. If animated movies have taught us anything, it's that you never know when you need information or assistance from a non-human speaking animal. At the end of the film, Pacha's children have joined the Squirrel Scouts under the tutelage of Kronk and learn the ways of the jungle from Bucky himself.

Bucky and the Squirrel Scouts reappear in Kronk's New Groove, helping Kronk find the definition of true happiness. What is said definition anyway? It's having friends, doing what you really like, and being true to yourself rather than trying to impress someone who will probably never accept you for yourself anyway because you're not exactly like them.

So, Squirrel Scouts teach us to be kind to others, help out when we can, listen to the little guy, and be true to ourselves. Plus, well, they get to hang out with squirrels.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Joys of Insomnia (with a Sprinkle of Sleep Apnea)

A long time ago the Bear Naked Ladies released a song about the pleasures of insomnia. I actually used to pray for insomnia, especially toward midterms and finals so that I could have the time I needed to finish my grades and return the papers to my students. It's funny how prayers are rarely answered when you expect them to be or when you think you need them.

I originally thought I had a mild case of hypersomnia because I would find myself uncontrollably falling asleep in the middle of the day. This was especially worrisome when I was driving, which happened too often for my own comfort, unfortunately. Sadly, no doctor would believe me or listen to my story. They all just assumed that I obese and therefore suffering from [my words here] a sugar coma due to diabetes. Surprise, surprise, I never had glucose levels that indicated diabetes. True, I may have come close, but no one could ever diagnose me with it. You see, I'm probably one of the healthiest overweight women in the country. Despite my excess size, I have good numbers in all the areas you'd expect an obese person to suffer--cholesterol, blood pressure, excellent heart, decent sugars. No one could ever find anything really wrong--close, but not off the charts--in my blood work. The only true diagnoses I got were asthma (only because I kept telling them, no one actually tested me for it after I was 8 years old) and allergies. Neither of these are known to cause significant fatigue issues.

Finally, after years of not knowing why I sometimes had unexplainable weakness in one or both of my arms or why my mind could be awake but my eyes insisted on spontaneously closing and staying that way for a long while, my doctor ordered a sleep study. I'm sure there are many more invasive medical procedures out there. However, I find it incredibly ironic that they expect to study your sleep patterns with a) only 1 night of observation and b) you being hooked up to dozens of wires that prevent you from sleeping in your natural positions. My doctor sat on the first sleep study for over a year and the clinic that performed it shut down for some unknown reason. It wasn't until an ear-nose-throat physician ordered another one that I would find something close to an answer. And I went to that doctor because of an ear infection that wouldn't go away after 3 weeks despite various treatments. My regular doctor sent me to the ENT because they wanted to take out my tonsils. The ENT ordered the sleep study after putting together a lot of the other pieces, including my frequent spontaneous naps.

So, another uncomfortable night later, I got a diagnosis: sleep apnea. Yes, ladies and gents, the sleep disorder most commonly associated with snoring is apparently part of the puzzle for my lack of energy. With sleep apnea, you may think you get a full night's sleep, but your body actually wakes dozens, sometimes hundreds, of times during the night. You are only semi-conscious and so gosh darn tired that you are not fully aware of the constant waking. And why do you wake so often? Hmm, it could be because your respiratory system has a major malfunction so the only way your brain can think to get you to actually get some oxygen is to wake you fully to kick-start the lungs. By the way, not everyone with sleep apnea snores like a chainsaw all the time. I used to only snore noticeably when I was congested from allergies or a cold, thanks to my asthma. Now that I have a diagnosis, wouldn't you know it, I can hear myself snoring more often.

Wait, this blog has insomnia in the title. What's with all the sleep apnea talk? The sleep apnea was the only clear-cut medical diagnosis I received. At the time of the sleep study I was getting a full-night of sleep, sort of, fully waking to my alarm each morning and rarely before then. If you've read the last few posts of my blog, then you'll know that things in my life started to pile up and stress levels magnified. I started having nights in which I woke too early--1 am, 2 am, 3 am--and found it hard to get my brain to shut down long enough to finish my sleep cycles. This didn't happen too often. Even as a kid I had trouble sleeping the night before a trip, probably because of the anticipation. When I had problems sleeping during grade-reporting times, I chalked it up to stress. Temporary insomnia goes hand-in-hand with excessive stress and anxiety levels, after all. Besides, I didn't get a diagnosis of clinical insomnia with my sleep studies, just sleep apnea. Also, a diagnosis only occurs when you experience the symptoms of insomnia--can't get to sleep, trouble staying asleep, waking too early or too often--consistently (as in daily) for six weeks. I originally had a bout of sleep problems sprinkled here and there. It started to become more consistent during and after our move.

I found myself not able to sleep, or keeping very odd hours for me; I used to be like a clock in my "old life", always waking within an hour of the same time, even on weekends, and always going to bed within an hour of the same time frame. After my daughter went to visit her dad I found that I had consistent problems getting to bed when I wanted to and I was waking after only an hour or two of sleep, regardless of when I fell asleep in the first place. Sure I was taking naps in the middle of the day, but that's not an exclusion for insomnia. Our bodies want sleep even if they're not going to give it to us on a schedule. So, for the last 4 weeks, I have yet to have a single night in which I sleep for 4 or more hours without achieving full consciousness. I admit that I am a little peeved about the whole thing. The saving grace is that I don't currently have employment--I pray every day for a job, and I apply to countless jobs every single day, but still no bits--so I don't have to worry about falling asleep on the job. However, insomnia is not healthy. The body needs its sleep for basic maintenance and dreams are essential for mental health.

Hold on! This blog in general is supposed to be about the bright side. Where is it? Remember at the beginning, where I told you that I used to pray for insomnia? I knew about the bright side from the start. Even this past month, after I toss and turn, trying to force my mind to enter maintenance mode so I can get more rest, I am wise enough to give up and get up and try to do something. Sometimes I play a mindless computer game and that helps. Sometimes I sift through my copious amounts of email. I occasionally take the opportunity to catch up on my reading or, in the desperate hours when it looks like sleep is gone for the night/morning, I try my hand at the limitless chores that abound when you are the sole adult responsible for the welfare of a child. So, yeah, I've found a way to make use of my insomnia. The only time I'm cranky from lack of sleep is when I fight the insomnia. When I give in and use the time for something more productive, then I find I actually have enough energy to make it through my day. At least, that is, until I take a nap.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Little Giraffe Makes a Big Difference

This is Jerry. He is a stuffed giraffe. He doesn't normally wear a hat, but he (okay, I) was feeling whimsical that day. I bought Jerry on a whim in the midst of the emotional storm that started out 2014, things that I've mentioned on previous blog posts this summer. He seemed to be just the right size for hugs, something that I desperately needed when I was kicked out of my marriage bed and made to sleep alone after 12+ years of sharing a bed with that person. Honestly, that was the only motivation behind buying Jerry. It was early February, so he has a heart pattern on his left hind leg--you can almost see it in the picture. Because he's not a teddy bear or a frog (I guess it's the whole "Frog Prince" thing), he's not really a "Valentine's Day" animal. That was the reason I chose him over the other standard V-Day animals available. He just seemed to stand out and he was the only giraffe.

Unfortunately, Jerry came home on a bad night. I was trying to be nice by giving that 'male who used to share my marriage bed' time with his paramour (I was trying to be open-minded and accommodating). It was a Monday, a school night. I kept my daughter out an hour past her bed time. We got home and she was still there. I blew up in a way that I never have before because I was livid that their inconsideration was interfering with my daughter's health, sleep patterns, and education. My daughter saw my face and I quietly told her to go to her room. She shut her door and climbed into her bed, clutching Jerry tightly, afraid of what might happen as I unleashed my Momma Bear wrath--and I was holding back, too, otherwise I might have done some physical damage to certain individuals. I'm not happy that my daughter was afraid of me. She now understands that my anger is incurred when I feel someone or something poses a threat to her and that I don't get angry with her.

Jerry proved to be just the right size for the hugs I needed. It can actually be quite uncomfortable for me to sleep on my side without something to hold on to (i.e. hug) because everything gets all squished together. Hugs have also been proven (you can find the research, I'm not going to do the work for you right now) to have psychological benefits, even if the hug comes from an inanimate object. There are times when my daughter snags Jerry from me because he really is the perfect hug generator. I originally got upset and jealous, but then something magical seemed to happen. As "the fit hit the shan" and stressor after stressor piled up in our lives, as we encountered all of the changes that result from divorce and moving--new job, unemployment and job hunting, new school, new church, new home city, leaving behind our community and friends--Jerry started to become much more than a random stuffed giraffe that was purchased on a whim. My daughter infused him with a childlike personality that just makes both of us smile. It's hard to look at Jerry now without thinking of his simple wonder and joy. Apparently, he thinks shoes are cars, "saying" vroom, vroom as he tries to push them around the floor (with my daughter's help, of course). He also seems to think cell phones are brownies and likes to "nom, nom" on just about anything. My daughter claims that he likes pie. He is a self-proclaimed "huggle monster" and a master hugger. Any time he falls on the floor during the night he is exploring. He likes to go on adventures, but doesn't get out much because he's a little big for a purse, so he has many adventures at home. Sometimes Jerry gets to go out; he's gone to the movies and Chuck E. Cheese's and he got to ride in a washing machine and dryer. His best friend is the stuffed Oswald the Luck Rabbit we found at a Disney outlet store. If you follow me on Twitter [@eowyn35], then you've seen some of Oswald's adventures at Disney World. Jerry isn't jealous of Oswald because they both "share" their adventures with each other.

Jerry doesn't "bring home the bacon" and he is not able to do much in reality without our imagination and assistance. However, I'm much happier with him in our lives. His personality keeps us light-hearted so that we always keep in touch with innocent wonder. I am not deprived of hugs even when my human interaction is lacking. It's also hard to maintain any kind of negative feelings with him around. Just look at that face. Wouldn't you have a hard time smiling, at least on the inside?