Tag Archive for Apnea updates

Coping

It’s a dreary kind of morning here in Brisbane and 2015 is almost done, ready to be laid to rest with singing and dancing and libations with friends. Unless you’re me. I shall celebrate the end of the year in the same way I wish to kick of 2016: lying in my bed, notebook on my lap, scribbling words and pondering what will come my way in the future.

For once, I find myself very fond of the passing year. It’s been forever since I looked back over twelve months and felt myself at peace with everything that happened – usually, at this time of year, I am waging desperate war with an internal monologue of frustration and horror about the lack of…well, everything. Playing endless games of if only I had done this better and if only hadn’t fucked that up. 

I spent my life incredibly angry.

I am probably understating this a little. My greatest fantasy, for the last five or six years, was giving up the illusion that I was coping. Being free to lash out at the world and give voice to the enormous, yawning heart of frustration that hollowed me out and ready to just fuck shit up. I could conceive of no response to the world that did not involve screaming or punching. They were my go-to response to any problem, big or small.

Fight Club made a whole lot of sense to me. If you had told me there was a place I could go where someone would beat the crap out of me, I would have bought in. In a fucking heart beat.

But you cannot go through live screaming and punching things in a civilized world, so I taught myself not to. And because I could not express my rage at the outside world, I turned it against myself. If I could just stop pretending everything was okay, I told myself. If I could stop pretending to cope. If I could just lay down and let the world beat one me, everything would be okay.

Anger turned inward is a pretty shitty way to live your life. It’s the kind of response to problems that basically creates new problems. It’s a slippery goddamn slope, is what I’m saying, and I slid.

But I coped. Or pretended to cope. I’m not sure there’s a difference between the two, when you get right down to it. And perhaps I didn’t cope as well as I assumed, based on conversations I’ve had with people in recent months, but I coped well enough for horseshoes. I came off as an angry person, rather than someone who was basically looking for an excuse to flip out and start swinging at everyone in my immediate vicinity like a mad fucker.

I tried things to fix it. Went to doctor’s with symptoms. Went to psychologist. Wrote things, ’cause in my head, writing things is pretty much the solution to everything. Threw myself into the day job and took what self-esteem I could from what I was doing there.

None of it really worked, not for more than a few weeks. It’s hard to offload that level of anger, once it’s become your constant companion, because the anger is all that’s getting you through.

And the fear of not-coping kept me moving and kept a façade of sanity in place. I knew there was no amount of anger that could fix things, regardless of where I directed it, because I couldn’t articulate the problems. So I grit my teeth and coaxed myself into action and – incredibly – managed to convince myself that this is how every single person in the world lived their life. That we were all just pretending to cope because that was what is expected of us, while secretly falling apart inside.

We were all malfunctioning machines that no-one bothered fixing.

And despite the fact that I know better, there is a part of me that just assumed this is what I deserved ’cause I had the temerity to say, well, I want to be a writer. Anger makes you stupid in so many ways, and I was stupid in all of them.

In this respect, 2015 has been an enormous relief, because it turns out I actually am an a malfunctioning machine. Five or six years of sleep apnea symptoms finally added up to a diagnosis and the beginning of treatment, and it’s incredible how that’s affected my outlook in the last six months of the year.

Yes, the apnea is a thing that’s going to be with me for…well, ever, to some extent. Yes, there is still frustration and disappointments and things I wish I had done better. Yes, there is still end of year malaise and weeks where I do nothing and anger, so much goddamn anger, but they aren’t all-consuming. They are parts of my life, not the entirety of it.

In 2015, I stopped coping. There is no better thing that could have happened in my year.

And yet, I am surrounded by people for whom this year has been horrible. Kick in the teeth after kick in the teeth. The kind of year that sounds, by all accounts, exactly like the kind of year I’ve had for the last five or six.

If I had a wish for the coming year, it’s this: may you find people who understand what’s going on with you. May you find people who make the coping easier. May you find the thing that helps you feel a little less broken. May people appreciate you for the brave, bad-ass mother-fucker you are for just keeping on every goddamn day and resisting the urge to harm or be harmed.

May the things that have the potential to pass, pass. May you find tools for dealing with the things that are going to stay with you, regardless of what they are.

May there be music and books and art that soothes your soul, and friends who are there to hold you up when you cannot stand on your own.

May things get better, if they can, and may they get no worse if better is not an option.

Happy new year, you beautiful mother-fuckers. See you all tomorrow.

The Sleep Thing, Blogging, And Writing Without a Net

rp_Sleep-Cyborg-150x150.jpgThe sleep thing. The apnea. The bad habit my body has developed of asphyxiating me a couple of dozen times an hour, while my body drifts into a REM state. I’ve called it all sorts of things over the last nine months, but it always opens up a quiet moment of panic inside me. It lies at the heart of a very specific debate I have, regarding social media and being a writer.

Because I do not know where the line is, when it comes to discussing it. It came up a few times, over the weekend, and figuring out when I’d crossed over into the territory where I’d become the guy banging on about something everyone else was done with got difficult even when the non-verbal queues were present.

I do, after all, have a tendency to bang on about things when I’m trying to figure them out.

Usually, long after everyone else is wishing I’d shut up.

And that presents some issues when it comes to blogging. This post is…well, not necessarily soliciting feedback, but it’s definitely thinking out loud.

A large chunk of my Melbourne trip was spent pondering the blog, and why I’m doing it, and what I’m hoping to achieve in 2016. The sleep thing is on my mind because I can’t quite pin down how it plays into my habit of talking about writing here. And, oh hell, is it on my mind a lot. I’m still trying to figure it out.

For me, there are two issues in play.

FIRST: ALL WRITER BLOGS ARE A CURATED EXPERIENCE

Decisions are made about what goes up and what goes down, even if the writer is making those decisions subconsciously. A blog may be honest, but it’s the kind of honesty you bring along on the first date, where you try to present the best parts of yourself in the hopes of charming a stranger into seeing you a second time.

Apparently, the version of myself that I bring on first dates swears a lot, yells a lot, and talks obsessively about writing. This qualifies as me representing my good side, which explains all sorts of things about my love life.

Most writers blog the shitty parts of their process. They don’t blog the self-doubt or the moments of loathing, the fear that things have finally reached their end-point and they will never get published again. You may see the occasional post about them, but they don’t become a theme.

When those posts appear, they will frequently be a one-off that curates the process as something faintly amusing – oh look, isn’t this quaint, I’m having a moment of doubt or fear, but tomorrow I will be my witty, charming self again.

Constant gloom is a terrible sales pitch, on a date or when you have written a book.

So you curate that shit out, for the most part, so you’re not sending a constant message with the subtext that you hated every minute of writing your book, ‘cause it was long and hard and the world is fucking insane, and there is nothing more terrifying than trusting your rent will be paid for by shit you made up inside your head.

And in this respect, the sleep thing presents a problem for me.

I’ve not been on a date since I started treatment – I’m not a date-type person at the best of times years – but in the back of my head, I’m utterly aware that one of these days I’ll have an awkward conversation that needs to be had. At some point during that courting phase, I’ll need to be yo, so here’s the thing, when I sleep…well, I’m hooked up to a machine that would make Darth Vader proud. This means there is very little chance of spontaneity when it comes to the subject of staying over and such.

I have the same problem here.

I’m blogging again. A lot. About writing.

And when it comes to the subject of writing, the apnea is omni-present for me. A problem that needs to be worked around, a millstone that hung around my neck for far too many years when the doctor thought symptoms were a sign of other conditions. It’s been nine months since I started therapy, and not a day goes by where I don’t think fuck, if we had just discovered this back in 2012 and started this process then…

Editing it out of my experience with writing is rather like trying to write a novel without using the letter Q. Technically possible, and an interesting exercise, but every now and then you’ll go searching for the right word and discover it’s off-limits.

My instinct is always to give a hearty “fuck you,” to limits placed on writing. And yet, consciously, I’m very aware that limits can be a good thing for creativity. When you’ve got something to work against.

So I waver, going back and forth. Mention it. Don’t mention it. I honestly don’t know.

TWO: LIVE, AND WITHOUT A NET

The number of times I’ve written a post this year, then deleted it because the apnea shows up without being the actual subject, it’s crazy. The sleep thing colours every aspect of my writing and it’s hard to curate it out of existence.

And it is not going away.

The phrase I kept coming back to, when I put together notes about blogging and 2016: perform live, and without a net.

Some history: I benefited a lot, when I first came to writing speculative fiction, from the community of emerging writers who were active on livejournal. Lots of people who were in the process of writing and selling their first few novels were in a space where they could write about their process and experience, sometimes in a brutally honest fashion.

I’d lurk and pay attention and generally take notes. That community of writers taught me a whole bunch of things about the business of writing that I didn’t know, at the time.

One of the phrases that stuck with me, from that era, is working live, and without a net. You do what you’re going to do, and if you fuck up, you fuck up. There is nothing to save you if you botch the trick and fall. If you fail, fail publicly and let people see the mess.

It was an enormous privilege to be able to watch a lot of writers figuring shit out in public and, sometimes, they did fuck up. They fell, and there was no net, and they lost readers or seemed like cranky mother-fuckers or they just plain hit the ground, hard, and broke things.

That’s not the internet we live with, anymore. Livejournal got hammered by the advent of Facebook, then disappeared into the wilds of Russia. Authors kicked off blogs on websites, which encouraged a different kind of posting and drew a different kind of audience.

But you can still learn shit, from seeing writers show off their warts. There is an advantage to working live, without the god-damn net, ‘cause you get to see the glimpses of real truth and frustration that exist beneath the curated, idyllic experience that gets present on the blog.

I don’t want to exclude the apnea from things because it’s so fucking common it hurts. A half-dozen writers I knew emerged when I first posted about it and delivered advice from their own experience.

Another three people I know have gone through sleep assessments in recent months and started on CPAP therapy.

I’ve had a handful of conversations with people who were like, well, how did you know? And the stories they tell me about doctors’ visits and exhaustion and falling asleep while driving cars begin to sound very familiar.

And the sleep thing? One of dozens of conditions that can derail a writing career. There are writers out there working around all sorts of shit: medical conditions, mental conditions, major life-upheavals.

My apnea was no small thing. It fucked with my life in all sorts of ways, particularly when it came to writing, and I’m only just starting to unravel some of the messes it made.

It still fucks with my life. It still fucks with my writing.

Writing about process or business or craft without acknowledging that is not presenting the best version of myself – it’s closer to outright lying.

AND THAT IS THE CONUNDRUM

Half of me wants to talk about the apnea far less. Half of me sees the long-term value of just being upfront about it. Both sides have pretty valid arguments for doing so.

It’s complicated by the fact that a blog is not really a first-date. Every post is the first time someone reads you work, a chance to make an impression and come off like a charming mother-fucker. But it’s also a second or third date for some readers, and a long-term relationship for others. It’s…

Well, that metaphor is getting uncomfortable for me, but I think you get my drift.

Blogs are complicated spaces when it comes to engaging with your readers. I spend a lot of time relying on instinct and luck, hoping to get it right, and this is one of those spaces where there is far more luck than instinct.

I don’t know if I’m going to get it right. I suspect I will not. I keep thinking up solutions – putting a little (context) tag next to apnea-related asides where I don’t want to explain things – but I’m not sure they’re the right move.

And yet, for the moment, I’m erring on the side of without a net. If acknowledging the apnea, talking about it, is going to be a fuck-up, I’m okay with it being big and spectacular and leaving me a mess on the ground.

A Curious Thing

Ducked around to my PO Box earlier today and discovered that my contributor copies of Gods, Memes, and Monsters had arrived. And lo, it is a handsome book, once you see it in the flesh:

Gods Memes and Monsters

That’s not the curious bit.

This is: I have a bit of a ritual with contributor copies these days, which has developed over the last few years. Basically, they come in, and I make myself a nice cup of tea to calm the nerves before cracking the book open and taking a close look at my story, figuring out how much of it I actually remember writing.

The answer, thanks to the exhaustion associated with undiagnosed apnea and the desperate attempts to hit deadlines, is invariably less than I’d like. For Gods, Memes, and Monsters, it was virtually nothing. I could basically remember the idea I pitched and the things that inspired me to tackle that particular topic, and that was about it.  Reading the story was kinda like reading something else wrote, if it weren’t for the bits I could recognise as things I tend to do in fiction and the existence of first drafts on my hard drive (yes, I checked)

This is…not surprising. My submission got written and submitted right around the time I was purchasing a house and the falling asleep at the keyboard habit was becoming a regular thing. At the time, I was pretty sure I was coping with that okay, but the past few weeks at work have seen some issues crop up suggesting that I was basically sleepwalking through my life throughout 2014. There is lots of moments when people ask “did you do this thing?” or worse, “what were you thinking when you did this thing?”, and my answer is usually “what, what in hell are we talking about?”

But this is the first time it’s cropped up in relation to writing.

Which is a pity. ‘Cause I quite liked the story in this anthology. I imagine it would have been a lot of fun to write, and there are lines that I really wish I could have remembered coming up with, because the part of me that used to write poetry still gets very smug when I come up with a phrase or image that I’m very fond of.

It feels like some other Peter wrote it, which means I don’t get to be quite as smug as I’d like.

That said, that other Peter doesn’t get the contributors copy or the money, so I’m probably coming out ahead.

 

The Sleep Thing

Sleep CyborgI run into people, from time to time, and they ask: how is the sleep thing? 

Usually, I tell them the sleep thing is fine. Way better than it was back April, when I was falling asleep in front of the computer. Way better than it was back in May, when the diagnosis of chronic sleep apnea became all kinds of official and they sent me off with a machine that’d stop me from asphyxiating while I slept.

This is not a lie. Compared to the state I was in at the start of the year, life is a magical wonderland full of candy unicorns. I sleep better. I concentrate better. I do not feel like I am messing up every aspect of my existence as a default state. I keep discovering all sorts of secondary problems – shoulder pain, neck pain, teeth grinding – that were basically linked to the apnea and have now cleared up.

The sleep thing is fine.

Except it’s not.

When you start on CPAP they make it very clear that it’s a therapy, not a cure. The apnea isn’t going away just ’cause you’ve hooked attached a mask to your face and let it pressurize your respiratory system so your throat doesn’t close up so easily. There’s a whole bunch of things that can make the therapy less effective, on a given evening.

You can pull the mask off in your sleep, for example, ’cause it’s not the most comfortable of things to wear. You can disrupt the fit of your mask while tossing and turning, you can go to bed with hay-fever. You can travel, and discover that the faint differences in the way water tastes from city to city becomes a major problem when you put it into a humidifier.

Stuff happens, is what I’m saying. More often than you’d want them too, all things considered.

And that means some days you wake up feeling like a normal person, happy and productive and able to interact with the world. And, some days, you revert. Not as bad as you were, right at the beginning, bad bad enough that you notice it and feel the difference. Bad enough that you’re aware of the line between treatment and cure.

And that’s cool, ’cause treated is so much better than the alternative. So much goddamn better, believe me, that it’s insane.

But it means re-learning how to live your life. It means, some days, you need to get comfortable with the idea that you’re not going to have the energy for everything you’d like to do. It means you have to re-learn the difference between just a little tired and feeling vaguely exhausted, ’cause your default state has been exhaustion for so long that it’s hard to tell the difference. It means you learn to check a screen every morning and gauge how bad things are going to be based on the apnea index and leak-rate the machine tracked overnight.

It’s not always bad. For example, you also discover that your tendency to do the introverts retreat after social events was exacerbated by the apnea, that teaching courses or doing a festival requires far less recovery time than they once did. And you can read books in bed again, without falling asleep the moment you open to the first page. That you can write for longer than 500 words at a burst, ’cause your attention span has a setting other than “kitten on speed.”

Eventually it sinks in that the sleep thing is a thing – it doesn’t go away, it just gets managed better.

So you set out to re-evaluate every damn thing in your life.

My current notebook fetish? Motivated by the sleep thing, and the attention that’s getting paid to the research around the effects screens are having on our sleep patterns.

My recent realisation that I probably need to give up drinking? Totally linked to the sleep apnea, since muscle relaxants are pretty much a guarantee that you’re going to experience longer, nastier breathing-related incidents.

My increasingly rigid refusal to stay awake past my designated bed-time? Entirely built around managing the apnea as best I can, ’cause every time I’ve broken that rule to hang with friends or go out, I’ve paid for it the next day, and the day after that.

At the same time that you’re evaluating, you fret about things.

Like the ongoing costs of the therapy, which are not prohibitive but are right up there with car maintenance as a thing you need to worry about, ’cause you’re going to be replacing masks, filters, and such for the foreseeable future.

Like, what happens when the power goes on, in a storm, and how you’ll get through the next day.

Like all those things that you fucked up, quite royally, over the last five years, and whether they could have gone better if you’d discovered the real problem years ago and started treating it then. Some days you play what if? and you find yourself getting angry.

And that’s okay. The sleep thing is a thing. It’s complicated and long-term and way bigger than you were expecting.It’s not on your mind all the time, but it is on your mind. It occupies a chunk of your mental real-estate that used to be devoted to other things. The sleep thing is a thing you’re going to think about, talk about, far more than other people want you too, ’cause it defines your life in so many little ways.

But that’s hard to convey, really, so you learn to stop. To say, yeah, better, when people ask, ’cause that’s what it all boils down to: its better than it was.

Not great, not normal, not cured, but you’re figuring it out.

And in the world of polite conversation, that’s close enough to true to count.

 

Morning Shift

So this is pretty much how my morning went:

  • Peter gets up fifteen minutes before his alarm goes off at 6:00 am
  • Peter sits down to write a half-hour ahead off schedule
  • Peter finishes the 1,300 goal he set for his morning writing shift forty-five minutes early.
  • Peter wombles around the internet for ten minutes, then realise everyone else is asleep or on their way to work.
  • Peter gets bored.
  • Peter goes back to writing.

And that, folks, is why I’ve missed getting up early to get writing done. It wasn’t possible for much of the last year, courtesy of the apnea and my tendency to sleep through alarms, so I gradually cut back my morning writing to a bare minimum of getting up a half-hour early and getting a couple of hundred words done (and, even then, there were mornings it didn’t happen).

It’s nice to be back.

#

Speaking of things coming back, tomorrow night will see the return of this:

Trashy Tuesdy Movie Banner

It’s been about two years since we last did a #TrashyTuesdayMovie, but my former flatmate lured me back by waving American Ninja Two around and saying, essentially, neener-neener-neener. Since American Ninja 1 was one of the most batshit crazy films we watched during the first run of films, I pretty much broke immediately and said yes, Tuesday night. Let’s do this. 

It may be a one off. It may come back regularly. I need to talk to The Flatmate and figure that out. But there’s something vaguely satisfying about knowing I can go out on a Tuesday evening and it won’t kill my productivity for the day.

Sleeping properly kind of rules, you know?