Turkeys and Dressings

Back home from seeing family for the holiday. This time around I really didn’t have any major insights or commentary about my hometown, my past, my future, or the cosmos at large. Didn’t really have much opportunity to get out and wander while I rolled thoughts in my head, although I was busy with things the whole visit.

The drive up there sucked, and the drive back sucked less.

Thanksgiving meal was great, and it was swell seeing my extended family.

My niece Jaime got married to her BFF Jamie. I wish the best for them.

Mom’s doing OK now, for the moment.

Found out I can make a speed-run from Texarkana to Shreveport on the new IH-49, take care of family business there, and speed back just shy of 3 hours total. That’s my quickest trip there and back.

I carried too much useless crap in my luggage. I’ve struggled with that since high school — taking everything with me “just in case”. All the travel guides say to pack for the best-case scenario: trust that much of what you’ll need will be there, or that you can buy what you need if they don’t. I have no understanding of how guys can pack 2 days of clothes and a toothbrush in a backpack and head off on a motorcycle for a week…until I’m at the end of my own trip and realize, “Well, I didn’t need that, or that, or this, or any of these, and that over there was totally unnecessary and cost me $595 in gas to carry.”

But I’m home now, I have my groceries for the week, my smoky fur-covered clothes are in the hamper, I’ve eaten my first meal since breakfast this morning, and this beer is kicking in. Here’s to a non-sucky week ahead as everything gets back into swing after the holiday slowdown.

Vowel Movements and Consonation

Went to Texarkana last weekend to visit the family. Had 4 days off and needed to get out of Austin for a few. Started bellyaching on the way up, and eventually went to the ER – docs don’t know what it is, just gave me some pills and a bill. Spent the rest of the time hanging out with the mom, watching TV, refreshing Facebook. Spent some time upgrading her computer to the latest version of Ubuntu so she would still get security updates. Met with the sister, the nephew, and one of the nieces. Overall, it was a vanilla time, the kind of vanilla I needed, health notwithstanding. Now spending my work week convalescing back in Austin.

I’ve been invited to submit an original story for a friend’s Halloween story anthology. It’s a first for him, and he’s opened the invite to a select group of staff, former staff, and regulars of Epoch Coffee. When I was driving home from Texarkana, I was considering some stories, plots, and ideas. Things are flowing, at least on the back-end mythos behind the actual story. The problem now is follow-through and execution of the writing. I have a basic skeleton mapped out — it’s a space horror ghost story — and I have a handful of characters, ships, planets, legends, etc., but the mood, the tone, the writing…I think I need to work on that. More to come as it develops.

Flex

Car’s gone. Got hauled off today. Check is in the mail.

Today’s been one of those days where you pick up your shoes three times and drop them every damn time.

Extremities are tingling; I think I have circulation problems. Or a pinched nerve. Or too much caffeine on a daily basis. Caffeine’s a vasoconstrictor. Or I’m just old.

Strange times at work. Still figuring my ass from a hole in the ground. Everybody’s busy, nobody’s helping. Actually, help is there if I’d actually break silence and ask for it.

Changes. Changes are happening. Not at all welcome, but shit happens to force my hands. Best I can hope for is to push through with grace in these times of friction.

S.C.U.B.A.

So the good news is that the doctor found something wrong with me. The bad news is that the treatment is lifelong.

According to the polysomnogram I got last week, I apparently stop breathing when I sleep. Not all through the night, mind you, but only during REM sleep. As soon as REM is over, I’m back to mostly normal. “REM-dependent sleep apnea“, the doctor called it, which means I just don’t sleep very well. How awesome is that?

See, when you’re in REM sleep, your brain is firing most of your neurons in a random fashion; this is necessary for memory, cognition, and sanity. Any interruption of this has negative consequences. During REM, you’re dreaming, and what you experience in your dreams is nothing more than an interpretation of this randomness. We act out in our dreams, but are prevented from actually acting on them. For instance, if the neurons responsible for remembering a childhood fear are triggered, the neurons that enable you to feel fear are triggered in response, and you may get the strong motivation to run away from the imagined threat. So you start running, firing the neurons that tell your legs to pump back and forth. What happens instead is that the nerves at the top of your spinal cord block these running signals and redirect some of them to the muscles in your eyes, effectively paralysing you and preventing you from accidentally killing yourself in your sleep by knocking yourself out of the tree or running off a cliff.

With the exception of your autonomic nervous system (which controls heartrate, breathing, digestion, etc.), every part of you is shut down during REM sleep. Even if your brain wanted to, you would be unable to move until this paralysis wore off. That’s why some people report suddenly waking up and being frozen stiff, unable to move. Stories like this are sometimes accompanied by a vision of a ghost or some other paranormal activity present in the room — an expected after-effect of the suggestibility of dreaming, but propped up by the dreamer as a convenient, though incorrect, explanation. The person is awake, but their nerves from the neck down haven’t caught on.

This paralysis varies with each individual. Some people are able to talk in their sleep, some walk in their sleep, others eat or have sex in their sleep. At this end of the pool, the paralysis isn’t deep enough. On the other end, you have people like me, whose paralysis is so deep that breathing stops frequently throughout the night. There are two sets of muscles that control breathing: the main set is the diaphragm underneath your ribcage for “belly breathing”, and the second is around the ribcage, used for “chest breathing”. During REM, the chest muscles are shut off, since they’re not part of the autonomic nervous system, so your only way to breathe is your automatic diaphragm motions.

With me, the diaphragm isn’t enough, so it either struggles to pull in air or just doesn’t move at all. The extra weight I carry on my belly is a contributing factor, as is my sleeping position (worse when I’m on my back). And so what happens if I’m not breathing? My blood-oxygen level drops. According to my sleep study, during these REM episodes it drops to as low as 60% O2 saturation. And so my adrenal system goes into panic mode, makes my heart pump more to keep O2 levels up, and my dream gets really intense and panicked, causing me to wake up just enough to start breathing again. The immediate result is disruption of necessary REM sleep. The intermediate result is a really bad night of sleep. The long-term result ranges from loss of concentration, bad memory, weight gain, all the way up to increased risk of diabetes and early-onset heart disease. All the stuff that comes from lack of sleep and a high-stress lifestyle.

No wonder I feel crappy in the morning, can’t focus, and can’t remember important stuff ever. FML.

So what’s the treatment? Sleeping with a CPAP machine. How cool is that? I get to sleep with an air hose jockstrapped to my face for the rest of my life. Fucking awesome.

The doc is having me come in next week to do another sleep study to determine just how much air pressure I actually need. “Titration”, it’s called. Then I’ll come back again to get set up with a machine of my very own (joy joy), and then a final checkup a month later to gauge my improvement. I feel my youth slipping away as I type.

So, it feels like my days of going to the submarine races are drawing to an end. I’ll be snorkeling in the shallows for the rest of my life.

All I Got for Xmas

So the holidays were crappy. That’s par for the course. I hate the holidays, but I try to power through them the best I can. At least I’m getting paid holiday pay this time around; thank the stars for not being a contractor anymore. Still, this xmas sucked ass because the only thing I got in my stocking was a head cold. I would’ve settled for a lump of coal instead.

No idea where the germs came from; most likely the coffeeshop I hang out at with all its weirdos and sickos shaking hands and whatnot. But I think what precipitated the collapse of my immunity against it was my mother’s visit for the holiday. See, she brought her two dogs, which I don’t mind as long as I take an allergy pill. But she smokes like a train, and apparently I lack the backbone to tell my own mother that she can’t smoke in my apartment. Others have smoked in here, but it was one smoke here or there; not an entire pack of really, really cheap tobacco. So after a day of exposure, I woke up xmas morning with a heavy knot of crud at the back of my throat. Happy effing holidays.

Two days and two rolls of tissue later, the fever broke and I was able to breathe through my nose again. Finally. I’ve got to take control of my passive-aggressive ways before they ruin my life further. It’s my life, it’s my house, it’s my health.