Anxiety: Taking Sleeping Into Your Own Hands

Ever since my battle with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) began this year I have learned many great ways to relax.  I’ve also learned that many of my friends have either experienced something similar or are going through it now.  I can’t help but occasionally pontificate that this may be some sort of conspiracy…something in the water…but I suppose that’s how anxiety works, and my wife is still a cool cucumber.  No, its my body’s alert system gone haywire trying to tell me that I’ve got some stuff to deal with.  So let’s deal with it.

The good news is that on day 1 I thought I’d never be able to do the things I can do today such as go to work, mingle at parties, drive a car, etc.  Anxiety attacks are scary times of pessimistic feelings on the future…as if all is lost.  It’s a slippery slope to depression so therapy and a support system is very important!  For me that includes:

  1. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
  2. Acupuncturist
  3. My wife Kate

With the help of these three wonderful people (plus my friends and family) I feel like I am overcoming my fears about GAD and therefore living healthily with it.  I don’t think you ever “overcome GAD.”  You learn to live with it…which I’m sure sounds scary to a reader who is in the beginning of their research and looking for a “cure” just as I did 3 months ago.  I wish there was something I could point to and make all this go away…I tried like hell to blame aspartame in the beginning and was convinced if I stopped drinking diet soda I would be fine.  Sorry…doesn’t work that way.  When I feel that way I think back to an amazing woman I met years ago named Ruth Sackman who wrote a book called “Rethinking Cancer.”  I was interviewing her (or was she interviewing me?) to see about turning her book into a documentary which my friend did in the end.  I highly recommend reading the book and/or seeing the documentary.  Ruth’s approach to cancer was that we should learn to live with it instead of attacking it and trying to remove it.  Cancer is something that occurs naturally in us and is not a foreign object.  She described it to me as, “American doctors look at cancer as a knife or shrapnel that has to be removed, but it is living tissue that your body grew.”  Understand that Ruth didn’t think we should all sit back and die of cancer, she thought there were non-surgical ways to treat the cancer that combined modern medicine, holistic methods, and mental thought into a program designed for you to live with cancer.  Her patients that were diagnosed as terminal within the year lived decades happily…it was amazing…and meeting her changed my perspective on things.  She even gave me pointers on how to remedy my acid reflux which still works today (best tip – go see a chiropractor).

So I (we) are living with GAD.  Throwing away Diet Dr. Pepper is going to help but it isn’t the cause or the cure.  Both are in your own head.

Since I was very little, sleep has not come easily to me.  As a boy I would lie awake in bed staring at the ceiling fan waiting for it.  Most nights it would take me about 3 hours to fall asleep.  In college I would stay up late working till the wee hours of the morning and knock myself out with a cocktail around 3am.  By the time I met Kate and we moved into an apartment together I was going to bed around 5am.  Then my work schedule changed when we moved to California and I started finding ways to crawl into bed around 1am and be asleep between 2-3.  By the time we moved back to NY I was reading again and had no problem zonking out at Midnight with a book in hand.  Then we had a kid.  Having a newborn makes you wish you could go back in time and sleep all those times you stayed up late to watch Star Trek.  Sheer exhaustion!!!  Then…bing, bang, boom its 1 1/2 years later.  I’m suffering from GAD and my old nemesis is back; SLEEP.

No matter how anxiety-free my day was, sleep would not come at night.  I would lay awake feeling rushes of anxiety pour over me!  I would feel my body slipping over to the other side and I would become afraid that I would forget to breathe…so I’d gasp for air and wake up.  I started playing video games to numb my brain before bed.  I stopped reading late at night so I wouldn’t go to bed thinking about the book.  I started avoiding sleep.  I would start worrying about sleep as early as 7pm; meaning my entire night was consumed over a fear of something that was supposed to be relaxing.  However, when my feet hit the sheet I was awake as ever and scared as could be.  At first I blamed the clonazepam I took right before bed, assuming it made me get the whirlies…but my family doctor set me right on that fear.  No, I was just alone…me and my thoughts…which with GAD have become a bit fear-inducing and self-destructive.

Last week I saw my acupuncturist and asked her to help me with some meditations I could do at sleep.  At the end she suggested some teas and herbs I had tried before that didn’t work for me (though they may now) and then she made an awesome suggestion!  She told me…wait…I’m getting ahead of myself.  I’ll tell you in a minute what she said.  Later the same day I saw my CBT therapist and I brought up my sleeping issue with him.  Without knowing what my acupuncturist suggested…he made the same suggestion!  A therapist who specializes in anxiety and a holistic acupuncturist both making the same recommendation?!!!  I had to give it a shot…and it worked wonders.  So…what did they recommend to shut my brain up and help me fall asleep at night?  “Have an orgasm.”

Kate was in the therapy session with me at the time.  I turned to her and said (eyebrows raised), “Doctor’s orders.”  She didn’t find this as amusing as I did.

Details are not required but I will tell you that it works like a charm.  I don’t recommend doing it every night, but if your thoughts are racing…it helps.  It is something you can do alone or with a partner – a partner is better as it gives your body a way to chew up some of the adrenaline you are producing with GAD.  Your body releases hormones and endorphins that make you sleepy for a few minutes…but only a few minutes.  You get hit with a wave of sleepiness, your brain is temporarily dazed with happiness and relaxation, and if you close your eyes to embrace sleep…sleep with happily engulf you in its arms.  Night 1 I fell asleep in seconds.  Night 2 I fell sleep in minutes.  Night 3 I didn’t “do the deed” but my brain remembered the feeling of being hugged by sleep and I was out in less than 15 minutes!

So the next time your feeling anxious and can’t sleep, roll over and smooch your sweetie!  If that doesn’t lead to anything…take matters into your own hands.

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