It wasn’t until my late 40’s that I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. The simple explanation of this condition is when breathing is interrupted during nighttime sleep. It upsets the normal sleep cycle, preventing the experience of full rest. It can be caused by obstruction of the airways, or in my case, my central nervous system fails to communicate to my lungs, and I stop breathing. My sleep study showed these micro-interruptions occurred up to 39 times per hour. That’s a lot of disruption, and a lot of poor sleep over the years.
This condition explained my excessive daytime sleepiness. In college I chose to schedule my part time job in the afternoon because there was no way I could stay awake studying in the library. I’ve always needed a nap shortly after noon. My worst hours of the day are between 1pm and 4pm. I’m often gripped by feeling exhausted during that range.
Before I was diagnosed and before I started paying attention to the critical nature of sleep, I just marked it up to laziness or weakness and tried to power through with caffeine when a nap was not an option. I now have a different perspective.
I now see that sleep is the most underrated and misunderstood aspect of my personal wellness. It became easy to associate it with being soft and inadequate. In my younger years I could push through it and somehow run on sheer willpower, but I don’t buy into that error any longer. I do my best to guard my sleep, which has been a concerted effort throughout hospice care with Karen.
Like sleep, I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of my tears as an essential response that will lead to the wellbeing of my body. It was easy to lump tears in with sleep and label them both as shortcomings instead of prerequisites to good health.
I cry a lot these days. Not just because Karen is gone, but because I’ve learned to embrace the healing nature of tears.
Tears don’t have to be induced by sorrow. On a trip with Karen to San Francisco many years ago, we were driving north out of the city across the Golden Gate Bridge when we both saw it at the same time. The moon was just coming up over the east hills. It appeared twice as big as it should have been. The reflection lit up the bay.
I had to pull over to honor it.
It was a magical moment of great beauty and location. We were in the right place at the right time and stumbled upon a scene that took our breath away. And the best response was the impulsive response.
We cried together.
Tears are like music. They let my soul say something that my tongue cannot. Whether in grief or in rapture, my tears are my deep ally. They have taught me much. And I’m glad I got over my fear of their instruction.