25 June 2008

Mind/Body

I meditate. I burn candles. I drink green tea. And I still want to smack someone.
—Post-It note on my computer

While I was driving to work yesterday, I turned my head to the left to check my blind spot before changing lanes so that I could attain a speed of Way Too Fast. As I turned my head, I noticed that my neck didn't hurt.

This was remarkable because my neck had been hurting for weeks. I'm not sure when or how I pulled or pinched something, but it hurt like a mofo to turn my head to the left for a long time. It hurt so bad, in fact, that I had routinely been taking painkillers to keep it under control. Oh, sure, I could have gone to the doctor, but (a) I'm a doctor's kid, and we don't really do that and (b) when? when? and when? I figured it was a muscle thing and that it would eventually get better on its own.

Which it clearly did. But as I cruised down the road, I thought about the fact that I could not remember any instance of my neck hurting for the whole weekend. That got me thinking about the mind/body connection. It was last Friday that I made my peace with taking Riley into bed with me, that I decided to embrace rather than fight his need for some nighttime closeness. My friend was visiting all weekend, so I had help with the twins. The weather had been gorgeous, and we'd done a lot of fun activities. Sunday night, Riley even slept straight through the night. My point here is that I was feeling pretty Zen, and that my neck had started feeling better when that sense of calm took over my outlook. Coincidence? Maybe.

I have mixed feelings about the mind/body connection. Having watched my husband suffer through a disease that no amount of positive outlook, meditation, and mindful practice of yoga were going to cure, I resent the pressure that the mind/body concept can put on people. It's pretty guilt-inducing to devote a significant amount of time to cultivating a positive outlook only to have those efforts be for naught. In John's case, the argument could be made that his positive outlook prolonged his life, and that may be true. But the pressure to maintain a constantly positive attitude does not leave a lot of room for people to feel the negative emotions that a terminal diagnosis—or other form of life stress—brings. I think in many instances, when friends would suggest to John that "you can't even let yourself think you might die," what they really meant was that they could not handle the thought of death, that they needed to push that thought out of their minds, that they were not comfortable talking about it. But someone facing a terminal illness or other stressful situation needs to feel safe to explore all possible outcomes without the fear that a negative outcome is the Ultimate Failure, that a little more positive thinking would have warded of the inevitable.

That said, on a smaller scale, I do think stress can manifest itself in physical ways, and I think my neck is an example of that. Neck pain was a new physical manifestation of stress for me; usually I clench my teeth and get headaches. No matter how it presents, though, it's pretty certain that if I'm under a lot of stress, my body will not feel its best. If I'm able to control the stress in my life—put mind over matter, find my inner calm, fake it 'til I make it, whatever you want to call it—my body will respond in kind.

There's a little bit of a chicken and egg factor here, too. As the neck instance shows, when I take good care of my mind, my body is happier. But it's also true that when I take good care of myself physically, I feel better mentally. I suppose it doesn't matter which comes first though; all that matters is that there is a connection between the two and that if one part is unwell, the other will suffer as a result.

*********************************
As I write this, I feel the tension in my shoulders mounting. That's another place my mind creates physical stress. My neck is still feeling fine, but I seriously lost my Zen last night, and I guess it's my shoulders that are going to take the fall this time.

Riley and I—well, and Maddie, too—had the worst night on record last night. Worse than the newborn days, even. Basically, someone was awake from midnight until about 5:30 a.m. Sometimes me, sometimes Riley, sometimes Maddie. Sometimes crying, sometimes chatting. Sometimes in bed together, sometimes in our own rooms. Honestly, I can't even remember how it all went down, just that nothing seemed to work, probably because I tried about a dozen things and didn't stick with one. One of my methods involved switching on the lights and screaming while jumping around like a freak. In case anyone is wondering: that was not the best method. I feel foggy, slightly ill, and my shoulders! Damn.

This too shall pass, I know it's a phase, and all that. What I'm curious about is how to find my Zen when the shit hits the fan in the middle of the night (or during the day, for that matter). What do you think about the mind/body connection? How do you work on maintaining the calm that keeps both your spirit and your vessel* well? Do you even think the connection exists?

*"Spirit and vessel"? Did I really write that? WTF? I really do need some sleep.

33 comments:

bg's Little Sis said...

i've done the, 'lights on jumping around like a freak' thing before and reading that made me laugh so hard...when you're in the throws of it, it's terrible, when it's over you can laugh at it, I know I did:) Hoping for better nights for all of you, don't be so tough on yourself, we ALL have those nights.

Lots of love,
lil'sis

glove said...

I feel you. I'm commenting from work, where I"m trying to avoid being asked to do anything remotely important, because my son (8 weeks) was up at midnight, 1, 2:30, 4, 5:15, and finally up for the day at 6. I have dropped everything I've put in my hands this morning, *except* the baby and I'm quite proud of that.

And, my answer is, I don't keep my Zen. I lose it. And then I find it again. The best I can manage is recognizing through my bad time that I will find it again, though sometimes I can't even accomplish that much.

Something that really helped at the end of my pregnancy was a professional massage. Don't know if you have the hundred bucks to throw down on one of those, but it kept me all Zenny and happy for at least 3 days, which was worth it. Wish I could do it again today.

BrooklynGirl said...

Yeah...my house is pretty Zen-free these days. Two nights ago I had a night like that and after spending 4.5 hours nursing, rocking, and begging my 1 year old to sleep, I started crying in front of her. She freaked out and that reminded me that no matter how frustrated I was, I wasn't nearly as frustrated as my poor, non-sleeping girl. So I pretended to be calm (which may may the same thing as actually being calm) and she got calm and eventually we both got a little sleep.

Jboo said...

Well, this will probably sound really weird, but sometimes when I've felt extremely stressed with kids, husband, illness, etc., I kind of sing to myself from that old Beatles song. And the words I keep repeating are "let it be. Sometimes, I sing/think/repeat more bits of the song. Anyway, it seems to help me.

astrogirl426 said...

I still struggle with the same issues, and we still have our bad nights, but it's gotten a little better as Bunker Monkey has gotten older. So I'm not sure I have any info on how to deal with it in the moment.

But one thing that has helped after-the-fact has been not beating myself up too much about it after it's done. I'm still working on this; but it does help to not ruminate on it too much, because then it just wrecks the rest of the day and several days after that.

Pronoia said...

Okay, this isn't kid-related per se, but I just finished reading "Radical Acceptance" by Tara Brach, and it was amazing. She talks about the times she's lost her cool, lost her center, and how she got it back again, which I very much respect in a practitioner!

beeeeeeeee said...

I didn't realize that other people did the 'lights on jumping around like a freak' thing! I thought I was the only freak...

I wish I had a zen restart button, but one thing never works every time. The one thing I know is that when I can't remember the last time I really laughed, it is time for me to go on a quest. Sometimes it drops in my lap (like a silly quote from my daughter) and other times I have to really search for it (like a great cup of coffee).

Good luck Snickollet!

Jana said...

I think there's no such thing as middle of the night zen when it comes to babies waking up. I might be cool, calm and collected when Charlotte wakes up early from a nap (which happens often), but when she's up at 2 a.m. I almost always lose my shit. I have just made a pact with myself to lose it privately, before I go into her room. That at least will help HER zen.

OTRgirl said...

Just a comment about the mind/body connection. Before my Mom died, I'd never been constipated or had any significant headaches. A few days after her death, I thought my appendix was about to burst, but the doc said to take some Col-aise and I'd be fine. It was a bit embarrassing to insist on a doctor exam and find that as the cause!

I also started getting raging headaches (though, thankfully, no migraines). It took a while, but I figured out that the headaches meant I had emotion that needed to be released. Usually that meant I needed to cry.

Of course, I'm HORRIBLE when I don't get enough sleep, so I know I'd be doing much worse things than jumping around the room...

LauraC said...

I do think there is some kind of mind-body connection, but not at a deep level where we are in control. I think your chicken-egg theory is correct.

As for losing it in the middle of the night, I think that is very hard to control. There is something about being woken out of deep sleep that is so jarring it is hard to keep your equilibrium.

With my Alex, I often feel as you do with Riley. Sometimes I have no idea how to be his mom. He needs me so much right now.

Alex has also been waking a lot at night these last few months, including a one-month stretch where he slept in his bed from 7:30-1 every night then in our bed from 1-6 each day. I won't say I had great sleep, but going to bed myself with a plan to have him sleep with me if he woke up made me feel better.

Anonymous said...

zen in the middle of the night... hard to acheive. what i find works best is just to resign to whatever it is. The babies are not sleeping? Hard to think this at 3am, but just enjoy it. Just accept it and the fact that yes you will feel like shit in the morning, but why now too? Cuddle, sing songs, read books, and your zen will help them find theirs. Sometimes I think babies/kids are like dogs and can smell fear or other emotions (and distinguish)... so if you're pissed they're awake... they know it

Anonymous said...

Solution to nightime craziness: lying in bed listening to a good audiobook on my iPod in the dark. Make sure all children are safe even if awake. (You can still hear them, but less). For me, I always have to note where I am in the book because sure enough I'll fall asleep and have to go back the next day.

moo said...

I'm a nurse's kid, so I don't go to the doctor either. I am terrible about self-medicating and diagnosing.

Just wanted to let you know you were alone in that quirk.

Clover said...

Oh man- I feel for you. My son is usually the difficult one, but at least I know what to do to get him back to sleep. My daughter is usually pretty easy by comparison, but when she is upset, watch out, because she freaks out. And the last 2 nights were her freak-out nights.
I also am trying to find my zen. Sometimes I escape for an afternoon or even a weekend (my husband & I went away about a month ago), but the stress level is so high that I only felt zen-like until we walked back in the house and then I felt as stressed as I had 48 hours before.

Lyndsay said...

Argh, sorry you all had such a nasty night. I agree with the earlier post-er who recommended a massage. I'm great at accumulating tension in my shoulders, neck and upper back (and more recently my jaw - woohoo!), and then not being able to get rid of it. I find after a message my muscles are much more relaxed... too bad they don't stay that way forever.
Hang in there - only 5? 6? hours til bedtime?!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your twins turning two. My twins (boys) just turned three June 20th and I have to say that although the year was more challenging in some ways, looking back it was an amazing year of progress. They are now speaking clearly in full sentences which greatly helps communication, they are potty trained and still nap! The transition to big beds was tough but they sleep much better. I think you will find two an exciting year! Hang in there....

NanarocksWeen said...

I LOVE this comment from beeeeeee (didn't count the ee's, so I hope I'm close. Anyway I'm sharing this with my daughters, I liked it so much.
==============
"The one thing I know is that when I can't remember the last time I really laughed, it is time for me to go on a quest. Sometimes it drops in my lap (like a silly quote from my daughter) and other times I have to really search for it (like a great cup of coffee)."
============
Thanks for that great tip!

Mary Ellen said...

Hm. Sometimes I let the babies cry -- because I CAN NOT HELP THEM ANYMORE GODDAMNIT!! -- and then they throw up and I feel bad. Seriously. They get so crazy in their I-can't-sleep, I-need-you, I-am-dying-in-my-crib-Mama!!!, that they make themselves throw up. Sigh. Obviously I have no advice, just a teacup of commiseration.

On mind-body connection, I do think one exists. Definitely! But, like you, I'm skeptical of the whole "positive thinking" thing, and I think there's research to show that it really doesn't make much difference. You could be a totally grumpy-ass cancer patient, for example, and have the same chances for survival as the sweet lady who never ever complains.

Sandi said...

I completely agree with you about people telling a terminally ill person to think positive. There were so many times when my husband tried to talk to his parent about the fact that he was dying, but they didn't want to hear it. I never did that to him and am so glad we were able to talk about it together.

Anonymous said...

Just as terminally ill people need the space to think negative thoughts, so parents without sleep are allowed nights without zen.

Hugs to you

buddha_girl said...

People, especially moms, who say they've never done the jumping around screaming, etc. thing are just LIARS. For real.

We all have. We just attempt to avoid sharing the dirty details. Not me, though. I tell all the filthy, bad stuff so other women don't kick themselves in the ass.

I COMPLETELY believe in the mind-body connection but have yet to master some technique to overcome the horror show I call Migraine Hell and Muscle Spasm Moron.

I've learned to rely on those I trust the most - specifically Lorna who will take my kid and allow me to SLEEP for a couple of hours. True rest always helps me regain focus and CONTROL. I am a control freak. Period.

Heather said...

I definitely believe there is a mind/body connection, but the part that's up in the air in my mind is where the line is between affectable and not. A mild headache I can make go away, but if I get my leg cut off, there is clearly nothing I can think to make it reattach itself.

Of course, with no sleep, the line moves closer to the little headache. I feel for you.

Anonymous said...

I recently got this "bite plate" from my dentist to deal with the night-time-teeth-clenching that's causing my jaw to ache. $500 NOT covered by insurance, yay...

It's molded to my upper teeth and it is supposed to keep me from clenching.

After 10 nights, 5 from which I've woken up with the aparatus floating amid the bed sheets, I'm finding I clench the device so hard it's becoming molded to my bottom teeth as well!

So much for strategies to cope with the body part of the mind-body connection!

Anonymous said...

Consider reading this book:

http://www.amazon.com/Solve-Your-Childs-Sleep-Problems/dp/0671620991

KCRSummertime said...

I think sleep deprivation is the worst torture. After a night like you've described, I would have taken the kids to school and then turned around and had a "sick day," crawling back into bed.

carolnab said...

I've never commented before, but seeing the endless stream of sleepness nights you are experiencing gives me courage to give you this suggestion, that my own Pediatrician gave when my daughter would not sleep through the night, but constantly screamed at age 2&1/2. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it worked for us ...... "Breathe in the good thoughts, breathe out the bad thoughts" - Repeated each night multiple times. Within a week, the screaming went away. Perhaps if you all do it before bedtime, someone will get some sleep - hopefully you!

Anonymous said...

I have done the "lights on jumping freak show"...the "lay by the crib on the floor and cry with them show"...the "cuss like a sailor alone in my bed, kicking and thrashing having a tantrum show", before going into their room. I have done the "you just cry for two hours until you go back to sleep because I know there is nothing wrong with you show...only to find the bloody drool on the sheets the next morning due to the teeth cutting through the night before I feel like a total heel of a f'ed up mom for not noticing the night before when you screamed for two hours show"...no sleep = no zen

You are not alone!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Snickollet,
I want to comment on this:
"the pressure to maintain a constantly positive attitude does not leave a lot of room for people to feel the negative emotions that a terminal diagnosis—or other form of life stress—brings. "
I understand exactly what that means. My husband had pancreatic cancer and I was actually SURPRISED by his death. I didn't think it would happen.
I'm sure many will see this as denial, and it might have been, but we were so focused on the care and the cure that I rarely let that thought enter my mind. It didn't help the transition, there were many situations I wasn't sure how to handle. But my husband was very sick very quickly and we just didn't have the energy to consider the possibilities.
There's a recent author who I admire who writes about the life lessons learned from cancer, and I am sure that is very true, but let's not forget that cancer is a TERRIBLE disease to experience. I think it's important to acknowledge that, and believe it or not, some people do not allow themselves to.

Julia said...

I resent the shit out of the positive outlook people. Because I think they are people to whom nothing truly terrible has ever happened.

I was listening to NPR somewhat recently, after the Kennedy diagnosis, and they had Elizabeth Edwards on. One of the callers went on about how she is sure she is alive because of the positive outlook despite her own diagnosis. And EE was so calm and dignified in saying that she is happy for the caller, but that cancer is a terrible disease that is, sometimes, a lot stronger than the strongest person, and that it is terrible to even imply that someone is dead because they or their family wasn't positive enough. I wanted to reach through the radio and kiss the woman.

That said, I think there definitely is a connection on a less global level. Exercising can release chemicals that make us feel better, for example, and feeling calm mentally can make it easier to get things done and leave time for oneself.

colicmommy said...

I've had the bad nights, and I've got to tell you, a single, normal dose of Benadryl has gotten ColicBoy back to sleep on nights when I thought the hell would never end.

I'm not talking overdose, btw. One normal dose.

Keen said...

So, so sorry about the horrible night's sleep for everyone. And about the screaming and jumping around like a freak. I hope by now things are better.

As for the body/mind thing, I resent the implication that if you just have a positive attitude, things will be OK. I thought of that a lot during John's illness, because I was so awed by your positive outlook.

Micky said...

Recuperating from a broken relationship is one thing that takes a toll on most of the people. One very classic aftermath of a broken heart and a depressed mind especially for the boys is to seek solace in the company of alcohol. A broken heart, a depressed mind, and alcohol soaked physic usually go well, but in case you are going for anti depressants like xanax you better watch out! Antidepressants and alcohol do not gel well!

Three under six said...

Um, just a thought here, but if your kids are crying for you in the middle of the night, why not just let them crawl into bed with you? It will make them feel happy and safe. They will stop crying and go to sleep, feeling happy, safe and secure. You can go back to sleep too. No lights, no leaping around. No frustration. Everybody wins.