I have had a disrupted sleep since I was a kid, but it didn’t become chronic until I grew up and assumed the anxiety of the adult, whereupon it became a real problem, requiring drugs that were hard to get. Doctors would be abstemious and hard-nosed about prescribing them, so I tried all their various recommendations, and even taught myself to meditate which took ten years. The result? I became so depleted, I contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from a trio of the many herpes viruses which basically eviscerated my energy, and sent me into a quiet, a very quiet, too quiet life. The eight or nine herpes viruses are carried by most of us, but they need stressors to become active. I provided them with many stressors, moving countries, continents, chasing stories from dawn to dusk and parties from dusk to dawn.
We now know that 80 million Americans suffer from a variety of sleep problems and that there are 80 kinds of sleep disorders. By the time I was 40, I found that a tiny dose of an old-fashioned anti-depressant could deliver a night of sleep, and my life began to improve, radically and fast. But fifteen years of broken sleep has rendered me paranoid and worried, so last summer I bought an Oura Ring, which is the most sophisticated sleep tracker on the market to date.
Below I attach the Oura’s records of last night’s sleep. I have about 20 data points to consider. First of all, I know I was over-tired by supper-time, but instead of a nap, I powered through and by 10 pm, I was frazzled and it was hard to sleep – took me almost 80 minutes. And I woke constantly, through the night. My heart rate was high, my deep sleep low. Based on the data, I am more aware. I can make adjustments. The reason this is important is that the 20% of us (Please see my RCCX Theory essay, linked here ) who carry this sensitivity, which goes along with a more intense sensibility, can easily tip into complete sleeplessness. More and more people are recognizing that they are carriers and that their lives are impacted. Last month Justin Bieber confessed to the syndrome, his manifests as Lyme and it sent him to Christianity and marriage. Lady Gaga has it. Morgan Freeman, ‘Girl’s’ creator, Lena Dunham, Cher, and a host of others less famous. Ten million Americans and between 3 and 6% of the world’s population are sick with fibromyalgia, which is cousin to CFS.
Last week, a woman just south of me, Darden Burns, who had CFS for decades, killed herself because she hadn’t slept for months. Everything she tried worked for a while, then failed. Her life was heroic and makes it clear that, if you want to live, you must apply sleep hygiene. You must be conscious.
Next week Your Best Sleep Ever, an alternative medicine approach to improving sleep begins. It’s free and you can register here.
Over the weekend, Lena Dunham announced that Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony triggered her fibromyalgia. This illness, which Lady Gaga also carries, along with millions of others, is barely understood. It is a kind of rheumatism, a disease of the nervous system, muscles, tendons and sinew that bears some resemblance to depression, and is often treated by anti-depressants. It is perhaps a somatization of depression, along with a maladjustment to massive structural change. Equally, as Dr. Sarah Myhill, one of the leading physicians of Chronic Fatigue and its attendant illnesses, globalization has brought home a whole bunch of new viruses which have overwhelmed our immune systems.
Women are 90% more likely to contract fibro, as my dear cousin calls it, as one would nickname her perpetual friend, her companion in life. It becomes that. As Dunham describes it, it is pain, pain in all its wondrous variations, a symphony of pain, an extraordinary mirroring of the shadow relationship between the body and the world.
I feel that this has a simple enough explanation. Has anything changed more than women’s lives in the last 50 years? Dunham and Lady Gaga have been lifestyle pioneers of their generation, and without moving to judgment on the value of their contributions, they have been impressively public in moving the goalposts of acceptable behavior for women, pushing the limits of expression of identity with a single-minded will.
Do I show my age or weariness when I wish for a consolidation of our gains? Two generations ago, women knew what to expect from life. Almost all of us spent at least part of our lives in secure marriages, in one or two cities or towns, knowing people in those towns birth to death. One hundred years ago, says Dr. Myhill, she would have spent her entire life in one valley in Wessex, eating the same food, encountering the same viruses, her life for the most part predictable, if not completely safe. Despite extreme boredom, her immune system, she states, would have loved her.
We need to catch up with ourselves on the most fundamental of levels, which is to say our bodies. I’ve moved seven cities and three continents in my lifetime, mostly on my own, mostly with very little in the way of support. I am confident that I can hack a living out of almost any wilderness now, and in my wake, and in that of millions of others, more or less accomplished, is a veritable symphony of achievement, independence, and freedom.
Blasey-Ford’s testimony last week, genuine or not, was a cry from that aching corner of women’s psyches that resonated all around the world. It felt real, it felt deep, almost every woman on the planet could see herself in that girlish woman, deeply credentialed, busted back to herself at a powerless fifteen. But that is not who we have become in actuality. Not at all. Aching we may be, but as a sex, in the last fifty years, singly and together we have hung the moon.