It's been a long time since I've posted here. For once, I think that's OK. I even think it is a good thing! It has been just over 6 months since I was diagnosed with severe obstructive sleep apnea, and nearly 6 months since I started CPAP machine therapy to treat the symptoms. In many ways, the process of recovery has been as much of a roller coaster of trials, triumphs, snafus and frustrations as the process of discovering what was wrong.
In the last 6 months, I've tried 5 different mask attachments, 6 pressure changes on the machine, 2 chin straps in attempts to make 3 of those masks attachments work, 4 medications/supplements to try and help me sleep through the struggle and when all has been said and done, it is one, seemingly simple change that has started to make a difference: Changing NOTHING at all.
I'm disappointed this one didn't work out--it matched my plush octopus so well!
I've learned yet one more invaluable lesson through my journey toward wellness, which is that there is a time to fight, a time to flee, and more often than I'd recognized, a time to let go, surrender, and be. Physiologically speaking, patients who suffer from OSA go into "fight mode" every night. Our bodies are constantly pumping adrenaline all night long in response to the perceived threat of not getting enough oxygen when our airways collapse. Emotionally speaking, I was in "fight mode" much of the day, too. I fought the exhaustion and mental fatigue, the neurological symptoms that developed in the last few years, the chronic pain and stiffness, and the constant feeling that this was all just a sign of me being lazy or not trying hard enough.
A few common side effects of CPAP machine therapy: hokey grins, walking around with an elephant trunk like aperture hanging from your face, and an obscene love of gardening...
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What exactly was I planning to wage war against though? What I really needed was to relax, rest, and recover--and going to bed each night with sword in one hand and shield in the other is not the most effective way to get a restful night's sleep. Furthermore, when restfulness did not occur, I saw that as another failure on my part, an incomplete mission. Somehow, the mask that didn't fit right must not fit right because I wasn't trying hard enough. Somehow, my inability to sleep without opening my mouth--a habit brought on my the sleep apnea itself--was a sign of my laziness (because you can be lazy in your sleep, too, you know). And yes, I now see how absurd this sounds. I discussed this realization with my doctor a few weeks ago and the first thing I asked afterward was "So, now what do I do? How do I fix it?"
"Nothing. Don't DO ANYTHING!" was her response. Don't do anything? I'm not sure that phrase is in my personal database. *scan scan scan, scroll down, scroll up*
A small smattering of my CPAP Crap Collection
So, in my usual fashion, I didn't listen. I did one more thing. I ventured forth into the wondrous world of the interweb and Googled anything I could think of related to my experience with sleep apnea, CPAP therapy and parts--expletives included! And that's how I figured out what the main issues were with my setup. By reading excessive amounts of blog posts and public rants (like this one), I discovered that even though I was breathing through my nose now with the nasal masks I'd been using, and I wasn't flat-out breathing through my mouth (which causes all the air to gush down your throat, makes a horrid noise, and immediately wakes you up), I was opening my mouth just a tiny bit. Enough for the pressure to sneak its way out, causing my airways to collapse and my breath to become shallow, causing my periodic limb movements to start up, causing my masks to move around and leak, and then--only then--causing me to wake up wondering why the hell I was up after only 17 minutes of sleep! So I made a few more changes. I brought home Mask #5--another full face option in a style that better fits my petite head, and can now lower my pressure back down to where I'd started (since I'm not inadvertently lowering it in my sleep anymore by having air leak out).
And the very last thing I've done you ask? Nothing. Nothing at all. I've let go, laid back, masked up and drifted off into the most natural slumber possible. It's only been 4 nights since starting with Mask #5. Two of them were restful, two were less restful but not due to any CPAP-related complications. I've had enough energy on some days and parts of some days to cycle 8 miles after an hour of water aerobics, to get back on my Yoga mat, to write a song for the first time this year, to play a 2 hour set at a local cafe's Open Mic Night, to visit with old friends and meet new ones. Other days and parts of other days I've been drained, exhausted, irritable about that and just laid around in front of the TV. And you know what? That's OK--I don't need to do something just for the sake of proving I can or because I think I should. I can just sit here.
And so I sit here, in a cafe, typing this because I want to--not because I should or because if I didn't it would be a sign of laziness, personal failure and incomplete missions. It is in that spirit that I invite you all to do the very same: nothing at all. Maybe just for 5 minutes. Maybe those 5 minutes are excruciatingly uncomfortable. Maybe your inner dialogue is like mine--laden with guilt-driven criticism and lists of what you should be doing, thinking or feeling instead. And that's OK, too. For now, for just 5 minutes, don't just do something; don't do anything. Sit here, let go, surrender and be. We don't have to fight because we've already won.
And lastly, I'd like to thank my friends and family--near and far--for allowing me the space, comfort and continued support to experience this lesson and the many others I have experienced and will experience upon this journey we all share.