“Ah, sleep it is a blessed thing.” (Rhyme of the Ancient mariner.)

Kate and the dog, after a busy day.

Kate and the dog, after a busy day.

Sleeping is a beautiful thing.

I speak as a person who can’t always manage it. Today I’m singing, chatty, smiling at everyone I meet, happy, positive, busy…I slept last night!  I hadn’t realized how badly I was feeling until today when I’m  feeling so good.

I know with my head how sleep is fundamental. Fundamental to our health, our well-being, our motivation, our energy… do I need to go on?

But today I feel it in my body, my mood, my level of activity.

The dog could even read and still sleep.

The dog could even read and still sleep.

Do you sleep well? Do you take it for granted? Do you wake up, after a good night’s sleep feeling rested and renewed? And do you take a moment to be grateful? Light a candle sometimes, in gratefulness? I’m quite boring- I nag my friends to be grateful for their ability to sleep. I simply cannot comprehend what it must be like to lie down, close your eyes and…go to sleep, every night. Just like that! Even when I’m sleeping better, I never go to sleep quickly and I almost never sleep for more than four or five hours at a time.

For so many years I lived with not enough sleep. Mornings I struggled to wake up, to get going, to get to work, was late regularly.  I struggled through the day. Most times my main aim was to stay awake. Couldn’t focus, couldn’t concentrate, rarely felt alert, energetic, keen. Didn’t make longterm plans, day to day was enough. Life  was hard. I struggled to get out of negative to zero. Get into the positive? Seemed impossible. I don’t remember ever sleeping easily and well.

The man would tell you he can sleep anywhere! Oh the envy.

The man would tell you he can sleep anywhere! Oh the envy.

Why did I continue like this? Think about common attitudes to sleep. I accepted the view “live with it, if you think about it you only make it worse”.  Or, “anyone can sleep, it’s all in your mind.” Or, “you sleep more than you think”.  And the criticisms: ” You’re always tired, You’re always late,…” Unless you’ve experienced chronic lack of sleep, you cannot understand. It’s the truth of “walk a mile in my shoes.”

For whatever reason, I lived with it. With chronic lack of sleep, with exhaustion, with poor concentration, with poor motivation- after all, why want to do something when I’d be too tired anyway?

One day, on the way to work, late as usual, I heard a specialist in sleep disorders interviewed. He described me. He described how I couldn’t sleep- hours to go to sleep, difficulty waking, feeling jetlagged all day… and named it as a sleep disorder!

Revelation! If I had a sleep disorder, then I could do something about it! It could be fixed! Maybe I would sleep and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t always be so tired.

What to do? I found a hypnotherapist. One session and that night, I slept! I spent the next day in a state of wonder. I knew I could do anything. Fly to the moon, climb Everest, anything was possible. And I wondered. Did people who slept well feel like that every day? Was life that easy? That much fun?

Pusska liked to keep some books handy, just in case she couldn't sleep.

Pusska liked to keep some books handy, just in case she couldn’t sleep.

Did better sleep continue? Am I now one of the fortunate ones who go to bed and go to sleep? Well no, it hasn’t been that simple. There have been periods when my life has been calm and sleep has been better. There was one scary and difficult time when sleep was disrupted completely, but that’s another story.

I understand myself better now. Such self understanding has taken sixty-six years and several years with a wonderful therapist. Self understanding, growth and change don’t come easy. Having now experienced times when I am rested I have great compassion and admiration for my sleep deprived self. How did I survive? How did I hold down jobs? Even turning up for work was an achievement. I can forgive myself for so much.

Today? I continue to learn about and to understand chronic insomnia.; to be grateful for the simple, necessary things of life; and to cultivate those practices that aid my rest.

For the times I’m rested and refreshed I shall be forever grateful. And for those other times? I’ll accept them and not worry. Today I know that if the non-restful times continue I seek help and I know that I will be helped. And I’m grateful for wisdom and experience that has given me tools so I’m no longer powerless or helpless.

Sleep comes naturally for cats.

Sleep comes naturally for cats.

What are some of the things I’ve learnt? Knowing when to ask for help and being able to accept it and having the courage to be vulnerable and humble enough to learn.

 

 

Listening would change the world

I believe with my whole heart, that if we were to practise the skill of active listening we could change the world. Just think about it. Simply by being given the gift of active listening people would feel heard and validated; conflicts would be far fewer because we would truly understand what the other was saying; sometimes if we ourselves were truly heard we would be helped to understand what it was that we wanted to say.

Now this is coming from an accomplished chatterbox. I’m one of the world’s talkers. However, learning the skill of active listening transformed my life. I was no longer totally intimidated by situations. I knew I could always simply reflect back what I had heard. And when I am focused I can choose to offer to the other the gift of true listening. I don’t always talk! When was the last time you truly felt heard? You know that, in your gut, this person has heard what I have to say and may even have helped you to understand yourself better?

One of my favourite things is to teach Communication Skills. Having some of those skills has empowered and enabled me. It is thrilling to share them and watch as light dawns for people. However, it is not simple. I have found that one of the most challenging things for most people is to listen and simply reflect back what they have heard, without giving advice. It seems to be hardwired into our systems to give advice. Maybe it comes from a need to make things better, I don’t know, or maybe we don’t want to feel bad. You think about it- do you want someone to tell you what to do? Or do you want someone to truly hear you? My bristles go up the instant I start being told what I should do, unless I’ve asked for help and that’s completely different. And here I feel I need to apologise to my friends for the endless times I still fall into the trap of giving them unnecessary advice. All we need to do is, listen.

This poem says it all: Listen

When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I should not feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as that may seem. Listen! all I ask is that you listen. Not talk or do- just hear me. Advice is cheap: 50 cents will give you both Dorothy Dix and Dr Spock in the same newspaper. And I can DO for myself; I’m not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless. When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and weakness. But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I quit trying to convince you and can go about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling. And when that’s clear the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice. So. please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn; and I’ll listen to you. Anonymous.

if only…

if only...

if only…I don't think "if only" crossed the minds of Bear or Pusska.

 
I don’t think “if only” crossed the minds of Bear or Pusska.

if only I’d… asked for help… told someone how I felt… known I was valued… taken the chance to… spoken up for myself… told my side of the story… let  them know I loved them … gone to visit that last time… gardened at every opportunity… gone to the beach every possible moment… rung when I thought of it… this list is straight off the top of my head and I could go on and on…

I wonder if you live with some “if only’s” in your life and what they might be.

You might be thinking it sounds negative, as if I’m judging myself, but I find the opposite is true. My if only’s are learning moments. They can lead to self understanding and to insights about myself. I’d like to think that by learning from them I don’t repeat them. If only that were true! I can be a very slow learner.

The if only I’ve been thinking about happened a long time ago. I was teaching in a very good private school in Melbourne, a few years after I had been desperately ill and spent many months in hospital. I was still frail, with limited energy and had moved to Melbourne after finishing an Arts degree the year before- full-time study had taken less energy than working full-time…although, if only I’d had more energy…

Back to this story- I had a wonderful class, bright, sassy and I loved almost all of them. The principal liked me and showed me he valued me. I had, unwittingly, come after an unpleasant situation and, without knowing, saved the day for him.

Not having taught for about five years I found I had lost my confidence. At night after work, I quite simply lacked the energy to plan and organize. I felt unable to deal with any classroom management issues- not that there were many, this was the dream class; I couldn’t have organized programs and all the other things expected of teachers.

So… you can probably guess how this story ends. The shared household where I was living was proving to be more difficult than I’d expected, I certainly lacked the skills and confidence to deal with that, so… I ran away back to my home city. Couldn’t face the Principal, wrote a letter in the holidays.

What did learn I from that, many years later, when I was a bigger person? You’ve probably been shaking your head, wondering how anyone could be so dense. Yes, I could have gone to him, told him how I was feeling and, I am absolutely certain, I would have been given unlimited help. It was that kind of place. I could have been happy there and may have reclaimed my teaching career- but that is pointless conjecture.

What I do know, clear down to my bones, is that a plea for help would have been heard and answered.

However, to ask for help, I needed to know that I could. Sounds obvious? Somewhere along the way I learnt not to ask for help, that it wasn’t OK to ask for help. I’ve spent many years unlearning that. And to ask for help  I needed to feel safe enough and courageous enough to be vulnerable, to be able to say that I wasn’t perfect. My belief that I wasn’t perfect was part of what prevented me from asking for help. My response was to try to hide this, so no one would find out, so I wouldn’t get into trouble. My very need worked against me.

It’s obvious what I keep learning from this story. Have the courage to be vulnerable. Ask for help. Believe in  myself. An essential part of my humanness is my imperfection.

In sharing my vulnerabilities  other people may find the courage and the space to share theirs.

I’d really like to know if you have some if only stories and I’d also like to hear your response to this story of mine- but only if you want to!