“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.

 

 

Love Letters straight from the Heart.

Remember letters? You wrote to someone on paper, put it in an envelope, addressed, stamped  and posted it.

A bundle of friends.

A bundle of friends.

Remember the feeling when you get a letter? Remember the feeling of anticipation, trying to guess who it may be from if you don’t recognize the writing. How long since you wrote a letter or since someone wrote a letter to you?

I don’t mean emails. I love emails. They’re quick, can be brief, are great for making arrangements and for staying in touch with a lot of people.

So far, I haven’t used Facebook much, but I can see how  useful it is for sharing stuff with lots of people.

But real letters, think about them for a moment. Think about letters you’ve received that mattered to you. Do you have a bundle of kept letters? If you’re young, you may never have received one. Do you still get birthday cards in the mail or is an email good enough?

Treasured letters.

Treasured letters.

I have a letter from my grandmother so old the paper is worn away in some of its folds. There’s a note my father sent me when I was seventeen and had just left home. A box of cards from  people I have never met sent to me in hospital, a very ill girl far away from home. They gave me the courage to keep going.  Do I keep emails?

Well yes, sometimes I do, but…do I re-read them? Do I hold them in my hand and treasure them? Do they bring back memories of that person as I see her beloved handwriting? Do I remember the moment I found them in the letter box?

There’s discussion here in Australia about ending a daily mail delivery. I had been thinking about letters, prompted by the rarity of my receiving any before this discussion began. Somehow it now seems more urgent. One of my friends is diligent about sending cards and my mother was known and appreciated for sending notes to her friends to let them know she was thinking of them. I’m slack at sending birthday cards- first I have to find one I like, then I resist the cost.. often I end up with a card I haven’t managed to post. I have several August birthdays I meant to…

If I like getting a letter, won’t other people enjoy it too?

Letters provide us with history. They fill in the detail. Cronechronicler is blogging the letters she sent her small sons while she and their father were abroad. Fortunately she had kept them. I have a letter my mother had kept for more than fifty years- I wrote it to her when she was away in hospital and I was twelve. I don’t remember writing it and that twelve year old self is a distant echo. You can imagine my feelings when I found it, after her death. I was so glad that twelve year old had written it.

Maybe they're full of letters!

Maybe they’re full of letters!

While I’ve been pondering getting mail and writing letters and as we Australians may lose our regular mail delivery, I discovered a movement to send a letter to a stranger through a TED talk (God bless TED!). Hannah Bencher, whose mother wrote regularly to her, became depressed after college, so she did what came naturally- she wrote love letters to strangers and left them wherever she went. She blogged about this and promised “if you ask me for a hand-written letter, I will write you one.” Overnight she was inundated with requests. As she says “her inbox morphed into this harbor of heartbreak”.

This simple beginning is now a global initiative- “The world  needs more love letters.”  Her talk is moving and inspiring and the stories she tells will warm your  heart. I am determined to take paper and pen and write! I have bought some sheets of beautiful paper, I have stacks of cards…maybe my neighbour would like a letter in her box? In the meantime, I have those August birthdays. It’s not too late to write.

 

 

 

 

 

The kindness of strangers and my undying gratitude.

We had big storms here last week and the State Emergency Services have been endlessly busy.

The SES big truck was called to my house once. It was my very first returning- to- work half- day after long months of absence with CFS. A big day.

Bear the cat, at home and comfy.

Maybe Bear isn’t looking all that chastened.

I drove into my carport and could hear a cat in distress. Bear had jumped onto the hot water tank in the corner, miscalculated and fallen head first down the small space between the tank and the wall. Too small for him to right himself, there he was, wedged head first, back legs in the air, crying. I could just reach him but not well enough to get a hold. I started crying…and panicking.

Help!

Help!

What does a woman do in such a moment but call 000? Yes, I was assured, someone would help. In the meantime I phoned back, sobbing, to my workplace. Long ago I had taught  two of the women who worked in the front office. I have presumed a lot on this association. One of them answered and was her usual commonsensical self. She would phone the father of one of our school families who lived in my small hamlet. ( This was neither the first nor the last time that this wonderful group of women would care for my sobbing self.)

The father was contacted, arrived with his family, then with that brisk practical sense of country people he set about undoing the tank, emptying the hot water and  freeing one distraught and muddy cat. His very sweet wife dealt with one  extremely distressed and grateful woman while the children offered pats on the back and sympathy. (I have quite a special relationship with those children now.)

Emergency services to the rescue!

Emergency services to the rescue!

It was then the Emergency Services pulled up, a big truck with all the bells and whistles,  to find one sobbing woman, a chastened, and dishevelled cat, a hot water service being re-assembled and the family of my rescuer standing about making kind noises. These busy people were understanding about a wasted trip and my small hamlet enjoyed the spectacle.

Bear the cat insisted on several lottery tickets being given to his rescuer (I don’t think he even liked cats!) and he continued to send him Christmas cards. Nowadays I have a special bond with his wife and children. The time Bear was caught behind the water tank became a favourite story in their classes. Children enjoy seeing their teachers displaying less than their usual competence. It makes us more human.

Once again I was offered the opportunity to accept generosity and kindness with humility and great gratitude. These people expected nothing back and were happy to help.

I’m a slow learner. I keep learning the same lesson- that I can ask for help. A mentor once told me to reach out- isn’t that asking for help? I look back and can see so many times when I didn’t know I could even ask. What a difference there could have been!

And it’s a memory in my collection of stories when I have been cared for, unexpectedly. The stories I take out when the world seems a little bleak . The stories I keep in my gratitude book.  A large collection and a large book.

What are your stories? What are you grateful for? Can you ask for help?

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!