Tuesday, April 30, 2013

This Week's Random Thoughts

Tip of the day:  Do NOT ever neglect to take your iPod, or at least your headphones, to the gym, even if you think you don't need them.  This week I went to Zumba class.  I didn't take my gym bag, which contained  my music gear, because I was going to Zumba and wouldn't need to be entertained.  I arrived at the gym to find that there was no class that night.  The teacher didn't show up.  I was stuck doing the hamster wheels for exercise with no music or even television to keep me from going crazy.

I don't like my new Lean Eating exercise phase.  I have no problem doing the exercises.  It's just that in the demos they provide for us they show a model doing front squats in the cage with 20 pound plates on the bar.  I went into the cage to do front squats and learned I can't even hold the bar in front unweighted.  Now that demo just makes me feel inadequate!

I know I said in another post that I should accept spring as is, but this weather is ridiculous.  It's the end of April.  Even on the "nice" days I need a coat.  We need some summer, stat!

Dear Men's Wearhouse: You are not likely to sell many suits when your model looks like Steve Urkel.

A definition of torture:  Sitting on the train home, starving and trying to hold out until you come home and can get something nutritious.  The person next to you is drinking a beer and eating a bag of pretzels.  The person across from you is eating a big bag of popcorn.  The person next to her has a big pastry from Zaro's.  You begin to hate humanity.

I know I have said it before on this blog, but I still hate the term "baby bump".

 I am wondering how many NRA members and assorted right wing gun nuts are going to cancel their subscription to Mad magazine after this month's issue.  I do enjoy this quote: Things that stop a bad guy with a gun - A good guy with a gun who happens to be in the exact right place and is able to fire off a split-second shot that happens to nail the bad guy.  

Lilacs, you are the cruelest flower.  You are such a pretty color and no flower on the planet smells so wonderful.  Why must your blooming season be so brief?  I can only enjoy your for a few short weeks.  Not fair!

Words to live by:  Hold on to your meatball and don't ever sneeze.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Week 15: Perspective

This week I finally hit the 10 pound mark.  The key is to keep going past here.  Every 10 pounds I want to lose gets harder and harder. In fact, I don't think I have ever managed to lose more than 15 pounds on any program.  These past two weeks have been very satisfying though.  I went through a pretty tough plateau in the past few weeks.   For much of March and April I seemed to lose no weight, lost weight in tiny increments, and even gained. 

I was corresponding with my coach this week and she said this to me:

You are making awesome progress and that is evident in your measures and photos. Not only has your weight and girth declined steadily since January but your most recent pictures show some clear changes. Your tummy is tighter and flatter and your arms, shoulders, legs, and back are more toned. You should be really proud of the progress you've made so far! 

I hate the word "tummy" and I hate the word "toned".  Still I think I teared up a bit after I read this.

Progress is a funny thing.  You don't always see it.  You don't always feel it.  You certainly never feel as if you made enough of it.  I would look at Photo #1 and Photo #4 and think that they really don't look any different, that nothing about my body has changed.  I can't really get any perspective on how my body looks because I'm the one living in it.

Whenever it feels like the scale isn't moving quickly enough, or that my photos don't look any different, I have to remember my jeans.  At the beginning of the year I couldn't wear any of my jeans.  I threw away all of my "fat jeans" when I lost 15 pounds last year.  All the jeans I now own cut off my circulation.  Now I can wear them.  They're still a little tight, but I am not so uncomfortable that I just scrap the idea of wearing jeans and put on sweats to go out.

Does my progress still seem to slow?  Let's look and see how far I have come this year.  It's the end of April.  In four months I have lost 10 pounds, 8 inches, and 4% bodyfat.

Let's assume I continue to make the same progress over the coming months until the program ends at the end of the year.  Let's say I lose the same number of pounds and inches and the same amount of bodyfat every 4 months.

Losing at this pace, by the end of 2013 I will have lost 30 pounds, 12% bodyfat and 24 inches.  In other words I will weigh 111 pounds and be 17% bodyfat.  Twenty-four inches almost sounds like too much!  Sure I was aiming for a slightly lower scale weight, but I would consider 20% bodyfat an acheivement and wouldn't expect to go lower than 18%.  I would be thrilled to be 17% bodyfat.

The slow pace in this program can be frustrating.  Everyone wants to see instant results.  I suppose I could have gone on Jenny Craig and lost 30 pounds by now, but would I have truly learned what it takes to change my lifestyle?  Would I be back in the same place at the beginning of next year?  Yes this program is slow, but I'm learning to make healthful choices habitual rather than something I have to do in the here and now to hit a certain goal.  I also have a butt-kicking workout provided for me.

May is going to be full of challenges.  I have my nephew's communion, Mother's Day, Mom's birthday, and then the month ends with my San Francisco trip.  That's like the food capitol of the world.

We are discouraged in the program from "wondering and worrying".  We're not supposed to fret about the future of the program but to simply concentrate on what we need to do in the here and now.  I guess today I will just revel in my progress and cross those bridges when I come to them.  I just have to remember that just because I made good progress so far does not mean I can relax my habits or try to reward myself with food.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Week 14 - The Dreaded Bodyfat Test and the Voices in My Head

This is a truly dreaded week.  I have a triple-whammy.  Along with the weekly weight and girth measurements, I have to submit photos, and worst of all, bodyfat measurements.

There really is no better measure of progress than bodyfat. Photos are two dimensional and will always make me look bigger.  The scale simply measures the pull of gravity on my body, which can change from day to day depending on what I eat, how much I drink, how often I went to the bathroom, and what time of the month it is.  Girth measurements can change with water retention levels and how tightly I'm holding the tape measure that week. Bodyfat measurements are the real deal.  They're saying just how much of that excess weight is truly muscle and how much of it is life-shortening adipose tissue.  Granted I am not great with the calipers, but even in my inept hands, I can see if my bodyfat has moved down at all.

So the results are in.  I barely lost a pound this week.  I have lost a grand total of 8 pounds and 8 inches this year.  I am at 25% bodyfat.  That's a 4% bodyfat loss.  I like the idea that I'm down to 25%.  It feels good to know well over 50%, 75% actually, of my body is lean mass - or should I say lean MEAN mass?

I'm not posting this month's photo.  It's more of the same.  My photos haven't caught up to my fat loss, so I'm not going to post each and every one. Maybe next month.  

Anyway, I have some thoughts for the week.

I resent skinny people.

I don't really resent skinny people.  I resent skinny people who seem to eat everything they want and still stay skinny.

Now that I think about it, I resent anyone who eats whatever he or she wants without ever giving it a second thought.

I work with many beautiful young women.  Every day I see them eat their lunches.  I see them with oversized sandwiches.  I see them with takeout Chinese.  I walk into the coffee shop and see two skinny women sitting at a table eating giant muffins.  I walk through the park and see skinny women eating pizza.  I see skinny men eating it all too.  I find myself asking again and again, "Why can't I have that?"

Every pound, every inch, every percentage point of body fat is a struggle for me.  I have to fight tooth and nail for it. I have to think about every meal.  I have to plan everything in minute detail. When I am planning meals, I can't just think, "What do I want?"  I think, "What can I have?"  I eat out for a few lunches every week at work. It's frustrating that I can't just walk into a deli and order the special panino of the day or just head to the $.99 per slice pizza place when I'm broke. On a cold and rainy day I can't just make that convenient jaunt across the street to Potbelly.  Even though the salad bars offer all kinds of healthful options, I do grow tired of salads all of the time.  There is a part of me that wants to just shake this all off.  I want to eat whatever looks good instead of eating what is most likely going to help me reach my goals. 

I swear sometimes the coaching team at LE can read my mind.  One of the lessons this week was about our "inner team."  Our personalities have different aspects.  The voices in our heads can be both our best friends and our worst enemies.

LE coaches suggest you give those voices a name and give them a persona.  Treat them as people and deal with them as you would deal with people. How would the voice who truly cares about her health deal with the voice that sounds like a three-year-old child demanding pizza for dinner and cookies for dessert?

(I'm not sure if identifying the voices in your head is a way to shape up physically or just a way to get yourself institutionalized for schizophrenia.)

So I gave a name to that part of me that wishes she could eat everything she wants.  She is simply The Glutton.  The Glutton just wants to eat.  Eating is her main pleasure.  She loves food and doesn't care about the consequences.  She doesn't care that she sabotages my efforts to be fit.  She isn't mean.  She is just thoughtless.  She is totally focused on that singular moment of pleasure.

My team leader is Ninja Goddess of course.  She is strong and powerful.  She knows she's strong and wants the world to see the evidence.  Ninja Goddess has to remind The Glutton that I do not want to further risk Type 2 diabetes.  Ninja Goddess firmly tells The Glutton that I want to look as fit and strong on the outside as I feel on the inside.  Ninja Goddess advises the The Glutton that if I want to rock a bikini in Costa Rica, I can't just eat whatever I want.  Ninja Goddess knows that there are other pleasures in life besides eating.

At the moment Ninja Goddess isn't quite strong enough to totally kick The Glutton to the curb, but she's working on it.  Right now if The Glutton shouts too loudly, Ninja Goddess can at least temporarily put her in a choke hold and stick a hand over her mouth.

Friday, April 19, 2013

This Week's Random Thoughts

I'm still trying to figure out why people in the gym have such a hard time re-racking their weights after lifting.  Maybe they worked just so hard that they no longer have the energy to pick up the weight and put it in the rack?  How about doing fewer reps so you still have some strength left to hoist that bad boy into it's proper slot?

How Do Be Dumb (equestrian version) - You start trotting along.  You decide to look down and check your diagonal.  You see it's correct.  Then you sit and change it anyway.

I don't care how much you paid for it.  I don't care where it's imported from. I don't care if it's lovingly handcrafted.  I don't care if the rest of the boys in your boys' club do it.  A cigar looks and smells like a turd on fire and you will have none of my respect for smoking one.
(If you are one of those folks who is always crying about the "socialist" government or how all teh eebil libruls want to turn us all into communists, and yet still long to smoke, or have smoked, illegal Cubans, then my mirth at your hypocrisy will be unmerciful.)
(If you have ever lived in Cuba and smoked legal cigars while you lived there, I won't call you a hypocrite, but the turd on fire thing still apples.  Stop doing that.)

Happy happy! Joy joy!  Today in Zumba class my teacher said she noticed I was slimming down.  Yay!

Is it just me, or is Dr. Who kind of lame this season?

I have decided that there is something decidedly untrustworthy about shower curtain rings.  How can something disappear so completely and then reappear again as if it had never gone missing in the first place? Shower curtain rings are shifty little buggers!

I'm sick of people asking, "Where is spring?" and "When will spring get here?" Folks, it's April.  We're past the equinox.  We have more hours of daylight than darkness.  There are buds on the trees and flowers peeking up out of the ground.  So the weather isn't perfect?  Face it.  Your ideal of what spring weather should be like is wildly inaccurate. The chilly, cloudy, and rainy days are pretty typical of April in New York (and typical of April in the whole northeast really).  We're bound to have some very pleasant days in the coming weeks as well.  Just don't complain too much if they don't stick around.  Accept that the weather will be unpredictable until at least the beginning of June, and possibly even through much of June.  You'll be much happier if you keep your expectations low and stop believing in some perfect spring.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Week 13 - Stubborn Body Parts, Dealing with Unsupportive People, and Things To Be Happy About

This week has been a good week.

I finished Week 3 of Phase 3 of the workout and I’m keeping up very well, but still feeling challenged.  I know after next week, workouts will likely be very interesting.  Yikes!

The latest habit is to plan Lean Eating-Friendly meals. In other words, start creating meals based on the habits we have been working on for the past two months. Our meals need to incorporate lean protein and “smart” carbs, while still making sure that we eat five vegetables a day. Plus we still have to remember to eat slowly and eat until we are 80% full.

I have to say I’m pretty good at this meal planning thing. I do my best to prep some meals (or at least parts of meals) ahead of time. I try to have all of my meals planned out for the week. For example I improvised a nice pot of lentil soup this week with caramelized onion, spicy chicken sausage, mustard greens (frozen) and chopped tomato (canned) to take for lunch this week. Knowing I wouldn’t be home to cook dinner most nights, I roasted a whole chicken and fixed a pile of side veggies that Kevin and I can just reheat when we come home in the evenings. I prep vegetables and fruits the night before for morning smoothies.

It seems to have been working somewhat. I lost one pound this week and am now down seven inches.

I am a bit dissatisfied with how and where I’m losing inches. I should be happy that the inches I have lost so far are in my hips, bust, and waist. Those are some of the hardest places to lose. What’s really frustrating is that I can’t seem to lose anything in my arms.

I don’t know why my arms just never seem to lean out. I have been doing full pushups for years. I can lift all sort of heavy things and handle large animals. I still can’t seem to make my arms look sleek. My arms have always looked like slabs of meat. Some of my least favorite “fat” photos of myself are ones where I’m wearing something sleeveless and you can see how my arms seem to bulge out and lie fatly against my ample chest. My teammates are bragging about the definition they are beginning to see in their arms. They enjoy flexing for their friends. I always hear that women usually see the effects of a workout program in their arms first. This is just not the case for me. My arms are the same size now as when I started this program.  Definition is just a beautiful dream. I suppose I should be happy for the small things. My triceps are firm enough that I don’t seem to have any “bat wings” forming even though I’m over 40.

This week I also learned about one of the downsides of sharing the details of a fitness program with everyone you know. I share because I want to be accountable. Unfortunately there are plenty of people out there who don’t want me to be accountable to them. In fact, they don’t want me on a fitness program at all.

Two weeks ago I hosted a dinner party for family members that included my mother-in-law. During the course of the meal I talked about Lean Eating. I talked a bit about how it works and what my progress was. Everyone seemed interested and supportive.

A week later I was having dinner with Kevin’s brother and sister-in-law. My mother-in-law had spoken recently to Kevin’s sister-in-law and told her to pass on a message to me. She said I shouldn’t lose any more weight because I look fine. Sister-in-law agreed with her. I have no reason to want to lose so much weight.

I asked exactly how much she thought I weighed. She named a number. I told her that she was off by about 30 pounds and that my BMI hovers at the edge of obesity.

She was very surprised at this and almost didn’t believe me. She pointed out that I work out and all those extra pounds were likely muscle.

I know they’re not muscle. My bodyfat, at last measurement, is 29%. Again, I hover at the edges of obesity.

Like our mother-in-law, she reiterated the same cliché. “Well you look fine.”

Yes, I suppose I look okay. When I gain weight I tend to gain it evenly all over my body, so I don’t have one obvious heavy area. Also, I’m very good at covering my figure flaws in normal clothes. In a world where most people are overweight, I look pretty normal. This isn’t just about how I look (although I would like slimmer arms). It’s about my health. Right now I’m a walking Type 2 diabetes risk. Even if I look decent as I am (although not as thin as I would like) the numbers are showing I’m not as healthy as I could be.

If I were truly becoming too thin, if I weren’t eating at all (and I had eaten a completely diet-inappropriate dinner that night, which might indicate I’m hardly diet-obsessive), their concern would be warranted. But I’m not doing anything right now that would be cause for concern. I’m just trying to eat more healthfully in a way that will take off these very unhealthy extra pounds and bodyfat.

I realize that as I go through this plan I will probably have to deal with many less-than-supportive people. I know that my mother-in-law and sister-in-law have my best interests at heart. They don’t want me to feel bad about myself. They probably worry that I might be falling down the rabbit hole of disordered eating and body obsession. I understand that. I also know that there may be people in the future who aren’t always so concerned. People will be unsupportive. They will be snarky. They will resent me for being successful. They will resent me for being thinner than they are. Sharing the details of my program will not always bring me support and accountability.

The only person who can determine how much I should weigh is me.  As long as I am losing safely and sanely, and I'm not being a danger to myself, then I can't let anyone else get to me.  I know I'm doing the right thing for my body.

On to the best news of the week…

My friends who are on Facebook might notice I’m in a particularly good mood this week. I haven’t been willing to share the details as to why.

Since the plans are not booked yet and not set in stone, I still shouldn’t share, but I can’t keep help from talking about it. I’m just too excited.

In one of my previous blogs I said that if I reached my goals at the end of the year, I would take myself on a warm weather vacation next winter. I’m tired of being stuck in New York all winter and if I have a hot new body, I want to be someplace where I can show it off. I started putting away small amounts of money so I would be motivated to keep working for it.

Well, my motivation has come to me as a gift. A few days ago Dad emailed me to say he was planning to take a vacation next year to Rancho Pacifico in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is quite high on my bucket list. He wants to rent a three-bedroom villa. One bedroom would be for him and my stepmother. One bedroom would be for her mother. He wants Kevin and me to have the third bedroom. He also said he would pay our airfare. All we have to do is show up – and I want to show up in a bikini. I can use my savings for meals, activities, and spa treatments! .

This place just looks so beautiful. I already have a list of active things I want to do there. I will hike up into the cloud forest and down to the waterfall. I will go horseback riding. I will do yoga with the monkeys in the morning. I will make sure I get a ride to the beach one day (Ballena National Park perhaps?) and explore the water.

I suppose I shouldn’t talk about it yet, but I can’t help it. I’m so excited.

Till next week!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Week 12 - Ninja Goddess Returns

Conversation yesterday morning.

Rachel: I am a Ninja Goddess

Kevin: Why are you a Ninja Goddess

Rachel:  Because I just am

 Sorry I didn't make a post about Week 11.  I was in a bad place last week.  I gained what looked like a pound.  It wasn't really a pound.  It was about six ounces.  I made some bad choices earlier in the week and was beating myself up about them.  I only lost about 6 ounces this week, but that's because I made some bad choices yesterday (just yesterday) and they're showing up on my body temporarily.  I am not too worried about them.  Anyway, I was going to whine and complain and beat myself up.  In fact, I went to the team message boards and did just that.  I talked about all of my past failures where have managed to lose a few pounds and go back to bad habits.  I questioned my ability to keep going.  I got it out of my system and realized that dwelling on it was not going to do any good.  Every day is a new day to wipe the slate clean and that's what I was going to do.  Today I wipe the slate clean from last night too.

This month's workouts are becoming tougher.  They look much more like what I was doing before I started Lean Eating.  I'm doing more real squats and deadlifts now.  Although we're not doing real pushups yet, I always do real pushups instead of the modified ones.  It has been a tough week workout wise.  I'm glad though.  It is a little scary to wonder what's coming.  If it's hard now, what will it be like in two months?

I am becoming a veggie ninja.  I am really starting to do my job and make sure I have my five servings a day.  I am becoming much more creative with vegetables than I was just a month ago.

The past two weeks the habit was to make "smart carb" choices.  Most daily lessons are about what constitutes a smart carb and how to prepare them.  The lessons were also about eating real, whole foods in general.  There is just so much crap out there and for many people it's hard to know what's good for you and what is hype.

I also found myself reading some of the old articles on the Precision Nutrition blog.  The average person eats about four pounds of food every day.  What is in those four pounds?  How many pounds does a value combo from McDonalds weigh?  How many calories are in one?  Can you eat an entire one?  Some guys will put away two in one sitting.  Now imagine eating two thousand calories worth of apples in one sitting.  Imagine eating four pounds of only vegetables.   You wouldn't be able to do that, would you?  Our bodies seem to know exactly how much fresh food we need to eat.

Today's engineered food supply is designed to override all of our satiety mechanisms that are naturally in our bodies.  Think of how a toddler eats.  Small children don't stuff themselves.  They eat as much as they need to maintain their activity levels.  It's only after years of being told to clean their plates by their parents and a steady supply of factory-made foods that cause us to keep eating beyond what we need.

It is amazing that we are given these bodies that know very well what they need to function.  It's too bad that we do everything to ignore what our bodies try to tell us.  I suppose that's partially because the food industry works so hard to make sure our bodies care more about what hits the sweet spot taste-wise.  What Precision Nutrition and Lean Eating is all about is learning to train your body to take what it needs the most and understand just how much it needs.

This week in Lean Eating the lessons really resonated with me because I sometimes feel disgusted by what passes as "health food" in the stores today.  Lean Eating reminds us not to be fooled by lables.  (As far as I'm concerned, if it has a label, you should probably not eat it.)  Look at all of the factory made food we consume and convince ourselves it's good for us.

We drink heavily processed soy beverages filled with thickeners, sweeteners, and flavorings.

We eat cereals, breads, and pastas and convinced they are good for us because they contain "whole" grains.  There is nothing whole about flour (wheat that is pulverized into another form and then mixed with other ingredients), rolled outs, or corn-based cereals.

We drink, "sports drinks" that are just flavored sugar water in birzarre colors.  Most of the time water will do you just fine.

Eat eat "protein bars" that are piles of sugar and calories and have a long list of mysterious unpronounceable ingredients on the label. 

We eat heavily processed soy-based meat amalgams put out by chemical companies convinced they're good for us because they're not meat.

We eat sugary granola bars and tell ourselves they're good for us because they contain fruit, even though the "fruit" is made from a little fruit juice in a sugary gel substance.

There are going to be times when sometimes we do have to eat food that is simply the lesser of two (or the least of many evils).  The goal is to keep to the principle of "Good, Better, Best."  Is the food you are about to eat a good choice?   Is there a better choice available?  What is the best choice?  Sometimes the best choice available isn't that good, but it's better than the alternatives. 

Looking for an even better week this week.  I am a ninja goddess.  I can do this!

Friday, April 5, 2013

In the Realms of Night (Part 1)

What is sleep?  No one knows for sure.  We all know we need it.  Health authorities say most Americans don't get enough of it.  Most of us wish we had more of it.  What regular transition do we make in the day that is more difficult than going from sleep to waking?

There is a paradox about sleep though.  Even though most of us want more sleep, we don't want to take the steps needed to get more of it.  There is almost a stigma against sleeping well.  If you go to bed early, or do whatever else it takes to ensure enough rest, people view you a little strangely.  At best you are seen as dull and nerdy with no life.  The cool people stay up late.  At worst you are seen as unproductive.  If you are spending a third of a twenty-four hour period sleep, when are you actually doing anything?  You should be up late doing work or playing with your children or paying your bills or working on your backlog of emails to friends and family.

I really don't care what people think of me if I get enough sleep.  I should be so lucky as to sleep so much that others can judge me for it.

I have been a chronic insomniac most of my life.  I'm not one hundred percent sure of exactly when the episodes started, but I can definitely remember them as far back as the middle school years.  I have always fallen asleep easily and early.  I have never been a "night person".  Despite falling asleep easily, I don't stay asleep.  I am often awake at 2 AM, sometimes I don't ever fall back to sleep again.  I can go for a week or two at a time without a full night's sleep. 
Over the years I have found some creative ways to amuse myself during those waking hours.  As a kid I used to just enjoy roaming around the house, enjoying being the only one awake.  I would raid the refrigerator.  I would see how quietly I could do ordinary tasks.  I learned that one of the local TV stations played an old movie every morning at 3 AM and so I caught up on many old movies.   As I grew older I would even leave the house.  If the dog was awake, I would take her for a walk.  By the time I hit my twenties, I would sometimes just get in the car and take a drive.  I can't think of the number of times I would be tempted to head to the diner and order a sandwich, just for the novelty of eating a meal at that time for no real reason, sitting among the post-bar crowd.

In some ways I did enjoy the idea that I was one of the few people roaming around at night when most people were asleep.  When I was younger it felt exciting.  Being up in the middle of the night was  not my natural state since I'm a day person.  To be up in the middle of the night was to be in another world.  It has always been my one consolation for winter days when I wake up in the dark.  If it's 5:30 AM and it's still dark outside, I still feel as if I'm the only person awake in a sleeping world.  In a small way I enjoy walking down the empty street on my way to the gym.  I always see one or two other people out and sometimes it's interesting trying to figure out what their reasons are.

These days it's a little more difficult to keep myself occupied.  I live in a much smaller home, so walking around and trying to amuse myself is harder to do without waking my husband.  I try to read.  I watch TV episodes on my Ipad with headphones.  I go online and write blogs or do random Facebook postings. 

The things I do to keep myself occupied are the worst amusements for insomniacs.  They all require light and light is the enemy of sleep.  TVs, computer screens, and reading lights all play with brain signals for sleep.  I try to tell myself that reading and watching TV are supposed to distract me from sleeplessness and that I will drift off if I pay attention, but really that only works about half of the time.  Maybe I should go for a walk - except that would make my husband mad with worry.  I have tried yoga, but somehow lying on the floor trying to push my body into poses just makes me long for my warm bed, even if I can't seem to fall asleep in it.

I know that while reducing light is not a perfect solution, I am trying to work on how I can reduce the amount of light I'm exposed to at night.  One problem I have in my bedroom is that we have very translucent shades.  That is on purpose.  I hate waking up in a dark room.  I want to see the morning sunshine.  Unfortunately while our shades let all of the morning sunshine in, they also permit moonlight and street lamps to shine through all night as well.  Last year the solution came to me.  I don't know what took me so long.  I now wear a sleep mask.  It's not a perfect solution.  I still have insomnia, but it seems less severe when I block light from my eyes.  When I wake up in the morning, all I have to do is take off the mask and I can enjoy my sunny morning bedroom (assuming I don't have to wake up before sunrise). 

Insomnia is still something I can't take lightly.  I have a job.  I work out.  I need to function during the day.  A good night's sleep is important.  As I get older, I wonder about other root causes.  Although I have suffered with the problem most of my life, it has become much worse in the past ten years or so.  I also notice certain hormonal patterns.

At my last doctor appointment I asked my doctor about possible causes of sleeplessness.  She told me that while it's a little early for menopause, it can't be ruled out completely.  The problem is she can't test me unless I discontinue current medications, which would mask the hormones.  That seemed like too much of a gamble to have to cycle out of meds and then cycle back into them if the tests are negative.  Instead she offered a prescription for Ambien.  She has age-related insomnia issues herself, and that after a few continuous nights, an Ambien can help break the cycle. 

I had my reservations about Ambien.  I had heard about all of the crazy side effects.  I managed to put it in perspective.  I'm not prone to sleepwalking (I had once incident somnambulism in my life when I was about ten years old).  Even if I did get out of bed and started doing things around the house, I'd likely wake Kevin and he would be able to stop me before I started trying to cook or get into the car and drive.  (It's a good thing I have stopped doing that on purpose when I can't sleep.)  Would a good night's sleep be worth the risk?

Even after I had my new bottle of Ambien, I wasn't sure what to do with it.  I just liked taking it out of the medicine cabinet and looking at it.  I loved the fact that I had it.  That bottle was almost like a security blanket.  I seemed to sleep better just knowing it was there. 

One of the problems with taking it was that there are so many conditions behind taking it.  I have to make sure I can devote 7-8 hours to sleep if I take it.  That could be risky on mornings I get up early to work out.  I can't drink alcohol with it.  On weekdays that's fine, but it does mean no wine when out to dinner on weekends (although I really don't consider that a tragedy).  I have to take it on an empty stomach to make sure it works in a timely fashion.  That's difficult on weeknights when Kevin comes home late and we don't eat until 9PM (I tend to fall asleep around 10).  Even if I were having a week that was really bad, would the time ever be right to take my Ambien?

Last weekend I finally tried it.  The weekend had been extremely busy.  Friday I had spent a day in the city at the Museum of Natural History and then came home to start making dessert for a dinner party on Saturday night.  I spent Saturday night cleaning the house and cooking, and then there was the dinner party itself.  Sunday was Easter.  I worked out in the early morning, went out for an early Easter brunch an hour away from home, and then went riding.  Sunday night I felt tense and couldn't relax.  I had been running around all weekend.  My heart was racing when I got into bed.  I had eaten an early dinner that night and while I had drunk a nip of wine with it, the effects had worn off.  I had no plans to work out the next morning.  The time had come to start my grand experiment.

I took it.  My heart seemed to stop racing a minute or two after I took it.  I didn't feel sleepy as soon as I lay down despite the warnings that it would make me sleep right away.  I had one "false start" where I had a brief hint of a dream coming on but then woke up again.  I don't remember much else after that.   I slept.  I slept the entire night (or at least have no memory of waking up).  I woke up after Kevin's alarm (an hour before mine) but before my own.  I was a little groggy when I woke up, but I was no groggier than I usually am, and felt better than I do when I'm awake from 2AM to 4:30AM.  All this week I have been sleeping better than usual.  It's usually a bad week in the cycle for me, but I have managed to sleep through most of the nights.  I have also faithfully worn my sleep mask every night, which probably helps as much as the Ambien did.

One solution I refuse to try is to wire myself up with caffeine to compensate for lost sleep.  I know this is the preferred solution for many of my peers.  I see this as putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage. All caffeine does is give a jolt to the nervous system, which creates a sense of alertness, but does not really make up for lost sleep.  It just creates a cycle of dependence whereupon the user has to continue to increase dosage just to stay out of a crash.  I do not want to be in a cycle like that.  Eventually it will only be more disruptive to my sleep patterns.  Any caffeine I consume has to be drunk before lunch.  I can't risk shaking up my already confused nervous system.

I also don't give my credence to "natural" cures.  Melatonin has proved useless to me.  Herbal teas are a a joke.  Drinking tea before bedtime makes me wake up more often because I keep having to pee.  As long as Ambien works for me as an occasional way to break the cycle of sleeplessness, I will keep taking it.

For the time being I seem to have reached a pleasant pause, although probably not the end, of my quest for a good night's sleep.  The Realms of Night have been interesting over the years, but if I really am going to spend less time within them, I doubt I'll miss them much.