I keep reminding myself that I’m not alone in this. For whatever reason, on Sunday nights, my sleep is disrupted. Seemingly only my stress level is to blame.
‘Anticipatory stress’ is a thing.
I have been working on this issue all year, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe I need to stop thinking of it as “working on” or as “a problem” or even as “stress.”
Why would I snap awake at 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday night when there is nothing to worry about?
I tried a new experiment, which was to soak in Epsom salts and go to bed early.
I’m chill, I’m relaxed, I’m so chill that people mistake me for the Big Lebowski...
The warm bath was really quite lovely. I discovered a new album by one of my favorite singers, and I soaked and listened to that and finished an excellent novel with a twist ending. Couldn’t ask for more.
Then I went to bed early, as stated, not a care in the world... only to snap awake in the middle of the night.
This doesn’t usually happen on other nights of the week.
I have tried so many things to generally relax more and improve my quality of sleep:
Spending more time in natural light earlier in the day
White noise generator
Cutting off news at a designated time in the evening
Monitoring hydration from morning to evening, and cutting off fluids
No sweets or snacks after dinner
I don’t have real situational stress (other than the pandemic) in the way that I have in the past. No pressing health issues, money concerns, relationship problems, noisy neighbors, none of that.
Is it my job then?
I don’t think so. I have good relationships with my boss and my immediate team. As far as I know I’m well-regarded for being on time and getting stuff done. I had a good performance review and all that.
(If anyone else is reading this and thinking, Gee, must be nice - well then, at least you have a clear and specific answer to something you can be working on).
I like obvious problems because they can be resolved.
This is more like a vague problem miasma.
Is this a non-problem?
That is another ‘solution’ for many problems. Simply decide that this is not really a problem in your life and resolve to ignore it.
For instance, we have neighbors on our floor who have two hound dogs. Whenever they are in the hallway, they bay and bark and skitter around like they’re on a fox hunt. But then they’re gone, perhaps to hunt an actual fox. This is a two-minute annoyance that happens maybe once a week. If they were my dogs, I’d be embarrassed, but they aren’t, and this is not my problem.
Not being able to sleep well every Sunday night is a problem in my world. It means I start the week tired and struggling to focus. I seem to require about ten hours of sleep a day, which I am only able to get on weekends. Therefore I become progressively more tired all through the week. I only start to feel rested and productive on Saturday.
Obviously I’ve been making it through the weeks. I’m able to manage. I get my job done, keep dinner on the table, the apartment is reasonably clean, laundry is caught up, groceries are coming in the door.
It’s just that I’m so tired all the time.
What about a nap during the day?
I’ve thought about this. Boy have I thought about it.
There is a constraint here, in that I am in a support role. The main function of my job is to be available for sudden questions or “tag-ups,” which are ad hoc meetings. On more than one occasion, I have stepped away for two minutes to use the restroom, only to return to a meeting in progress where three or four people are waiting for me. There isn’t really a way to structure my day where I could go sleep for three hours, which is what I need.
Work! It interferes with my nap schedule!
How do other people deal with the general existential situation of being in Work Mode 40-50 hours a week?
I try to remind myself of all the stretches in my life when I had to get on with things and I was sleeping more like five hours a night, or three. I still managed to stay employed and collect paychecks and turn in my homework and all that. The only bad things that really happened were that I went around with circles under my eyes and I was tired all the time.
It seems like one answer for the Sunday Scaries is to lower the bar for what counts as a good night of sleep, to make it less of a big deal if there is the occasional rough night, to not have such a dramatic shift in energy level from weekend to weekday.
That all feels so vague, like it would take a long time to notice a difference. I prefer something specific and actionable, or, in other words, I am no more patient than anyone else. I want instant results! I want to download something directly into my brain with the touch of a finger.
I looked up ‘sleep consultant’ and was alarmed by the price - although I might pay it eventually - and the fact that the local person I found is not available on Saturdays or Sundays. Oops.
I am considering hypnosis.
I am also considering something I have used to good effect in the past, which is to plan a more strenuous workout on Sunday to the point that I am too tired to do anything other than sleep deeply.
My attitude right now is, if I’m already having lower-quality sleep on Sunday nights, then I don’t really have anything to lose. I’ve already managed to rule out a few things, such as a weighted blanket or having the temperature too hot or too cool.
Let’s be methodical about it.
What are some things that you absolutely know interfere with your sleep? Are you going through the checklist and taking active steps to mitigate each one?
What are some things that lead to better sleep, and you know it? Are you making sure to do those things?
What are we going to try next?
I was looking for a list of pseudoscience topics for a little April Fool’s Day prank. As I scrolled through lists of things like UFOs and belief in a “flat Earth,” something rocked me back.
A health condition that I had been diagnosed with was on the list.
This was not something I was expecting to see. I wasn’t even thinking about health issues at the time. I was in a joking and creative mood. It was a bit like being splashed with cold water.
Then I nodded to myself. Okay. When the data change, the conclusion must change. New evidence needs to result in a new attitude.
This is because I’ve learned to identify with being a scientific person, rather than identifying with a diagnosis.
Now, this posture is not easy. It’s hard to figure out exactly where to draw the line sometimes between “traditional doctors and medicine have not been helpful to me” and “I am a completely unique organism on whom no standards apply.”
Just because I have not been served well by the traditional system, just because I may not have gotten answers for what is bothering me, does not then automatically mean that the alternative system has any answers either.
It also doesn’t mean there are no answers at all.
What I have tried to do is to become more rigorous about tracking my own metrics, analyzing my own data, and doing things that make sense to take care of myself. In practice, this usually puts me at odds with... just about everyone.
I had a discussion with a Kaiser doctor about stress. The basic tenet of modern medicine seems to be that “stress causes illness.” That makes no sense to me. How does stress know which of 70,000 possible medical conditions to cause? I told the doctor that it made more sense to me that “illness causes stress.” Most people start with low-level health issues, like chronic dehydration, sleep deprivation, and mineral deficiencies. Anyone with a chronic underlying issue would then feel some level of mental or emotional stress, because how could they not?
She nodded along and told me I had a point.
My stance is that my ideas are testable. It would be possible to collect objectively verifiable numeric data. Whereas it doesn’t seem possible to test the idea that “stress” causes [diabetes, cancer, lupus, or whatever] and then guess in advance what disease an individual was going to develop out of that stress. To me that idea is mystical in the extreme. It’s like a cop-out. Who in our culture is going to be able to avoid “stress” in order to stay healthy?
Anyway. I suppose you’re curious what pseudoscientific diagnosis I was given that was so weird it landed on a Wikipedia page.
It was ‘adrenal fatigue.’
The year was 1998, and apparently this was a new concept in alternative medicine at the time.
How was I to know one way or the other? The person who diagnosed me has a degree, worked in a clinic, and was wearing a white lab coat and a stethoscope.
The basic idea of adrenal fatigue was that a chronic state of exhaustion could deplete the adrenal glands, causing a state of fatigue that would not be resolved until the adrenal glands could sort of catch up production.
What caused this is that I was working forty hours a week and taking fourteen credit hours per term as a university freshman. I would get up in the morning, ride my bike 5 miles across town, take a class, ride back downtown, put in a full day at work, ride back to campus, take another class, and then ride my bike home again. After dinner and chores, I would do my reading and homework and then go to bed.
I was sleeping about three hours a night, five on weekends. I was riding my bike 15-20 miles a day.
Nobody told me, because nobody asked, that sleeping 30 hours a week for a year was going to start affecting my energy level.
It never really occurred to me that other people weren’t trying to do what I was doing.
What drove me to the doctor’s office was that I collapsed at work. I also collapsed at the grocery store. I had been having migraines and was generally exhausted all the time. Clearly something was wrong.
It didn’t take a formal medical diagnosis, though. Probably even a preschool-age child could have said, “Gee, lady, you aren’t getting enough sleep.”
Again, nobody asked how much I was sleeping.
I was sent to a mainstream doctor. They did an EEG and referred me for an ultrasound of my heart. Whatever came back, I was put on a prescription for beta blockers and told that drinking alcohol could give me a stroke. (Fortunately, I’ve never been a drinker and that was not an issue for me the way it might have been for other people my age).
I was 23.
What wound up happening was that I took the summer off from school. I had no classes and no homework, and of course I started sleeping more.
Then fall term started, and I tried to kick into gear again.
I wasn’t able to handle the strain. I dropped out, eating the cost of my first term’s tuition. Then my husband asked for a divorce, we split up, and I wound up enrolling again a couple years later. While I had a work-study job and several side hustles, I no longer attempted to both work and take classes full-time.
The common-sense answer to my situation was to get more sleep. Most people probably could have told me that if I took out loans, I could quit my job and go to school full-time. That didn’t occur to me until years later.
The traditional medical answer to my situation was to run me through two scanners, do a bunch of blood tests, and then prescribe a pharmaceutical.
The alternative medical answer given to me by a naturopath was to diagnose “severe adrenal fatigue” and then refer me to a physician. That’s probably fair.
But then neither the naturopath nor the physician asked any questions about my finances, my support system at home, or anything about my habits, neither sleep nor nutrition nor fitness.
My basic common-sense rule of fitness is now to start with sleeping eight hours a night, drinking at least 64 ounces of water, eating 4 cups of vegetables a day (mostly cruciferous), and track what I’m doing. That way I have records if I need to argue with my doctor about something, like, say, his refusing to order me a COVID test until I gave him a page-long list of my symptoms.
One day, our smartphones will be capable of diagnosing all sorts of things, from heart arrhythmia to eye conditions to parasitic infection. I’m convinced of this. It will be a major revolution in medicine when we don’t have to depend on the opinions of exhausted, distracted doctors, and when we don’t turn to questionable alternatives out of sheer frustration and desperation.
I used to wonder all the time, what comes after hoarding? If someone is able to overcome the desire to hoard, what then? What will their place look like? What will they do instead?
Then I started to realize that the question I was pondering was actually bigger than just hoarding. It’s more about what anyone does after getting rid of any unhelpful state of being.
Procrastination, for example. Debt, for another. Nail biting or smoking, maybe another couple of examples.
Comparing something you are doing to something you would never do can be interesting. It’s a way of thinking of the problem in the third person and getting some distance from it.
I’ve never been a nail biter, so that’s an easy one for me. It looks painful! Why would I do that to myself? On the other hand (haha), I’m not into nail art either. I have a little parrot, and for some reason she is scared of all nail varnishes, even clear. I have no incentive to polish my nails. So for me that is a completely neutral area.
What if I felt about x habit the way I feel about my fingernails? (In other words, nothing much).
I imagine that someone with a nail biting habit might feel really proud to have a pretty manicure and show it off, maybe with a new ring to flash. Visualizing those enviable tips might be enough motivation to stay focused and get rid of the habit.
Why annoy myself when I could be living the dream?
Dream of what?
A nice manicure, running a marathon, saving a bunch of money...
Dot dot dot
What if you’re stuck on trying to visualize something nice, but you have no idea what you want?
Going back to hoarding, I have had successes. I’d say it’s about fifty-fifty whether people leave it behind as though it never happened, or whether they are so caught up in the glory of piles of dusty old moldy old stuff that they immediately start up again.
The two things that seem to keep the success stories motivated are 1. Having people over to visit and 2. Art.
It turns out that a lot of hoarders actually have fantastic taste!
One of the funniest things to me is that my people will have a beautiful prize item carefully wrapped up and hidden in a closet or in storage. Their favorite and most valued items are not on display. You’d never guess because what actually *is* on display is a drift of unopened mail or swathes of dirty laundry.
It takes a bit of convincing to get my people to reveal these hidden treasures. Then I ask, why not hang this up? Why not put it where you can see it and enjoy it every day? I’ll help you.
Sometimes there’s a basic design decision. Where should it go?
Decisions are sticky for a lot of people. They don’t like deciding on anything, from what to eat to what music to play, and they especially don’t want to feel stuck with the results of a decision like pounding a nail into a wall and then wishing it was somewhere else instead.
This is where having an extra, neutral party around can be so helpful.
Just say, How about over here? Hold it up - usually it’s a framed picture or a mirror - and if they shake their head, try it in another spot. It takes five minutes. Step two, hang it up, and step three, effusive compliments.
Once the magic object is in place, the rest of the room seems to come together quickly. The eye is drawn upward. The addition of the art piece makes the other nice features of the room, like the light fixtures or the window frames, stand out more. It also makes the remaining clutter look tawdry, more out of place than it did before.
There is a complication in adding art to the room. That is that while my people tend to have good taste in art, they don’t necessarily have good design sense. They will want to keep an item because it is beautiful, and another item because it is also beautiful, and yet those items look terrible next to one another. It’s an unconscious attempt to replicate a thrift store.
Another thing that many of my people have in common is that every single thing they own has a pattern. Tapestry mixed with floral mixed with paisley mixed with stripes and on and on. It is almost impossible to pull off this look and have it make aesthetic sense.
Ah, but this can be a form of rebellion. My people do not like to be told that there are “rules.” They hear a disapproving, critical voice all the time and one of the ways they shut it up is to act on impulse. I do what I want!
It is entirely likely that, given a few dozen interior design photos, one of my people will reject them all. They are simply too ordinary.
I have a suspicion that most of my people actually do have a hidden design vision. If they were able to afford it or put it into effect, they would almost instantaneously start keeping their rooms orderly.
Something to take pride in, something to show off!
(I also think it can be a great form of revenge for all the critics. Anyone in the family who ever said you were lazy or messy can simply eat their words at this point).
What I try to tell my students is that when you walk into your home, the feeling you should feel is: Ahhh! A deep relaxation that drops your shoulders and makes you breathe deep. Home at last. Your home should be a place where you can restore your energy and truly be yourself.
Possibly what it will take to feel this way is to have the surroundings match your internal vision. Let the outsides match the insides so that the insides can match the outsides.
What does your dream room look like? Is it different than any room that ever was?
It’s my COVID-versary. A year ago today, I was exposed.
This is a big deal to me, because last year I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to live.
I spent days gulping air. I had episodes of tachycardia that would leave me thinking, Well, this is it, I guess this is what it feels like...
But then these episodes faded away and started happening less often, and gradually I realized that I probably would not die. At least not that day.
Not that week.
I was deathly ill for three weeks, had a secondary respiratory infection, and then got bacterial pneumonia a couple months later. Between spring and summer I had two rounds of antibiotics and an inhaler.
Now it’s been a year since I was exposed. My heart still sometimes starts hammering for no discernible reason. I did, though, finally advance to level 3 on my breath trainer.
I still have skin problems, I’m still carrying the ten pounds I gained while I was sick, and I still can’t work out more than two days a week. Not that I haven’t tried, just that if I go for a third day I wind up with a debilitating headache for the next day or two.
On the weekends I rely on a three-hour nap. On average. Last weekend I lost 4.5 hours of the middle of my Saturday.
I am tired almost all the time.
It feels like I aged ten years in a month, and that hasn’t really improved.
On the other hand, I am still quite glad to be alive. The novelty hasn’t worn off.
As the death toll climbs from this pandemic, I keep thinking, that could have been me. I could easily have been one of those statistics.
I know people who have died of COVID, or have been hospitalized, or lost a parent or a spouse to it. People at my work have caught it and died, or have been out on disability for months.
This is part of why it’s so hard to believe that there are people out there still questioning whether COVID-19 is “real.” It’s like being in a different universe, going down some kind of wormhole and coming back and finding out Henry Ford was president or something.
This attitude is so common. For instance, nobody in our apartment building wears a mask in common areas, including the elevator. On the rare occasions when I venture out to take out the trash or pick up our mail, heads turn and everyone stares at me. I may well be the only person they ever see wearing two masks and a face shield.
Fortunately I don’t care what people think. I’d rather look like a dork and be the last one alive than bow to peer pressure and die on a gurney in a hallway, or in an ambulance circling the hospital parking lot.
I know from experience. When I got COVID, I had no idea I had been exposed for over two weeks. Nobody thought to call me. There was no contact tracing being done. None of the symptoms I had were on the official list at the time, and the symptoms I had were not considered to be connected to COVID.
My doctor had me tested for syphilis rather than believe that COVID can cause neurological symptoms. When that connection was confirmed by the medical journals months later, it’s not like I got a formal apology or anything.
A year later, it’s not like I’m enrolled in a study. Nobody has sent me any kind of questionnaire or asked for blood samples or had me do any scans or a fitness test.
Nobody is asking.
Therefore my data are evaporating into personal experience, rather than informing the understanding and treatment of this disease which bears no resemblance to “the flu.”
What I would like is for my experience to help someone in some way. Whether that is convincing people to keep social distancing, to regard an afflicted acquaintance with more sympathy, to take epidemiology more seriously, or to feel grateful to be alive, it would help me to know that this could be a learning experience for someone, somewhere.
My experience has been better than that of millions of other people. I did not die. I did not kill my husband when I brought the virus home. Neither of us lost our jobs or our apartment. We did not have to work long shifts in a hospital, watching our patients and colleagues die.
I did not have to go through the confusing realization that something I thought was a hoax is all too real. Fortunately for my mental state, I understood that the coronavirus is real from the very beginning.
This is important because there are no guarantees. There will be another pandemic, almost certainly within our lifetimes. It may or may not be from an entirely different family of viruses. There are going to be three groups of people: those who react quickly to take precautions, the science deniers, and then those who are not sure what to believe and continue to do nothing other than wait for more information.
My husband and I are firmly in the group that will react quickly. We are keeping our masks. I will probably wear a mask in the airport and on planes or trains for the rest of my life.
The world is starting to perk up again. Immunization is happening. I know several people who have already had both their shots, and more who are waiting for their appointment. Our turn will come.
The virus has changed me. I am more likely to take action in general now. I speak up more often about more things. Yet I’m also more tired and physically drained by small things. This has made me feel more strongly about the importance of my future plans, yet also more hesitant to feel like I can physically carry them out.
I wish I could tell everyone, everything in life is a bigger deal than we ever realized. Take the time now. Tell people how you feel. Get stuff done. Engage with the present moment because the next one isn’t promised. Don’t wait for a life-threatening experience to convince you of this. Convince yourself.
Be safe and take care of each other.
I was inspired by a question in James Clear’s newsletter this week: “What 6-month period of your life was the most energizing and fun?”
Huh. I have no idea.
I turned and asked my husband. Huh. He sat back and did not have a quick answer.
We happened to have our Toastmasters meeting, and I decided I would have to ask the group. Most of us have been meeting every week for a few years now, and we know each other fairly well, but I didn’t have the faintest inkling what my club friends would have to say about this.
Six months, you say? The most energizing and fun?
If you’re a Toastmasters geek, this is something that we do sometimes when nobody has a prepared speech. We do an “extended Table Topics” of 3-5 minutes, and everyone answers the same question. Everyone gets a chance to speak and we skip the individual evaluations.
The meeting flowed smoothly, as I asked who wanted to go first, and after one person spoke, someone else would feel moved to take a turn. Nobody competed and there was no dead air.
Preparing for a mid-life wedding with the adult children as the wedding party.
Preparing for a friend’s wedding, only to meet his future bride during the ceremony.
Preparing for an international adoption.
Childhood travels to visit family all over the country.
A winning football season.
Being a college student in a filthy apartment, eating junk food, and having fun, not even realizing the responsibilities of being a husband, father, and business owner that would come. (That one was pretty funny).
What struck me, listening to everyone else’s stories, was how much they all revolved around relationships and a state of anticipation.
Who has been feeling that lately? The anticipation of being able to socialize with people we haven’t seen in a long time?
The thing about choosing a six-month period is that it might involve a string of events, but it also might incline someone to pass over some of the biggest highlights of life. Something significant and exciting might happen as a flash in an otherwise humdrum time.
Six months can be a long time.
I racked my brain.
You’d think that someone would have chosen a point in childhood, like learning to walk or ride a bike, or learning to read!
Strangely, though, the moments that are probably most exciting to our parents as we grow from infants to accomplished little kids, the moments that fill our early photo albums, are most likely to be times that we take for granted.
The times we learn the most and physically change the fastest, meh. Not so interesting.
I had a suspicion, going into the meeting, that nobody was going to pick childhood, and I was right.
It was also compelling to hear people speak on these topics after having met them in the context of work. These are people with advanced degrees, patents, and academic publications in some cases. I happen to know that a couple of them have been commended for pretty impressive stuff. But nobody talked about that type of success.
Do we not think of our professional or academic accomplishments as “energizing” or “fun”?
I was still quizzing myself about what six-month period I would choose, when a last-minute guest popped in just in time and used the last speaking slot. We were out of time, and it was my privilege as toastmaster to hand over the lectern and escape without sharing my answer.
Then I thought, well, I shall ask my readers. Why suffer this question alone? Perhaps the lot of you will spend the weekend mulling it over.
When, indeed, was the six-month period of your life that you would describe as the most exciting and fun?
I passed over college. The time when I was writing my final history paper was pretty exciting and fun, but then, my roommates had to short-sell their house and I was technically homeless for a couple months, and in that time I also got a nasty respiratory infection and coughed up blood. That actually looks more dramatic in print than it felt at the time! It was, though, a heady mixture of intense stress mixed in with the fascination of researching my topic.
I passed over the time I started dating my husband, although I think that time period came close to meeting the six-month mark. That was when I moved into the first apartment I had to myself in many years, and the crack-smoking parolee moved in upstairs, and I quit sleeping and my hair fell out.
I passed over the time I was training for my marathon, because actually I overtrained and blew out my ankle and had to quit running for a couple years. Then I thought maybe I’d pick 2011 or 2012, when I was running in the regional park by our house all the time and feeling quite fit. But our social life was sort of a mess at the time, and that’s a lot of what I was thinking about those days.
I settled on the summer of 2019, when I was finishing my DTM and campaigning for my election, we went to World Domination Summit, moved to our new apartment, went on two international trips, and had a housewarming party. At the end of that six-month period, we visited my family for Christmas - and little did I know, that remains the last time I’ve seen them. It was the last normal six months.
That’s why this was such a nice topic for everyone to speak about at our meeting. We were all able to cast backward with nostalgia and come up with happier times. Everyone softened, and what we remembered were parties and group photos and road trips and plane rides and planning, planning unencumbered with worry.
There’s something instructive in choosing for ourselves, out of our own experience: what six-month period was the most... energizing? Fun? Some other characteristic or qualifier that is meaningful to you? It tells you something about yourself.
For my own life, I have realized that I seem to have a preference for times of transition, times when I am working really hard on some big challenge and I’m about to level up. Not the time of accomplishment, not basking in the results of whatever big project, but the strenuous uphill phase.
What is it for you? If you had trouble choosing, is there anything that your bright windows of life had in common?
What would it take to create similar conditions in the future?
This is simply a thought exercise. Obviously I’m not in charge of anything. I’ve been thinking about the vaccine distribution quite a lot lately, and it seems to me that maybe people would be less stressed about it if they realized there are so many different models, so many different ways of getting things done.
I also realize that people tend to have mightily irrational yet deep-seated feelings about things that have a logical answer, like boarding planes or late merge, and that queuing lights up a nasty part of our brains.
Jealousy is so much worse than envy - when we’re not just envious of something that someone else has, that we want for ourselves, but on top of that, we also think we have more of a claim on it. Envy plus possessiveness. Things get icky.
The first thing I would want would be for the vaccine to be distributed as quickly as possible, and the second priority would be zero waste.
It seems like a higher priority in the US is to make sure the distribution is perceived as not being corrupt. That nobody is taking cuts. This is where I would put it out there that there are other ways to frame this thing ethically, and that there are even multiple ways to frame what constitutes “fairness” in this context.
I think the first people to get the vaccine should have been every single person who works in any vaccine production facility.
For some mysterious reason, this probably strikes that note of corruption that so bothers Americans. For me, though, it’s a question of sanitation. I like the idea that everyone making the vaccine is already vaccinated themselves.
Second, I would say anyone who works in a facility where people go *to get* vaccinated, they also should get theirs first. That way, there is this bubble of cleanliness. If I pull up to Kaiser or the pharmacy across the street, and I have to stand in line to get my shot, I would really like to feel that I’m not going to risk getting COVID from an employee who is forced to wait until last.
If there were extra doses left at the end of the day? I would give dibs to the housemates of employees of either the production facility or the pharmacy or clinic or wherever. The bubble of cleanliness expands outwards from there.
How long could that possibly take?
It’s weird to me that stores are putting out the message that they are not giving preferential treatment to their employees. I rather wish they would!
I have a more controversial idea, one that I absolutely know most people won’t agree with, and honestly the ship has sailed. It’s too late to put my weird plan into effect.
I think it would have been a smart idea to auction off doses to the highest bidder for the first week.
Then - surprise! - a million dollars a dose to anyone who can afford it for the second week.
Then maybe drop to $100k a dose the third week, then $10k a dose to anyone who can pay it for the remainder.
There are two reasons why I think this would have been smart. Neither of them is that I could pay a million dollars for a shot, because indeed I could not. I’m patiently waiting my turn in my county where I am approximately 7 millionth in line.
The first reason I think it would have been good to auction shots off to the highest bidder is that COVID-19 was spread, first and foremost, by wealthy public figures. The jet-setters. If all those people had been broke, stayed home and watched Netflix like the rest of us, there are entire continents that would have remained COVID-free.
Therefore it seems only fair to extract massive amounts of funds from these people, these disease-spreading party animals.
I think most or all of them would have gotten themselves the shot, and also paid to get it for their household staff out of pure squeamishness. A lot of nannies, cooks, drivers, cleaning crew, maybe even landscapers would have gotten their shots early. I find that satisfying.
The first reason I said I thought it would be a good idea to ream rich people for their COVID-19 vaccines is that they are top-level spreaders. They don’t seem to have stopped traveling, or started wearing masks, so we might as well snuff out the results of their dirty habits.
The second reason is that the high prices that could have been extracted could have gone a very long way toward subsidizing vaccine programs for poorer parts of the world.
Nobody understands as well as the denizens of yachts and private jets that the world will never be safe from COVID as long as it still exists in places where people travel. That means everywhere, from Antarctica to the North Pole and back around the other side again. Somebody, somehow, is going to have to fund at least two billion people’s vaccines for them.
But what about the elderly and those with health conditions?
To that I say, yes, and what about that same portion of the population in the developing world?
A choice had to be made, due to the rate of vaccine production, to focus on either lowering the death rate or slowing the spread. We chose death rate. Time will tell whether this was actually the most effective strategy. Another way to go about it would have been to start with grocery clerks and delivery drivers, and does anyone have any statistics on how many people fill those jobs?
Gorillas at the zoo have already gotten their shots before me, and that’s okay. I’ll be among the last to get my turn in a very densely populated area. I can wait. I work from home and we get our groceries delivered. Honestly I could make it another year or two. It’s boring and annoying, not unsafe.
I think it’s interesting to do this type of thought exercise, partly because I have very little else to do these days, but mostly because this won’t be our last pandemic. The more we all get in the habit of thinking about fast, effective vaccination programs, the better organized and the better funded they will be the next time around.
Time to spring clean! This year should be much more exciting than other years, because it’s entirely possible that we’ll all be able to get our COVID-19 vaccines soon and commence socializing in person.
If you don’t like hosting at your place, maybe you can get excited about going to someone else’s freshly spring-cleaned place?
Or maybe the prospect strikes dread in your heart because you have no idea what ‘spring cleaning’ means or how to do it?
Or maybe you know full well, and it just seems like when you finally start, it will take three years?
That’s okay. You don’t have to actually do anything this year, or any year. You can just eat snacks and read this and imagine it, the same way I used to watch Richard Simmons workouts from the comfort of my couch when I was a little kid.
What’s unfailingly interesting to me about helping others clean house is what their homes reveal about how they spend their time. Clean houses are all pretty similar - you can find the forks, you can find the laundry soap, you can find the spare towels, you can find a pen - yet messy houses are all messy in their own particular way.
To an outsider, there are always immediate questions:
How long has it been since you could use this door?
Why is there a pot on the floor?
You didn’t know about this leak, did you?
But where do you sleep??
I’d like to remind everybody that our homes are supposed to serve *us*. We are not their servants. What we do, we do to make ourselves more comfortable and to make our lives easier. One day robots will do it all and we won’t even realize how much effort went into it, just like I have no idea what is involved in getting electrical current into my outlets.
Beds are for sleeping. Bathrooms are for personal hygiene. Kitchens are for preparing food. Living rooms are for relaxing.
When you are no longer able to do these functions, something has taken over, and that is either clutter, deferred maintenance, or a problematic roommate.
Physical bottlenecks are easy to spot. A door that can’t be opened, a table or countertop that is unusable, a bed that is buried under piles of stuff, an area where someone has to turn sideways to get through.
Sometimes the bottleneck is being unaware of your surroundings. Not just clutter blindness, but a blind spot about relationships and power dynamics.
Sometimes the bottleneck is fear of calling the landlord or a repair person. Sometimes it’s shame.
Sometimes the bottleneck is lack of money, coupled with a lack of knowledge of how to solve problems without money, which usually involves at least rudimentary negotiation skills.
Usually, though, a bottleneck has to do with a routine - or lack of routine - and the way that stuff tends to accumulate in certain parts of the home. These bottlenecks often have to do with tight schedules and multiple people.
For reference, I would say that only about 10% of people keep their homes staged and photo-ready most of the time, 80% of people are basically at least a little messy, and about 20% of people are at least at first-degree squalor. It’s more common than you would think.
Let’s cover a few areas that tend to be full of clutter, not just in my clients’ homes, but in most people’s.
The car. When I meet someone with kids, I’m willing to bet a flat green American dollar that their vehicle is messy. Most people have junk in their cars. Why? Because when they get home, all they want to do is go inside. Also, a lot of the time, when they are exiting the car it is dark outside.
Area around the front door. (Or whichever door people are using, sometimes the door between the kitchen and garage). This is where people dump their stuff when they come in, and there it stays, usually because there’s nowhere else for it to go. Most homes do not accommodate a landing station.
Dining table. Also kitchen counter. This tends to be overflow for mail, kids’ school papers, menus, coupons, and any other papers that come in. This tends to be an extension of two other problems: 1. If there is a desk, it’s also covered with papers, magazines, catalogues, books, packages that need to be returned, bills, tax documents, and whatever else. 2. The lack of a designated place to dump stuff after coming home.
I can fix all of these problems basically by waving my hand. This is because I’ve found the bottleneck, which is the transition between coming home from wherever, and settling in to relax. Once awareness is brought to this, a person who is highly fed up with a clutter-filled life can make a simple change.
THIS IS A TRANSITION
One of my clients solved several clutter problems by hanging a reusable shopping bag on his doorknob. He kept having to buy these shopping bags, his house and car were full of them, each bag was partly full of mail, and they were also getting expensive.
We talked through his new habit. He would bring one bag out to the car with him in the morning, he would put his mail and whatever needed to come back into the house in the bag as he went through his day, and then he would carry the bag back in. He would call a friend and spend five minutes emptying the bag while he chatted, and then he would hang the empty bag back on the doorknob.
(The phone call to a friend is the most important part of this; Obliger types will do anything if they can hear a friendly voice and basically nothing if they are lonely).
If you think to yourself, Right now I am spending the five minutes that will stop my annoying problem, it can give you a sense of purpose. It also starts to pay off quickly so that you can see how well it is working.
Okay, so here are some of the most common habits that lead to bottlenecks:
Going from the car to the house basically empty-handed
Opening the door and setting stuff down “for later” - especially mail
Going back out to the car basically empty-handed
Wandering away from the kitchen after eating
Those habits alone can quickly lead to a cluttered car, a dirty kitchen, and mail and papers on every flat surface in the house. If you’re ambitious you can do this in just days.
The exact reason why someone suddenly decides to make a change will vary from person to person. (For me it’s usually doing a photo consult with a client or watching a hoarder show). Not just the reason for change will be unique, but the exact spot where someone starts will be unique too.
One person will be motivated to start with their bedside table. Another will start with the medicine cabinet. Someone else will clear out the trunk of their car and presto, there’s enough room to start hauling off bags of donations.
Where will you start? Where will your spring cleaning begin?
Don’t overthink it - just start somewhere!
It’s always a good idea to think a little bit before making a big decision, although unfortunately I think it’s common to use those transitional moments to avoid the choice. Most people tend to talk themselves out of stuff.
I don’t think the stress of making a decision is all that big a deal. I think transitions are interesting.
The stress I’m worried about is the unknown attitudinal changes that will be required after making the change. If ‘then’ is going to be different than ‘now’ - then how?
What information will I have then that I don’t have yet?
What will Post-Decision Me wish I’d known?
Is there anything useful I can find out from anyone else who has already done this?
Is being in the new place going to affect the way I make decisions from that point forward?
I hear a lot of people talking themselves into making some kind of big change by saying, “I’ll still be the same person.” This has always seemed very strange to me. What is the point of making a change if you’re going to be the same person afterward? Isn’t the entire point to become someone new, at least in a small way? Someone better in some sense - stronger, braver, more experienced, more skilled, more interesting?
One of the worst things I can think of is to always be the same person, forever. I mean. What if we were all still stuck with the musical tastes we had at age twelve and the culinary preferences we had at age four? The driving skills we had at fifteen? I don’t particularly think that my listening skills, ethical framework, or storytelling abilities were better at any earlier age than they are now, so why would I want to be stuck at that point of development?
This is what it sounds like when I try to talk myself into something.
I think what some people want to hang onto is actually a certain skeptical outlook, which is all well and good. It’s good to be rational when making choices and doing research. Personally, though, I’d rather be swept away and smitten by something when I’m exploring something new.
That is how it happens for me - that I get a mental crush on something and throw myself at it, learning as much as I can, until I develop a certain level of competence or knowledge. Then it generally becomes something that I follow on more of a maintenance level.
This is the feeling that I’m hoping to generate as I contemplate going to grad school.
There are other things I’m contemplating, one of which is the possibility of moving up a level at work. Okay, maybe not right this minute - but I have a solid twenty years of career arc left ahead of me on the traditional timeline. That is plenty of time to work one’s way into a leadership position. It isn’t wrong to declare an intent in that direction.
That would be one of the main points of getting a doctorate as well - some sort of role as a thought leader.
I’ve never had a true profession. It staggers my imagination that I am still in a clerical role at 45, although it’s something that I chose and chased down for myself, believing it to be a foot in the door of an organization that has captured my attention. One way or another, I will vault myself up and out at some point.
What I am starting to realize is that there are mindset shifts that must occur between one level and the next.
“What got you here won’t get you there.” Yet there’s sometimes a Catch-22, in that you can’t really know what you need to know until you’re able to find it out.
I often feel that I finally know enough to start whatever it was that I’m doing, six months or a year later. For instance, it was only after six months of Krav Maga that I felt physically fit enough to start taking the classes. If only I’d known to start doing fifty push-ups before I came here...
The question is always, What is the ‘fifty push-ups’ of this discipline going to be?
I hope it’s public speaking, since I already trained on that. But what if it’s statistics, or pivot tables, or calculus??
I’ve always been a grind, and it never really bothers me to have to grit my way through something. When I think about competing with kids twenty years younger, I laugh. Not a single one of them can out-read me. There is no way anyone in their twenties can possibly compete with the discipline and focus of someone in their forties. Sorry, kiddos.
There are other advantages of mid-life, few of which would be apparent to a younger person. For instance, a lot of major decisions have been crossed off my list that can still completely derail them. I know where I want to live, whether I want to get married (yes) and have kids (no), and I know how to cook and manage a household. I know there’s no reason to go to late-night parties, at least for me; it turns out the same people exist at 8 PM as exist at 2 AM.
So many of the temptations of youth haven’t panned out. I’m at a stage of life when that feels satisfying rather than disappointing.
When I think about going back to school “at my age” it is, in many ways, a relief. I have gained so many competencies that were not in my arsenal 25 years ago.
In other ways, I remember how tired I was after studying all night, and I wonder whether I really have even one all-nighter left in me.
What I look for is the person I will be on the other side, the career she will have, and the outlook on life that she will have earned. That is not a tired woman who pulls all-nighters.
What I try to do is to put on her insights as an imaginary thinking cap. What attitude would she have toward these decisions, Future Me? What advice would she give me? How would she respond to the situations that currently stress me out?
This is what makes me think that it’s a fair trade. The stress of today, the decisions and the transitions that lie before me, in a transaction that buys me the comparatively stress-free position that Future Me will have earned.
I heard that an asteroid is going to smash into the Earth. Just like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. Fine with me.
Obviously it’s God’s plan.
Yes, I read the Bible. Yes, I remember that part about the rainbow being God’s covenant that he would never try to wipe out humanity or destroy the Earth again. I don’t buy it. I choose to emphasize the parts that I want to and ignore the parts that don’t fit my argument.
I know they have some big scientific plan to divert this asteroid, send it off into space so it doesn’t smash into the Earth. But nobody asked me for my permission.
I am not okay with other people getting together without my consent and trying to use science on things.
I don’t understand it and I object to anyone doing a process that big and expensive without making it totally clear what’s going on.
What if this asteroid gets smashed into tiny particles that get into my lungs? What if it’s radioactive? What if it causes respiratory conditions in people? What about my pets?
I don’t want anyone doing anything irreversible until we know more about the long-term effects.
What if trying to get rid of the asteroid that is going to smash into the Earth causes worse problems than an asteroid smashing into the Earth? We can’t possibly know that!
I mean, okay, almost all living creatures on Earth became extinct the last time this happened, but maybe we’re better off. The dinosaurs are gone and now we’re here. Maybe now we’re the dinosaurs and we’re supposed to be erased to make room for whatever comes next.
All part of God’s plan, right?
I don’t know, I’m just speculating.
All I know is this whole scenario is stressing me out. I need a break. I need there to be a few no-news months so I can find some peace of mind. It’s so unfair for there to constantly be one problem after another.
I’m still not over the last one. Stupid coronavirus. I heard that 54 million Americans have had the COVID-19 vaccine. They’re trying to claim that all those people are fine and cases are dropping. It’s like they’re trying to make us believe that vaccines are safe and effective and that there’s actually a chance we can be vaccinated into herd immunity.
This upsets me so much. Now what are we going to do? They’re never going to stop. They’re going to keep trying to convince people to get the flu shut, and the measles vaccine, and shingles, and who knows what else? Malaria? Lyme disease? It makes me so crazy. Like they can somehow eliminate every disease on Earth. Pfft. Whatever.
Someone was trying to make this connection between vitamins and vaccines, like the same scientific processes that proved that we need vitamins are also used to test vaccine efficacy. Okay, no way. If it’s an established fact then it does’t count as science anymore.
Just stop. Stop trying to convince me that science is capable of doing good things and helping people. I don’t trust it and I never will.
Now bring on the asteroid. I could sure use a break. At least an asteroid colliding with the Earth is something I can understand.
A pattern has become evident. I know it isn’t just me because there is this term “Sunday scaries” that indicates that many of us have mood issues on Sundays in general. I can only assume that I’m not the only person who consistently has trouble sleeping on Sunday nights.
There isn’t any particular reason for this, at least not on paper. I’m not being kept up by money worries, or relationship problems, or even loud neighbors. Our building is remarkably quiet at night.
OTHER THAN BEING IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC EVERYTHING IS FINE
I wake up at basically the same time every morning, with or without an alarm, thanks to the little bird who sleeps in my bedroom, affectionately known as Beeps Peeps. She likes to mimic electronic sounds, including the travel alarm that she has not heard in years. This can be a useful trait - she has actually kept me from being late to work once or twice - but on three-day weekends and holidays it’s hard to remember how cute it is.
So it isn’t sleeping in too late on Sunday either.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time this year trying to figure out what it is that wakes me throughout the night on Sundays, messing up my track record and leaving me bleary and distracted each Monday.
I like my job, I work with really nice people, I have interesting things to do, I get a lot of autonomy, I don’t even have a dress code. There is a long list of things that other people can claim as legitimate grievances, reasons to be stressed out by their jobs. I don’t have any of those things - not that I haven’t in the past.
It seems to be simply the gear shift between my utterly formless, lounging weekends and the staccato pace of my weekday life.
Part of my brain pops up and starts thinking, “Get up early tomorrow, lots to do” and it just never shuts up.
It’s like one of those toy monkeys in every horror film. Its eyes glow red and it starts running around and clapping its cymbals together.
These are the sorts of things that happen on Sunday nights:
I wake up every twenty minutes and check the clock
I have nightmares that seem to go on for three hours
I have literal night terrors and jump out of bed, waking my poor husband, who has been dealing with that whole thing for ten years
I wake up at 5:30 am for no apparent reason and lie there like a sea lion
I go to bed extra-early and lie awake until 2:00 am like I’m jet lagged
A distinction about my sleep issues is that I take an OTC sleep aid. It works fine every other night. I can drift off in minutes. Same dose, Sunday night, about as useful as a breath mint.
Parasomnia issues have been a part of my life in one form or another since pre-kindergarten. I remember that it became a serious issue for me when I was about seven. So I have a lot of experience coming up with things to do at night, and different approaches to try. I’ve read thousands of pages of books and journal articles about sleep research and I’m determined to Try Everything.
Sleeplessness isn’t the worst thing that can befall someone, of course! I try to take it in a matter-of-fact way. Oh well, another one of these. Perhaps an approach that I try will help someone else. Maybe this will be the only night that this particular, individual distinct reason will come along and mess up my sleep. Cross it off.
I do occasionally have lovely, restful nights of sleep. I also often have fantastic three-hour naps. It’s getting easier.
So what’s up with Sunday nights? What have I tried?
Well, I can say with great certitude that there are some things that will keep me awake, me and probably any other person who tries them. One is eating a large portion of Mexican food followed by birthday cake earlier in the evening. Another is eating sweets too close to bedtime, something that I have confirmed and that I yet continue to do to myself from time to time.
Another is arguing with someone, another is reading politics at bedtime.
Obviously another is lying awake quite deliberately, reading when it’s past bedtime. I have finally gotten smart enough in midlife to quit tormenting myself in this way, and it does help to feel more rested.
Those are things to definitely avoid.
What have I tried to fall asleep more deeply?
Showering before bed
Same, but also drying my hair afterward
White noise (waterfall variety)
Going to bed an hour early and making sure everything is orderly first
Guided visualization (leaf drifting downstream, triggering for some reason)
Heated mattress pad / no heated mattress pad
Weighted blanket, the worst! Not for me
Drinking hot herbal tea earlier in the evening
Maybe it’s the sense of “Doing Something” that is not helping. Maybe I’m too conscious that I want this to work, in the same way that you can jinx yourself out of sneezing.
Have you ever tried to focus your attention on tying your shoes, remembering each loop step by step, and then found yourself unable to succeed until you looked away and went back to doing it by feel?
The situation is that I am finally at a time in my life when I can usually fall asleep right away six nights a week. About 80% of the time I sleep the night through without any issues. I’m between 7 and 8 hours most weeknights, and 10 or 11 hours on the weekends. It’s just this one particular night, when I seem to be too revved up to get down and stay down.
I am not done with my explorations. I’m not much of a creature of routine, and sooner or later some element of my lifestyle will change, either due to external circumstance or intentional experimentation. At some point, this blip in my life will quit blipping.
My goal for the time being is to increase my overall level of chillaxation. I seek to be a person of gravitas, a calming presence, to start winding down my tightly wound watch and maybe be less revved. Even if it doesn’t do anything for whatever is sucking away my sleep on Sunday nights, that attitude still feels worth cultivating.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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