Well, I’ve completed 11 nights of SRT, and the jury is still out. I’m still optimistic, but I’ve had a couple of setbacks and it’s not going nearly as well as I’d hoped. Two nights ago, the goal limit was to sleep 3 ¾ hours, but I woke up fifteen minutes early. It’s always disappointing to “restrict” your sleep and not even be able to sleep as long as what you had “restricted” it to. Lol.
Technically, I should have rocked it back to 3 ½ last night, but instead, I forged ahead and set the goal limit to 4 hours. I made it except one quick trip to the bathroom. According to my Fitbit, I was only awake for 2 minutes.
I think part of the problem is “microsleep”. I’ll sometimes catch myself during the day with my eyes closed and I wouldn’t know for how long. I tried to combat that last night by staying off of the couch, but I guess I’m going to have to do more than that. I read in another online article, that even though it seems minor, microsleeps can seriously undermine your progress.
Still, I’m hopeful that within the next couple of weeks, I will no longer be calling myself an insomniac. And with this new hope, I’ve decided to resurrect a few other non-pharmaceutical strategies I abandoned in the past because they didn’t help enough – cold showers in the morning to get going and “intermittent fasting” (for me, that means not eating anything for 16 consecutive hours every day). I’ve added 15 minutes to my elliptical workouts. And added the headstand back into my yoga routine. This dude is serious.
Insomnia is one thing. Chronic insomnia is quite another. I’m sure I’ve spent thousands of dollars trying to deal with it over the years, with special vitamins, supplements, diets, and workout equipment; not to mention doctors, therapists and life coaches.
Then I came across this article about curing your insomnia with “sleep restriction therapy”. At first I was skeptical. But, then I remembered basic training when the drill sergeant came stomping through the barracks at 4:30 every morning yelling and banging on a garbage can lid for us to wake up. A miserable experience, but some of the best sleep I can remember.
Anyway, this will be my fifth night, so I can’t recommend it just yet, but it’s starting to look promising.
The first night, I didn’t even go to bed just like it said not to do in the article. Then, at 6:30 Saturday morning, I turned on the sun lamp and continued on with my day.
Then the second night, my plan was to sleep for 3 hours (3:30 – 6:30). Only to my disappointment and surprise, I was only able to sleep for a little under 2½! That’s after being awake for 45 hours!
Still, I keep it up. The third night, I set the goal at 2½ hours and again was disappointed. I woke up after 1½. Ugh!
I wondered if there was anyone else on earth whose circadian rhythms were as screwed up as mine. The first night staying up all night, didn’t even faze me. In fact, I felt better after working through the night, than I do after lying in bed staring at the ceiling.
Anyway, the fourth night (last night), I bumped the goal back up to 2¾ hours, figuring that there’s no way after sleeping only 4 hours in the past 72 that I was still going to have trouble making that. And I was right. I finally slept the whole time. This is the first point at which I truly felt like my sleep was “restricted”, and hope that’s a good sign.
So tonight (#5), the goal is 3 hours and, according to the article, every night, I'm increasing the goal by 15 minutes unless I “stall out” again. At that rate, if the program works, I’ll be up to 7 hours a night by a week from next Thursday. I haven't slept like that in years. What a great way to start the new year!
By the way, I had a doctor’s appointment today and was going to tell her about what I was doing. However, she canceled. Won’t she be surprised if the next time we meet, I tell her that I no longer will be needing her pharmaceutical potions?
I'm writing this one standing up. It's my latest new health kick. Iv'e been reading tons of articles these days about how harmful excessive sitting can be to both your physical and your mental health. Apparently, sitting isn't all that natural. We're just used to it because we've been trained to do it from an early age. One article went so far as to say, "that if a cave man had been forced to sit for 8 hours a day, he'd have been dead in a week".
So, I've been standing up a lot more. It takes some getting used to it, but it's actually starting to feel pertty good. I stand to watch TV and eat, etc. until I feel like sitting down, then I sit. And I feel fortunate that i play an instrument that I can stand and walk around with while I practice it. I used to do that instinctively in high school. I remember my mom asking me why and I didnt' know. Now I think was because it was more comfortable and helped me practice longer.
I also have a new Jawbone which is simply a high tech pedometer. My goal is 10,000 steps per day, but htat's pretty easy since I work out a lot. I've had it since February 6th, I think, and have been over 12,000 steps several times already!
I thought about getting one of those treadmill desks, but now I think that's going overboard. I still want to be able to sit down whenever I want. I'm just trying to cut back from about 15 hours a day to about 6. And to never sit more than an hour at a time.
The best results so far are that my hip pain is practically gone and my mood seems a little better.
My only problem is that i don't have any "team members". Everyone else I know has a Fitbit which is what I was trying to buy, but the shelf was mislabeled. When It ook it back, I realized that the Jawbone was much better looking. lol. So, if you've got a Jawbone and want a buddy, please don't hesitate to look me up!
The other night, I had my second experience with "lucid dreaming". A lucid dream is a dream where you realize you're dreaming while you're still in the dream.
I dreamed that I woke up, looked at my clock radio and it was 1 o'clock. But I could tell by the daylight streaming through my window that it was afternoon and I had overslept. I bolted upright (still dreaming) and anxiously started pacing the floor, wondering how I could have overslept, why hadn't anyone called me and how I could possibly explain myelf to my missed appointments. Then suddenly (still dreaming), I realized that this was very strange and that for me to have slept for over 15 straight hours was highly improbable. Then I thought, "his must be a dream" at which point, I began to wake up. A few seconds later (mostly awake), I looked at the clock and it was 5:30 AM - time to get up and get ready to head for the gym. I was so happy!
However, this is supposedly only the first step in lucid dreaming - realizing in the dream, that you're dreaming. After that, you're supposed to be able to take control of the dream. For instance, I could have had Justin Timberlake knocking on my front door with a fresh pizza, or something. Or like in my recurring nightmare, where I'm on stage to perform a recital for which I hadn't practiced, I could take control, perform it brilliantly and receive a standing ovation!
That's one of the reasons I'm so intrigued by the lucid dream phenomenon. I think it could be used to reduce performance anxiety and build confidence, not just in music, but also in several other areas of life as well. However, some experts don't believe lucid dreams are even possible. They think people who claim to have them are simply misremembering their dream experience after waking. They claim that dreaming requires control by the subconscious and that consciousness would disrupt the dream (which would explain why I woke up). Currently, there is no technology that can prove that someone is having a lucid dream while they're having it. So, we can only take people's word for it or not.
Still, I'm hopeful and can hardly wait until my next experience where I'll try to stay asleep and take control. Then maybe I could have Emmanuel Pahud come over and play flute duets (and he'd bring a pizza, of course).
I recently had the disappointing misfortune of having to bow out of a performance due to illness. It was a unique opportunity to perform five solos at three church services on a single Sunday. And I was very excited about it, especially on my newly repaired flute. But with a fever of 102 and a sore throat, I just didn't feel up to the task.
But in hindsight, I regret the decision not to play. It's not like I haven't performed sick before. I had pretty much the same symptoms two years ago when I performed at my father's funeral. I had no intention of not performing for my dad, but just in case, my mom made it clear when she picked me up at the airport, that my illness "wasn't going to get me out of it". I only had to play one short piece at the funeral, as opposed to practically all day long like with this last gig. But the performance for my dad went quite well considering.
I cancelled my latest performance a day before the event giving the pianist enough advanced notice to put something together on her own. She said it went very well. But I can't help wondering if it would have been more professional of me to have made a greater effort to be there. How sick is too sick to perform?
I really don't know, but I guess it depends on several factors and it's different for everyone. I would have pretty much had to be dead myself to miss playing at my dad's funeral. And even then I still would have felt guilty. LOL.
Also, it seems that professionals would have more of an obligation than someone who was performing for free. And I suppose if the venue had no alternatives, you would have more of an obligation.
Another factor would be the instrument. A pianist or string player might be able to perform with the flu better than a singer or wind player. And a singer could probably perform better than a drummer with a broken arm, for example.
My sister used to get "sick" every Saturday night before she had to sing a solo in church when we were growing up. But she always sang anyway and sounded great. I was sick before my last recital as a college music professor because my cubital tunnel syndrome (which hadn't been diagnosed at the time) was particularly "active" that day causing enough performance anxiety to make me physically ill. I eventually muddled through, though.
So, I guess I really don't know. How do people decide when they're too sick to perform? If I have students who say they're too sick to play on the annual studio recital, do I just say "okay" or should I probe to make sure it's not just a common case of stage fright?
I really don't know. I'm asking?
So, I've enjoyed several weeks of flute playing free from the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome now, but something else has been holding me back. All this time, I've been blaming embouchure problems, poor muscle memory and anxiety. And I'd almost accepted the "fact" that there was a certain amount of time one could spend away from practicing a skill before it was gone forever, and I had passed it.
But I've made a recent discovery - what I believe to be the final piece of the performance puzzle (though I'm extremely embarrassed to admit that I didn't come upon it sooner). My flute needs repair. Leaks in the tone holes have been cramping my style.
You'd think that someone who sets himself up as an expert would know better than to let such a simple solution get by him for so long. I didn't. Mainly because I knew I was was out of shape and figured that was causing my problems. Also, I had gotten braces during the time I wasn't practicing much, and thought maybe the new position of my teeth required me to find a different embouchure.
In addition, I blame...
1) arrogance ("a good flutist would sound good on anything"),
2) cheapness ("flute repair is too expensive") and
3) ignorance ("it's not really all that important as long as it plays").
But it really is that important.
A while back, I noticed a ripped pad, so I figured I'd better take it in. First, though, I got my $200 Mirage fixed up so I'd have something to play while they worked on my main flute. When I got the Mirage back, I noticed the difference! Low notes, speak. Attacks are easier. Pitch problems are no longer "impossible" to fix. Tone rocks. Response is better (which improves dexterity). All this on my "cheap" flute!!
And I suspect that the performance anxiety I was experiencing lately will be greatly reduced with the confidence I can have that the flute will respond pretty much as I expect it to. I can hardly wait to get my Miyazawa back.
Again, I'm seriously embarrassed for not realizing this sooner. I'm also a bit surprised that none of my teachers or consultants noticed. Going forward, it'sone of the first things I'll be checking with all of my students and clients. Nothing beats having a good instrument in good condition. Otherwise, you're spinning your wheels and wasting time. Or even worse, developing bad habits to compensate.
I suppose this is true of any profession. The quality of one's tools matter.
I always had a feeling that my depression, insomnia and loss of finger coordination were related. I just didn't know how. So for years the plan was just to do everything I could think of to attack all three from all sides. I first tried prayer and religion. Then therapy, antidepressants, herbs, vitamins, diets, exercise, and yoga. All seemed to help a little, but not enough. I gave up alcohol, cut back on sugar, drank 10 glass of water a day and avoided aluminum products on my skin and my cookware. Message, acupuncture, acupressure, sleeping pills. Not all at the same time, of course. And there's more. I tried cold showers (as a type of "shock therapy"). I heard that doing head stands was supposedly good for curing depression, so I would do ten minutes a day. I even tried eating dirt (not off the ground, but the expensive kind they sell in health food stores and call "clay", but still tastes like dirt). And for the coordination part, I must have learned at least 25 different finger exercises. Great party tricks, but never did the trick.
All that to say I was pretty desperate.
There were a few things that I thought about but didn't try, though. An orthopedic surgeon offered to surgically correct the falling tendons in my fingers. That would have been a very costly mistake, I think. Then there were the botulism toxin injections when I thought I had a focal dystonia. And a psychic told me that my troubles were caused by a curse created by the hate from "hundreds of people I didn't even know". She offered to burn some white candles that would protect me for $50.
I always thought that if I regained my coordination, that the depression and insomnia would just go away, but that hasn't exactly been the case. It's better. And because I know it's not responsible for wrecking my music career, it doesn't freak me out as much. But I would still like to recover completely. I have revisited many of my earlier therapies. And I realize that depression is a serious and life threatening medical disorder, so of course, I'm getting medical attention. But a new therapy seems to be helping that along this time around.
It's something I first learned about several years ago on the Oprah Winfrey Show. She swore up and down that keeping a gratitude journal was one of the best things she ever did for herself. I sort of ignored the suggestion, though. It seemed too simple for a problem as large as mine.
But it is huge. I think it's because it tends to reverse our genetic tendency to focus on troubles and problems. I say it's genetic because I believe we're all decendants of the cave dwellers who survived because they paid more attention to the saber toothed tigers than the water lillies.
But in today's culture, that translates in to hating your fat legs and taking for granted that they can get you wherever you want to go whenever you want. But with the journal, I realized how much I had been taking for granted all these years. At first, I wanted to cry with shame. I felt like I had been thumbing my nose at God. I pray every day for forgiveness.
So, two pieces of advice to anyone struggling with this horrible disorder. 1) Tell your doctor and 2) make an effort every day to express appreciation. Because when you can acknowledge and truly appreciate your blessings, it takes a lot to get you down. But if you take everything for granted, then nothing in the world can pull you up.
Today, I had a brief setback, but it was a good thing for three reasons. This morning I woke up with the same numbess I had im my fingers six months ago. That's because last night, I fell asleep without my elbow brace. The first reason this was a good thing is that the numbness only lasted about a minute. The second reason it was a good thing is that even though my fingers are still a bit numb, I could see how much improvement there has been over the past six months. The third reason it was a good thing is that it confirmed my suspicion that the compression is primarily in my elbow and that it's my sleep position moreso than playing the flute that is the culprit. I'm glad I learned this. You can bet I was scared when I first woke up, though.
I’ve performed at two more churches since my last blog
entry. Once at Unity Unitarian in St. Paul, which was another full program of flute solos with an accompanist. And once at Spirit of Hope in Golden Valley, where I played one solo and got to enjoy my very first experience “jamming”with a spirit band!! I’m going to have to insist that all my students perform in church. It’s so uplifting. It’s great to play for such an appreciative audience and it doesn’t have to be perfect. But it helps a lot if it sounds like you mean what you play.
Obviously, I still have a ways to go. My lips are a lot more out of shape than I had previously realized. But I’m practicing quite a bit. And that fact has taught me
something about motivation. I am now convinced that human beings simply have a genetic aversion for
futility. Seriously. When my fingers were out of control, practicing was frustrating torture. I had to make myself do it. Now, I can hardly wait and I can’t stop once I start. And when I do stop, I think about it. If I want motivated students, I need to make sure they have the information and the strategies they need to reach desirable goals. It just might be as simple as that.
Just for the record, my fingers are still a little numb, but not interfering with coordination. I
think it’s called “peripheral numbness” and it’s more annoying than anything else. They test that by blindfolding you and touching you lightly with a cotton ball or something. But it’s getting better.
I’m confident I’m headed for a full recovery. I read in a chat room that the nerves regenerate at 1mm per month or some outrageously slow pace. So, it might be awhile.
Today was a big day for me. I performed for the church service at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Paul. It wasn’t a career changing performance or like the Queen of England was going to be there or anything. Today was special, because it’s the first day in several years that I would be performing in public without the involuntary finger movements that have been dogging me on and off since my junior year in college. I’ve been applying the therapies I’ve learned to combat cubital tunnel syndrome for the past three weeks. And they have made an incredible difference in just that short time.
It wasn’t my best performance ever, but it had its moments. And it's certainly a much more enjoyable experience when you're not worrying about fingers. But my hands were shaking and that was a brand new experience for me. I've been nervous while performing before, but nothing ever shook because of it. LOL. A few more performances under my belt should help out with that. But I think I will always be just a little more sympathetic to others when that happens to them from now on.
This blog is about music, health, challenges, determination and personal and professional growth. I hope it is useful.