Category Archives: Health

How Do You Sleep?

I came across a couple of articles about sleep which made me contemplate how my sleep patterns have changed with age.

We’ve discussed sleep before:

https://paulpens.cloudaccess.host/creativity-in-sleep/

I used to regularly sleep for eight hours a night. If I managed an extra hour, I felt fantastic and achieving ten hours turbocharged me! These days, at the age of 65, it’s more like six to seven hours of good quality sleep. I don’t feel deprived, but if I do feel drowsy during the day I’ll nap for an hour, sitting up in my chair, which invigorates me. It doesn’t often happen, perhaps four times a year.

Drowsiness can be a clue to health problems and disrupted nocturnal rest. My long-term partner suffered from sleep apnoea, which she was wholly unaware of, but when she stopped breathing, I woke instantly. She lacked energy during the day, frequently dropping off to sleep in the evening while watching television.

https://www.healthline.com/health/daytime-sleepiness/signs-to-see-a-dr#1

Image result for cat nodding off sleep gif

There are a couple of drowsiness tests mentioned in this article:

https://curiosity.com/topics/measure-your-drowsiness-with-the-epworth-sleepiness-scale-curiosity

(I scored 3 in the Epworth Sleepiness Scale)

I think that because I’m so regular in my habits, it helps me to sleep. I’ve done jobs that were the enemy of sleep, such as getting up at 4.00 a.m. to be at the milk depot an hour later, to load an electric milk float and deliver 450 pints. Finishing work by 10.00 a.m., I needed to find ways to wind down before going home to sleep a few hours, waking to greet my partner at six o’clock. I was always in bed by 10.00 p.m. Milkmen soon start to look like the Walking Dead!

This job mimicked the old way of sleeping in two sessions:

https://www.sciencealert.com/humans-used-to-sleep-in-two-shifts-maybe-we-should-again

Nowadays, I work from eight o’clock to 1.00 a.m., retiring to bed to read for an hour, before turning the lights out. Fortunately, I’ve never been bothered by sleeplessness—proof of having a clear conscience?—or, no conscience at all!

Those plagued with insomnia become obsessed with sleep, which probably worsens their plight. A new device tracks a person’s sleep, which an insomniac might view as helpful. To me, it’s proof of how obsessed some people are with measuring everything in the 21st-century:

https://www.yankodesign.com/2019/08/12/the-respio-integrates-an-in-depth-sleep-tracker-right-into-your-bed/

Image result for respio sleep tracker

If you’re constantly monitoring yourself day and night, when do you ever relax and just enjoy being alive?

How do you sleep?

Endoscopy & Colonoscopy

It’s a good idea to use your family’s medical history as a guide to what problems may await you; there’s no escaping genetics.

At the age of 54, I realised that I’d outlived the age my father reached by one year, and that it might pay to check for signs of what killed him—bowel cancer. He knew he had problems for twenty years, but being of a generation embarrassed about anything to do with his bum, he did nothing about it. Had he gone to the doctor, he might well have lived for another twenty years. Bowel cancer is highly treatable, if caught in the early stages.

http://www.irishhealth.com/article.html?level=4&id=25759

I had experience of what might be involved in a colonoscopy, as I’d had an endoscopy two years before. This was a precautionary procedure, recommended by my doctor after I visited her on returning from America. I’d shown symptoms of stomach ulcers, while still living stateside, like a hot iron had been pressed to my tummy. It was probably caused by stress from a toxic marriage.

Back in my beloved Cornwall, the attacks diminished, but for some reason, I felt compelled to eat porridge oats and muesli of an evening, lifting pinchfuls into my mouth. I mentioned this to a hedge witch friend, who said it was a folk medicine remedy for ulcers, so perhaps my gut knew something I didn’t.

The endoscopy procedure was simple, though I’d been anxious about having a gag reflex when the cable carrying the camera was inserted down my gullet. I’d obeyed instructions not to eat anything for twelve hours beforehand, and the surgeon numbed my throat with a spray anaesthetic (that tasted of pears!) which made threading the device into my throat easy. I was laying down, unable to see the monitor screen, listening to him say “You’ve had two large ulcers, but they healed themselves really well…I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Cable removed from my throat, I told him about eating oats, which made him look at me like I was a medieval yokel who’d gone to see the medicine woman, before muttering “I’ve heard of that, but didn’t think it would work.”

Relieved at the all-clear, I decided some probing in a northerly direction was in order. My GP was delighted at my sensible decision. I duly received instructions of how to prepare for a colonoscopy. For the surgeon to see the colon, it has to be cleared of what’s lingering there…This meant not eating for a couple of days beforehand and taking purgative salts in water to act as an enema. These worked alarmingly well—inducing shit through the eye of a needle wateriness—I was afraid to cough, taking time off work to stay near the toilet.

I understand that things are easier these days, but in 2008 I felt like I’d been scraped hollow.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/how-you-can-make-colonoscopy-prep-easier

Not eating for a couple of days made me giddy, eager to get the procedure completed, so I could have a meal. I turned up at the hospital, where I had to sign waiver forms in case something went wrong. I changed into a hospital gown, exposing my buttocks for access, and padded through to the operating theatre. Where a dozen medical students stood waiting for the show!

Introduced to the surgeon, a shy Indian doctor who asked my permission to be a teaching aid, I went horizontal laying on my side on the operating table. This time, I could see what was happening to my innards, as a large LED monitor screen was in front of me, which I shared with the trainee doctors. Topical anaesthetic cream numbed my anus, so I didn’t feel much as I was probed.

Seeing what I looked like inside was surprisingly beautiful, for the image showing was tinted emerald green as the light shone on the folds of my inner tubes. It reminded me of footage shot by spelunkers who swim through flooded caverns. Occasionally, the surgeon paused to examine a section of colon, but the whole procedure was over in ten minutes. He removed the endoscope, thanking me for my cooperation, whereupon the students gave me a round of applause!

Had he found irregularities, he’d have removed tissue to biopsy, but I was given the all-clear. The worst part of the whole thing was the purging. The procedure itself was a doddle.

https://www.healthline.com/health/colonoscopy#procedure

On returning to work the next day, I told colleagues what happened, including two middle-aged men who decided to have an endoscopy. They’d been nervous about doing so, but had similar experiences to mine.

If you’re over fifty, it makes sense to have a colonoscopy.

 

The Pleasures of Pooping!

After my previous recommendations about the healing qualities of urine, I’m in danger of receiving accusations that I’m obsessed with bathroom activities!

I’m not, but peeing and pooping are something we all do, and as it’s not often spoken of, we miss out on learning about some fascinating things.

Image result for outhouse door eyes look

I came across this information in a roundabout way, while researching the vagus nerve, which will feature in my next Cornish Detective novel as a target for a torturer.

The vagus nerve is hugely influential in how the brain, lungs, heart, digestive and excretory systems work.

This fascinating answer on Quora explains why taking a poop can feel euphoric or at least like “that’s a weight off”:

https://www.quora.com/Why-is-defecating-so-pleasing

(click on more to read the whole article)

It’s amazing how much the neurons lining our gut act as a second brain—surely the source of the expression ‘gut feeling’.

At the very least, stimulating the vagus nerve by having a poop might remove your writer’s block!

I might be gone for some time.

The Yellow Stuff

I’ve never been more of what the reaction will be, as I start this thread. Many readers will be disgusted—urrgghh!—but bear with me, as there’s food for thought to come.

I’ll break you in gently, with a story:

Back in 1999, I acquired a Jaguar XJS for a bargain price, considering it was a low mileage car with only two previous owners. The couple I bought it off had doted on the car, only driving a few hundred miles a year, and storing it in a heated garage with fitted carpet. Unfortunately, the lack of use and warmth harmed the braking and cooling system by perishing the rubber hoses. Not being able to rely on stopping a heavy V12-engined car, which had become incontinent, meant rebuilding the hydraulic braking system with new lines and replacing all the water hoses.

I’m a competent mechanic, so did the work myself. Access in the engine bay was tight, with some hoses impossible to see, so some unfastening of clamps was done by feel with bare hands. I then replaced the hydraulic hoses, bleeding the system of air. I’d normally wear disposable vinyl gloves for this work, but protected my skin with a barrier cream called Rozalex, cleaning them afterwards with Swarfega.

Antifreeze fluid and hydraulic fluid are dangerous if swallowed, potentially lethal, and they can cause skin irritation. I’d never been troubled before, but this time, a really aggravating postage stamp-sized rash developed on the back of my left hand above the wrist. It was difficult to resist scratching it during the day, as it felt like a dozen ants were biting me. I tried various medicated skin creams and tea tree oil, which provided temporary relief, but the itching soon came back. One morning, I woke with the back of my hand stuck to the sheet with blood from where I’d been digging my nails into the rash.

I’d just acquired my first home computer, so went online to look for remedies, checking the active ingredients of skin creams. Most of them contain urea:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urea-containing_cream

Urea is the main nitrogen-containing substance in mammal urine. Colourless, odourless, highly soluble in water, it’s practically non-toxic. Urea in skin creams is mostly synthetically made, but I had a ready source of fresh and natural urea—me! :D

I dabbed the rash a few times daily with pee on cotton wool, and in three days it was completely healed! I was flabbergasted.

Think about it: would you rather use your own pee or processed cow urine (used in some formulations) or artificial urea containing who knows what? :(Urine is sterile, containing fewer bacteria than tap water.

Urine therapy has a long and rather secretive history, as mention of it produces hilarity and revulsion. It’s one of the facts commonly trotted out about Gandhi and actress Sarah Miles, but rock musicians Keith Richards, John Lennon and Jim Morrison all said they used it.

Urine therapy – Wikipedia

Image result for SARAH MILES ACTRESS
Sarah Miles

As for drinking it, which some swear by, I tried twice, mixing it with orange juice for palatability, but it was still rather rich! At the time, I was in the throes of giving up booze, after 27 years of alcoholism, so my body may well have been releasing all sorts of toxins that affected the taste. I decided I could be doing more harm than good by drinking it. 

After 23 years clean and sober, If I had serious health issues, I’d try it again, for, after all, the Bible says ‘Physician, heal thyself.’

I was reminded of this episode of self-healing by several recent newspaper articles on the benefits of using urine to wash hair:

Mother washes hair in pee after being inspired by woman on Ben Fogle programme | Daily Mail Online

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a urine therapy fanatic, I don’t gargle the stuff, but I do like things that work for free and which are natural.

If you’ve got an annoying rash, it could be worth a try….

(I promise I won’t tell.) ;)

(Thinks: I’d better leave this bit out of my author bio…) 

How Gritty are You?

To succeed at writing, you need patience and perseverance. As James Baldwin said:

Image result for writer james baldwin Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.

If you don’t dig in to pursue your long-term writing goal, then your manuscript will become another dust gatherer.

Angela Duckworth is a psychologist, academic and popular science author who’s studied grit—which she defines as  passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

Image result for psychologist Angela Duckworth

She’s devised a test to measure your grit:

 http://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/

Click on MORE ABOUT GRIT for information about what this means.

I scored 4.59 out of 5—higher than about 95% of American adults in a recent studyproving what my mother used to say about me, that I‘m mule-headed!

How did you do?

Neurotic Writing

A while ago, I posted on Turning Suffering Into Writing, but everyday neuroticism is a tool authors can use to good effect. Try to think of a writer or any creative artist who stimulates you, that sees things in what would be deemed a conventional way. It’s often a skewed viewpoint that captivates.

Neurosis is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as:

‘A mental illness resulting in high levels of anxiety, unreasonable fears and behaviour and, often, a need to repeat actions for no reason’

It’s easy to see how such symptoms afflict writers. After all, much of what we do is speculative, flights of fancy that our family and friends may view as delusional.

‘The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s neurosis, and we’d have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.’

William Styron

Styron’s Darkness Visible: A Memoir Of Madness is a moving chronicle of his own descent into depression and his triumphant recovery.

While writing a story, then editing it and creating a synopsis, followed by querying agents with a view to selling, it’s likely that an author will ask themselves many times, “Why am I doing this?”

If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.” 
Sylvia Plath, from The Bell Jar.

I’ve often contemplated my manuscripts, after reading them in as detached a way as possible, wondering if my theme worked, does the story arc ring true within this story and across the series and what would a reader take away from the story?

That way madness lies! Trying to guess what readers will notice is a form of fortune-telling. My beta-readers pointed out things to me which they liked, that I hadn’t considered.

Telling someone that you’re a writer produces mixed reactions, I think. Some people will admire you, while others will be intimidated. You may be thought of as wealthy, in a J.K. Rowling way, or as a total loser who can’t write well, as you’re not a household name. Most people will give you leeway to be just a bit weird!

Research has shown, that highly creative people are often neurotic:

https://www.livescience.com/52051-why-creative-geniuses-are-neurotic.html

To throw a reinterpretation on Robert A. Heinlein’s book title Stranger In A Strange Land, authors are among the strangest folk in society, telling tales to entertain, inform and which reveal truths.

Have you embraced your neuroticism?

Jerome Lawrence

Breathing Techniques

Breathing is a process that for, most of the time, takes place automatically and unconsciously.

We become aware of our breathing at times of stress. It’s commonly advised to “take a few deep breaths” when upset, to help you calm down, to take time to reflect on what to do next and not lose your temper.

This advice has been refined into a technique called Resonant Breathing. It’s easy to do:

‘Take five breaths per minute, and keep it going as long as needed. This means each inhale will last six seconds, and each exhale six seconds. That’s it!’

https://curiosity.com/topics/resonant-breathing-can-calm-you-down-in-a-matter-of-minutes-curiosity

It’s reckoned that this way of coherent breathing also reduces symptoms of depression, by changing the messages that the brain receives.

Controlling one’s breathing can also help you drop off to sleep. Known as the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, it’s a simple way of influencing one’s physiology and thought processes to move into a state of relaxation:


Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Image result for sleeping snoopy gif

https://www.medicaldaily.com/life-hack-sleep-4-7-8-breathing-exercise-will-supposedly-put-you-sleep-just-60-332122

Both breathing techniques are linked to yoga:

https://www.doyouyoga.com/the-7-best-yoga-breathing-exercises-both-on-and-off-your-mat/

Controlling your breathing might even help your writing….

Image result for pam allyn quote
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pam_Allyn

Handedness—are you Left or Right-handed?

I spent some time researching handedness, for the plot of my third Cornish Detective novel. A dead woman has been found with a blow to her right forehead, which looks to have been struck by a left-handed assailant. The problem for my detective is that the main suspect appears to be right-handed, though he carries a shotgun in the crook of his left arm.

This set me thinking about how I use my hands, and whether I only do some things with one hand or the other. I’m right-handed, though strive to be as ambidextrous as possible just for the mental workout. It’s reckoned that 10-12% of people are left-handed, and all sorts of sweeping generalisations are made about how this affects creativity or a tendency to be better at the sciences.

By coincidence, an article came in from the Brainpickings site which referred to the writer Maria Popova teaching herself to write with her left hand; it had unexpected benefits for her: 

Beyond the tangible satisfaction of mastery painstakingly acquired, the endeavor had one unexpected and rather magical effect — it opened some strange and wonderful conduit through space and time, connecting me to the version of myself who was first learning to read and write as a child in Bulgaria. Generally lacking early childhood memories, I was suddenly electrified by a vividness of being, a vibrantly alive memory of the child’s pride and joy felt in those formative feats of the written word, of wresting boundless universes of meaning from pages filled with lines of squiggly characters.

Image result for maria popova

Intrigued by this, I had a go by compiling a list of descriptive words that I want to include in my WIP. I wrote a few in a spidery left hand, coming up with words which I might not have thought of if typing them on the keyboard—probably the most ambidextrous thing most of us do.

For some reason, I use my left hand to operate taps/faucets.

Which hand do you favour?

Balancing Creativity and Mental Illness

As one familiar with long-term depression, the findings in this article don’t surprise me. Most of the artists I’ve known in my life have been troubled with some mental malady or other, and that includes writers, sculptors, painters, musicians, photographers, actors and craftspeople.

http://www.newsmax.com/health/garysmallmd/mental-illness-depression-mania-creativity/2015/12/04/id/704592/

It’s good that famous people are being more open in talking about their personal struggles, as it helps to reduce the stigma of being diagnosed with depression, bipolarism, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia.

Image result for quote creativity and mental illness

Jeanette Winterson

Just as we need a bit of grit in our lives to create friction, so we can get purchase and progress through being creative. Some of the best books, records, paintings, photographs, sculptures and films come from those who’ve been through the turmoil of mental tribulation.

Image result for quote creativity and mental illness