Introducing: Pay No Attention to the Woman Behind the Curtain

Welcome to my blog.  I’m calling it “Pay Not Attention to the Woman Behind the Curtain”.

If something about it sounds familiar, it’s my female take on the line of from the classic movie, Wizard of Oz:

It resonates with me for a number of reasons:

1) I, like many people, have an external picture I present to the world.  And moreover, since my work has been as a Registered Psychotherapist, it also gave me a professional reason, or some may say, a responsibility, to not have much of myself and the person behind the psychotherapist “out there”.  (If you’re curious to learn more about the clinical reasons behind this, this may be of interest: Therapy disclosure: Why all the secrecy?)

2) I am a shy introvert (more on these ‘labels’ to follow), but also believe in my own way, possess a certain creativity, curiosity and crave expression (hey!  alliterations!).  But based on my number of insecurities, inconsistencies and so forth, I have shied away and had many previous justifications for not ‘creating’ in this ‘age of creators’.

3) Stuff behind curtains are inherently interesting.  Doesn’t everyone want a peak behind the curtain?  Sure, it’s not exactly Let’s Make a Deal, but there’s some kind of inherent appeal, right?

While this idea is essentially the same as the ‘opening the kimono’ phrase that’s often used now, as a Japanese woman, I find the Oz analogy less intrusive and well… less creepy.

My take is this: I’m no different than anyone else.  I don’t possess all the answers and whatever answers I may have are ones that I have pursued and learned on my own through experimenting and living.

It could be that metaphorically, I have journeyed a few steps ahead of you, but it could also be that you may be a few steps ahead of me and that there is always much to learn along these varying and winding paths.

So, whatever I might find on this path or come across roadside, I may stop and explore.  And some of those things might end up here.  My very own ‘museum of curiosities’ of sorts.

My intent is to share the things I have learned, things I am learning, things I find of interest, thing that have worked for me and whatever else that piques my curiosity to share.  Or maybe something that just makes me go hmmmm… or something that brings a smile to me and perhaps then for you, too.

It’s an experiment and here’s another piece of disclosure, because this project is going to be a challenge for me, it may take me a while to find my stride.  So I anticipate that things might change along the way and I hope at the very least there might be some nugget of something here of interest for you.

In my mid-20’s, I had a realization that I wanted to dedicate a significant part of my life to something of meaning.  It lead me to work supporting people in many different capacities.

Now in my mid-40’s, I wish to try to help and support in as many ways as I can… which these online means provides.

I am grateful for your interest and attention, and I hope to be able to give back with meaning and value.

With that said, and it will be included in each of my posts, but whatever information and thoughts I share here is intended for informational purposes only.  If you have any specific concerns, please consult a qualified health-care professional.  I do believe that knowledge is power, but context is just as important.

Let’s Talk About Sleep

I love sleep.  As far as I’m concerned: the more quality the sleep, the better.

The reality is, if I don’t get enough good sleep, I feel sluggish, look run down and my mind isn’t as sharp.

Not to mention that my mood could be compromised (irritable, anxious, etc.) and I might also make less-than-ideal nutritional choices which ends up with me being in more of an overall wellness deficit.

Sleep quantity is different for everyone, but my personal sweet spot is between seven to eight hours.

While everyone has their unique preference and/or set point for the ideal amount of sleep, there is objective scientific research and studies that have shown that not enough sleep and rest results in a lack of the body’s ability to heal and rejuvenate, as well as create bodily inflammation.

And while this post isn’t about inflammation, let’s just go with the understanding that inflammation is not good.

As I get older and more dedicated to building habits for quality longevity, what I am finding is that my relationship with sleep is not going to remain consistent throughout my lifetime.

I would have considered myself a very solid sleeper for about 40 years (and believe me, I tried not to take it for granted), but the relationship between sleep and I have been very up and down the past few years.

Whether it’s waking up in the middle of the night / very early morning or not being able to sleep past a certain time in the morning (even when I would want and have ample time to), the quality of my day would definitely be dependent on the quality and quantity of sleep from the previous night.

I suspect that a drastic change in my nutrition a little while ago, as well as hormonal changes, were the impetus of the change in my sleep habits.

It’s now become about constant adjustments to figure out how to maintain better health through nutrition, movement, self-care and other means, but to also find the right balance to provide the right internal and external conditions for ideal sleep.

I intend for this particular post to be an organic list of resources that I come across in regards to sleep, and also specifically to share what has been helpful for me… in case it might of help for you.

Also, if you have any suggestions not mentioned here, please reach out and share.  I’m always looking for new tips and insights.

The following are a description of my current sleep hygiene routine, as well as things I would like to try in the future or have tried:
• I limit blue light exposure (from electrical devices such as computers, mobile devices, television) at least one hour from the time I intend to go to sleep.
• Yes, I also wear those dorky-looking blue light blocking glasses later into the evening.  btw: They are not as dorky as they used to be!
• I make sure that there is as little light in the bedroom as possible.  There are those who create complete darkness by not having anything like alarm clocks or other devices that emit light in the room, but I don’t know that I will ever go to those extremes.
• I wear an eye mask to block out most light, but I have yet to find one that completely blocks light out that is comfortable enough to wear while sleeping and also doesn’t shift during the night.
• I have tried to use the Apple Watch to track sleep quality using an app like AutoSleep, but I do find the watch bulky and distracting to wear to sleep.  I’ve considered Bellabeat (can be worn as a clip), but I have my eye on the Oura Ring.
• I have a cup of dissolved Calm in warm water with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar approximately an hour before sleep.  Calm is a magnesium supplement, and apple cider vinegar (ACV) has often be cited as helping to calm the nervous system.  ACV is often suggested to be paired with honey as a sleep tonic, but as I am a low carber, the honey is not something I have added to my pre-sleep beverage (yet).
• I am currently experimenting with taking either a cold or warm shower before bed to influence core body temperature.  My current thinking is that the cold shower jolts me into wakefulness, while a warm shower feels more conducive to winding down for the night.
• The temperature in the sleep area is kept at the warmest 19 degrees C.  I have come across information that’s actually on the high end of what the bedroom temperature should be.
TEMPERATURE UPDATE: In writing this post, I decided to experiment with setting the room to a cooler temperature for sleep: 17 degrees C.  The first few nights at this cooler temperature have produced longer and restful sleeps.
• While I do not currently use a sleep app to fall asleep, I have used Pzizz in the past which I found useful. Since my issue isn’t really falling asleep, having an app such as Pzizz (binaural beats, music and running – hypnosis-based? – narrative) running as I am falling asleep can be distracting.
• I would like to find a good solution for sound blocking or control.  Ear plugs or having something else on my head in addition to the sleep mask feels like too much.  Have not yet experimented with some kind or noise cancelling or white noise machine.
SOUND CONTROL UPDATE: I downloaded a white noise track and have it playing on repeat on one of my devices. Still too early to know if there’s any benefits from it, but I was not woken up this morning by the early morning construction that is a constant in the area that I live.  I will be sure to report back after a few more nights using the white noise track!
• It turns out that I’m pretty fussy about optimal physical comfort for sleep.  Whether it’s what I have on my head, too bulky watch on my wrist, or sleep wear without cuffs on the legs or arms, for me at least, it has be a very right and specific balance.
• I am fortunate that I do not require an alarm clock to wake up, so it’s my belief that I wake naturally at the most optimal time in my sleep cycle.  But it might also be unfortunate in that it tends to be at the same time regardless of whether I feel like I would like to sleep some more or if I had fallen asleep a later than anticipated the night before.  If waking up is something I had difficulties with, the sunrise simulation clock would be something I would try.
• I am currently thinking about maintaining a consistent circadian rhythm and I have started to start my day with some gentle movement work in front of a blue light lamp.

Wow, now that I read back on all that, it appears not only do I love sleep, I take it very seriously, or at least I’ve put some intentional time and effort into improvements.

Here are a few further readings on sleep:

1) Your sleep environment matters.
Science Direct: A review of the environmental parameters necessary for an optimal sleep environment

2) Your hormones could be messing with your sleep.

The Dawn Phenomenon – T2D 8

3) Lack of quality sleep can have psychological implications.
American Psychological Association: Why sleep is important

Living Strong: My Fascination with Lance Armstrong

Do you remember Lance Armstrong?

I sure do.  In fact, I was riveted by his seven Tour de France wins after coming back following his recovery from near-fatal testicular cancer.

He also started a foundation and bonafide movement at that time called Live Strong grounded in their mission statement: “to improve the lives of cancer survivors and those affected by cancer”.

And yep, I had one of those yellow bracelets as I have loved ones touched and taken by cancer, and also because it served as a reminder to me that to Live Strong means that there are obstacles great and small in our lives but that it’s still possible to maintain strength throughout.

In fact, looking back, I can credit being inspired by Lance Armstrong’s winning run of the Tour de France for me to participate in a life-changing bike event of my own (more on this at another time), which had a direct impact on me doing the kind of meaningful work I do now.

But if you’re familiar at all with Lance Armstrong, you are also no doubt aware that he doped, that he had denied it for a very long time, that he was outed and had a meteoric fall from grace.

I am writing about him today, not with any intent to create a discussion about the quality of his character.

But many years have passed since he confessed to using performance enhancing drugs and his name and presence in the public eye has more or less become non-existent.

So why am I writing this post, and only my second post to boot, about a former athlete who is no longer able to compete in his chosen sport?

Because I am fascinated by, and dedicated to, overcoming my fears.

Fears are also often accompanied by shame, and shame can lead to all kinds of other gnarly stuff.

And Lance Armstrong, for all that he has been known to have done – good, bad and the ugly – can be considered to be the poster child for overcoming fears and surviving literal situations that many of us can only imagine in our worst nightmares.

He has survived cancer.  He was a high performance professional athlete who has competed over multiple years in one of the world’s most grueling sporting events.

Sure he doped, but at one point, he was one of the most elite athletes in his sport.  I find it really hard to fathom that there’s any drug in the world that could take a mediocre athlete and make them a super athlete… to my knowledge, I don’t think there’s a Captain America-level super serum in existence.

Now, consider this, most of us are ‘armchair quarterbacks’, we watch and sometimes even get pretty emotionally invested in these incredible physical feats by these individuals who have dedicated themselves to not only training their bodies, but their minds to be able to push past pain, discomfort and likely everything within them screaming for it all to cease.

In other words, conquering fear, doubt, and all that scary stuff every one of us feel in our own ways throughout our lives but at very extreme levels.

So let’s think about this: Do you have an example of a time when you had voluntary put yourself in a situation, even sustained situations, where you had to just power through fear to accomplish something that seemed not possible or out of reach?

These professional athletes, and specifically Lance Armstrong, had done it time and time again.

But with all that said, this isn’t why I continue to find Armstrong interesting as an individual.

The thing is, since his use of PEDs and everything that was associated with that was exposed, he has had to do a lot of explaining, and paying up.

Not surprisingly, his reputation as a role model and public figure were obliterated.  There were also lots and lots of law suits.

As a matter of fact, up until very recently, he was in the midst of a $100 million law suit, which was settled for $5 million in April of 2018.

So to do some quick math here, this is a guy who after experiencing some pretty high highs, has been publicly disgraced, under intense scrutiny and some seriously heavy duty stress for over six years.

And yet, very interestingly… today, he doesn’t appear to be a shell of himself.  He does not hold himself or speak as a man who lives in shame.

No, it doesn’t seem as though he is defiant or in denial of his actions or responsibilities, past or present.  Nor does he seem to be a man who appears to be particularly defensive.  There’s a matter-of-factness about him… and again, he doesn’t appear to be overly defended nor self-righteous nor in any seemingly deep denial even.

From 2017:

From 2015:

He just seems to BE.  You know, in what’s often described as present, mindful… almost Zen kind of way.  Well, kind of.  I mean, it’s not that I see him as a Zen monk nor someone particularly enlightened… I’ll admit, it feels pretty complex and it’s hard to completely nail it down.

But honestly, what I do know is that I find it utterly fascinating.

Let’s try this thought experiment out for a moment: Can you imagine putting yourself in Armstrong’s shoes post PED exposition?

Six years of unrelenting judgements, being stripped of every accomplishment, your financial security and earning ability GONE, AND the government suing you for $100 million dollars.

How do you think you would feel?  How do you imagine it would be for you minute to minute, day to day, month to month?

I am not asking you to think about this from the perspective of making judgements as to whether all that’s happened for him is justified, deserved or whatever. Or whether these are decisions you personally would never have made.

But what I am talking about here is: How do you think you would have handled it all?

Because gosh, like I mentioned earlier, this would rank right up there with the kinds of personal nightmares I live in fear of.  And I have no idea how I’d hold up.  Look, it feels like it’s taking a whole ton of gall to be starting this little ol’ blog that likely no more than a few people will ever read!

With full honesty, how about you?  How do you think it would be for you?

And if considering what it might be like to be in his shoes feels too implausible for you, how do you think it would be for you if your biggest regret/mistake/secret was revealed for everyone to know and dissect?  What then?

***

This is what I suspect.

The more fears you have faced and experienced, especially actively, consciously or on purpose, the more you would likely be able to tolerate this level of personal pain and stress.

There’s no way that I can have any real insight on this for sure, but I imagine that Armstrong’s past experiences with cancer and his career as an elite pro athlete which forced him to push through other kinds of pains and fears provided him with a level of resilience which supports his ability to live life not holed up in his personal shame as he appears to today.

I would like to make this clear: I am in no way condoning or agreeing with Lance Armstrong’s choices during his cycling career and some of his decisions since.

But I believe that there is a lesson to be learned in any story.

In this case, our fears and the shame which can accompany them can, at times, make or break us or at the very least, feel like they can define us.

The more we are able to look fear in the face with the ability to walk away, even if a little (or a lot) battered and bruised, gives us a dose of resolve against future fear and shame.

In my way, this little blog is a way for me to face one of my fears.

What are you doing to face your fears today?  It’s an integral key to building resilience against shame and truly living strong.