I always thought of blogs as being narcissistic, business related, or as my sister's, a way of keeping in touch or memorializing.

But, by necessity, I am learning a lot about myself. I find I need to get my thoughts out, and it helps me to know that someone else will read them. So I have created this little space for myself, to express the things I have trouble saying (be it emotional or physical trouble), to share what I'm going through, and what I'm learning through it.

I absolutely welcome comments. It's nice to know how people relate to what I'm saying.
To send me a private message, please e-mail me: flylittlewordsfly@gmail.com
Subscription links are at the bottom of the page

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Quieting my Overactive Brain by Shifting Attention, and the End of My Insomnia

It is interesting to me that the post I wrote about insomnia back in February is one of the most-read pages in my entire blog. There seem to be an awful lot of people looking for solutions to insomnia related to illness and/or overactive brains. Insomnia, true insomnia, is devastating (Fight Club wasn't all that far off!). I want to thank the reader who e-mailed me privately to tell me how she thought she was alone in this; you inspired me to come back and share my answer to you with the rest of the world. And then some :)  Because in thinking about what I wrote you, I realize that finding a sleep solution was very much tied in to how I distract my brain, and how different that is from truly quieting it. I am hoping to find a more permanent, quiet-based sleep solution that requires no distraction in the long run. In the meantime, though, I'll do what it takes to get the sleep I need!

I did find a solution that works for me, for now, and since there seem to be so many people looking, I will share it, even though I don't believe there is a one-size fits all.

First, I followed all the standard Sleep Hygiene rules - I'm sure if you've been struggling with insomnia, you know all about these. The most impactful of these for me was leaving my laptop downstairs when I went to bed. None of that was enough for me, though, because every time I turned out the light and lay down my brain started up again. So I threw out one of those rules, and got out my book again. Here's how I got back to sleep:

I took sleeping pills for a week, and forced myself into a routine - not a strict schedule, because that goes against every fiber of my being and would have been counter-productive, but an "around this time we do this" kind of thing, starting much earlier than I was used to. After a week, I was able to stop the pills and go back to just melatonin. I told my son, and enlisted his help in creating a soothing bedtime routine for the both of us. We now go upstairs together, brush teeth and all that (he loves to watch me take all my pills - I don't know why), I take my melatonin, and we sit on my bed and drink tea while we talk or read together, then he goes to bed, and I'm already in bed-mode. Once he's down, I lie down and read until I can't keep my eyes open anymore - I find this keeps my thoughts busy until I'm so tired they can't take over when I close my eyes. I have a Kobo, so I make the font nice and big so my eyes don't tire out before my brain, and I let my hand lean against a crumpled bit of blanket by my head, and that lets me rest the muscles there, so there's no effort, anywhere in my body except my busy busy brain, which is too busy reading to think :)  I am not yet able to get to a brain-quiet state that lasts long enough for me to fall asleep without the aid of the book, but I'm working on it.

I'm working on it during the day, using simple practices that are becoming more and more natural to me. I don't work on it at night because actually getting sleep is my prime goal, and working on it at night only serves to stir up frustration. I tried, because I know it works for some people. First, though, just so you know, my brain is still very active in my sleep - I have very vivid saga dreams fairly often. They're kind of fun, actually, like fantasy movies starring me. When I wake up in the morning, sometimes it's hard to remember which bits are real, because they often take off from real-life situations.

Ok, but back to my daily grind, which looks very relaxing and un-taxing, but in reality is kind of like anyone else's - frustrating, joyful, boring, entertaining... like I was saying last time, unique in its details, but Universal in the larger experience. And most of that time, my brain is busy busy busy.

The thing with quieting of my brain is that whole thing I keep talking about - learning to be rather than do. Not easy at all, and I've been working with these concepts for almost 15 years. Not necessarily living them for 15 years, but having them in my awareness, my conscious and subconscious, making space for themselves, and changing my thought patterns and belief systems. And slowly, slowly I am getting there.

I am having more and more moments of real peace and quiet, inside my mind. There are as many roads to this place as there are people, and I've tried a great many of them - these are the things that have helped me the most:

First and foremost is the ongoing support and guidance of both my Osteopath and my Therapist. These two amazing women remind me every week that there are tools and practices at my disposal, and they remind me that I can do this. Each has given me new resources and pointed me back to familiar ones that help me get back to my center. They also remind me how expensive it is to my system when I allow myself to get swept off my center by the turmoil of every day life and relationships. I really don't think I could do this without them.

I have been practicing shifting my awareness and attention. I, as everyone with an overactive brain, tend to internalize everything, intellectualize it, explain it and analyze it 30 times over - those of you with an overactive brain and hyper-vigilant tendencies know what I'm talking about, and those who don't, well, ask me about it sometime if you want to know what I mean. What I am playing around with now is letting everything - all those little attention-grabbing, thought-spiral-creating, triggering little things be, instead of letting them take over my mind.

I am currently using three very concrete mindful-style exercises that help me do this: 1 - close my eyes and listen outwards, as far as I can. I love this one - it immediately takes me out of my head, and brings me to the here and now. And it's different from hearing every little thing (which I do normally), and I don't know how or why, and I don't care. It works amazingly well for me. 2 - eyes open or closed, I focus on the sensation of the physical support I am receiving through my body (and these words are important to the exercise), from the ground, the couch, the chair, whatever. Focus on that physical sensation of being supported. This one takes me a little longer than the first, and has a different effect. I find that when I do it, my heart opens up, and anxiety is simply not possible.  3 - make a visual assessment. Look, I mean really look, at the things around me. How the light reflects off my water bottle, the way the colours blend on the painting on my wall, the texture of the ceiling. See the whole of the view out my window, and allow myself to fall into it. This centers me, places me firmly in my physical space. Each of these exercises puts me in a receptive state. When in a receptive state, my brain is not turning a hundred miles an hour. My brain is taking it in. And that is so restful.

I've also been working on not getting all worked up over each thought I have. My Osteopath told me a while ago not to believe everything I think. My therapist told me this week that when I try to hold on to every thought I have, it gets so crowded in there, that I forget everything. I love the buddhist idea of allowing my thoughts to drift by  and watch them as I would clouds in the sky. It's a nice way to distance my self from my thoughts. There's a super cool book called "Happiness Beyond Thoughts" that gives more really easy exercises to get at these kinds of things.

Having said all this, though, I think honestly the most effective thing I've been able to do in terms of quieting my mind is owning and expressing my anger and my fears. These two emotions are so closely related, and so very looked down on in our society, that many of us repress them, which only leads to their finding expression inside of us. Anxiety, when you really peel away all the layers, is mostly unexpressed fear (and even when we're talking about clinical anxiety disorders, it is the physiological response to fear that is exaggerated). So talking to my therapist, and opening up here (that post about insomnia was all about the fears I had at the time), and finding people who can support me in expressing irrational and rational fears alike, and with whom I can vent when I need to, and even just saying out loud to myself "I feel scared" and "I feel angry" has lessened the hold I allowed these emotions to have on me. Instead, by allowing myself to sense them, to heed whatever message they bring, to feel them in my body, they dissipate, and drift away, allowing the next thing to come and flow. And that, my friends, is how we get through the first four stages of grief and to acceptance, which is the state of receptivity of which I am so enamoured at the moment (I know, very un-zen of me).

I really hope this post helps someone other than me (because it has helped me). I hope someone reads it, and finds a little bit of an a-ha, and someone else finds comfort in knowing they're not alone. I hope in reading this, you are encouraged to find a little bit more hope in your own life, and that you are more open to examining what it is that holds you wherever it is you are. Changing how I focus my attention and my energy has made a huge difference in my life - you will see this clearly if you read anything I wrote last year. Personal evolution is what I'm choosing - the road to a peaceful and happy life. The road away from drama and anxiety. It is an interesting paradox, on which I will probably write more later - the idea that I can be stubborn about keeping an open mind, and I can be determined to surrender, and I gain strength through vulnerability. These are my new truths, and they surely help quiet my mind, because they cannot be analyzed - cannot be turned into logic. What I really hope, more than anything is that at least one person will read these words and see possibility in them. Thanks for reading.


  1. I love you woman!! Love the idea of vulnerability!

    1. Love you too! And super appreciate your support... you are the bestest venting buddy ever :) xo