119. Of beds and dreams


20 April 2014, Easter Sunday

I get very tired.

I don't know whether that is my body's reaction to several weeks of emotional upheaval, or a small dose of cancer-related fatigue.

I know about cancer-related fatigue. It is often described as one of the most debilitating symptoms of cancer, more debilitating than pain because it is so much harder to control. Fatigue can only really be managed by learning how to live with it. It is the kind of tiredness that doesn't improve with rest.

In any case, I found myself in bed by 10pm the other night and falling asleep straight away. I haven't done that for a long time. Ever since that bout of crippling insomnia last year, and the sleep training programme I forced myself through, I have been evangelical about not going to bed before 11.30pm and never lying down during the day, because it upsets my hard-won internal sleeping rhythm.*

Yesterday, I swam 40 lengths and suddenly couldn't do the 41st. My limbs simply wouldn't support me. I had to drift back to the start of the pool and heave myself out.

[If I'd known then that a year later I still can't swim 41 lengths, I would have laughed in disbelief.]

And this afternoon, having managed to lead the church music [huh? on a Monday morning? oh no, of course, it was Easter Sunday], cook the lunch and enjoy Easter egg time with the family, I simply had to go to bed.

I have decided just to give in.

Sometimes I ignore it and keep going, and that's fine as long as I really do keep going rather than sit down for a breather (because then I can't get up again). 

But I think it's OK, and hopefully won't upset my sleeping, if I take refuge in my bedroom sometimes.

At least people are understanding. As I have noted before: cancer is a pretty good excuse.

*The year before, I had somehow got myself into a horrible three-hours-a-night-if-I'm-lucky thing, with occasional nights of zero hours sleep. It went on for months. I was a zombie and I was desperate. I can highly recommend the online sleep training programme; you can find details here. It worked wonders and got me back to refreshing seven-hour-nights - but boy, it was hard work - certainly not for the fainthearted.

I was really worried about the effect of my cancer-induced lie-downs. The sleep programme was very stern about only using bed for sleeping: even just reading in bed was forbidden. It was all to do with associating bed with sleep again, so that you go out like a light as soon as you hit the pillow. Which did indeed work, eventually.

But now, I had to give in and give up. I spent a lot of the past year in bed. It has included books, music, iPads and BBC iPlayer. Miraculously, it doesn't seem to have upset my ability to sleep. Perhaps the sleep training has really given me back my internal sleeping switch. As soon as I switch off the lights, I switch off my day and I'm gone. If I do find myself lying awake, I revert back to the harsh instructions of the sleep training programme: however tired I am, I get up and sit or lie somewhere else. This prevents me associating my bed with pointless lying-awake. The key thing is not to worry about being awake - and usually, I'm soon snoozing on the sofa.

Let's hope it lasts.

Now, back to a year ago...


I don't remember my dreams very often, but this morning's dream was vivid. It hardly takes a psychologist to interpret what it means...

I'm on my bike, uphill, at a decent pace. It's quite hard work but it is very clear that I'm going in the right direction. One of my daughters is cycling ahead of me. I think we are going home.

Then, suddenly, I come to a stop, almost falling off my bike. It takes a moment to register that my front wheel is missing. it must have come off suddenly, and I am stranded, my bike resting on its front fork.

I realise that this is a catastrophic breakdown and I won't be able to make it home, or wherever we are going.

I am gutted. I should after my daughter, alerting her, but she doesn't hear me and cycles on without me.

I look back and see my wheel rolling down the hill, away from me. There is no way I can go on, no way I can catch up with her.

But just as reality sinks in and sickens my stomach, someone catches my wheel and indicate that it can be fixed back onto my bike.

That's when I wake up.