Sleep: The Unconscious Way to Cope With Pain

Have you ever had such intense pain, physical, or other, that all you could do to cope with it is sleep?

I’ve slept for the better part of the last 2 days. I had to attend a family event on Sunday afternoon. When I say “had to” I don’t mean forced to, I mean I would have felt horrible – worse than the pain I’ve had since – if I hadn’t attended because it was in honour of one of my favourite aunts who does whatever she can for everyone. However, between the drive to the home of my uncle who hosted, moving around to interact with all the family members and family friends; and then the drive home, my body had to go into near shutdown so I could cope with the resulting pain flare up.

By the time I arrived home around 11:00 PM on Sunday night, I knew I was in for a rough few days; not to mention my experience dictates that it takes at the very least two days for me to recover after going out to do anything. Upon arriving at my uncle’s house in the afternoon, my pain level was already climbing; and on the drive home, the soreness in my legs had already become unbearably intense. When my feet touched the ground as I got out of the car, it was definite that I would not escape the punishment for daring to enjoy life just a little bit while celebrating the life of someone I love. After shutting the door to my home behind me, I made a beeline for my bedroom to change into cozy pajamas then I went into the bathroom to perform the nightly rituals of brushing my teeth and putting my hair up so I don’t wake up with an equally painful tangled mess of hair to deal with.

I was in bed by midnight. It took some time to fall asleep because I was so uncomfortable with the pain building throughout my body. I vaguely remember waking a few times during the night, but I know I was too exhausted to awaken fully to take my overnight breakthrough dose of pain medications. I even slept late and missed taking my first large dose of pain medications on time at 6:00 AM. However, being late this one morning didn’t matter much because being asleep kept me unaware of the pain. The rest of Monday was spent in a groggy haze of pain medications and sleep, but I didn’t miss much because it poured rain most of the day and the grey sky outside was not at all appealing.

I woke up around 4:00 PM because my phone rang. It was my therapist calling me. I called him on Saturday shortly after coming out of my panic attack so he was responding to my message. I knew he wasn’t in the office during the weekend, but I felt that I had to talk to him as soon as it was possible to sort through why the panic attack might have happened. As usual, he helped me sort through the still lingering feelings and to realize how everything I’m coping with – including the current pain flare up – and all that I’ve lived through in my life are so deeply connected, it makes a panic attack a reasonable thing for me – or anyone dealing with so much – to experience. He also gave me some practical tips on how to cope if I have another episode: splash my face with cold water, put cold water/a wet cloth on the back of my neck, breathe into a paper bag, lay on the floor so I feel grounded, and connect visually with objects around me so I can know what’s real. I was grateful for that conversation and the clarity it brought.

I stayed awake for a few hours after that conversation. My friend R called for one of our weekly chats. Then I tried to make sense of the horrible news of the day and deciding what my stomach could tolerate so I could make a meal. I failed at both and fell back to sleep on my couch. I managed to wake up a few hours later to take my last large dose of pain medications and I might have stayed awake for about an hour or two. The next thing I became aware of was that for a second morning in a row my body opted to sleep as late as it could handle before waking to take my morning dose of pain and other medications. After doing that, I still had the need for two morning naps.

I also realize, sometimes I have to accept that it’s not always conscious methods that are best for coping with my pain.


The Beatles – Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End



Gratitude and Creativity: We Evolve

Even before the arrival of my illness, sleep was a difficult thing for me. Insomnia and I are old friends, but having to cope with it while dealing with high levels of pain is not an easy thing. When I was working, I used to take advantage of the times I couldn’t sleep by catching up on or completing work tasks early. In some ways it seemed like a blessing to be so productive, but of course there were the drawbacks of struggling to get out of bed many mornings and having to caffeinate myself to get my brain started and to stay alert sometimes later in the day.

When I can’t sleep now, I don’t feel productive, I feel restless, which makes my mind bounce all over the place during the longest stretches of the night. Sometimes I watch TV shows or movies to make the time pass more quickly. Other times I spend hours online poring over pages of articles, news, videos, and interesting writing others post here. Thankfully, many of the things people post here positively occupy my thoughts and lead to me being creative, which feels so much better than being productive.

In the dark, early hours of Thursday morning, a poem I found on Dave Kavanagh’s site, which he titled ‘Dark Eyed Woman’ sparked some creativity to help me pass the time. I was fortunate to engage with him through the comment section of his site and part of our exchange calmed the restlessness of my thoughts enough for me to write some poetry. In this respect – my creativity being sparked so I can write – I still see insomnia as a blessing sometimes. However, I know that sleep is the bigger blessing I need so I can better manage my illness.

We Evolve


Flourishing: An Ode To A Yellow Four-Nerve Daisy

After a night of mostly interrupted sleep, I was awake early this morning. To fill my time in the early morning hours I visited the sites of some of the truly interesting people I follow in the online world. One blog I found myself drawn into this morning was Portraits of Wildflowers where Steven Schwartzman shares uniquely beautiful images of wildflowers and other flora and fauna he discovers on his excursions into nature. Looking at his photographs, I don’t feel so shut away and I learn things I wouldn’t have an opportunity to otherwise.

This morning as I clicked through some of his recent posts, I had visceral reactions to some of the images. One in particular, a photo of a hairy white larkspur flower (Delphinium carolinianum ssp. Penardii) before its petals opened, made the hair on my body stand on end. I can’t remember having that kind of reaction to a flower before. The image of a rain-lily (Cooperia pedunculata) tricked my eyes into seeing the soft brush strokes of a floral portrait. While the bent stalk of a bright yellow four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris linearifolia), and the words Steven Schwartzman used to describe its fate, inspired my brain to connect with the tips of my fingers to create an ode to that single delicate bloom.

Bent but still flourishing © 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Bent but still flourishing © 2016 Steven Schwartzman


On days like today, I don’t mind not having slept much. Creating something has a way of making me feel grounded and easing agitation and anxiety that is sometimes caused by a lack of sleep. Besides, how can I not feel lifted by a bright yellow daisy or Steven Schwartzman’s generosity in granting me permission to post his image?