Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Menopause, Anxiety, Sleep Apnoea, a Writing Career and a bloody amazing husband.

For as along as I've been married, nearly 33 years, I've snored. While others have heard it, from time to time, it is my husband who has silently suffered mostly through the sawmill in our bedroom. He's only complaint, he says, is having to get up to drag the inhaled curtains from my throat. He's a funny man.

Approaching fifty years of age, I happened upon that delightful time in a woman's life called menopause. If the snoring wasn't bad enough, my husband then had to endure the endless tossing of bedclothes as I continuously went from hot to cold and hot again with night sweats. The universe finally took pity on him and gave me a good dose of insomnia. Suddenly I could only sleep two to three hours a night. Everyone had a remedy and I tried them all and still found myself lying wide awake with the stars.

I've always tried to approach a problem creatively, and decided to get up and put these silent, wakeful hours to good use. Never had I had a better opportunity to write a book, and that's just what I did. In fact, my first book, a 95,000 word novel, only took me two and a half months to write. You can read my other posts to find out how all that went, but in short, I was now a self published author and my book was going off like hotcakes. Within a few months I had published my second and six months later, my third. I was making a nice income from sales.

Menopause finally had a silver lining. Between August 2012 and November 2015, I published five books, the last one being a hefty tome of 249,000 words, taking nineteen months of writing, editing and research. It was no wonder that I felt I needed a break from writing after that one, and told myself I would be back at it within a few months. A year later, I still couldn't find the energy to undertake another novel. On top of that, my anxiety disorder of some 25 years had taken a new turn. I became agoraphobic, unable to venture out of my house alone, even down to the washing line. Once again, my uncomplaining husband took the reins and took care of me. My four adult children also stepped in and between the lot of us, life went on, except for a deep sense of being redundant. Yes, I sought medical help, but the mental health system of New Zealand seems to want to frame us all in one box and use strong anti-depressants as a cure. My time on antidepressants is another story I won't go into, and I'm not against them and see the right ones can be life saving. I'm just against a one size fits all philosophy.

Mostly everyone was supportive, though I feel I lost a few friends who couldn't understand that I felt unable to attend social functions or return a visit. I foolishly took on a radio project, only to find myself stressing constantly about it, until I finally had to give it up. One other saving grace were the beautiful people in my writing group  who I could rely upon to keep me enthusiastic about writing. With their encouragement, I was able to write a few short stories and finally get back some sense of achievement, but as each day passed, I felt an exhaustion I had never known before. Again, my husband took up the slack and took over housework and cooking, as well as working every day.

Just after Christmas 2016, I started experiencing vivid, wild dreams. My husband informed me that his nightly concerto had taken on a whole new symphony. I was ranting and raving in my slumber and sleepwalking, not getting out of bed, but actually walking in the bed. Every morning I got up exhausted, as if I'd run a marathon during the night. During the day, I had moments where I just had to lie down, only to pass out and lose an hour and still wake up exhausted. It was at this time I really listened to something he'd been telling me for years. "You stop breathing," he said. "That's the only thing that wakes me up. I lie there and wait for that gasp before I am able to sleep again." He was frightened by it. The last straw for me was when I attacked him one night in my sleep and put four bleeding claw marks down his back. It woke me up and I was devastated by what I had done. He never said a word, except to roll over so he could cuddle me.

I made a visit to my GP who requested an urgent appointment with the diagnostics department at the hospital. The first appointment was to gauge my sleep and measure these breathless moments. I was sent home with a machine with a nose mask and finger clip, and told I had to breathe entirely through my nose. Do you know how difficult that is? The next time I returned the machine and was told it would probably be a few weeks before the next appointment. Those few weeks became three days when I received a letter with an urgent appointment for me.

My obstructive sleep apnoea was among the worst they had ever seen. The results told them that I stopped breathing on an average of 99 times per hour for an average of 22 seconds. The specialist informed me it was as if I had been living at the top of Mt. Cook and probably only getting ten minutes sleep per night. No wonder I was exhausted.

So now I have a machine of my very own, but putting that nose mask on every night does little for my self esteem. I asked my husband if there was anyway we could turn it into a sexual fetish, perhaps ask for one with leather straps and a ball gag. The thing is, through it all, neither of us have lost our sense of humour and I've spent more time counting my blessings.

The machine works. In the last three weeks I've had more energy than in the last several years. And I'm writing again, working on my next novel. I've even entered the local short story comp with a piece I'm really proud of. My husband is finally getting the good sleep he's always deserved, though he whinges that the nights are too quiet now.

I can see the light at the end of the long tunnel of menopause and I've found myself venturing out a little more each day. Who knows, maybe I'll get another book out this year. So what's this post all about? I couldn't make up my mind what I wanted write about, so hence the really long title. Maybe I should have entitled it Ode to my husband and kids, who have stood by me through it all, but it's also a celebration of writing again, pouring words onto the page, bringing characters to life, plotting evil conflicts to keep them busy and providing a little entertainment to my readers. I'm doing what I love again and my world is just that little bit brighter.

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