I’ve been transitioning out of my job for a few weeks now. My last day was not long ago. But already, I am realizing what a big toll my job was taking on me. Even though I wasn’t particularly busy and could delegate a lot of tasks to others, simply being a part of the machine was enough to divert enough of my mindful attention away from the little messages my body was sending me.
For example, I’ve been having trouble sleeping ever since 2009 when I moved into this crappy apartment with a graduate student. There was hardly any thermal insulation so it was freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer. Worse, there was no sound insulation either. As a graduate student, he kept hours of noon to 4 a.m. while I was usually up by 8 a.m and in bed by 11 p.m. That meant he was often blasting monster noises from World of Warcraft while I was trying to sleep. So I developed a sleeping disorder in those months. I would wake up insanely early, like 4 a.m. and not be able to fall asleep. Eventually I was so exhausted that I couldn’t take it anymore and I moved out.
I’ve been dealing with those sleeping issues for almost seven years now. It’s always that I wake up really early and can’t fall asleep. The one day a week, I am so exhausted I finally catch up on sleep. It’s been a tiring roller coaster. Over the years, I’ve tried meditation, taking Ambien and later melatonin, changing mattresses and pillows, and even acupuncture. None of those worked with any lasting effect — in fact one of those changes (as I later realized) actually prolonged the problem. That all changed when I stopped working and had a free moment to listen to my body to solve my own problems instead of those of my clients.
One night after having waken early, it occurred to me that I often slept better in hotels than in my own bed. Following that realization, I tried to isolate the problem. Maybe it’s not me, it’s my sleeping environment. First, I tried varying the amount of blanket coverage and playing with the thermostat to see if it was a body temperature issue. It wasn’t. Then I tried sleeping with my head at the foot of the bed to see if the neighbor’s microwave and range on the other side of the wall were emitting some radiation that was affecting my sleep. That didn’t seem to be it either. Then I noticed that when I woke up, I often felt pressure in my head — pressure that felt like sore muscles when I would press hard. Was it the pillow that I bought right after I moved out to improve my sleep? As it turned out that was it.
Back in late 2010, I went on a pillow hunting expedition to find a pillow that would help me sleep. I first bought a feather pillow since I liked those on the Heavenly Bed (but didn’t want to pay for a real one). That one fell flat (literally) in a night. Then I went the opposite direction in terms of firmness and tried a buckwheat hull pillow. Too hard. Then I tried latex, but it was too bouncy. Finally, I settled on a polyfill pillow from Bed Bath & Beyond. It seemed more comfortable that the other ones I tried (which seemed to cover almost every pillow type), so I settled for it.
Back to the present. I decided if my head was feeling strange when waking up, maybe the pillow was actually too hard or high so that it was constricting blood flow. I decided to try sleeping on something soft and fluffy. I took a microfiber throw and folded it up. That night, I slept like a baby. And I woke up to the long-forgotten fuzzy feeling of having had a good night’s sleep. I have repeated that feeling for the past two weeks. And it’s all because I finally was able to listen to what my body was telling me.
That’s just one example of how my life has changed since leaving. There are others that are difficult to put into words. But I trust they will manifest themselves in tangible ways in the months and years to come. And that they will do so in a way that improves my happiness and health.