A couple of months ago, after my husband indicated a concern over my increased snoring and irregular breathing at night, I visited with a couple of doctors and took an at-home sleep test. A couple of weeks later I was told the test revealed a mild case of apnea, and boom, faster than a speeding bullet, a CPAP machine was delivered to my door.
I then proceeded to do the truly adult thing and leave it unopened on my dining table, in a full-on state of denial, for at least a month. I dove into research and online ideas about dealing with apnea that would help me avoid accepting The Beast into my life. I learned that very likely I do not have the kind of apnea that can be eased by weight loss or sinus surgery… more than likely, mine is Central, meaning it is a neurological thing. In basic terms, it is like my brain, in this jukebox I call a body, is for some reason skipping my breathing record at night instead of letting it play through smoothly. I tried all sorts of things like different pillows, different sleeping positions, different before-bed routines.
When it was time for my consultation with my doctor, I used my best Pollyanna voice to tell him that I had found a great wedge pillow that I’ve been using to prop myself up and no longer snore, and am sleeping well, so could I just please return The Beast? He then explained calmly (to his credit, with little sighing although since we were on the phone, he could have been rolling his eyes and shaking his head at me) that the fact I was not snoring did not mean my apnea was magically going away. He also let me know that at-home sleep tests were not 100% precise, and since it picked up some apnea, I could actually have it on any range from mild to severe. He then explained the health implications (some life-threatening) of apnea – which, by the way, I already knew. Basically his message was: Yes, Virginia, Santa brought you a CPAP and you must use it.
My reaction has been one of frustration, out-right crankiness, even tears. I understood that The Beast was quite literally the definition of “for my own good.” I know hundreds of thousands of other people use them successfully. Yet with every fiber of my irrationally dramatic being, I didn’t want to accept that. So like every good RW, I went deep on overthinking and analyzing the situation. I wanted to work through why I was having this reaction to what should be a simple lifestyle change. I spent a lot of “really, what is your issue” self discussion time during walks and on my bike – because I do my best, clearest thinking with fresh air and exercise.
I landed on a few reasons or excuses that needed some recognition. First is a smattering of PTSD-ish response. My oldest brother, among his myriad of health issues, had severe apnea. And during the last phase of his life, he gave up using it, refusing to bother with it. Over time I saw the effects of the lack of oxygen he was getting as he slept, and what it did to his brain, memory, blood pressure, and more, especially in combination with his other issues. You would think if anything that would push me to eagerly jump into my own CPAP use. But those are still freshly disturbing memories, so I think my knee-jerk reaction was avoidance.
Next, I knew darn well I have a disdain of discomfort. One of my great daily joys after a busy day is to sink into the total comfort of my bed and pillow and drift off to much-needed rest. The idea of going through the weeks of uncomfortable adaptation with this thing strapped to my face and nose and having a hose connecting me to a machine is just about last on my list of things I want to do.
On a related note is that it feels like the last vestiges of feeling sexy at bedtime are out the window. Gone are the days of slinky lingerie and excitement, replaced with an elephant trunk, distilled water and the low hum of air pushing into my nose which is now encased in a rubber cover. Oooh baby, let’s snuggle.
Lastly, I realize this Beast is a symbol of my age and my mortality. Yeah, I know, that sounds dramatic, but that’s the frame of mind I’ve been in. I’ve always been blessed with good health – minus a couple bouts of flu or other illness, and a short (yet thankfully successful thus far) battle with breast cancer. I’m usually the smug one who gets a happy thumbs up at doctor’s appointments. I’m not on any medications other than vitamins. I generally feel really good and can cope thus far with minor aches and pains like back aches and knee arthritis. So to have this diagnosis, to have one thing that says “hey, you aren’t indestructible” is hard to accept.
Really it is that last point that has me begrudgingly welcoming The Beast into my bedroom. I want to be around to enjoy a someday retirement, and I want to be the cool fun active grandma to my son’s future (hopefully) children. To do that, I have to keep breathing at night. My husband, who has been witnessing my CPAP-related mood swings, kindly helped me get it set up, has been trying hard to help me see the light side, and has not yet complained about the look or sound of it. I have only just begun my journey, but am now up to 4 hours of restless sleep while attached, so I’m making progress.
I realize now of course, that all of my excuses and reasons lead to one word: change. Many of us like to believe that we welcome change, we are adaptable, flexible, spontaneous and all those other great positive adjectives about acceptance. But the very nature of change is that it makes us uncomfortable. It is challenging and difficult and at times we really don’t like it. It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it is a move, a job change, the loss of a loved one, a lifestyle alteration, or a health issue – it can make us sad, angry, anxious and can cause us to lose sleep.
This year we have been on a roller coaster of never-ending change and uncertainty, of fear and anxiety. We have come to just assume every day will bring something else to try to cope with “because, you know, 2020.” So much so that every new moment or new issue to address feels daunting. Even simple things that in the past would have been met with “ok, no problem, I’ve got this” now feel like another chink in our armor – one more thing that might bring us to our knees. This little beast now sitting on my bedside table, that elephant trunk I will now wear each night, is just a symbol of another one of those lifestyle changes, another one of those adaptations to deal with even when we feel like we can’t take on anything else.
We have to allow ourselves time to be angry. To cry. To feel a wee bit fed up. Then, we get back up off our knees, we give ourselves pep talks as we pedal into the wind, and we know we will adapt and keep going.
Because it is for our own good.