I started a seven-month leadership program that I expected would hone my skills as a trainer. When I signed up, I was promised that my life would be unrecognizable by the time the program was complete. I think I might have said, “cool” without even considering the old ‘be careful what you wish for’ adage that my mother would have quoted without missing a beat and that would have annoyed me at almost the very same second she said it. Unrecognizable sounded inspiring not horrifying like the kind of unrecognizable I’d be if a semi hit me in the Sentra. Maybe I should’ve been tipped off by the monkey paw that came with the introductory binder.
By month four, my business was dissolved I was unemployed and certain people were responding to me as if I had all the charm of poison sumac. This included my on-again/off-again boyfriend who informed me I was annoying, a sentiment apparently shared by the other girl he was secretly sleeping with. Clearly that makes us ‘off’.
It took a couple of weeks of practice but I can now successfully answer the ‘what happened’ question with the ‘he wanted to see other people’ spin and not be tempted to end the sentence with ‘. . . naked and drunk and then lie about it.’ Can’t people just break up with a handshake instead of going all ‘country song’ with it? Not that I’m bitter, but if Karma hasn’t caught up to them yet it’s simply stuck in traffic with the wrong Google map.
I had a brief but meaningful fling with Haagen Dazs Fleur De Sel Caramel Ice Cream but then remembered it won’t erase an ass from my life only add one. Ultimately it had little impact – I cried out all the bloat over ‘P.S. I Love You’ which I think gave me swimmer’s ear from crying sideways into a puddle I continued to lay in. I rented an embarrassing stack of cheesy romantic comedies until I feared Hollywood Video would sell their database and I’d get a mailbox full of flyers for suicide hotlines and Match.com as well as a suspicious number of coupons for psychotherapy in my MoneySaver pack.
Eventually I was able to reboot myself with enough romance to spike my blood sugar and convince me to at least put on deodorant and chapstick before I left the apartment just in case Gerard Butler or James Marsden was in line behind me buying Fleur De Sel Carmel Ice Cream to match the dried stain on the wrinkled t-shirt that I was clearly intending to be buried in. But it’s amazing what a few clever movie lines can do considering that finding a suitable breeder in my neighborhood is as likely statistically as a semi hitting me in the Sentra.
I played over 3100 games of bubble breaker on my phone which it turns out serves as a sort of screen saver for my overworked melon. Whenever my mind started whirring along I clicked it into energy conservation mode by bursting little colored bubbles until I drooled or my thumb hurt and I couldn’t hold up my arm anymore. Finally, I started meditating which I think happens naturally when you’ve maxed out rheuminating. I started with guided meditation on CDs which I napped through rather successfully so I’m not sure if giving myself a pedicure with the ex’s toothbrush after I woke up was a sacred Tibetan practice on the path to enlightenment as suggested by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso or whether my mind was making a funny. The toothbrush, by the way, was not bad Karma unless I allowed him to brush his teeth with it should the opportunity present itself and I wouldn’t do that. Well, I’m pretty sure but I think that’s mostly because he’s never getting within fifty yards of it.
Between the search for an enlightened path and detours in my career path, I’ve weathered my fair share of stress for the first time in forever. My life was not complicated before and that was by design so my only experience with adrenal overload was thanks to my unholy love of coffee. But as I’ve been recently educated on both impermanence and attachment, so goes it. Sigh.
So if my mind joined the maniacal march of the unconscious thanks to the ceaseless jumping from past suffering to future uncertainty at least until I finishing crying my last ugly, snuffling heartfelt cry you’ve got to wonder what toll that takes. I’ll tell you it didn’t feel all that healthy. Anthony Colpo in ‘the Great Cholesterol Con, Why everything you’ve been told about cholesterol, diet and heart disease is wrong!’ summed it up rather nicely:
“When we become acutely stressed, our internal environments undergo a striking transformation: our bodies, in effect, go into red alert. Blood is diverted away from organs and tissues participating in ‘non-essential’ activities – such as digestion, immune function, growth and repair – and re-routed towards those involved in dealing with imminent danger, such as the muscles and heart. Our reflexes sharpen, our muscles tighten and our hearts start beating faster in anticipation of intense physical effort. This is the famous ‘fight-or-flight’ response, which is triggered when the body releases substances known as catecholamines. The two most abundant catecholamines released during stressful times are norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline). Stressful situations also cause the body to secrete abundant amount of the catabolic hormone cortisol.”
“Norepinephrine and epinephrine exert pronounced effects on the cardiovascular system: they increase heart rate and dilate blood vessels in muscles, allowing for increased blood flow to support muscular effort. High levels of catcholamines also increase blood viscosity and encourage blood clotting, a development that serves to minimize blood loss from any injury that may occur while frantically fighting or fleeing danger. Meanwhile, cortisol raises our blood sugar levels, ensuring a ready supply of fuel for the brain. In order to achieve these elevated blood sugar levels, cortisol overrides the action of insulin. In other words, during brief periods of stress we become temporarily insulin resistant.”
Prior to my present series of plot twists, I was only able to achieve that level of stress through sleep deprivation. This, as I’ve mentioned before, has the same impact. Larry McCleary, M.D. makes it clear In The Brain Trust Program. The noted neurosurgeon said, “Studies done in young healthy male volunteers have shown that even a few days of sleep loss (on average sleeping about four hours a night) can disturb the metabolic systems that regulate blood sugar. This produces transient glucose intolerance to the degree seen in diabetes. When these young subject resumed sleeping for nine hours each night, the metabolic changes resolved.”
But a sleep debt doesn’t get resolved the way most people attempt it in one lazy weekend lolling in bed. In fact, in a study by the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Köln, Germany studied thirteen helicopter-based emergency medical service pilots (mean age 38 yr) who operate from sunrise to sunset, requiring up to 15.5 hours of continuous duty in the summer months for 2 days before, 7 days during, and 2 days after their duty cycle. Over the 7-day duty period, mean sleep duration decreased from 7.8 hours to 6 hours or less. Results showed that, “Mean levels of excreted adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisol increased significantly by 50 to 80% and remained elevated for the two post-duty days. Although the actual flights did not cause critical physiological responses, the acute and accumulated sleep deficit led to incomplete recuperation between duty hours and induced elevated stress indicators.” Again, the recovery period tested was two days.
McCleary also pointed out that the increase in cortisol “makes brain cells more vulnerable to the physical toxic insults of the environment.” How vulnerable? John Hopkins University researchers injected mice with ‘known chemical carcinogens’ after altering their natural sleep patterns as reported in ‘Lights Out – Sleep, Sugar and Survival’ by T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby, Ph.D. As a result, the short-night mice developed tumors so quickly that researcher couldn’t tell which substance caused the cancer. And, by the way, said substances were as simple as household cleaners, plastic from water bottles and components of antiperspirant. The long night mice didn’t get as much as a hangover from their carcinogen cocktails.
What I find interesting is that spikes in cortisol levels associated with sleep deprivation coincide with the most common sugar cravings. After ten years of training, I can easily say that most people suffer from the munchies mid-afternoon and evening. If you look at the cortisol profile in the study, ‘Impact of Sleep Debt on Physiological Rhythms’ by Centre d'Etude des Rythmes Biologiques, Laboratoire de Physiologie, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium, the results show, ‘If the overall 24-hour cortisol profile was preserved, sleep restriction was associated with increased cortisol levels in late afternoon and evening hours and the duration of the quiescent period was reduced.”
Just because I traded my sleep debt for garden-variety stress, doesn’t mean I escape the ravages of cortisol. Colpo makes that clear in ‘Cholesterol Con’ when he says, “In controlled experiments, infusion of stress hormones produces an immediate but temporary insulin resistant state in healthy human subjects. If excessive catecholamine and cortisol levels occur during the post-meal period as a result of psychosocial stresses, then even greater rises in blood glucose and insulin release can be expected.”
He goes even further though because he makes the connection to the arterial clogging I could’ve looked forward to if I had insisted on being a victim of circumstances. “Dr. Malcolm Kendrick is by no means the first cardiovascular researcher to focus on the postprandial period, but he is the first to hypothesize the potentially atherogenic connection between the post-meal period and psychological stress. According the Kendrick, the presence of psychological stress in the postprandial period – a phenomenon that can significantly amplify the usual post-meal rise insulin and blood glucose – may dramatically accelerate the progression of heart disease.”
I obviously had no real interest in suffering from heart disease even if it was almost poetic that it would have been caused by heartache. And that would also be great raw material for a country song if you can find a word that rhymes with infarction. I instead elected to meditate and I’d be inclined to share my experience about that if I didn’t fear it would sound like ‘Eat, Pray, Love’- a book that made me want to ear-flick an Air Marshal so they’d turn the plane around and I could get my money back at the Bookstore near N-Gates.
I also dug out an old CD of tribal drumming designed to align my Chakras. Taha and I bought it years ago to listen to while making pancakes smeared with Peanut Butter long before I knew how far out of whack either ingestible was going to throw me. I only listen to it occasionally because each track corresponds to a Chakra and I never listen to the whole thing which makes me fear further imbalance. I'm not sure if it actually works but I do know you can time a nervous tick to it quite nicely.
My sister, who’s way more grounded than I, responded to the loss of her entire Anna Forest Yoga training homework by dropping to her knees in a flurry of expletives – a way of expression refined by my people and passed to us at an early age - and vigorously flipping the bird to whatever celestial being paused to take notice. As reported, this lasted for a minute or two and then she collected herself and moved on. This may have been another sacred practice on my CD that I slept through. I might try it next making sure to notice my breathing.