Communion Of Dreams

June 24, 2008, 5:55 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Emergency, Guns, Health, Predictions, Survival

I worked over six hours yesterday.  Yeah, I took a few breaks, but still.  Something of a milestone.

* * * * * * *

Humans are remarkably adaptive creatures.  We can adjust to a wide range of environmental conditions, accommodate significant changes in diet, accept shifts in social structure.  Just look around the world and you’ll see what I mean, from variations in culture in response to climate to how people cope with extreme conditions such as war and famine.

There can be a toll to such adaptations, of course, depending on what they are, how long they last, and the particular individual or society.

In caring for Martha Sr I slowly changed my routine and focus to better meet her needs, so most of the changes I went through in that time were barely discernible from day to day.  Over the four plus years of intense care giving, however, both my wife and I underwent a very substantial shift in what could be considered our normal life.

I’ve mentioned some of those changes previously – the weight gain, the loss of concentration, the lack of sleep.  But I haven’t discussed the operative mechanism behind all those changes: stress.  Specifically, the physiological changes in hormonal balance which come with prolonged stress – the so called stress hormones of cortisol and norepinephrine.  Most people know these as the ‘fight or flight’ reflex effects: boost in blood pressure and heart rate, heightened sensory awareness, a slight time dilation.  It is our body’s way of preparing us to survive a threatening situation.  It is a very powerful experience, and can even be a bit addictive – anyone who characterizes themselves as an ‘adrenaline junkie’, who gets a kick out of doing dangerous things or watching scary movies, is talking about just that.

The problem is, those stress hormones come with a price – they exact a toll on the body.  For most people, occasional jolts of this stuff isn’t really dangerous, but for someone with a heart condition or an aneurysm waiting blow, such an event can kill.  That’s why you see those warning signs on roller coasters.

And consider what happens to someone who slowly ramps up their stress hormone levels over a prolonged period.  That’s me.  My formerly excellent blood pressure and heart rate is now scary bad, and has been for a while.  I’m lucky that I started this in good condition – but think back to this episode last year, and you’ll see what kind of effect the excessive stress hormone levels had.  In the final year of care giving, my system became saturated with stress hormones – my ‘fight or flight’ reflex changed from being related to a sudden threat to being an ongoing condition.  I adapted.

So now I am in detox.  That’s what the last few months have been all about.  Slowly adapting back to something resembling normal, at a very basic physiological level.  More sleep.  More exercise.  Better diet.  As I’ve discussed recently, I have started to see some real changes.  But as a good friend who is also a doctor reminded me recently, it will likely take a year or longer to make this transition, for my endocrine system to settle down.  Recently I have taken some additional steps to help this process, in terms of changes to diet and food supplements.  But it is a long and winding road I need to walk now.

* * * * * * *

I got up about 3:30 this morning for a potty run.  Stepping from our bedroom into the bathroom, I froze: there was a light coming up from the downstairs that shouldn’t have been there.  I quietly backed into the bedroom, put on pants and glasses, grabbed my cell phone, a pistol and a powerful flashlight.

I’m no ‘macho guy’ or wanna-be hero.  The smart thing to do if you have an intruder in your house is to batten down the hatches where you are, call 911, and let the police deal with it.

But what if you just left a light on by accident?

I was about 90% sure that was what happened.  So, carefully, I went to investigate.  Checked the house completely.  Everything was safe and secure.  The cats were confused by what I was doing up so early.

I went back upstairs, hit the head, put away the various items I’d picked up, and crawled back into bed.

And have been awake since.

After an hour or so, I just got up.  Because I knew I wasn’t getting back to sleep anytime soon.  That’s the problem – the stress hormone receptors in my brain are so adapted to a regular high dose of adrenal squeezin’s that they hungrily lap the stuff up when it comes their way.

* * * * * * *

I worked over six hours yesterday.  Yeah, I took a few breaks, but still.  Something of a milestone.

Six hours may not sound like a lot.  After all, most people are expected to work eight or more hours at a time, with a couple of paltry breaks.

But for me, regaining the ability to focus in, to concentrate and work for that length of time is a real improvement.  It shows that I am making progress in detoxifying my system, of readjusting the endocrine balance.

Today is going to be a bit of a bitch, though, thanks to the early-morning jolt of adrenaline.  But I know how to handle it, and hopefully it won’t cause too much back sliding.  We’ll see.

The road is long and winding, and I must take it where it leads.

Jim Downey

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[…] my current attempts to recover from prolonged and excess stress, this could have gotten stupid very quickly. And I […]

Pingback by I never really ‘got’ that. Until now. « Communion Of Dreams

[…] month ago I wrote about slowly coming down from the prolonged adrenalin high which was being a full time care provider. […]

Pingback by Stress? What Stress? « Communion Of Dreams

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