Communion Of Dreams

To sleep, perchance to clear amyloid plaques.*

Interesting. They may have found the reason that animals sleep: in order to flush the brain of toxins which build up during waking hours.

And more importantly, this may also be part of the explanation for Alzheimer’s and other age-related dementia. From the NPR article linked above:

The brain-cleaning process has been observed in rats and baboons, but not yet in humans, Nedergaard says. Even so, it could offer a new way of understanding human brain diseases including Alzheimer’s. That’s because one of the waste products removed from the brain during sleep is beta amyloid, the substance that forms sticky plaques associated with the disease.

That’s probably not a coincidence, Nedergaard says. “Isn’t it interesting that Alzheimer’s and all other diseases associated with dementia, they are linked to sleep disorders,” she says.

Researchers who study Alzheimer’s say Nedergaard’s research could help explain a number of recent findings related to sleep. One of these involves how sleep affects levels of beta amyloid, says , a professor of neurology Washington University in St. Louis who wasn’t involved in the study.

Perhaps it is time for a nap …


Jim Downey

*With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare.

Looking back: Weighty matters.

While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007).  This item first ran on December 1, 2007.


As I’ve mentioned previously, I try and catch NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday regularly. This morning’s show was hosted by John Ydstie, and had a very nice three minute meditation titled Reflecting on a Past Generation which dealt with the differences between his life and his father-in-law’s, as measured in physical weight and strength. You should listen to it, but the main thrust of the piece is how Ydstie’s FIL was a man of the mechanical age, used to dealing with tools and metal and machines, whereas Ydstie is used to working with computers and electronic equipment which is becoming increasingly light weight, almost immaterial.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Last weekend, as part of my preparations for tackling in earnest the big conservation job for the seminary, I got a large fireproof safe. I needed something much larger than my little cabinet to safely secure the many books I will have here at any given time. And about the most cost-effective solution to this need was a commercial gun safe, the sort of thing you see in sporting goods stores and gun shops all around the country.

So, since a local retailer was having a big Holiday sale, I went and bought a safe. It’s 60 inches tall, 30 inches wide, and 24 inches deep. And it weighs 600 pounds.

And the retailer doesn’t offer any kind of delivery and set-up.

“Liability issues,” explained the salesman when I asked. “But the guys out at the loading dock will help get it loaded into your truck or trailer.”

Gee, thanks.

So I went and rented a low-to the ground trailer sufficiently strong for hauling a 600 pound safe (I have a little trailer which wouldn’t be suitable). And an appliance dolly. And went and got the safe.

When I showed up at the loading dock and said I needed to pick up a safe, people scattered. The poor bastard I handed the paperwork to sighed, then disappeared into the warehouse. He returned a few minutes later with some help and my safe, mounted on its own little wooden pallet and boxed up. The four guys who loaded it into my trailer used a little cargo-loader, and were still grunting and cursing. I mostly stayed out of their way and let them do the job the way they wanted. Liability issues, you know.

I drove the couple miles home, and parked. And with a little (but critical) help from my good lady wife, it took just a half an hour and a bit of effort to get the safe in the house and settled where I wanted it. Yes, it was difficult, and I wouldn’t really want to tackle moving anything larger essentially on my own. But using some intelligence, an understanding of balance, and the right tool for the job I was able to move the 600 pound mass of metal with relative ease. And it made me feel damned good about my flabby own self.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

In contrast, the most difficult things I have ever done don’t really have a ‘weight’ to them. Communion of Dreams took me years of hard work to write and rewrite (multiple times), and yet is nothing more than phantasm, able to fly through the internet and be read by thousands. There are no physical copies to be bought, shared with a friend, lugged around and cherished or dropped disgustedly into a recycle bin. It is just electrons, little packets of yes and no.

And these past years of being a care provider, how do I weigh them (other than the additional fat I carry around from lack of proper exercise and too little sleep)? I suppose that I could count up all the times I have had to pick up my MIL, transfer her between chair and toilet, or lay her down gently on her bed. But even in this, things tend towards the immaterial, as she slowly loses weight along with her memories of this life. And soon, she will be no more than a body to be removed, carried one last time by others sent by the funeral home.

How do you weigh a life?

Jim Downey

Right on time.
July 24, 2010, 10:21 am
Filed under: Bipolar, Depression, Health, Predictions, Sleep, Survival

Gah. I hate to be right, sometimes.

In January 2009 I wrote this:

As usual, it’s only in hindsight that you recognize it.  The typical seasonal downturn is something more.  Oh, you’re aware of the symptoms.  The intense introspection.  Desire to sleep more.  Lower level of creativity.  Difficulty in finding the motivation to do anything.  Lack of enthusiasm for the usual things you enjoy.  Tendency to drink more, without getting the slightest buzz from it.  You’re aware of the symptoms, but until you’ve been dealing with them for a while they don’t all add up to something that you can see.

The ‘black dog‘.

And as noted previously, my bipolar condition tends to run on an 18-to-24 month cycle, though that can be effected by external factors.

Count months. Yeah.

Which explains why teaching my class the last two weeks was so hard, so draining, for all that it was also very enjoyable. Being a public person in the midst of a depressive slide is doable, it just takes an inordinate amount of energy.

Ah, well.

But the good news is that once I realize how deeply I am into this cycle, it usually means that I don’t have a whole lot further down to go. Typically, just a matter of weeks. Something to look forward to. And now that the class is done I can put my energy back into the other things which need my attention, and slowly build on the small accomplishments.

Walk. One foot in front of the other. It’s the only thing that helps.

Jim Downey

It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward.*
July 16, 2009, 7:46 am
Filed under: Art, Health, Humor, Science, Sleep, Writing stuff

And a worse sort that doesn’t even work that way.

OK, briefly: on Monday I did one of those things you’re supposed to do when you reach a certain age. No, I didn’t join AARP. I read a Dave Barry column. Actually, I lived a Dave Barry column. Well, minus the ABBA.

I didn’t write about it because it wasn’t very interesting, all in all. Or at least I didn’t think so until a couple of days later. Following the procedure, after I got home and was feeling more or less human again, I sent a note out to a couple of friends and family members letting them know that everything went fine and I didn’t have anything to worry about. In that email I mentioned that it actually went so well that the doctor didn’t even see the need to chat with me afterward, nor did they bother to show me images from the procedure. I mentioned this in passing to a couple of other people when discussing the procedure.

But that’s not how it actually happened.

My wife, who was there in the recovery room with me following the procedure, told me that the head nurse did indeed go through the images taken during the procedure with me, explaining how each just showed a happy pink colon and other bits.

Say what?

What seems to have happened is that I came out from under the anaesthesia, and part of my brain engaged well before other parts did. I was seemingly fully awake, lucid, conversational, even joking. But the little DVR in my head hadn’t rebooted yet. I had absolutely no memory of having seen the images. Some scattered fragments have since come back to me, showing that the images were stored somewhere in my head but probably the indexing function that the brain usually uses was inoperative.

This is not the first time something like this has happened to me. I have a history of waking and holding conversations, seemingly fully conscious when I am actually still partially asleep. My wife has learned to discern when this is happening. I think that it is related to my tendency for lucid dreaming – that some part of my brain is capable of still functioning in normal waking condition when other parts are in sleep mode.

Which makes me wonder – is this part of the reason why I am so creative? Is part of my brain tapping into a dream state more readily than is typical? It would be interesting to see whether other writers and artists have a similar slight scrambling of their neural abilities, a related ability to smear the seemingly discrete stages of consciousness into a blur.

And hence the quote used in the header. Because if anyone was capable of tapping into dream imagery, it was Lewis Carroll.

Jim Downey

*From Through the Looking Glass.

Time heals.
February 23, 2009, 12:13 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Hospice, Sleep, Survival

Spent a chunk of this morning working on the care-giving book, and came across this post:

I coulda told them that.

October 23, 2007, 10:22 am | Edit this
Filed under: Alzheimer’s, Health, Hospice, Science, Sleep, Society

Made a routine trip to the big-box store this morning, to stock up on catfood. I got one of those large boxes of 48 cans of different flavors my cats like. And when I went to put it away, the “easy open” tab didn’t. Instead, I wound up just destroying the whole box, ripping and tearing, so I had access to all the cans included.

It felt wonderful to be so destructive.

There are days like that for all of us. After a trip to the store, dealing with idiots who don’t know how to negotiate a check-out line. Or sitting behind the twit at the stoplight who somehow misses that the light changed and the cars in the other lane are passing him, getting his shit together just in time to slip through a yellow light and leave you sitting there for another cycle. Whatever it is, you just want to take out your frustrations in a safe and relatively sane way.

I have these days a lot. Part of it is just the toll of being a long-term care provider for someone who has a tenuous grip on reality but can be amazingly stubborn and focused in her determination to do something unsafe (or just highly annoying). But part of it is simply the effect of long term sleep disruption/deprivation that goes with providing care around the clock. I’ve known this for ages, and written about it several times. Anyone who has had insomnia, lived with an infant, or just had a bad string of luck sleeping for a few days will understand completely how grumpy and intolerant it can make you.

And I chuckled a little bit at myself.  It’s helpful, and part of the healing process, I’m sure.  Why?  Well, because last week I picked up another such box of catfood.  And I carefully, quickly, and with little real thought disassembled the box – not just opening it as intended, but popping the flaps off at each end, so the whole thing would flatten perfectly for recycling.  Then I put away the catfood, and folded the box and put it in the bin for recycling.

What a difference 15 months has made.

Jim Downey

February 19, 2009, 11:23 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Ballistics, Guns, Health, Humor, Migraine, Preparedness, RKBA, Sleep, Survival, Violence

I haven’t mentioned it here yet, but the other day one of the cats tried to kill me, and almost succeeded.  Evil little bastard.  As I told a friend:

Dance of Stupidity & Pain

My afternoon was filled with a whole lotta screaming and cursing.  Well, OK, “filled” isn’t quite right, since it was mostly compressed into one 10-minute period.  Which started with me putting down a can for the dog, then turning to try and avoid stepping/falling on the cat coming to investigate.  Damned cat.  I now have three rather nasty punctures deep into the back of the web of my right hand, along with a ugly bruised big left toe, and a swollen left knee.  Oh, and lots of pain associated with all of those, plus the spike in my headache following the adrenaline dump of trying not to kill either myself or the cat.

Well, the headache went on to become a nice little migraine, and the knee is still extremely annoying.  Nothing to see a doc about – this is the knee I’ve had surgery on twice, and I know exactly what is going on.  I probably broke the last bone in the toe, but the only thing they do with those is to take it easy and tell you to let it heal – I’ve done it too many times to count.  Anyway, the low-grade pain has interrupted my sleep the last couple of days, the headache persists, and I’m more than a little grumpy.  This may have influenced my appreciation of the movie last night, but I don’t think so – it was dreadful enough in its own right.

But I just came across something to make me chuckle.  In one of the gun discussion forums I check out, the topic of “why do you carry” came up.  I’ve written about this before, of course, and have my own reasons.  Here’s this, though:

Remember the average response time to a 911 call is over 4 minutes.

The average response time of a 357 magnum is 1400 FPS.

Heh.  The guy’s numbers are even about right.  Well, for the .357.  Response times for 911 calls vary widely, but all are measured in multiples of minutes.

Jim Downey

And all will turn, to silver glass.*
January 20, 2009, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Bipolar, Depression, Sleep, Travel

Off in the morning, to northern California.  Visit family, relax.  Walk in the redwoods, and on the beaches.

Not a cure for the depression which dogs me.  It wouldn’t be depression if it could be resolved so easily.  I don’t think people who have never experienced it can quite understand that.

But it should help.  Help, as today’s quiet observation of an age passing helped.

Passing.  Like light on the water.*

I have scheduled several new items to show up here while I’m gone.  So don’t be a stranger.

Chat with you when I get back next week.

Jim Downey

*From this.

Black dog? What black dog?
January 17, 2009, 10:50 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Bipolar, Depression, Health, Sleep, Survival

As usual, it’s only in hindsight that you recognize it.  The typical seasonal downturn is something more.  Oh, you’re aware of the symptoms.  The intense introspection.  Desire to sleep more.  Lower level of creativity.  Difficulty in finding the motivation to do anything.  Lack of enthusiasm for the usual things you enjoy.  Tendency to drink more, without getting the slightest buzz from it.  You’re aware of the symptoms, but until you’ve been dealing with them for a while they don’t all add up to something that you can see.

The ‘black dog‘.

I’ve written about my bipolar tendencies before.  It’s mild, but there.  I try and keep an eye on it.  Sometimes it is hard to discern, amidst the clutter of life.  This period of mild depression could have been just the usual seasonal blahs I have, plus some tiredness and stress about my health and desire to get the house ready for visitors, plus the upcoming first anniversary of Martha Sr’s death.  That was what I was attributing my feelings to.  But this morning, a quiet walk in the brilliant cold, I recognized it for what it was.  Depression.  Mild, but more than the sum of the various factors I had been noticing.

Recognition of the problem is important.   I can take steps to deal with it, and most importantly keep track of where I am in the downward arc.  If it looks to be severe, then I’ll see someone about it.  But I don’t expect that – my personal mountains and valleys tend to be modest.  Mostly it is just a matter of riding it out, putting one foot in front of the other, playing ball on running water.

Jim Downey

Not busted.
January 6, 2009, 1:13 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Preparedness, Sleep, Survival

I may find out Tuesday that I have a serious heart condition.  That the cost of being an Alzheimer’s care-giver for those years was higher than I or anyone else expected.  Or I may not.  Either way, my wife and I will cope with the news, the facts, and move on with our life to the best of our ability.  Because unlike my special red plastic cup, I am not busted.

That was from last Friday.  Thought I would follow up with a brief note, now that I am just back from seeing my doctor.

After going over everything reasonably carefully, she’s of the opinion that there’s no evidence of heart disease, that the various symptoms which had caused me concern can all be traced to my blood pressure meds.  So we’re going to tweak those.  But she was adamant that I did the right thing in being concerned and coming in to see her.  She also complimented me on managing to lose weight over the holidays.  Not a lot, but even a few pounds loss rather than a few pounds gain is a good thing.

So, there’s that.  I don’t need to worry about being fragile – just keep doing what I am doing.  Not busted.


Jim Downey

January 2, 2009, 1:22 pm
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Daily Kos, General Musings, Health, Preparedness, Sleep, Survival

Well, as I mentioned yesterday,  we had an Open House here for our neighborhood all afternoon.  Which meant a lot of cleaning and prep beforehand (we’re still dealing with all the leftover stuff from the estate division for Martha Sr), the crunch of which has occured in the past week.  And then I was on my feet all day, pushing my extrovert batteries to the limit of their enduance by playing host to strangers in my home.  In short, by the time everyone left and we got the worst of the mess cleaned up and put away, I was exhausted.

A bit over a week ago I wrote about getting an assessment of my health here sometime after the first of the year.  As it happens, a couple of days later I had reason to wonder whether I needed to do so in a more immediate manner, thanks to a clear-cut case of peripheral edema which was the result of being on my feet a lot, more or less in one location.  Now, the beta blocker I am taking is a known culprit with this kind of swelling, and I have seen some problems with it off and on over the last couple of months.  But this time it was really bad.  Made me wonder whether it was evidence of a much more serious problem with my heart.  First chance Monday of this week, I called to see about getting in to see my doctor.

Naturally, she is out of the office until next week.

*Sigh.*  Well, rather than have to go through and explain everything about my life and condition for the last few years to another doctor, I decided that I would take some reasonable precautions, but just make an appointment with my doctor for next week.  And I have no real regrets about doing so – if something serious happens, I can go to the ER about three minutes from here.

Anyway, all of this is a bit of prep for explaining what I decided to do last night.  Following the clean-up from the party, and getting a bit to eat, I was beat but my legs were aching – both from being on them for much of the day, but also from making about 50 trips carrying boxes up to storage that morning and the day before.  I also had some significant swelling again.  A friend suggested a soak in the sit-up jacuzzi tub we’d installed for Martha Sr a couple of years ago, and I thought it sounded like a good idea.  Before bed, I went in, got things ready, and climbed into the tub.

As I sat back in the tub, which is really pretty small (to fit into a little nook in our downstairs bathroom), my left elbow came back and smashed a plastic cup containing ice-water.  It’s one of those 16-ounce ‘to-go’ cups you’ll find at about any pizza place, intended to last longer than a disposable cup so you can see the logo for the place where you got it.  No big deal, right?

Well, not exactly.

But sorta.

See, this one was a nice red.  Only one in the house like it.  Meaning that during parties or whatnot, it was easy for me to find *my* cup, if I set it down and wandered off to do other things.  By tacit agreement with my wife, this had become ‘mine’ – she didn’t use it.  Bit silly, really. You know how it is.

So, it busted.  Caught it perfectly positioned against the wall, the entire force of my body sitting back focused on it.  Didn’t explode or anything dramatic, and I wasn’t doused with a lot of ice water.  But it busted beyond repair, a couple of chunks of the red plastic dangling, nice crack around the top.

Coming at the end of the New Years Day celebration, I couldn’t help but sit there and reflect on the appropriateness of the busted cup, as the tub continued to fill around my aching legs.

As I’ve said before, I’m not religious.  But many years ago I was a fairly serious student of Zen, until I figured out that for me that was a bit of a contradiction in terms.  And from that time I still carry along some perspectives that I have found valuable.  One of them is about the inherent ephemeral nature of all things.

So I sat there in the tub, thinking about my poor broken cup.  And about my aching legs, and what they may signify.  And I felt touched, in a funny way.  Letting the cup go – letting it stand as an unintended metaphor for the past year and the changes and costs it has seen, was easy.  Allowing that same attitude to seep into me as the water covered me was somewhat more difficult, but eventually worked.

I may find out Tuesday that I have a serious heart condition.  That the cost of being an Alzheimer’s care-giver for those years was higher than I or anyone else expected.  Or I may not.  Either way, my wife and I will cope with the news, the facts, and move on with our life to the best of our ability.  Because unlike my special red plastic cup, I am not busted.

Happy New Year.

Jim Downey

Cross-posted to Daily Kos.