70. Mindful Insomnia

Possibly a bit of an oxymoron, that heading, but I think it is appropriate. The night-time visitor that plagues so many seems to have become a bit of a fixture in my life, and given that I’m not the ‘bounce out of bed and do something like the ironing’ (I don’t do ironing really) kind of insomniac, I have tried to put my mind to other, more peaceful tasks to calm it down or wear it out and allow me the blessed oblivion of a few more hours sleep. I’m regularly wide-awake between about 3.00 and 6.00 AM, which isn’t funny with a very full working life where I have to be on the ball, and my attempts with various remedies, rituals, pills and potions seem to have been in vain. This morning at 4.30 I gave in and took some Quiet Life, and lay there observing it take effect, which was actually very interesting. I could feel the edges of my awareness becoming fuzzy, but somewhere deep within, something was hanging on for grim death, like ‘Ha! No! You will not put me to sleep. I shall not succumb!” I had a feeling something like this was going on, but this morning is the first time I actually witnessed it so clearly. Why the hell won’t it just rest?

In the wee small hours I also wandered through the various techniques I have amassed through the years, like deep relaxation (that works sometimes, one limb at a time, working from the feet upwards), my wise Mum’s lovely voice just telling me to rest and that it doesn’t matter if I can’t sleep (so this obviously goes waaaay back!), taking myself off to lie in my hammock in dappled shade next to the sea (that doesn’t seem to work any more), watching the breath (from my yoga practice)… Ah! Swamiji taught us to observe the cool air coming in through the nose, travelling all the way down to the base chakra, then the warm out-breath taking the same route back up and out, along with any negativity or greyness residing within. Did that for quite a bit and it wasn’t working, but in so doing I remembered the lovely practice of Mindful breathing – which I also practise just about every night, but which doesn’t always work – and decided to give it a bit of a different approach. I realised that my mind isn’t letting go for a reason, and that I might as well put all these hours of quietness to some use in discovering why.

Life in remission is a very strange creature, as I have mentioned more than once on this blog. Reaching such lush, green pastures – which at one point seemed very possibly off-piste – is of course a blessing, but at a distance you don’t see the weeds or nettles that grow amongst the grass. So in wandering through that same soft green grass of Remission-land one occasionally steps on something spiky, and it is a reminder of the wonderful Buddhist concept of Impermanence and that everything is subject to change. Yes, I do generally feel extremely well, but given that the cancer was probably growing in my system for a very long time before I was aware of it, I can’t help but be spooked when I get discomfort or an unexpected niggle or pain. Or just those dark and fearful 3-o’clock-in-the-morning thoughts even very healthy people must get. The basic technique of Mindful breathing is ‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in’ and ‘Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out’. Nice simple stuff that encourages us to stay in the present. I have also practised it using ‘Breathing in, I know that I am well’ and ‘Breathing out I release all negativity.’ And so on. The choices are endless but some of them feel better than others. Obviously they can’t be too long or you run out of breath, one way or the other. Also, in terms of relaxation, it is better to have a longer out-breath than in-breath.

This morning at about 5.30 I decided to use ‘Breathing in I am being healed’ and ‘Breathing out I release all illness and disease’, which is a bit of a twist on the usual phrasing and which I hoped would sort out my health demons. And after a while I had the most GIGANTIC realisation, which is why I had to write this blog. I wasn’t focusing on anything special that I was worried about, which is something I learnt having lymphoma; cancer patients suffering from tumours have something physical to focus on, but with a blood cancer it is easy to feel that the whole body is bad or failing or sick, which is incredibly destructive and not necessarily true. But it is a very different kettle of fish to be dealing with for sure, and the usual visualisations of little white soldiers belting around the body don’t work as with blood cancer they would be getting lost all over the place and wondering what they were supposed to be fighting. Which is why I gave up that particular idea pretty quickly. When I first started the breathing this morning I was aware of a lovely gold stream coming in with the in-breath – which is unusual because it is usually white or silver – and as I breathed out I just let everything go that wanted to go. I became more relaxed with each cycle (which is of course the plan), but interestingly I could feel the ‘breathing out’ was really clearing some stuff I wasn’t aware I was hanging on to. As each cycle progressed I realised that my body was doing its own completely spontaneous and un-guided ‘health regression’, for the sake of a better expression, and the layers of past illness were gently being cleared until my final memory before I conked out (yes!!!) was back at the time I developed M.E. It isn’t uncommon for cancer patients to have had diseases of the immune system in the past, but it wasn’t something I had especially dwelt on. It was so strange because I woke up thinking ‘Ah!’ and then wondered what I was supposed to be thinking ‘Ah!’ about, and gradually the memory came back to me. I know that the body has its own intelligence, and that a mind/body practice such as Mindfulness or yoga usually brings about emotional and spiritual changes, but I really hadn’t expected this tight inter-connectedness between them all on the health front.

The very important message I was given is that we don’t need to concentrate on what is wrong to receive effective healing. There is a temptation to focus on and hone in on the pain, or tumour, or tightness, or sadness – whatever – and try to dissolve it, which I can now see puts that area of dis-ease under even more pressure, a bit like my mind wriggling in protest about being put to sleep. And like worrying a spot or a scab. Picking away doesn’t do any good at all – in fact it often makes things worse. This experience has really changed my thoughts about the way that healing works, and whilst it isn’t exactly rocket science, I am excited to continue the process of healing to see how far my body wants to go back, and how much it can heal itself, all without me having to know what it is doing. That’s assuming I can stay awake long enough to observe it :-)

Wishing you good health

Margaret xx

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About Margaret Cahill

After diagnosis of Mantle Cell Lymphoma in 2013, I started this blog to stay in touch with friends, family, and and an ever increasing network of lovely people who sent me healing. The readership increased and I ended up blogging for all I was worth to try and stay sane through the chemotherapy and stem cell transplant. Then after I went into remission (thankfully) I was enjoying the writing so much that I have carried on, and the blog seems to have become a bit of a resource for people, which is lovely. The original year of blogs have now been made into a book, Under Cover of Darkness: How I Blogged my Way Through Mantle Cell Lymphoma. It fills in a lot of the gaps between the blogs, and the tone falls somewhere between graveyard humour and explicit details of chemo treatments. I do hope you enjoy it :-) Mxx
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