24 September 2014

Narcolepsy, HSP & my writing life

So...if you've been following this blog, you'll know that I've been struggling all month to readjust after my European travels. I've been tired and easily distracted. I've had a really hard time focusing when I sit down to write, which has resulted in blog posts taking (seemingly) forever to write and has meant no creative writing has been getting done at all. What energy I've had has gone to keeping up with my work for clients.

At first I thought I was just making excuses and needed to buckle down. Then I realized I was burned out and sincerely had to give myself time to recuperate, even if I couldn't pinpoint why I was burned out. And while I was taking it easy last week, I started to do some thinking/research related to narcolepsy and to the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).

Narcolepsy and HSP 
Until one of my writer friends told me she was diagnosed as narcoleptic, I'd always thought of narcolepsy as that thing where a person falls asleep uncontrollably in the middle of whatever they're doing. (See Rowan Atkinson's character in the movie Rat Race for the stereotypical narcoleptic character.) Turns out, though, that there's a spectrum of narcolepsy and a range of symptoms, and although I have not been diagnosed as narcoleptic, I'm certain that I'm on that spectrum: In times of elevated stress or after experiencing strong emotion, all I want to do is sleep; I enter the dream state very quickly (it's normal for me to dream during a 20-minute power nap); I do sometimes experience hallucinations on falling asleep or coming out of it; and I have experienced something that might be micro-sleep.

As for HSP, I hadn't heard of it until another one of my writer friends said she is HSP and that it leads to her anxiety/panic attacks. HSP is also on a spectrum, and while I certainly know people who are more sensitive than I am, have only had one or two panic attacks in my entire life that I can recall, and that thing in the Huffington Post article I linked to about above-average manners certainly doesn't apply to me, I do feel certain that I'm on the HSP spectrum as well. For example, I'm sensitive to bright light (e.g. the sun, my computer screen) and to noise. I've always been someone who cries easily. I don't know that I'm necessarily more likely to be overstimulated by the Internets than the average bear, but I do know that when I do get overstimulated, I can't focus, I feel like my cranium is packed with cotton or fog or something equally unhelpful, and there's no room for actual thoughts in my head.

My intuition suggests to me that HSP and my narcoleptic symptoms are related. Is it possible that anxiety attacks and narcolepsy are two different ways for people's bodies to cope with the overstimulation related to HSP?

At any rate, it's been incredibly comforting to have some external validation of some of the things that I experience, not to mention I've come across a couple of strategies that are proving helpful to me in terms of getting back on track and working toward being able to focus on creative projects again. Or just hear myself think.

Three things I'm doing differently
1) I'm working on accepting that I have limitations and paying attention to when I need a break. Fighting my limitations by trying to force myself to be productive when I'm tapped out doesn't help. Beating myself up and calling myself undisciplined and lazy doesn't help. Forcing myself to sit in front of the computer for longer and longer periods of time doesn't help. These behaviors don't lead to greater productivity, just to low self-esteem, frustration, and being tapped out for a longer period of time. Narcolepsy and/or HSP aside, this article by Lisa Evans, which summarizes research about the habits of highly productive people, supports the idea that taking frequent breaks away from the computer/desk/thoughts about work actually leads to greater productivity even though you're working for fewer hours. So there.

2) As a result of reading that article by Lisa Evans, I've changed my approach to my to-do list and to how I schedule my day. Before, I was scheduling writing time in the morning, editing and coaching work in the early afternoon, and marketing and admin work in the late afternoon. Now, I've separated my to-do list into four sections - Important & Urgent, Important but Not Urgent, Urgent but Not Important, and Neither Important nor Urgent - and I choose my top 3 priorities for the day. When those things get done, I choose 3 more priorities, and so on until I'm out of time/energy for the day. I'm not putting pressure on myself to accomplish a task in a specific amount of time, and I'm scheduling breaks. [Note: The four categories of tasks was a concept introduced to me a couple of years ago by one of my business coaches; the idea of choosing 3 top priorities at a time came from the Evans article.]

3) Last but certainly not least, I'm taking Elaine Aron, PhD's advice about scheduling down time: 1-2 hours a day and at least 1 day a week wherein sleep and rest are a priority. I'm finding that my head is beginning to clear and I can hear myself think again. I'm also starting to have ideas for writing again. Yay! =*D Aron also recommends taking off one week a quarter during which sleep and rest are a priority (active vacations don't count!), but at this point I'm not sure how I could afford to take that much time off. But maybe I can do a week a quarter of writing retreat wherein the first 2-3 days are spent sleeping/resting and the rest of the time is focused on writing words.

All this thinking and research and new strategies have affected my progress for ROW80.

ROW80 Update 
"A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life." 

This is the last check-in for Round 3 of ROW80 2014! As I mentioned in my goals post for this round, I'm taking it a month at a time. My goals for September are:

Create and stick to new production schedule that includes at least 5 hrs/wk of work on pseudonym's WIP2. I did create a new production schedule, but as a result of being depleted and taking it easier on myself, I have thus far not stuck to it. I *might* have to accept the idea that I can't predict exactly when my WIP2 & WIP3 will be done. I really hate that idea, though.

Three blog posts per week - 2 here, 1 on the travel blog (to document reverse culture shock). Have been keeping up with the 2 posts per week on this blog but not with the post per week on the travel blog. My latest post on the travel blog was on the 15th. I have ideas for at least two more posts on the travel blog that I just haven't gotten around to writing.

Reestablish a sense of writing community. I've gotten together with a couple of writing friends and talked shop and am thinking of going to a reading at the end of this month. It does indeed feel to me like reconnecting with a community of writers.

This is a blog hop! Click here to see other ROW80 participants' check-ins from this week. 


  1. Sometimes things work out like that. Much positive energies your way and cheering you on, Lady. :-)

  2. Thank you so much, Sione, for talking about how to work through this sense of lowered productivity. Your links are especially helpful, and I'm already planning to adopt your method of setting priorities and then tackling the first three, especially as I think ahead to what I'd like to accomplish in the next round. So, if we take down time, we are nurturing ourselves and keeping what needs to be done balanced with more creative work.

    I also have been struggling with keeping my travel blog current and have come up with the idea to pair poetry with travel pics as writing poetry for me is a form of mediation and somehow seems more accessible. And that idea to make your own writing retreat. That could be a blog post all its own!

    1. I'm glad to know that these resources are helpful to you too, Beth! Just tonight I was doing some journaling related to all this and asked myself: What would it look like to treat work as play, to be my own playmate instead of my own taskmaster/prosecutor/judge/jury/bailiff?