Otterday, and Open Thread

Wildlife photographer Enrique Aguirre snapped this shot of a sea otter with a rusty videocam in Monterey Bay.


[h/t to parissite]

Please feel free to use this thread to natter about anything your heart desires. Is there anything great happening in your life? Anything you want to get off your chest? Reading a great book? Anything in the news that you’d like to discuss? Commiserations, felicitations, temptations, contemplations, speculations?

Categories: arts & entertainment, fun & hobbies, Life

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32 replies

  1. Hominid footprints from Kenya – 1.5 million years old.
    PZ Myers has a lyrical post on them at Pharyngula.

  2. Does anyone have any tips for dealing with stress-related insomnia?
    I keep waking up at about 3am in the morning, and not being able to get back to sleep. Sometimes I’ll get up and muck around on the computer for a bit, in the hope of bringing on a wave of tiredness, and sometimes I’ll just try to lie there with my eyes closed (bored out of my skull), but niether approach really helps. I’ll often get back to sleep at around 6am, but it will be a light sleep full and doesn’t really feel restful. I find it very difficult to get a decent amount of work done on my thesis after losing that much sleep, and that, in turn, makes me more stressed, and less able to find sleep the next night. Last night was the worst of all — I could barely get to sleep in the first place, and I kept waking up in hot sweats (and I very rarely sweat at night — usually, for me to sweat like that, I’d either have to be exercising, or it’d have to be incredibly hot).
    I can’t keep functioning like this. 😦
    Also, I think Miranda Devine is straw feminists on the black market. Not that that’s news.

  3. Beppie, learning mindfulness of breath meditation helped me with my chronic insomnia – and I recently found some podcasts to teach meditation although I’ve not actually listened to them yet.

  4. When I can’t sleep, I often play audio books of bedtime stories.

  5. Rebekka — I’ve had someone else suggest that to me too, actually. I’ll definitely have to check it out.
    Anna — when I was a kid I used to listen to tapes of people talking when I couldn’t sleep, but unfortunately the audio-book thing is out now, because it would wake my partner.
    Thanks to both you. 🙂

  6. Oh, and the other helpful thing a doctor said to me was that your bed should be for two things only – sleeping and sex. If you have insomnia and you do other things in bed (studying, for example, as I used to, or reading (other than novels that you don’t really need to think too hard about) or using a laptop), you start associating bed with things other than sleep, which is bad, all bad.

  7. Rebekka — the only other thing I tend to do in bed is reading, right before I go to sleep, and that’s an important part of my getting to sleep ritual. In fact, I usually find that if I try to do something like studying in bed, I will fail, because I’ll end up napping instead (not that I’ve been doing much of that lately!).

  8. Thanks for that link, tigtog. I’d heard the news story but not seen the actual pictures…wow. Amazing.
    Today was TransAction! Day in the US.
    I should be watching Dollhouse, but I’m taping it so I can forward through the commercials, and because I am completely wiped. Long week. Beppie, I wish I had advice to give you.

  9. Oh, and the other helpful thing a doctor said to me was that your bed should be for two things only – sleeping and sex.

    I always raise a smile at this one. In the absence of a whole nother bed with memory foam mattress and all my books and medications and telephones at hand in an air conditioned room… I’ll just have to stick with this one for most of my day.

  10. Does anyone have any tips for dealing with stress-related insomnia?
    Well, you could always read my blog.
    The obvious solution is to address the source of the stress. If it’s the thesis, stick to a routine, and have both a daily and a long-term plan. Otherwise, have a quick blood test for vitamin deficiencies (anaemia in particular can make you exhausted and restless) and keep a good social network that can both distract and reassure you.
    I’ve listened to audiobooks every night for the past 22 years. Though sometimes I supplement with LNL.

  11. Beppie, I remember at a postgraduate conference the hottest topic outside of sessions was how to get back to sleep at 3 in the morning. You are not alone – maybe we need a insomniac telephone tree.
    I have had success with visualising boring, pleasant and repetitive things like brushing really long hair, straight sewing, painting the gaps in VJ boards in our old spare bedroom. It nearly always works.

  12. Beppie, I tried to have a sleep routine too, and it does help, to an extent. As does breath meditations. I have a tendency to get grumpy at my inability to stop thinking of other things when I’m doing these, so the one I use is, basically, to focus on my breathing. Only. Slowly. And I count each breath, very slowly. And if I start thinking of something else, I start the count again. Generally, just the refocusing on the slow breathing consistently, slowly but surely sends me towards sleep. If I can get six very slow breaths without thinking about anything but breathing in and out, I generally will be asleep. One image I find helpful is to imagine your breath as a liquid being poured into a contained (your lungs), then being poured back out again. Or focus on the skin of your forehead, and relaxing that: it’s almost impossible to keep it relaxed if you’re thinking about stuff. These help me focus.
    If none of that works, well, to be honest, I was horribly unbalanced with insomnia pre-thesis-submission. And Kim’s suggestions are helpful, but towards the end, it really didn’t matter how organised I was, or how balanced in my life. The thesis took over. I wrote and rewrote sentences in my head, I restructured chapters. It’s a pain, because no matter how organised you are with a thesis, you always feel behind, and that’s anxiety-inducing.
    And so I make my hesitant suggestion: someone gave me a Xanax to help me sleep prior to my overseas trip for a job interview, which was making me anxious. They’re really short-term anti-anxiety meds, but they make sleep come easy, and don’t leave you feeling druggy the next day. If part of what’s keeping you awake is anxiety about how little sleep you’re getting (I’m good at this one), it might be good to just give your system a chance to settle (but watch using them for too long, coz they’re apparently a bit addictive). But you know, I’m not that big into pharmaceuticals, so I’d recommend the other stuff first. But also, don’t feel like you ‘ought’ to remain drug-free. The other stuff is a more sustainable change, yes, but beware of the alleged ‘virtue’ of avoiding drugs because they’re the ‘easy’ option. You need sleep. And in my experience, just getting some more sleep makes dealing with the stress seem a lot easier, and in turn, less anxiety-inducing. In fact, I’ll often find that the thing I was finding stressful before I got enough sleep just kinda… doesn’t matter at all, post-sleep… 🙂 So sometimes, it might be worth just intervening in the cycle of insomnia with some pharmaceutical assistance. It might let your usual stress-negotiating resources come back online.

  13. Me too, Beppie (and other insomniac sisters…). Stress and unhappiness do it for me. I used to get up in the night and work, but now I tend to get up and have a mug of hot milk and read a novel, to help me to wind down a bit. It works sometimes, but not always.
    Thesis-finishing is extraordinarily hard work. I know no-one who got through the last few months without some kind of mental turbulence, whether it was expressed as insomnia, or unjustified anger, or relationship issues, or in some cases, mental breakdown and recovery. It’s very, very hard going, and if you are finding it hard, that’s because it is hard. So don’t beat yourself up over finding it hard, because virtually everyone does.

  14. Beppie,
    Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I pretend I’m a pony. (This is so silly.) So, I close my eyes and picture my wee pony self and image wee pony adventures that I go on. I remember doing this from as young as 8 (hence why it’s pretending I’m a pony and not something else, I’m sure), and if nothing else it keeps my mind from running in whirling circles.
    Or, in the Great Advantage of living with someone who never has to get up in the morning, I wake up Don and ask him to explain Roman history to me. Then, I’m out like a light. Stupid Romans. Bunch of tracers. 😉

  15. To echo Deborah’s point, there are those who claim that a thesis is un-finishable without anti-depressants. I’m evidence that this isn’t entirely true, but it does seriously screwy things to you. To me. To everyone. Do what you need to do to get it done, is my stance… done and outta your life! 🙂

  16. Beppie – try recollecting your day BACKWARDS as you lie in the dark.
    At first it will be nigh impossible because you’ll lodge at something significant (eg dinner) then start to come forward.
    Start again, right from the 3am moment you awoke, then the last thought you had before dropping off, then plumping the pillow, then peeing & cleaning your teeth, then turning the TV off and undressing.
    You’ll find that normal linear thought starts to come forward again, out of habit
    Persist with the tiniest details and you will suddenly find it’s daytime and you’ve been asleep.
    Deep inbreaths (lower diaphragm, not upper chest) released as slowly as possible, at least double the intake duration, will send you off also but most westerners can’t do that without learning yoga breathing.

  17. @ amphibious:
    Yoga breathing is marvellous.
    I’m not sure that any of these options in themselves will solve your problem entirely, but they’re all worth a try to see which one might work for you.
    Myself, I swear by Valium, which has similar addictive problems in general as Xanax of course. Luckily, it’s not addictive for me. My GP first prescribed it to me when I got shingles, and since then has always been happy to renew the scrip for me whenever I ask because I only go through two boxes at most in a year.

  18. Beppie, I’ve done a heap of drama classes which have necessitated me learning a lot of poetry. So if I can’t sleep, I’ll pick a poem I find calming or reassuring or a complete change from whatever’s bothering me and I recite it in my head, which puts me in sleeping mode. Maybe you could try a variation on that? (Although Anna’s pony advice sounds like fun!)

  19. Beppie – one thing my counsellor advised (though my issue is normally just not being able to get to sleep in the first place), if your brain keeps reminding you of things or won’t be quiet about things, is to either *always* have pen and paper nearby to write it down, or to basically say, “Hey brain, thanks a lot for reminding me about XYZ, but I don’t need to think about that right now.”
    If all else fails, chamomile tea/Horlicks/warm milk + reading for at least 15 minutes before bed. Computer use does tire me out, but doesn’t relax the brain so well, and same goes for TV, apparently.
    The thermonuclear device of insomnia in my house is Red Seal’s Sweet Dreams tea, which as far as I can tell is only available in NZ.

  20. Thank you so much for all the advice, everyone! I really should bookmark this thread.
    I was very much looking forward to trying out a couple of these techniques at 3am this morning (probably the breathing, although pretenting I’m a pony sounded like fun too!), but when I woke up, I realised that it was actually 6am, and I was feeling fully rested, and, well, human again. It’s actually very rare for me to sleep right through the night like that — I pretty much always wake up between 3-4am, although until recently I’ve usually been able to get back to sleep pretty easily — so this is a rare treat! My brain is feeling functional and ready to tackle my thesis. 🙂
    Also, on a completely slightly different topic, today I will be sending off a paper proposal for a chapter in The Unsilent Library: Adventures in New Doctor Who. It has nothing to do with my thesis, but I really really want to write this paper (a comparative analysis of they ways that Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures approach both homosocial and homosexual relationships between men and the implications that these approaches hold for the ways in which the respective shows portray women and allow female characters to assert moral agency) — keep your fingers crossed for me!

  21. Oh wow, Beppie, I hadn’t even heard about that. Best wishes with your paper proposal! (It almost makes me want to send one, but that won’t happen in a single day, that’s for sure.)

  22. Well, there’s no harm in trying to come up with something, Bene. It would be rather awesome if we ended up getting published in the same book. 🙂 (Ack, I wish I’d mentioned it earlier now, so that other interested Hoydenizens could have had more time to check it out.)

  23. I was following up a hunch and I came across this report of a research study into gender bias in hiring. The interesting part isn’t that women who are gender non-conforming are discriminated against (we already knew that) but that they are also deemed to have poorer social skills than women who conform to gender stereotypes. Likewise men who behaved in a the more communal or nurturing manner traditionally associated with women were deemed to have poorer social skills although for them this did not translate into a poorer hireability ranking.
    This is a bugbear of mine – behaviour outside ever narrowing margins being pathologized. For a woman to escape the reach of that pathologization and be considered “correct” she must walk a very fine line because introversion and shyness are already pathologized (as potential personality or developmental disorders, or social phobias), while behaviour that is “agentic” (by the terms of the linked report) – highly ambitious, confident etc is seen as signalling poor social skills.
    Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

  24. Many many thoughts, Su. Part of my argument in my thesis was that the ‘normal’ is becoming defined in a narrower and narrower way, partly because people are increasingly *achieving* ‘normalcy’. But it’s particularly interesting when you look at a specific context, like a workplace. Part of what concerns me about the contemporary workplace is that it is becoming increasingly normalised to work way way more hours than used to be the case, and often to work unpaid overtime (esp. in law). And to be attentive for that time. This is leading to people who use, for example, Ritalin in order to be able to maintain concentration and continue their work. What troubles me about this is that this use of pharmaceutical assistance, whilst not necessarily problematic for the individual, effectively contributes to the redefintion of the ‘average worker’ as capable of working more hours and more attentively: it ups the expectation of productivity. And this in turn shapes, for example, the way that people who have caring or parenting responsibilities outside of work, and their needs, are treated. Actually, I think it means that anyone who wants to even vaguely achieve that work/life balance thing (I kinda hate that phrase, to be honest) winds up pathologised. I had a post on this a while ago: Our culture is becoming very efficient at pathologising whatever it doesn’t like: deeming difference to be a sickness or lack that needs to be rehabilitated. In the case of the workplace, this comes down to ‘productivity,’ and the expected capacity of workers is being reshaped according to this. I’m horribly hungover at the moment, but I might have some more thoughts later…

  25. Thanks for the link WP, that is an interesting one about work hours. When my sons were going to an early childhood intervention programme, I found that all of the staff there (all women) were doing huge numbers of unpaid work hours and were filling gaps in disability services for which they received no funding (there is a big drop in the availability of support once a child moves into school and they were basically acting as transition support service because families were being thrown into the deep end within a school system resistant to inclusion). For them their unpaid overtime was self-imposed, resulting from their sense of care and responsibility for children who had been with them from infancy. What bothers me is that a whole lot of these kinds of services that are associated with traditional female qualities of care and nurturing have large components of volunteerism and that unpaid work is expected even from paid staff and is completely normalised. It is one of the downsides to volunteerism I think – that it is devaluing the labour of care.
    That is a bit of a tangent to the pathologizing aspect but it seems to me that there is a bit of a taboo around expecting remuneration for care – that it is seen as uncaring to expect to be paid or refuse to do work that you are not funded for.
    I was very interested to read another post/comment of yours about sociological perspectives on the DSM (I think it was in response to a book review) because I am aware of a bit of a tussle between the tendency to continue to create more categories of pathology within the DSM and a concerted push to move away from those categories to a more dimensional model- where dimensions of depression, psychosis, delusion etc are independently assessed and there is less of a focus upon coming up with some conclusion about what category someone experiencing 5 on the depression scale and 2 on the delusion scale is in. I’m not sure if I’m expressing myself clearly but what I wonder is whether a dimensional model (which would include subclinical ratings for each dimension by necessity, thereby bringing the whole population into view as it were, rather than there being this arbitrary border between normalcy and not) would help stem the tide of what I think is a fairly alarming trend in pathologizing behaviour?

  26. Apparently David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, and the RSC are going to be filming their Hamlet in June. Words cannot express my keysmashy.

  27. @ Bene:
    But will it be released for sale by the time of my birthday in August?

  28. That’s a good question, tigtog…but I’m pretty sure it’ll sell well, no?

  29. It will definitely sell well.

  30. Mmm… interesting, Su. I haven’t heard about this trend. And whilst it might be useful in reworking the notion of pathology, I can’t help but wonder about what expectations this still creates, in terms of behaviours people are required to achieve in order to be employable/happy/not ‘in distress’ etc. As in, a more dimensional model might just make it easier to deal with pathology in a slightly better way (although I tend to think it might just contribute to the permissibility of enlarged pathology, and the new ‘horror’ category of ‘clinical’ as opposed to ‘subclinical’ behaviours), rather than turning the lens where it needs to be turned: on the very singular and narrowing notion of normalcy. To be honest, it really bugs me when people say things like ‘we’re all a little bit X’ (OCD, autistic etc). Identifying *everyone* as falling into a pathological category tends to result in the flattening out of difference, rather than any real negotiation with it. But then, I have many contradictory thoughts about these things: I suspect that there are benefits and losses to approaching pathology in this dimensional way. But I think if we continue to allow normalcy to be narrowed by the expansion of pathology, we will wind up producing the suffering that the very treatment that diagnoses of pathology are supposed to cure… but then as you can gather from my blog, my stance on suffering differs from others’ 😉
    And ooooooohhh! Darling Tennant… 😉

  31. Beppie – in case you`re still reading this and still suffering:
    I`ve had the same problem (except I`m not writing a thesis) – Always read in bed, can get to sleep Ok, but wake up at 3 or 4 am.
    If you`re not into any drugs, meditation is probably best. (Any type.) It didn`t used to get me back to sleep, but at least I got plenty of meditation and that`s supposed to be good for you!
    I`m not anti-drugs and I tried xanax, which works really well and quickly (about 15-30mins), but the relaxing effect can last up to 5 hours, so if taken at 4am it can be really difficult to get up at 7 o`clock.
    Also – it is very addictive if taken regularly. Unfortunately, I got a bit addicted to it and the withdrawal symptoms were hideously terrifying panic attacks.
    Now I use a low dose tricyclic anti-depressant (sinequan). Those are the old-fashioned pre-SSRI anti-depressants. One of the side effects of the medication is to induce drowsiness. That effect would normally wear off if you took it at the therapeutic (anti-depressant) dose, but, when taken at a very low dose, at or before bedtime, it induces drowsiness and the effect lasts all through the night. (Oh – the joy of actually waking up to the alarm clock again!) The only side effect I get is a bit of a dry mouth in the morning.
    If you`re into medication for this problem, that`s another thing you could discuss with your doctor.

  32. Hey Barb, thanks for mentioning the side-effects of Xanax. My doctor prescribed them back when I had a massive panic attack in December (thesis writing *sobs*). I hadn’t had a need for them since, so I didn’t know about the side effects. The last thing I need is that!

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