Sleep, glorious sleep

So I’m back in London after 10 days in New York and have been catching up on sleep and trying to shake the jet lag. How on earth did I ever fly overnight and then go straight into the office? I used to do that regularly when I was in full-time employment. I wanted to make the most of my holidays and didn’t want to waste any time, not even one day. My motto was, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’. Indeed, in my 20s and early 30s, especially the 5 years I lived in Mexico, I’d frequently party all night until dawn, nip home for a quick shower and then head off to work. Of course, I’d feel pretty dreadful all day but I could function well enough. I guess I was younger then and I could get away with it. I’m not sure I could today, and I don’t think I even want to try. These days, my motto is more like ‘I sleep to live’. Sleep is precious to me – I feel so much better when I get some decent rest.

So, after not sleeping at all on the overnight flight home from NY (how do people sleep squashed into a chair sitting virtually upright anyway? I keep vowing to myself that one day I’ll earn enough to fly business class), I almost nodded off on the tube home several times and barely made it into the flat before I had to have a lie down – for several hours. I know the theory goes that it’s best to stay awake until night time to get over the jet lag but there was absolutely no way I was going to manage that. I followed my daytime snooze with a good 8-hour sleep that night and woke up yesterday feeling like a new person, like a completely new person. I hadn’t felt that good in weeks. Several people even commented on how well I looked. So that’s what it feels like to be fully rested, I thought. It made me realise that, while I loved my stay in NYC, I’d felt sleep-deprived a lot of the time – a combination of jet lag, unfamiliar sleeping quarters and sharing a room, which I’m not used to. It also made me realise that I probably spend a lot of my time feeling sleep-deprived even when I’m not travelling – kept awake by an overactive brain, worry, anxiety and control.

As I battled tiredness on some days in New York, I confess I resorted a few times to my weapon of choice: excess food. Why is it that my brain tells me that eating in excess – particularly crisps or chocolate – is the answer to sleeplessness? Surely sleep is the answer to sleeplessness but my logic seems to short-circuit when I’m overtired. I guess I spent so many years using food to try to overcome or survive tiredness, as well as stress, worry, pressure etc, that it’s a hard pattern to break. Yesterday, however, after a good night’s sleep, I had no inclination to eat excess food. I ate moderate, healthy meals and felt satisfied. I even went to the gym and had a long swim. I felt rested, peaceful and balanced.

Such unfamiliar feelings got me thinking. Why is it that I don’t feel rested, peaceful and balanced more often? Especially when it feels so good. Is it only possible to feel that way when I’m not working, when I’m having a day off and being kind to myself? Or is there really a way to feel rested, peaceful and balanced and do my work at the same time? I think there has to be – I guess I just haven’t discovered it yet.

I know my anxiety will kick in pretty soon as I get back to work and start trying to ‘achieve’. I need to pitch some stories to newspapers and magazines – a task I really don’t enjoy and one that really doesn’t help me to stay peaceful and balanced. The holiday is over. But just because the holiday is over does that really mean the stress, the worry, the tight shoulders, the backache, the furrowed brow and the bags under the eyes really have to start all over again? Nor do I think I’m alone here. Why do so many of us live at a pace or manage stress levels that mean we constantly feel strung out or need to resort to some substance or other – food, alcohol, cigarettes or whatever – to keep us going? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against a drink or two to unwind at the end of the day, but why do we have to get wound up in the first place? Is there a way to work, to achieve, to fulfil our potential while maintaining our balance? That’s what I hope to investigate over the next few weeks.

To help me with this, I’ve decided to do The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a 12-week course designed to unlock your creativity. It’s for all those struggling artists out there – of which I consider myself one, a struggling writer at least. I bought the book about three or four years ago and have flicked through it on several occasions but I’ve never committed to doing the exercises or following her suggestions. But I’ve decided now – as I continue to blog and ponder what more I can do with my writing – is a good time to start. I’ll let you know how it goes. On the topic of Julia Cameron, I recently came across a blog post on Inspired Entrepreneur, which describes itself as “a tribe for small business owners who want to make a difference by building an authentic business around their passions and talents”. Nick Williams of Inspired Entrepreneur met and interviewed Julia Cameron at a creativity workshop in February. You can watch his interview here.

An Englishwoman in New York

Before I say goodbye to my New York experience, I wanted to share a rather funny moment. I’m glad I found it funny because it was definitely one of those laugh or cry occasions. Last Thursday evening I was taking the subway to a friend’s place so we could drive up to Connecticut. It was hot – steamy, sticky hot. It had been hot the last few days too and I’d managed to get blisters all over my feet. Shoes that cause me no bother in England had rubbed my toes and heels. So I had to wear my scruffy white trainers (that’s sneakers for any American readers) and socks to avoid getting more blisters. I felt particularly uncool (both in terms of temperature and style) as I got off the train at Grand Central Station to go and pick up some sunglasses I’d left behind at a swanky members’ club the evening before. So there I was, perspiring and struggling through New York’s steamy streets, dragging a suitcase, wearing socks and scruffy running shoes and generally feeling completely out of place. How do New Yorkers do it? All the women around me seemed to be a picture of freshness and style, emerging from office buildings in pretty shoes and cool-looking clothes. Just as I was pondering this, I stepped in what must have been the only pile of dog muck that hadn’t been picked up on Manhattan’s streets. Great. Now my trainers were both scruffy and smelly. While I love New York, its people and its energy, at that moment I couldn’t have felt more unlike a New Yorker. I just hope if I ever do end up living there (I think my time has passed but never say never) I’d master the art of looking cool in the heat and avoiding the dog poop.

I am missing NYC, though, missing my friends, missing being in constant company and particularly missing glorious Central Park. I don’t feel like my Ode to Central Park did it justice. I was in a rush to post and ran out of time.

Sun and shade in Central Park, May 29, 2011

But I was back there on Sunday, my last day in the city, and it was a hive of activity. There was a very cool roller disco going on, baseball games, frisbee games, picnics, boating, cycling, running, walking and plenty of sunbathing. Central Park has to be one of the coolest places to hang out, even on a steaming hot day.

About Katherine Baldwin

I am a writer, coach, midlife mentor, motivational speaker and the author of How to Fall in Love - A 10-Step Journey to the Heart. I specialise in coaching women and men to have healthy relationships with themselves so that they can form healthy and loving romantic relationships and lead authentic, fulfilling lives. I coach 1:1, lead workshops and host retreats.
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