Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On being "empty-nesters," going off sleep meds
(again), and other matters

Where did our chicks go?
As of Friday, August 26, Dorine and I officially became "empty-nesters," as Darren went back to BYU in Provo for his senior year. I enjoyed having Darren here for the summer and am happy he had a student internship at Sandia National Laboratories. It feels really strange to arrive at home at night and realize we aren't waiting for one of our kids to come home; however, the thing I've noticed most is a weird sensation that our house and all our possessions are finally "ours," as no one else is using them. Of course, we aren't "alone," as our four daughters and their families all live here in Albuquerque and we still get to see them regularly; still, this is the first time in our nearly 27 years of marriage that Dorine and I have no children at home. How did all that time pass already?

I finally decided I needed to kick my sleep meds again, as it was apparent they were causing lots of problems without any commensurate benefit. So, on Monday night, August 8, I quit the meds cold-turkey and have not taken anything since. It's been a struggle, as even a "good" night entails my sleeping only 4-5 hours, and many nights I've only gotten 2-3 hours of sleep, if that. However, there were immediate benefits. One, my mal de debarquement dizziness diminished, making it much less debilitating than it had been.  I can't say the sleep meds were the cause of my getting sick after our January 2010 Caribbean cruise, but it's clear now that they were at least part of the problem all along.  The dizziness is still there, but it doesn't control my life to the extent it previously had done.  Two, the act of "de-toxing" my body from the effects of long-term usage of prescription hypnotics (and an OTC antihistamine) -- especially the increased dosages I was having to take if I really wanted to sleep through the night -- has been a tremendous physical and psychological boon to me.  I just "feel" healthier, regardless of whether or not I really am healthier.  And three, I am able to exercise more, with less discomfort, even if the ravages of age are causing me to recover less quickly.  Six months ago, I couldn't have dreamed of doing the Chimney Canyon/La Luz Trail hike that I did with John Brewer a couple of weeks ago.  Despite the fact that I did that hike on two hours of sleep the night before, I was able to finish and survive it.  I can't say where I go from here -- my past experiences suggest that I won't be able to thrive, long-term, on less than an average of 6-7 hours of sleep per night -- but I'm hopeful, at least, that I'll get to that point without getting back on sleep meds.  Right now I'm fighting off a lot of night-time aches and restlessness that are waking me up early; I don't know if a new mattress would help, or if I need counseling from a cognitive behavior therapist, but we'll see what happens.

I'm in the process now of moving to another job at Sandia National Laboratories, one that is different from any position I've had there in 19+ years of employment.  It will be a relief to leave my previous job, as I needed a change; however, now that I'm encountering the expectations associated with my new job, I'm starting to fear it will be a rocky transition -- not because I'm not smart enough to catch on, but because my learning curve, barring significant mentoring, may be too flat to match those expectations.  Then, too, my new office is a dank, stuffy cubicle, a far cry from my relatively posh office space in my old job, which is going to motivate me to seek co-location near the program area director whom I support.  (One other time I left a job I knew well, in a nice situation in a decent office, in order to get away from a manager with whom I did not see eye-to-eye.  It didn't work out well because I ended up with the Job From Hell, handling extremely difficult services contracts and sitting in a cubicle next to abject narcissists who seemingly did nothing but toot their own horns all day.  All indications are that my new situation isn't that bad, but I've never handled change particularly well.)

It's now been a full five years since I last went to Las Vegas.  I keep feeling a strange desire to go back -- not because I want to gamble, or pay too much for show tickets, or stay in a four-star resort, or slaughter my stomach in some expensive buffet, but simply because I miss the excitement.  I suspect the bad economy has done a lot to drive room rates and food prices down in Sin City, but I can't say when I'll ever make it back there.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chimney Canyon/La Luz Trail Hike,
September 3, 2011

The route -- more or less clockwise from upper left
John Brewer and I went hiking on Saturday, September 3, 2011. We chose what has become an overly ambitious hike for me, going up the bottom part of the La Luz Trail to the mouth of Chimney Canyon, then up the Chimney Canyon Route to Sandia Crest, then down the La Luz Trail to our starting point. John and I did fine on the first part of the hike, chatting about work and other matters; however, once in Chimney Canyon proper, I became progressively worn-out, to the point where, on the steepest parts of the trail, I was taking fifteen steps at a time and having to rest in between. We still made pretty good time for old men, reaching the Crest in roughly four-and-a-quarter hours total; however, by the time we reached the gift shop, where we stopped and ate (I had the $3.50 hot dog + chips and a $2.00 can of soda), I literally felt like I couldn't have walked another hundred feet. The rest reinvigorated me to the point where I felt like I could manage the hike down the La Luz, but, though we took every major shortcut that I'm familiar with -- including the long one that bypasses most of the lower switchbacks -- it still took us three more hours to reach the bottom La Luz trailhead. It doesn't seem that long ago that I could hike up the La Luz Trail to Sandia Crest, and fairly comfortably, in three hours; now I'm reduced to hiking down in that time (although, admittedly, the hike up Chimney Canyon was extremely taxing and clearly took a lot out of me).  I also don't recover nearly as quickly as I once did.  I can't say I'll never hike up Chimney Canyon again, but, if I do, I suspect I'll either make arrangements to be picked up at the Crest or else hike over to the the Sandia Peak Tramway and ride it down!