Sleep (or lack thereof) (Topic#008)

Resting zebra


(I’m writing this from a cell phone while waiting for a train, so I’m going to save this a lot before I’m done. So you might see this while it’s incomplete. I’ll leave the asterisk on the title of it until it’s done. | It’s basically done now. This spans the course of 7.5 hours!!!)

My history of sleep. As a baby, I had trouble with sleep. I screamed instead of sleeping. I had to be placed in a wind-up swing and then I could quiet down. In elementary school, instead of falling asleep, I would count my posters over and over again in certain patterns. (But that is another story entirely. Look forward to OCD topics someday.) I would also wait, for hours if need be, to see the reflection of one of my parents walking past in the shield of the overhead light. I would be so proud of myself if I got to call out, “Goodnight!” But I’d also feel extremely anxious if nobody walked past. More for the OCD story. Someday.

So middle school. This is when my first severe depression took hold. Instead of sleeping, I would stay up most of the night with a blue light on. Just a pretty, melancholy blue. And I’d write poetry. Most of it was depression got somehow sad. It also marked the very first rebellion I ever chose: I snuck food into my bedroom. Specifically, Lindt milk chocolate truffle bars, which I hid under my bed, and would eat 1 square every night while writing and listening to sad, beautiful music.

“”Waiting For The Night” I’m waiting for the night to fall | I know that it will save us all | When everything’s dark | Keeps us from the stark reality | I’m waiting for the night to fall | When everything is bearable | And there in the still | All that you feel | Is tranquility | There is a star in the sky | Guiding my way with its light | And in the glow of the moon | Know my deliverance will come soon | There is a sound in the calm | Someone is coming to harm | I press my hands to my ears | It’s easier here just to forget fear | And when I squinted | The world seemed rose-tinted | And angels appeared to descend | To my surprise | With half-closed eyes | Things looked even better | Than when they were opened | Been waiting for the night to fall | Now everything is bearable | And here in the still | All that you hear | Is tranquility”

Depeche Mode, Violator album, which I first listened to on May 2, 1996, a date I won’t yet discuss but changed the entire course of my life.

Anyway. Cassette tape and headphones, a blue light, a specific notebook that I always replaced with the specific brand, and a specific type of pen. Ritual upon ritual upon ritual… And that was my life at that point. Anyway, I’d come home from school completely exhausted and try to take a nap on the couch. For some reason, I could fall asleep during the day but not at night. Unfortunaley, I never thought to tell my parents that i couldn’t sleep at night. So I would get yelled at every time I fell asleep after school. I was NOT allowed to nap, because my parents believed that getting TOO MUCH sleep was a bad thing. Again, I didn’t realize that they thought I was sleeping all night!

Later in middle school, I started to have panic attacks at night. The very instant my body began to relax into sleep, I stopped breathing. I would then be bolt upright, gasping for breath, my heart beating a million beats a minute, and I was terrified of laying back down. This happened many times each night before I’d actually be asleep at some point. I’ll never know if those were purely panic attacks or if I actually had a little sleep apnea, which I once read has happened to some people during adolescence.

So high school. Again, I was not able to fall asleep at night. I still used the night for writing and for drawing. Sometimes I stayed up talking with boyfriends (over the corded telephone).

I haven’t mentioned that I felt EXTREME guilt for being up. It was against household rules and I also knew it was unhealthy. But I couldn’t sleep.

In 12th grade, I had a boyfriend who broke through my guilt. He stayed up lste too; he did his homework late the night before it was due too. I felt so free and liberated after getting to know him. It was the first time I could be myself without so much GUILT AND SHAME. We would stay up to all hours of the night, doing homework and chatting over MSN Messenger. Those were blissfully happy days for me.

College. Dear God. First year of college, I became very ill right away. I was also trying very hard to stay in touch with 12th-grade’s boyfriend in spite of the time difference. So I got extremely little sleep, connected poorly with him anyway, and stayed sick. And got another illness, and another. Then I got Mono, except I didn’t know it. I still stayed up at night, trying so hard to stay connected with him (but failing miserably), and Mono took over my daytime life. Friends would catch me asleep on benches, asleep in class, asleep on the floor of the main area. I fell asleep during one of my Finals. My throat was so infected and swollen, I could hardly swallow and ended up drooling a lot at night.

Six months later, when I was back home with my parents and trying to visit with friends and my boyfriend of 12th grade, I was too exhausted to even verbally communicate. I finally just went up to my room alone and cried. The doctor didn’t want to test me for Mono because I told her how long the symptoms had been present (far too long to be Mono, she said). But insisted and sure enough, I had Mono. I was so relieved to finally know why I was so exhausted, I just started balling my eyes out. Happy tears. For the rest of the year, I did try to  go to bed earlier and make it to classes on time. I was a very different person there, but that’s for another story.

The second year of college, I’ll skip over for now. It will be enough to say that I slept very poorly. There were a lot of circumstances, however.

OMG. Whew. Okay. So after I quit college (long story), and basically had my first mental breakdown, I got placed on drugs. Some of them were specifically for anxiety, because I was having panic attacks. A while into this healing process, I got my dog. Eventually he was allowed to sleep with me. This actually helped because he would put himself to bed at night and I would follow. His steady breathing helped me to relax and bring my mind and body toward sleep. I had less insomnia with him.

[!! I forgot to write about my sleep study here!! Remedying that now.] So I had to commute a long way for my (part-time) job. I fell asleep while driving. I can’t count how many times I nodded off while driving. I tried so many things to keep me awake — loud music, every type of music possible, hot air, cold air, varying driving speeds, taking little rest breaks (failed because I’d fall asleep and be super late to work). Books on tape worked if it was really interesting and the narrator was really good). My psych tried me on Provigil (stimulant meant for fighter jet pilots) but it made me dry-heave for about an hour. (This is beside the fact that I was being tried on a super increased dose of an antidepressant around the same time. At the highest strength, I actually started to fall asleep IN THE MIDDLE OF CONVERSATIONS with my boss.)

So, one doctor wondered if I had narcolepsy. That’s how the sleep study comes in. No narcolepsy. I did fall asleep during the break times, but my brain didn’t go into the  requisite pattern. The overnight study showed Restless Leg and an unknown sleep disorder. It showed me waking up an average of once every two minutes. It showed that I didn’t go into REM until an hour or two before I woke up. They wanted me to go on Neurontin but I refused. I ended up finding a carpool to get me to and from work, but still tended to fall asleep during work.

Then come my married years. We had a cat who would not let me sleep. First, my allergies left me unable to breathe through my nose at night. Second, he would walk on us at night, and slap us when he got hungry in the middle of the night all the way until morning, when he finally would get fed.

[I have to start some music now. I’ve been singing that Depeche Mode song for an hour now and it brings me right back to a very, very dark place.]  [This topic is taking me hours to write. And my anxiety is sky high; I’m guessing from remembering back on years. Once I’ve put stuff down, I’m not going to revisit it in the distant future posts. But I really want to get this all down.]

I was prescribed a sleep pill. It helped me stay asleep once I finally fell asleep, but it didn’t help me go to sleep. So I tried a couple other ones too, but they didn’t do the trick, either. I tried Melatonin and maybe it could have helped if I had a more stable schedule. But I couldn’t predict my schedule enough to take the Melatonin at the same time each night. It wasn’t a fair trial but it didn’t work in my life at the time.

Fast forward, another mental breakdown, the end of my marriage, another antidepressant added, new sleep medicine… But still insomnia and waking up at all hours. I’ve been forgetting to mention how tired I am always. And how very little stamina I have.

I have pretty much rejected sleep meds. Clonazepam, an anxiety medicine, helps me to fall asleep at night, and is known to have a positive effect on RLS as well. To get enough sleep for work now, I’ve been trying to only take the anxiety meds every other night. But even then, I was starting to need more to have effect.

I’m trying something new now. If I inhale or consume a tiny amount of medical marijuana (where I live, this is semi legal; I have a card), not even enough to feel the effects, it not only makes me drowsy (I have indica type), but also I SLEEP THROUGH THE WHOLE, ENTIRE NIGHT. I’ve been trying this several nights a week for the past month. I also haven’t taken ANY anxiety medicine since trying this. But, there have been three times when my anxiety was high enough that I really wondered if I was going to be able to get through without anxiety medicine. And since I’m only taking this before bed, it means I could be extremely anxious for an entire day before relief.

But I have a month under my belt now of fairly consistent SLEEP. And tomorrow, if I get up early enough, I’m planning on participating in a group bicycle ride with total strangers! What I mean is, I actually have a tiny, tiny bit of energy. Which is unheard of.


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