Insomnia, Anhedonia and The Unbearable Politeness of Being

30 Mar

Right now my favourite part of the day is the last half hour or so, which is the time I spend fighting the effects of my prescription sleeping pill. I get to ride this wave of sleepy euphoria, where the whirring, clanking machinery inside my head slows down and all of my limbs are loose and relaxed. It’s like being drunk or high, except that it feels very calm and safe — unlike other altered states of consciousness, I know that nothing can go wrong. When I finally do lie down, with the thought that I have several hours of blissful unconsciousness to look forward to, I feel everything draw away from me, my body suspended in a dark sea as I wait for sleep to gather at the edge of the horizon and then come crashing over me.

This is what I look forward to, from the time I wake up until the time I take my sleeping pill. On bad days, everything else just seems like crap that I have to get to in order to get to this moment, this brief stretch of time when I am guaranteed to feel good in my body. And I know that that’s really, really fucked up.

The problem is that recognizing that a feeling is fucked up and figuring out how to change things enough so that you don’t feel it anymore are two very, very different things.

The last few months have been rough, for a variety of reasons that I’m not going to get into right here and right now. I’ve gone from feeling like my life was great and I was super on top of all of my shit to feeling like everything’s falling apart and I’m the most useless person in existence. Part of the problem is that I’ve had a lot of social isolation, which hasn’t really been anybody’s fault but also hasn’t been great. My anxiety’s been a bag of dicks, and the intrusive thoughts are getting old. I try to avoid triggers, but it’s hard and sometimes counterproductive. Like, if I’m trying to avoid something and then I worry about how I can avoid and whether I can actually avoid it or not, and then it’s just the same old tingling fear all spruced up in new clothing. And all of my energy’s somehow been sucked out of me, leaving this sagging bag of stupid flesh where there used to be a body that actually slept and ate and sometimes felt good.

These days, I don’t want to get out of bed. Like, ever. In the mornings I don’t want to get up and go to work, and once I’m home again all that I want to do is climb back under the covers and immediately lose consciousness. I keep telling my friends that my bed is a black hole, and if I’m at home I’m irresistibly pulled towards it by some kind of mysterious gravitational force. They laugh, and then I laugh, and then we all complain about how miserable this winter has been, but the fact is that like all good jokes, this one is firmly rooted in the truth. I told my therapist that I sometimes daydream about being in an induced coma, a state where machines would do absolutely everything for me.* I tell her that the idea of just lying there and not being responsible for a single thing, not even breathing, sounds incredibly appealing to me. She tells me that it sounds womb-like, but then she’s the kind of therapist who thinks that everything sounds womb-like.

I don’t feel much pleasure these days. I mean, do things – I do all of my regular, every day things – and it’s fine, but there’s this sense of getting through everything instead of enjoying it. It’s always, how many more minutes in this yoga class. Or, how many more bites left of this meal. Or else, how many much longer left of this show. Each activity is little more than a way of marking time until I can wash that little blue pill down with a glass of water and float my way into darkness. I’m taking a lot of pills these days – Zoloft for depression and anxiety, zopiclone for sleep, hormonal birth control for a barren womb, and copious amounts of tylenol for the tension headaches that creep in a couple of times a week. It’s like the valley of the goddamn dolls around here. Still, it’s better with the pills than without.

I think about my old life, my life before I had a kid, and I wonder how I did it. Up at six every morning for work, at the office for eight hours, then typically a seventy-five  minute yoga class and hangouts with friends. Oh and I also somehow managed to write a novel somewhere in there. Who the fuck was that person? Now I can barely drag myself out of bed at eight, and I only work a few hours a day (unless you count doing all the things that I don’t get paid for, like writing and parenting – you shouldn’t though, because I don’t count them). If I feel up to it, I take a yoga class. Often I don’t. When I’m not working I come home and dither around the apartment, unable to read or write or sit for any length of time. I try to talk myself into cleaning, but I usually don’t have the energy. I almost always end up napping, or else refreshing social media websites nonstop for two hours. Whatever ends up happening, it only makes me hate myself more.

What happened to all of my energy? I mean, how did I stay home and look after a toddler full-time less than two years ago? Is there actually something wrong with me, or am I just lazy? I’ve had all the right tests done – vials and vials of blood drawn, doctors peering down my throat and in my ears, but still no answers. It’s nothing physical, or at least nothing that anyone can find. I just have no motivation. It’s tempting to blame depression or anxiety, but somehow that feels disingenuous – I can’t exactly articulate why that is, but it’s probably something along the lines of how incredibly convenient it is for me to have an illness that prevents me from doing all of the things that I hate, things like cleaning, cooking, answering emails in a timely fashion, and generally staying on top of my shit. I mean how nice for me to be sick in exactly the way that forces others to pick up my slack while they kindly tell me to take it easy on myself, to be kind to myself, to do more things for me. But I already do everything for me. That’s my problem. All of the things that I do are for me and I still feel like shit.

I get everything that I want and more, but that fact doesn’t make any difference because I am a garbage person who deserves a garbage life.

At least, that’s what I’m told by the internal voice that I hear all the damn time until I shove a little blue pill in its face.

I don’t know why I’m writing all of this, except that I guess I had to get it off my chest. Maybe I just want someone to tell me that they’ve been there, and it gets better, and that I’ll make it through somehow. Maybe I’m hoping that the act of putting all of this out there, publicly, will somehow break this feeling’s hold over me. I want things to change – I want to love my days again instead of my dreamy, disjointed nights. I want to be able to think clearly, without these anxious thoughts clouding out everything else. I want to write because I love it, not because I feel like I should. I want to be a better mother, a better lover, a better friend. I want to feel something other than this stupid grey grinding nothingness, this fake laugh that’s just a little too loud, this sense of only ever enduring. I want and I want and I want and all of that goddamn wanting is exhausting.

I just need to you to promise me that I will feel better soon.

Jon Han for the NYTimes

Jon Han for the NYTimes

*I know, I know, induced comas aren’t fun, medical stuff isn’t fun, the ICU isn’t fun – I’m aware of how ridiculous my daydream is. But still.

66 Responses to “Insomnia, Anhedonia and The Unbearable Politeness of Being”

  1. Joanna March 31, 2014 at 11:20 pm #

    I have been in a very similar place, and it has gotten better. A lot better. There was a point I was taking a lot of pharmaceuticals, but not anymore. I take a small does of one very well documented drug, and 4 or 5 nutritional supplements. I highly recommend acupuncture; it has helped me a lot with anxiety, insomnia, and mood balancing. You can have acupuncture treatment and still take the meds, until you feel well enough to taper off of them. Also this book: _Natural Healing for Bipolar Disorder, A Compendium of Nutritional Approaches_ by Eva Edelman is an amazing resource. Though you may not have a bipolar diagnosis, there is an extensive chapter on depression and the various essential nutrients to counter it.

  2. Monika Tillsley April 1, 2014 at 12:25 am #

    I can’t promise it will get better but I have been there and it did for me. Some treatment, the right pills, time time time. So I guess I can reassure you that it CAN get better and I hope it does for you.

    Remember Depression Lies and if you don’t already know her maybe some Jenny Lawson will help. She is very funny.

    Good Luck.

  3. drkrisg April 1, 2014 at 4:53 am #

    Your depression is real and there is nothing wrong with being sick this way. I wish I could tell you that it will get better on its own, but chances are it will not. Please ask for help from a person who can come over to your place and actually get you help. Not sure if you have the best relationship with your current therapist, but it might be worth showing them this post.

    You are NOT a “garbage person” and you deserve to find a treatment that works for you and to have people who will support you in the meantime. Many people have been where you are (it’s been a very long time since I have), but that does not mean you should simply wait until the feelings go away. Frankly, on their own they may not.

  4. Tracy I April 1, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    We nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award. Thanks for being so awesome!

  5. sgweiner April 2, 2014 at 1:04 am #

    Well. someone already posted the Hyperbole and a Half comic, which is what I would have done. Allie Brosh explains everything your feeling, just with a little bit of humor and a very good dead fish analogy.

    As for me personally, I felt the way you felt almost all of last year. Not quite though because TV, music and the time I spent at Hillel (Jewish community center at college campuses) still made me happy. They were just the only things that were. School was terrible, talking to friends seemed like some kind of act or performance, even being with the people I loved made me feel guilty because I knew that my feelings were making THEM feel bad.

    I really don’t know how it got better for me. I’ve started doing more things that I like, but I still have a really low tolerance for things I don’t like. I guess, the only thing I can really tell you is what everyone else has already told you:

    What you’re feeling is entirely and completely human.

    I know you feel wrong, alien. I know you feel like society and the universe fits for everyone except you. It doesn’t. You are not wrong and what you’re feeling doesn’t mean that you’re bad person or that you failed. I wish I could tell you how to fix it, but I won’t because I don’t know how I fixed it or if I did. All I can tell you is to give yourself time to be yourself, not to perform for someone else. And keep writing and talking about this. Don’t try to fix it, just look at it. This is a part of you right now and it is just as real as a broken arm or a severed hand. It inhibits functioning. And it can heal. I truly believe it can, but you have to do the healing.

  6. swo8 April 2, 2014 at 1:06 am #

    Hi often have trouble sleeping too. I listen to the radio at night and there are a lot of interesting programs on late at night. I sort of embrace my insomnia.

  7. Hannah April 4, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    “but then she’s the kind of therapist who thinks that everything sounds womb-like.”

    Is it inappropriate to say that I laughed out here loud in the middle of crying my way through this post? I have that kind of therapist too, bless her.

    I went to see a film about Kate Bornstein a couple of weeks ago, and her mission statement really appealed to me: “Do whatever you have to do to make life more worth living, just don’t be mean.” I like the “more” there: no pressure to make your life a wonderful! parade! of candycanes! – just less shitty than it is right now. Her book on alternatives to suicide (Hello Cruel World) might raise a smile; it’s aimed at young adults but was definitely helpful to me.

    Feel better soon. x

  8. Jonathan April 5, 2014 at 4:37 am #

    Really hoping this lifts for me as well , prayers or encourement welcome.

  9. Tiffany N. York April 6, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

    I read these uplifting articles all the time about people who’ve “come out the other side,” or discovered how their depression, illness, divorce, blah blah “was a gift” and I think, How did they do it and why the hell can’t I? It makes me feel like a “spiritual” failure–whatever that means. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the movie As Good As It Gets–the Helen Hunt character asks, “Is this all there is? Maybe this is as good as it gets.” I’m beginning to think for some, maybe it is.

    I’m a single mom and writer–been sick with CFS since I was 26 (I’m in my 40s now). Depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, fantasizing about driving into oncoming traffic–you name it, I’ve been there. When I worried about giving my baby a bath or had crazy thoughts involving the microwave, I realized how truly fucked up I was. Pills I find, only do so much. They keep the demons at bay. Sometimes. And when they don’t is when I find myself staring at the dirt all over the carpet from my cat peeing in my plant and just not caring, or self-flagellating over the fact that “writers write EVERY day,” so why the fuck don’t I? Where’s my motivation? What the hell is wrong with me. I’ll never amount to anything…and on and on it goes, that endless, no resolution loop.

    All I can say is you’re not alone, but unfortunately I can’t say it’ll get better. I’ve been waiting 20 years. Maybe it might if we were to go vegan or cut out gluten, meditate for 20 minutes a day, practice mindfulness, gratefulness, have a partial lobotomy–I don’t know. I’m done racking my tired brain trying to figure it out. If you don’t follow Anne Lamott on FB, you should. She just posted a wonderfully moving post on turning 50. She describes all the crap she has dealt with, still deals with, and basically accepts that she has to deal with it all. No excuses.

  10. Coral Bonus April 30, 2014 at 1:55 am #

    Wow, this article is nice, my younger sister is analyzing these
    things, thus I am going to tell her.

  11. Ash June 22, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    I read this and thought I’d written it myself. . (apart from the medication which I don’t have because I’m too scared to go to the doctor as I think they might take my baby away coz I’m sick). Don’t know if it gets better because I’m still here living in it. . I just wanted to say that reading this is the first time I realised how selfish my depression can be. I’m over here thinking I’m the only person in the entire world that feels like this but it’s not just me. A really well needed wake up call. Let’s hope it works!

  12. aqilaqamar June 19, 2015 at 4:20 pm #

    Reblogged this on Iconography ♠ Incomplete.

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