Tag Archives: insomnia

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.

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Insomniac

2 Jul

You start by carefully arranging everything on the bed: the long skinny pillow on one side, the regular pillow at the top, the pretty handmade blanket folded just so. You place your glasses and phone and kleenex on the night table and turn off the light. You lie down, wriggle yourself into position, and close your eyes.

Stop thinking, you tell your brain. Go to sleep.

But your brain won’t stop. Instead, it offers you bits and pieces of information, things that are useless on their own but suggestive of something deeper, more frightening. Or else it takes one small event from the day and expands it, blows it up like a grainy old photograph, then picks it apart. Or else it gives you just the beginnings of sentences, stuff like:

My kid is. My partner doesn’t. My boss won’t. My friend says. She knows. He wants. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

You try to stay very still and think about nothing, but since when does thinking about nothing ever work? And while we’re at it, how does sleep work? How does everyone make the daily transition from conscious and thinking and feeling to, well, unconsciousness?

You squirm around, trying to find that elusive perfect spot on the pillow, the one that’s smooth and cool to the touch. Your legs get tangled up in the blanket, and the sheets feel wrong and scratchy. Frustrated, you strip the sheets and blanket off the bed and throw them into a pile on the floor. But now you’re cold, so you put on a sweatshirt and a pair of socks.

You lie there. You check the clock. You close your eyes. You open them. You check the clock. You count down how many hours are left until you have to get up.

And your brain says, Let’s have a drink.

And your brain says, Let’s read Sylvia Plath’s journals.

And your brain says, Let’s make a list of all of your shortcomings.

But you’re smarter than that, aren’t you? So instead, you do this relaxation exercise that you learned years ago in some theatre class that you took, where you bring some kind of mindful awareness (what does that even mean?) to each of your body parts in turn, starting from your toes all the way to the crown of the head. And as you’re doing this, you remember how, another time, in another theatre class, you learned to do a sort of bastardized version of the Alexander Technique. After class, you went back to your dorm and offered to teach it to the boy you had a crush on, just so you would have an excuse to touch him.

From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the memory of how you told him that you were in love with him. It was in a friend’s dorm room, where five or six of you were lying piled on a bed, watching South Park. At some point, people decide to go find snacks and drinks and you end up alone with your crush and you suddenly, bravely, think, now or never. And so you tell him, awkwardly, in fits and starts, how you feel about him and then you start to cry because you’re so nervous and you love him so much and anyway how could anyone ever love you back?

Then he takes your hand and, very kindly, tells you what everyone but you already knows – namely that he’s been fucking your best friend for the past three weeks.

That anecdote offers an easy transition into the list of people who you’ve loved but couldn’t, or wouldn’t, love you back. Also included on this list are those who loved you at first but eventually stopped loving you. And then, of course, there are the people who really did love you, but loved you badly, or too much, or not in the way that you needed.

But why didn’t these people love you? They must have had reasons, good reasons, even. What on earth did you do to drive them away? And ohhhh shit here it comes, the list of all your shortcomings. And it’s too late to stop yourself, because you’re already halfway done.

You’re a fucking sneaky bastard, brain. Did you know that?

In the morning, you drag yourself out of bed. The insides of your eyelids feel like cat’s tongues, with all those scratchy little barbs. There’s grit in your mouth, like someone’s tried to bury you in sand. You feel queasy.

You don’t want to eat anything, but you force yourself to, hoping that it’ll give you a boost of energy.

You spend the day downing coffee and you swear to god that if one more person tells you that you should cut caffeine from your diet you’re going to punch them in the face. Caffeine is the only thing that’s currently making your life bearable, and the idea of not drinking it makes you feel like you might want to die.

Everyone has some sort of solution to your sleep problem, but none of them, in your experience, work. Or rather, they work for a few nights, maybe even a few weeks, but then they stop. For all you know they never worked in the first place, and it’s all one big placebo effect. The fact is that you should just stop complaining about how tired you are. You don’t sleep. You’re never going to sleep. End of story.

By the end of the day, you’re so tired you could cry. Sometimes you really do cry, and when your partner asks what’s and you tell him that you’re not sad, you’re just so tired, you feel like a stupid little kid. You spend the evening in a daze on the couch, your brain too fuzzy for activities like reading or conversation. You wish you were dead.

Then ten o’clock comes and it’s like someone’s flipped a switch in your brain. You’re wide awake, wired, even, ready to take on the world. But it’s bedtime, and you have to work in the morning. So you turn off the lights, lie down, and let the whole cycle start all over again.

Man.

Fuck sleep.

628x471

Ugh. Sleep.

15 Sep

When you have a kid, you soon realize that one of the most frequent (and bizarre) questions you get from family, friends and strangers is: is she a good baby? 

Like, what are you going to say? No? She’s a really shitty baby? I wish I could send her back? We’ve been in touch with some adoption agencies? I hope the next one turns out better?

After the good baby question, the next thing that will inevitably come out of that person’s mouth is: is she a good sleeper? Because for some reason all babies are judged based on their ability to sleep.

My son is a terrible sleeper. He has many sterling qualities, but sleeping well is not among them. At 19 months he still wakes up multiple times a night. I would give you an average of how many, but I’m too exhausted to count.

I’ve discovered that sleep is a really tough subject to discuss with other parents, for several reasons:

1. They all have sleep strategies that they want to share with you.

2. They assume that you have tried zero sleep strategies on your own.

3. They make you feel like having a kid who doesn’t sleep through the night is some kind of horrible failure on your part.

That last one? The one where I am made to feel like a terrible parent and a failure? I am being dead serious right there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned to other parents that Theo doesn’t sleep through the night, only to be met with an expression that would best be described as total and complete horror. From the looks on their faces, you would think I’d just confessed that he regularly swills gin and plays with knives. Which, I mean, that is totally inaccurate, because we only sometimes let him have gin.

It sucks, because not only do I feel like I am getting grief from other parents for having a sleepless kid, but also being this tired all the time makes me want to stab things. Matt likes to tell this story about how, in the first week of Theo’s life, he was so exhausted that he started hallucinating. At one point he turned to me and said, I understand now why sleep deprivation is an effective torture technique.

Theo was a fledgling insomniac even in those early days. He grunted and wriggled around in his sleep, and he absolutely would not sleep in a crib. When I tell people that we co-sleep with him, they often assume that it’s because I’m some kind of attachment parenting hippie. I mean, I am an attachment parenting hippie, but really, the decision to share our bed with our kid was born out of the fact that we couldn’t figure out how to get him to sleep, and we were desperate.

Since then, we’ve tried a few different types of sleep training. Some we’ve had moderate success with, some we’ve been too tired to implement properly or regularly, and some have just flat-out not worked for us.

One thing that’s helped recently, though, is re-evaluating what my expectations are for Theo’s sleep. Part of that comes from the fact that I’ve struggled with insomnia since my early teens; if, at 30, I can’t remember the last time that I slept through the night, why am I expecting my kid to be able to? Theo got Matt’s blue eyes, adorable nose and laid-back personality – it only makes sense that some of my genes would start showing up sometime. I can only hope that he also got my killer fashion sense.

Thinking all this doesn’t make me any less tired, but it does make me feel a little more sympathetic towards him. Because the thing is, I know what it’s like to not be able to sleep. I know how rough that is. There are nights when I, a highly verbal and fairly capable adult, still cry from frustration because I can’t seem to turn off my brain. Given that, I don’t know why I would expect my sleepless toddler to just be able to roll over and start sawing logs.

I know from experience that I can’t force myself to sleep, and, the fact is, I can’t force Theo either.

So where does that leave us? Mostly it leaves me with a sense of it is what is is, which is oddly comforting. We’ll keep trying different strategies to get him to sleep through the night, for sure, but I’m going to try to stop feeling bad about it. He’s a sentient human being, wholly separate from myself, who, while able to know his own wants, totally lacks any ability to be reasoned with – at this point, if he doesn’t want to sleep, it probably isn’t going to happen. And it probably isn’t my fault.

Maybe this is a good parenting lesson for me. Because sometimes, my kid is going to want (or not want) to do something, and I’m not always going to have perfect control over the situation. I’m not saying that I’m going to give into him, but I am saying that maybe I need to be more flexible. Maybe I need to learn to look for a different approach to any given issue, or work to find a compromise. Hopefully, rather than seeing me as someone who is trying to impose her authoritarian will on him, Theo will come to see me as someone who is trying her damnedest to understand him, and only has his best interests at heart.

Because that’s the parenting dream, isn’t it? To have your kids respect and obey you without resenting you. To have them understand that sometimes you have to do things that they won’t like because, for whatever reason, it’s good for them. Is that even possible? I’m not sure.

If all else fails, we’ll just blow his whole college fund on therapy and sleeping pills.