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On insomnia

Posted Jan 26 2010 9:20pm
I have always been a bad sleeper. Even when I was a baby. Neither my brother nor I could get to sleep quickly and easily, though staying asleep was much less a problem. The odd thing is that neither of my parents have any sleep issues whatsoever. My dad doesn't know the meaning of the word "insomnia," and although my mom might have the occasional fretful night (thanks, anorexia!), difficulties in falling asleep aren't a problem for her, either. Whether or not my brother has outgrown his issues--to be honest, I've never thought to ask--I certainly haven't.

My breakdown shortly before I started this blog, that epic breakdown that landed me in the Critical Care Unit and then transferred to the psych ward for several weeks, was precipitated directly by my inability to sleep. The meds I was on at the time had gradually been causing more and more sleep issues, but they were actually working for depression and anxiety, so I didn't want to switch. Eventually, I was up all night, unable to sleep. On my lunch break, I would hide in an old storage closet at work and take a nap. Several days before I flipped for good, I hadn't slept at all. I'd tried every form of sleep medication and none of them worked. It sucked. Eventually, on the psych ward I got put on 100 mg of Seroquel to help me sleep, and I ended up falling out of bed the next day because I was so drugged and then got put on fall precautions.

The Seroquel worked for a while, but then left me feeling so drugged the next day it was almost as if I hadn't slept. Insomnia doesn't help anxiety or depression, and soon, I decided to switch SSRIs. Now I take my Prozac and a mildly sedating allergy medication and do, for the most part, okay.

And by okay, I mean back to my usual tossing and turning for an hour before I fall asleep. I did that in elementary school. I did that in middle school. I did that in high school. I would have done that in college, except I was so sleep deprived I often didn't even remember climbing into the top bunk. To my parents, this is completely and utterly baffling. How can you not sleep? Um, I don't know.

Last night was a fairly epic insomnia night, as I didn't fall asleep until 4am and then woke up at 7:30. I was definitely tired. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that my idiot brain would not stop yammering. It's like being seated next to a chatty old lady on a really long plane ride, and this old lady doesn't know how to shut up. She wants to tell you about her grandkids. And then show you the vacation photos. And then tell you about a fantastic hemorrhoid treatment. And don't--trust me, don't--get her started on her lovely Pomeranians. Meanwhile, in the seat next to the old lady, you're exhausted and you want to take a nap, but your headphones are in the overhead compartment, the decoy trashy romance novel isn't working, and there's no other seats on the flight.

That's what it's like for me to try and sleep. I close my eyes. I feel the heaviness and exhaustion wash over me, but there's this little old lady yapping in the back of my skull about her stupid Pomeranians. All I want to do is tell her to shut up about her freaking Pomeranians!! But she's 80 and the plane's crowded and you don't want to look like a jerk, so you basically pretend that she's some sort of rabid animal, and you hunker down, play dead, and hope she shuts up. She shuts up, you get some shut eye.

I've tried yelling at the motormouth in my head. Once I imagined myself turning around and yelling "WOULD YOU SHUT THE HELL UP!" The silence was deafening- I thought my brainpan was going to implode from the lack of chatter. That trick hasn't worked since.

It's not uncommon for me to be worrying, but even when I'm not worrying exactly, it's random useless chatter about Pomeranians and grandkids and hemorrhoid cream. And I don't know what else to do about it. Part of the issue probably has to do with the fact that I'm an extreme night owl and my brain just doesn't start to shut off until at least 1am, which is one of the major check boxes in favor of my decision to be a full-time freelance writer. I would love to get my sleep/wake cycle back to something resembling normal, but I am at a complete loss.

Thoughts or suggestions? I've done the no caffeine after 3pm, the relaxing music, the counting sheep, the tense your muscles and relax them, the meditation, the deep breathing, and nothing flips that stupid switch in my brain to off.
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