How to Cope/Semi-Function with Insomnia

Hi lovely reader,

I hope you are having a relaxing but productive Sunday. Today I’m going to talk about something I have unfortunately had to master through experience over the last month: living or realistically effectively surviving with insomnia. Since October I have been lucky to sleep 2-3 hours a night, and when I am asleep I have semi-lucid nightmares or sleep paralysis. Honestly, it’s horrible. I have tried everything to end this challenging period, from cutting out caffeine to drastic medication adjustments, lots of fresh air, intense exercise, forcing myself to stay up much later, making my room as calm of an environment as possible and I have discussed it in therapy and via lots of emails to my psychiatrist and therapist. Last night I took Ambien for the first time, as prescribed, and still didn’t get any rest until 6 am, when I slept for at most around an hour.

Seeing as I have experimented with every insomnia cure I have found online and still can’t sleep, this is not going to be a post about getting past a period of insomnia or curing it. I have no idea how to do that, but if I figure it out I will certainly write a blog post about it then. For now, all I can share are the coping methods I have discovered that are keeping me from utterly losing my mind and causing massive chaos in my life.

For a few days in the middle of this month of sleeplessness, I became totally irrational, angry, morbid and desperate. I sent texts to my parents that I now have zero understanding of and that I’m certain were very upsetting to receive. I stopped talking to all of my friends because I was scared of seeming insane and making anyone want to create distance. I didn’t do anything I was supposed to do around my house, I didn’t leave my room, and I lay in a ball on my bed for what I think was about a week, although memory loss seems to be a huge aspect of insomnia for me.

Now I am finding the balance between pushing myself too hard and risking damaging things I’d like to have in tact for when I’m capable of participating in them, and giving into how bad I feel and becoming completely non-functional. Does it still suck an amount that I can barely find the words to describe? Yes. Every morning I ‘wake up’ (meaning I stop shutting my eyes and rolling around under my blankets and stumble into the sober house office to take my meds) and I want to cry. I am angry, I am confused, it feels deeply unfair and I’ve had a couple of “Goddamnit I am sober and trying so hard – why does god want to smite me” moments. But I am not suicidal, I am not letting my irrational mind get the best of me anymore, my room is not a disgusting mess, I still maintain physical hygiene and do my makeup some of the time and wear clean clothes, I eat when it’s not going to make me throw up, and in spite of how little they seem to be working for me I am sticking to doing the things I know are supposed to help me in times like this.

The first way I am managing to do these things has been by making an agreement with myself and sticking to it – not only am I not going to try to do anything that sounds scary and mentally draining or that could turn out really badly if I do it in this state of exhaustion, but I’m also not going to beat myself up about it. Which speaks to another tip I’ve discovered, which is to be as gentle with yourself as possible. My sleep-deprived brain sees my pale and unfortunately thin reflection in the mirror and initially I feel a fury towards myself, my mental illness, my appearance, the lack of will-power I for some reason at times feel I possess (which I know is nonsensical given that will-power and an ability to sleep and perform at challenging tasks when you are basically brain-dead are not at all related), and at the universe. But when I have these thoughts and feelings, lately I have been working on countering them by saying to myself, “If I am feeling like this, then I must be unwell right now. When someone is unwell, they self-soothe, take care of their bodies and minds, and get help.” And that’s what I do. This morning I took a really long, hot shower, and then lay on my bed with a face mask on and journaled. I also emailed my doctor, texted my parents and let them know I didn’t sleep again last night, and then accepted their invitation to stay at home tonight.

When I did these soothing things and noticed a change in how I felt about life and toward myself, I then took small productive steps toward maintaining my life as much as I possibly can right now. I called my drugstore to see if they could order the brand name version of my new sleep medication in case that works any better for me. I texted my friends and apologized for my absence and explained, briefly, what’s been going on and my reasoning for being MIA. I am doing laundry as I write this, and I tidied my room somewhat with the intention of cleaning more after I take a break to rest when I’m done writing this. I am really hopeful that the internet is right, and that doing a few things that require effort and energy today will eventually make me tired enough to sleep better sometime soon. But even if I am a weird exception and it doesn’t do anything for my insomnia, at least when something finally works for me and I start sleeping through the night again my life won’t be in shambles. Tomorrow I am either going to go to my lecture or I am going to get a note in advance so that I can be sent the slides and lecture notes, in which case I will spend the day reviewing them.

Although I just kind of dismissed all the tactics I’ve read about for improving insomnia because I have yet to get any real rest, I am still trying to do them. Something about knowing I can even pretend I have some control over this situation is really comforting, and everyone is different – it’s possible I will take longer to respond to healthy suggestions for sleeping, or that I haven’t found the right one for me yet. So I am still not drinking coffee, I am taking half of my dose of my ADHD med (I take some of it because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to stand long enough to even shower and it improves the resulting depression), I am making sure I go outside at some point, I am trying to walk around when I can, I am making my room feel relaxing, I am taking melatonin in addition to my meds, and I am eating healthy food and ensuring I don’t eat anything with dairy, caffeine, or a lot of sugar before I try to sleep. So far no luck, but trust me when I say this helps you maintain a sense of sanity, even if that’s literally just because it’s a distraction from how gross you feel.

More technically severe mental illnesses are often accompanied by long bouts of insomnia, and while I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, I am comforted by knowing I am not alone and that other people make it through these times and eventually return to normalcy. Researching this has also helped me regain a sense of control through becoming knowledgeable, having some foresight as to what symptoms to expect, and via feeling more equipped to manage. My issue alongside substance use disorder, Bipolar 1 and PTSD has always been sleeping really heavily and excessively. I used to sleep for 12-16 hours a day, especially when I was depressed, and I find myself saying “I wish I’d known how lucky I was” sometimes, but upon reflection in some ways this is preferable. At least I have a hell of a lot of spare time during which I am not asleep to try to do nice things for myself and, when it’s doable, others, whereas when I couldn’t stay awake I constantly wondered if I even qualified as a human being anymore.

If you are going through this yourself, while I know it is deeply frustrating, painful, confusing and sometimes really scary, keep in mind that it will, at some point, end, and you will sleep and start to feel better. If it doesn’t do so using holistic methods, medication or therapy, and you feel you aren’t able to cope anymore, then it is time to go to the emergency room at your closest hospital, explain how long and severe your insomnia is and seek immediate medical attention. My psychiatrist is already keen for me to spend a night at his hospital and just be sedated overnight, and I have agreed but asked to wait until it is really unmanageable, as no one particularly likes waiting in the ER for 8 hours for a bed and then another 3 hours to see a doctor, only to go to sleep there until you get enough attention from nurses or doctors to be medically advised to leave. And as that may not be a permanent solution anyway, if there is any hope of something else providing answers and a way to end a period like this, it can be best to keep trying until you know you have reached a very safe limit.

I hope you, lovely reader, are sleeping well, and if not, that tonight brings peaceful rest. I hope that for myself too!

Sweet dreams (or at least, have a relaxing remainder of your weekend and take care of yourself, because you deserve it).

Liz

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