Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 23 of 365: Insomnia: A Love Story

So our movers, before they even get here, are proving to us that every aspect of preparing our house must be a comedy of errors, but that is for another time. Today, I feel like talking about my time with insomnia.

I mentioned briefly in my last post about my bout of insomnia, and I found myself wanting to write about it. So much that when I got the phone call from the movers asking for a last-minute schedule change, I was more interested in shaping out how I would write about insomnia instead.

It might be because I am no longer a teacher. It might be because I've been putting in some late nights with the house. But -- thankfully -- I've been sleeping like a baby with zero problems for months upon months now. So writing about insomnia is a lot like writing about an ex-lover that you have no feelings towards anymore. It was merely a part of my life that I can look back on and reflect and wonder how I put up with it for so long.

It started last May. After a lot of back and forth, the administration at the school I worked at finally agreed that one of our children was potentially on the spectrum. The first step was meeting with the parents, outlining what we have found and recommending an evaluation.

This was something that I had never done before. I had students who were Autistic (and already diagnosed). I had students who had disabilities. But I had never had to tell a parent, "Your child is raising red flags. We want to get him evaluated."

Honestly, is there anything scarier to a parent than that? Hearing something might be different about their child (from their teachers, no less) is surpassed only by hearing that someone is wrong with your child from a doctor or a police officer. And I knew that. And, because of that, I fretted. I worried. I went over my report a million times. I thought and rethought about every single thing I would say.

As a result, I started losing sleep.

The meeting came and went, with results that were lackluster, to say the least. My co-teacher and I felt completely defeated. Without giving away any personal information of the child, it was an open-and-shut case. The red flags that we were seeing fit perfectly with a very specific type of ASD. And we had fought tooth and nail for evaluation, especially since early diagnosis is crucial. And all we were left with was whiplash from getting the runaround.

And that should've been it. A month later, the child graduated up to his room for "summer camp". I went on leave for 5 weeks as an alternative to substituting for the summer. I got to relax. I went on vacation with my husband and celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Things should've been looking up.

But my brain doesn't work like that.

I've never had a very dormant brain, in terms of sleep. I'm notorious for sleepwalking, sleeptalking, even sleep-disassembling-lamps (true story). After a few months, my brain decided to refer back to the few weeks when I was losing sleep over the meeting and mimic the situation.

It was a very interesting brand of insomnia. I would go to bed, bone tired, lay down, close my eyes... and nothing. Every part of me was ready for sleep. But it was like someone had forgotten to flip the switch, which left me laying in bed, exhausted as all hell, wondering when I would get to sleep. And nothing would work. I would fall asleep watching television, only to wake up immediately after the sleep timer turned off the TV. I would think out all the tedious things I needed to do or learn, only to find myself getting to the end of said tasks without a blink of sleep. It was like my brain realized just how trippy the concept of sleep is, and decided to pontificate on the concept of sleep instead of actually fall asleep.

At first, I panicked. And, as everyone knows, panicking is exactly what you do when you can't fall asleep. Suddenly, on top of my brain not shutting off, I had adrenaline pumping through my body like I was being chased by a pack of zombies. And when I would fall asleep, my brain would wake me up to ask if I had fallen asleep yet, only to lie to me and tell me that I hadn't, which would make me panic, which would send my heart racing, which would result in another night a very little sleep.

I fully recognized that it was psychosomatic. The same portion of my brain that would make me sit up and talk in my sleep was playing tricks on me. I wasn't ready to talk to a doctor about it (since, on top of being a notorious sleepwalker, I'm notorious for being stubborn about my health and figuring things out on my own). But I remember how we had purchased melatonin for the cats when we drove them from Boston to Ohio one Christmas. It was cheap, it was in the vitamin aisle. I figured nothing could go wrong.

So I started taking melatonin every night. First one tablet, then two. I started taking two if only as insurance, as my sleepwalking/fake-insomniac side is pretty powerful and was still rearing its ugly head every few nights. But, for the most part, I was getting some sleep.

The problem is, however, that chronic use of melatonin is a huge no-no. Something they don't tell you in the vitamin aisle at Shaw's. A few months into taking melatonin, I found myself getting listless. I couldn't be bothered to get anything done, even things like my favorite yoga routine in the morning. I chalked it up to being an adult. I figured that there was a certain ennui that came with age. But I was also losing my patience. I was losing what made me, me. I was ready to quit my job over the tiniest infarction.

I don't know what made me look up melatonin, but I found myself on a website about chronic melatonin use, and I'm so stupidly glad I did. I learned that the melatonin tablets can trick our brain into thinking we are depressed. Something about saturating our body with animal melatonin (which is what those tablets are) mucking with our serotonin uptake. The night before I learned about the side effects was the last night I ever took melatonin.

In the end, I fought fire with fire. The portion of my brain that likes to sleepwalk wants to make me think I'm not sleeping? Well, then, the portion of my brain that's rational will remind that aforementioned portion that I did get some sleep, because over an hour as passed since I laid down. I taught myself not to panic when I wasn't falling asleep. I would simply get up, go to the living room, and read until I thought I was ready to try sleep again.

I don't know when exactly I started easily falling asleep again, but I did. Every once in a while, I'd have a night where it would take upwards of an hour to finally catch a few Zs, but the Zs still came. The sleepwalking portion of my brain would wake me up at 1, warning me that I never fell asleep, and I would calmly respond (to myself) with, "That's bullshit. Now go back to sleep."

Insomnia is no laughing matter. Losing your ability to sleep is like losing one of the most precious gifts you have. There's nothing more enjoyable than crawling into bed and falling asleep before your head can hit the pillow. And, on the flipside, there's nothing more frustrating and upsetting than laying in your bed, wondering why you are not getting the sleep you were promised.

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