Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Day of the Living Dead - An Insomniac's Story

I'm a chronic insomniac which means that too many nights I lay in bed counting down to how many hours of sleep I could get if I fell right now. And of course watching that number twindle. Then waking up (if I ever did fall asleep) and behaving like a pinball bouncing from this wall to that as I desperately seek out salvation in the form of my coffee pot. I've always been an insomnia. In fact, I first realized I had a sleep problem when I was 5 years old and sleeping with my grandparents. I was tossing and turning as I normally did, flopping around like a bass on a river bank, and they kept telling me to lay still. I knew then that something was wrong. However, knowing all of this, I didn't actually seek treatment for insomnia until I was 40. Really until my body was too old to function with no sleep. I'd attempted some over the counter medications but they didn't work. I tried several of the prescription medications and they didn't work either. It seemed I was destined to be a zombie because the only thing that really put me to sleep was anesthesia. There were many stretches of insomnia where I got enough sleep to keep me from hallucinating but that's about all I can say. Too many times I felt drunk, or stoned, as a result of sleep deprivation. My brain functioning at about 25% of it's normal speed. I'd get strange looks as people would ask me a simple question and it took real thought and concentration to formulate and answer. But finally I found something that worked.

I discovered that I had RLS (Restless Leg Syndrom) and found a medication that actually works. And then I did something stupid. I mentioned in my first post that I would point out even my own stupidity. And this was stupid. I used it to great advantage but then my prescription ran out. I'd taken it for several months, and my memory must have been short because I seemed to have forgotten how bad the insomnia was. Instead of calling my doctor and setting up an appointment so I could get my prescription renewed, I decided I didn't really need it. Stupid, I know. But wait, it gets even worse. I went months without getting the script refilled and the insomnia kept getting worse. I had nights where I didn't get a single wink of sleep. I had no energy and was getting seriously depressed. But did I call my doctor? Well of course not. I kept telling myself that it would pass. In the meantime I was turning into a total bitch (more so than usual) with a very, very, very short fuse. Finally, after screaming at my mother, I decided that maybe I should do something about this. Ya think? So I broke down and got the script refilled and low and behold I'm sleeping again. Isn't it funny how things work out.

Insomnia is no picnic. If you've never dealt with it then you have no idea how debilitating it can be. Which is why it was so stupid of me to resist the medication and attempt to suffer through it. Lack of sleep can actually make you crazy. You're never really awake and you're never really asleep and you can even begin to have hallucinations. Sleep deprivation is used as an interrogation method for enemy combatants so you know it can't be pleasant. And yet, persistent insomnia is not treated as an emergency. So we get so desperate for sleep that we overmedicate ourselves. We risk death for the vain hope of a good night's sleep. But insomnia's not an emergency. The sad thing is that even knowing it's effects first hand, I tend to treat it the same way as the doctors. That it's no big deal. That's because I'm stupid when it comes to my health. I broke my wrist and waited 3 days to go to the ER and then drove myself. And I drive a stick shift. But insomnia affects so much more than the physical. It affects our mental capabilities and our emotional balance. But still people see it as no big deal. I suggest keeping yourself up for at least 36 hours to see how you feel. You'll get a bit punchy and for a while everything will be funny. But things stop being funny pretty quickly when the sleep deprivation is consistent.

So here's to my own stupidity, and the stupidity of the medical community for not considering the absence of something the body MUST have in order to live as a serious problem. The body requires sleep just like it requires food, water and air. So here's hoping everybody (including me) gets a good night's sleep.

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