I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know? – Ernest Hemingway
When I was diagnosed with parasomnia a few years ago I struggled with the idea of needing sleeping pills for the rest of my life in order to sleep properly. I actually thought that my sleep disorder was something that I could beat; that it was simply mind over matter. I thought I could train myself to sleep better. But when you’re experiencing 1% Stage 4 sleep and 101 spontaneous arousals/interruptions through the night and having hallucinogenic episodes, it’s not that simple.
When I was pregnant, I couldn’t take my sleeping pills, but I was allowed to take Benadryl so I did. I slept, but not enough. When I was breast feeding Clara, anti-histamines were a no-no, and obviously sleeping pills were too, so that too was a sleepless year. Even when I could lay down to get some sleep – in between waking up with Clara and waking up to pump – sleep didn’t come easily. It never has and maybe never will.
Because I never really made sleeping well a priority, I suffered as a result. I never knew how much I actually suffered, and how much my day to day life was impaired until I eventually started getting enough sleep – quality sleep, without waking up every hour after laying awake for more than an hour waiting for sleep to come.
Then a bunch of things happened that made me realize how important sleep was and how much it was negatively impacting my life. I went back to work full time, Clara was still waking up in the night, Taylor and I separated and eventually divorced, we sold our house, I found my own place, I suddenly had bills to pay and a budget to manage.
I started to struggle with bouts of anxiety, that left me gasping for breath on good days, and distraught and almost hysterical on bad days.
My anxiety was affecting my ability to sleep, and my lack of sleep was affecting my anxiety.
“You need to do whatever you need to do sleep,” both my doctor and my therapist said to me.
I’ve been off and on different sleeping pills for the past few years; including Clonazepam, that I developed a disturbing high level of tolerance too. It was my therapist that eventually pointed out to me that Clonazepam was part of the Valium family, and I was taking too much. I spoke to my doctor and he agreed; we began trying new pills and combinations to see what would work.
A few months ago, we found the right combination (10mg of Sublinox and 50mg of Trazodone) and I’ve been sleeping. Actually sleeping. Falling asleep within 15-20 minutes and sleeping for a straight 6 hours most nights. Waking up after 6 hours and being able to fall back asleep. Waking up and finding the rest of the bed relatively undisturbed, on the nights Clara is not here and I sleep alone.
Waking up and feeling rested.
As soon as I started to sleep properly, my anxiety diminished substantially, to the point of almost being gone. It’s still there, but it’s usually triggered when I have a lot going on and I’m pushing myself too hard. When physical and mental exhaustion sets in, and the anxiety starts to creep up, I can usually recognize it coming and then I treat it with sleep. If I have Clara, I go to bed when she does, even if it’s 8pm and still light out. I’ve gone to bed at 9pm on Saturday nights when Clara is at at Taylor’s and slept until 9am the next morning.
My sleep has become selfish and unapologetic.
Earlier this week, I was low on my usual pills and so I substituted from a prescription leftover from when I was trying out different pills. I administered safely, and didn’t exceed the maximum dosage, and technically, after not being able to sleep for a few hours, I did sleep. But poorly.
And the results the next day were disastrous.
I fought with waking up in the morning, I was groggy and struggled with doing the neccessary things to start our day. When Clara told me she “wasn’t feeling well” and didn’t want to go to summer camp, I agreed far too easily. I rescheduled my day, and sent an email saying I wouldn’t be in. We had a quiet morning – still feeling groggy and disoriented, I slept off and on and Clara played on the iPad and kept me company.
When we did get up – to head to the gym for a yoga class and some play time and then the pool, I continued to struggle. I boiled eggs for egg salad for our lunch and almost cried when I realized I had no mayo. We were late; I got to yoga and realized I had no towel or water bottle and almost left class. My practice sucked, I spent a lot of class unfocused and not really there. When the cafe by the pool messed up our food order and delayed our lunch by an hour, again I almost cried.
Clara made friends in the pool and those kids insisted on talking to me and asking me never ending questions – this happens a lot, I think I’m the mom kids naturally like. But I found myself resisting the urge to be rude. “Stop asking me questions,” I wanted to snap at them. Or, to tell them to go ask their questions to their parent that was sitting by the side of the pool, stoically unengaged and not parenting. I wanted to tell stoic dad to start paying attention to his children so I didn’t have too. Yes, I judged.
All day I didn’t feel myself. I literally felt under water, struggling to reach the surface. I tried hard to force myself to enjoy a rare day off alone with Clara, that in theory, should have been idyllic. But I wasn’t mentally present to enjoy it, not truly, and felt like a dimmer, smaller version of myself.
I was so completely tired, and being tired made me feel like I was being a bad parent.
I understand better parents that maybe snap at their children because they’re tired. I did it far more than I would have liked with Clara that day, my words edged with impatience. Parenting is honestly hard enough on a good day but extremely difficult on a bad day when you’re not resourced.
Finally, late in the afternoon, I decided I needed to stop being so hard on myself. I was doing the best I could, but I was tired and there was a reason for it. I gave into what I was feeling; I stopped fighting my exhaustion, finally realized just how much my lack of sleep was affecting me.
I forgave myself and promised to do better; to sleep well that night.
I took a deep breath. I yawned. I told Clara that I was tired, that other kids splashing me in the pool was frustrating, I needed food and water and shade if we were going to stay out in the sun much longer. She didn’t really understand it – she’ll go until she drops from exhaustion or hunger – but it didn’t matter so much, because I understood it.
So that night – last night – I took one of the last remaining pills from my usual prescription and made a mental note to have my prescription refilled. I went to bed shortly after Clara did.
And I slept. Selfishly and unapologetically.
And the next day, I woke up rested, already a better parent.