My fight with insomnia: What it is to me (and maybe to you)
Huffington Post's Sarah Klein had a post about insomnia some days ago. She defines what insomnia is, what the types of insomnia are, and ways to combat it for people with insomnia. This is all under the title of 5 Things No One Tells You About Living With Insomnia. After reading it I thought Hm... I think a lot of people already know these things. What are 5 things I don't get to tell people about insomnia?
1. No, I usually don't get more work done.
A lot of people ask me "What do you do with all your FREE TIME?!" and unfortunately, with the insomnia I have, there isn't really "free time".
Sure, I'm up. But I'm not thinking oh fantastic, I am up for another 9 hours, better get some work in! I'm rather thinking how the hell am I going to get back to sleep so I can function in the day tomorrow?
There are nights where I know I just can't fight it. Like tonight. I know that I will be in some insomniac episode for tonight -- and possibly for a long time (my longest was last year from May to December) -- and so sleep becomes work.
That's what sleeping is to people like me. It's another job. I work to get myself to sleep and stay asleep in order to actually go to work tomorrow and be able to concentrate. It's tiring -- but not tiring enough.
So no, I don't get more work done because I have all this "free time". It's not free time for me -- it's another job.
2. Yes, I'm always tired. But not in the ways you think.
Another thing people say a lot to me is "Are you always tired?" Uh, yeah. I have had 9 hours of sleep in the last three days, who wouldn't be? Who's buried in Grant's tomb? What kind of animal is Yogi Bear?
But it's not like I'm going to pass out at any moment. Insomnia for me isn't a ticking time bomb of sleep -- it's very much the opposite. It's the haunting feeling that any time you try to rest your eyes, your body is saying what the hell is going on? Are you trying to sleep, bro? Yes, I am. Nah, not right now. Not for you, bro.
I'm tired physically or mentally. I usually feel weak -- some days (I call them "slow walking days") I can feel the effort in walking, with my feet feeling like sandbags. Other days I can only concentrate on one item at a time. That probably doesn't sound profound, but those days I have to list out every little thing I need, including breaks, because I really don't have the mental energy to think one step ahead in my day. Alarms and calendar reminders run my insomniac life.
3. It's lonely
Social media helps aid the time between when everyone is asleep and when I am awake. There are generally a few people from different time zones that I get to talk to. But most of the time I feel in space. It's me versus myself. Sometimes one of the pets in my home.
But generally, even in relationships, it's just me. Either in my bed or on a couch waiting for a window where I can force myself to go back to bed for 1 or 2 hours (hoping for 3 or 4). I'll blog, or read, or binge watch boring TV, or do monotonous things (e.g. formatting tables in APA style for results sections) until the sleeping switch in me begins to turn over. This can last for a couple hours -- up to 8, 9, or 10ish hours. Sometimes longer. And it's not fair to people I'm with. I was dating a girl who was utterly annoyed that I'd be up and not in bed. But when I was in bed, I'd still be up. It even came down to her asking "What's wrong with you?"
4. It's not only a night time thing.
Something people seemingly miss is that insomnia doesn't always mean "trouble sleeping at night". That's definitely not the case for me.
Example 1: I got different night jobs in college, thinking to myself well, since I'm up this late, I might as well try to make the time profitable. My first job was from 11pm to 6am basically sitting in a warehouse for shipping stuff to arrive. At first it was great because 6am was when I would normally go to bed. But then 6am became 7am. Which became 8am. And soon enough, the time I used to spend trying to get myself to sleep was spent being forced awake and to unload UPS trucks into this storage hangar. My insomnia caught up to my working schedule and adjusted itself accordingly. I tried this again some years later when I was in a bad episode, and yet again... my body adjusted to the work load and pushed my sleep routine back.
Example 2: If I'm traveling across time zones, I might get lucky and get to sleep like a regular person for one or two nights. But once my morning routine gets set, my insomnia routine kicks in.
Like the Huffington Post article (and just about all sleep specialists I've talked to) stated, things like sleeping pills really only help in the short term and can have long term consequences. "Tricking" yourself into sleep (like getting a job or traveling over X amount of time zones) is also a short term solution. Luckily, the consequence is just insomnia and not... you know... addiction or death.
5. It's never an excuse.
I've met only a few people with insomnia like me. A lot of the time, people who say they have insomnia just have problems going to bed for one or two nights in a row -- and generally the reason is very apparent (e.g. high stress/anxiety, poor eating/health habits at night, etc). But when I do encounter people like me, it's never an excuse to not do something a regular person does. Just because we've slept for 2 hours in the last two days doesn't mean we aren't going to go to your dinner party. We'll be there and we'll make an effort. Just know that it sometimes may be taking us all of our being to make a bean dip for your party.
I have eliminated sleep aids and waking aids (I don't drink coffee or have any sort of stimulants in the morning) because 1) I don't find them really helpful and 2) I personally feel like purchasing that stuff is its own excuse. It's like me saying to myself I'm okay with this. I'm not. But I wouldn't tell that to you, because this is my fight.
So that's 5 things about my insomnia. I don't know if others feel the same, but I know that I have felt this way about all of these things for some years now. If you do feel the same, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!