The Elusiveness of Sleep

I have struggled with sleeping my entire life. Since birth.

As a baby, I was a headbanger and as a child, I rocked myself all night long, eventually falling asleep sometime in the early hours.

Getting an average of a couple of hours every night, it wasn’t until I turned forty that this began to take its toll.

I’d been to the doctors many times for my sleep during times of extra stress. My final year at uni, after giving birth to three children in nine months and when I was diagnosed with cancer.

Doctors don’t like to prescribe young people sleep medication, so I rarely got much help, and when I did, I found that not even the strongest sleeping pills actually helped. I still didn’t sleep, but felt groggy the next day.

So for years I dealt with a two hour sleep schedule, spending the rest of the night in the very enjoyable pursuit of school planning to make the next day as special for my children as I possibly could.

Fast forward to forty, and I was not coping at all. I was exhausted.

I went to the doctor as a last resort and she asked me to describe my insomnia. I told her I felt buzzy and excited all of the time. I couldn’t wait for the next day to come because I found everything so wonderful! But then I said, even within all that excited, I was now so tired I didn’t really know how to function well any more.

She immediately smiled at me, told me she knew what the problem was and prescribed me a small dose of amitriptyline. Apparently all my nerve endings were firing off lots of electrical impulses, similar to someone with MS who experiences painful firings at the end of their limbs. Amitriptyline would stop the misfiring and calm everything down.

I took my first dose that afternoon.

I fell asleep sitting up talking to my son.

It was like a miracle drug, and so desperate for sleep I did not notice its side effects until years later.

Oh, the weight gain I had been warned about but I did not understand that in calming down all the misfirings, amitriptyline also calmed down the normal firings of creativity and the parts of me that made me, me.

Slowly over the years I felt less and less creative, which given how huge a part of my life being creative was, especially with how I homeschooled my children, it was pretty devastating.

But I didn’t want to not sleep.

Even with the meds I didn’t sleep normally, but they did allow (sometimes) triple the amount of sleep I’d had each night for the first forty years of my life.

Over the past eight years, I have also seen me become more and more of a homebody (nothing wrong with that). I did wonder though, if these meds had anything to do with that. Were they dampening down everything?

I remember when I first took them, I described to Gary that it was like someone had switched off the lights. I used to see life in bright almost psychedelic colour, but now it was more muted. Muted wasn’t necessarily bad, but it wasn’t me…

…but then there was the pesky sleep.

As tempted as I was to come off them, I did not want to stop sleeping.

Until this year. This year I was taking control of my life and my health in a very real and serious way.

At the beginning of this year I began to gradually reduce the dose from 50mg to 25mg, then to 10mg until I had come off them altogether.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It’s only by coming off them, I realise just how much they suppressed every part of me. I am suddenly super social (well, for me!), I am now busy outside the house as well as inside the house. I am creative, super happy and enthusiastic and recognisable as the pre-medicated Claire.

I will always feel grateful for the doctor who helped me to sleep all those years ago, for the first time in my life, however, it’s kind of cool to have me back!

I am not sleeping terribly well at the moment, but little by little I am learning different techniques to at least try to naturally get enough sleep.

Funnily enough, all my life I struggled with getting to sleep, but once asleep an earthquake couldn’t wake me.

Now, I get to sleep no problem but wake about three times each night. A new to me problem.

Right now, I’m choosing to focus on the fact that I have at least learnt to get to sleep. I’m still working on the staying asleep!

Anyway, there are lots of things I have done over the past few months to give me the best possible chance of sleeping, and over the next few days I will be sharing some of those things with the hope they might help anyone else out there who struggles with sleep.

How do you sleep? Do you have any tips to share?

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