I don’t want to hurt myself. I don’t want a drink or drug. I just want to sleep.
Since my diagnosis and last major depression 8 years ago, sleep has become a barometer for my quality of life. So, when my alarm went off this morning and my first thought was, “In 24 hours you will still be asleep,” (Friday is the start of a 3-day weekend for me) I realized how tired I really am.
I am really, really tired. Not just everyday tired, I am weary-tired. I need more sleep.
I always thought of sleep as another annoying body function until I hit bottom. I will never forget my first visit to my nurse practitioner and her first prescription: “We need to get you some sleep” – which was followed by a real prescription for a very, very low dose of Seroquel. Apparently, the fitful nights’ sleep that preceded my falling into a black hole were my body’s way of saying “Game over.”
I never equated sleep with quality-of-life. I didn’t listen to my body when it was tired. I pushed through it. Finally, it really was “Game over.” Lights out. Sayonara.
I was brought up to believe that sleep was a body function to be done as quickly and little as possible. My mother grew up on a farm. She rose before the sun. “You can sleep in the grave,” she would say. Sleep equaled sloth.
Youth, fueled by my bipolar II, left me primed for a life lived on 6 – maybe 7 – hours of sleep. Naps were the manifestation of indolence. Besides, even if I wanted to take a nap, I simply could not fall asleep in the middle of the day. I found the mid-day siesta thing disturbing. Europeans are nappers. Real Americans don’t nap. We work.
And so I worked the kind of work done by dual-diagnosed, high-functioning alcoholics whose work ethic is fueled not only by a chemical imbalance in their brain but also their addiction’s relentless drive to prove that alcohol does not affect their performance. The more out-of-control the drinking, the harder we must work to prove that alcohol does not affect our performance. Sprinkle a little mania on top of that and you have a recipe for an epic crash and burn.
As part of my recovery from alcoholism and depression, I had to learn to respect sleep – to not judge myself or others by the amount of time they spent with their eyes closed. This was extremely hard. When I was depressed, I judged my lack of energy as being lazy. If I slept 8 or 10 hours I beat myself up over it. I was wasting time and wasting time was a mortal sin.
I have accepted the fact that as I get older, I need more sleep. When I get a cold – which I rarely do – I sleep before I go to the medicine cabinet. When I get tired in the middle of the day, I take a 20-minute power nap – at work. I listen to and trust what my body is saying and it is not unheard of for me to take a day off work and do nothing but sleep as much as my body wants.
Sometimes I still feel a tinge of guilt. My co-workers are surprised by my power naps and quip – don’t tell the boss. But if they didn’t want us taking naps, why did they put a hammock in the employee lounge? Feng shui?
I have learned over these last eight depression-free years that if the brain ain’t right, the body ain’t right. Sleep, like the anti-depressants in the pill box on my kitchen counter, is medicine. I will take it.
Exhausted woman in the desert image available from Shutterstock.