“Why can’t I sleep!?” I was desperate for answers. I considered my diet, alcohol, thyroid, liver, gall bladder, birth control pills, you name it. The list went on and on and I cut everything out. I started clean eating, I stopped drinking, I stopped taking birth control pills, I saw a GI doctor to rule out any issues in that department and I had every organ and cell checked out in my body to rule out everything WebMD told me was wrong with me. Nothing worked. I was averaging about 1-2 hours a night and was miserable, but I was still holding on hope. I knew there was a solution, I just didn’t understand what that was yet. Finally, I decided I would just take over the counter sleeping pills. It was the only thing I could think to do.
And so the journey began…
What I didn’t know was that I was about to continue through the most miserable 8 months of my life. However, I’d find out soon after that 8th month, this stretch of time would lead me to the happiest I have had for as long as I can remember.
The over the counter maximum strength sleep aid worked for about 2 weeks. I got decent sleep, maybe about 5-6 hours a night. It wasn’t my usual 7-8, but hey, I’ll take it. Two weeks seemed to be the turning point. Everything I tried worked for about two weeks and then there I was again… 12:00- 1:00- 2:00-3:00… “O-M-G, I have to be up in 3 hours. I’m so tired!” I just wanted to scream. I laid in my bed and cried night after night. Each morning I’d get up and go to work day after day, sad, stressed, tired and confused. I thought, “What’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I sleep?”
I read everything online; What is insomnia? Why do you get it? What can be done to treat it? I got black out curtains, set a bed time routine which included dimming the lights, winding down before bed and reading. Finally after several more weeks of sleepless nights I came to the conclusion that I needed to see a therapist. I thought that maybe there was an underlying reason for this and she could help me get to the bottom of it.
The good news was, I already had a therapist. I only saw her a couple of times, right after a bad break up. She was a God-send. Seriously, God put her on earth to help people like me and I was lucky to meet her. She got me through that tough time and really helped me to see things clearly again. I hadn’t seen her since and I knew it was time to call her.
I told her what brought me in and we talked about everything; my job, grad-school, stress levels, my relationship, social life, you name it. Everything seemed great. Nothing was bothering me, just my sleep. We couldn’t determine an underlying problem. She did tell me about an amino acid; L- theanine. She said it’s helped people in my situation calm down at night. At this point, the thought of trying to sleep and laying awake in my bed all night stressed me out. The L- theanine worked…for two weeks. After 2 weeks, my insomnia returned full-fledged.
I was still seeing her regularly at this point and decided to let her know that for as long as I can remember, I feel like I have, what I described as, “racing thoughts.” You know when your driving in your car on your way to work and all of a sudden you’ve made it to work and you don’t even remember the drive because your brain was elsewhere? This was my brain 80% of my day. I jumped from one idea to the next with no real focus. She recommenced screening for a mood disorder. I was screened (by survey) for depression, anxiety, bi-polar and ADHD. All of them were negative. I remember thinking “HA! Depression? Whhhhatt? People I worked with have referred to me as smiley and some have asked if I’m I ever in a bad mood or have had a bad day. I’m super energetic, have tons of goals and I love my life. I love my life so much I just want a good nights sleep so I can live it to the fullest.” I told my roommate at the time about my therapists hypothesis. We laughed. I remember telling her as I shoveled ice-cream in my mouth straight out of the carton and sarcastically, as I faked sobing in my voice, said “I’m not depressed, see look at me I’m totally happy! This is what happy people do!” We laughed again and talked about how silly this idea was.
Eventually therapy became just another thing on the to-do list and I was very, very busy. I wasn’t having any sort of breakthrough and I still wasn’t sleeping so I decided to stop going.
I continued to research as I laid awake in bed at night, my brain in a total fog and my emotions on high. I read up about herbal supplements for sleep. I tried Valerian root and a GNC sleep blend that included many of the herbs recommended for calming and sleep purposes. I also got some essential oils to relax me before bed which were actually quite nice. After I came to the conclusion that none of this was working either, I went to urgent care (since I didn’t have a family doctor at the time) and told them about my issues. I said it had been months and I tried everything. I wanted a referral to a sleep center. I got one and the first available appointment was about 7 months away. They prescribed me Ambien, which I never wanted to take (I was certain I could solve this naturally without prescription sleep aids). I took it, hallucinated at bed time, fell asleep for 1-2 hours and woke up wide awake for the rest of the night (grrrrr)! I started to accept it. This is my life now. I’m like all the other stories I’ve read online of people who are insomniacs and have been for years.
I held on some hope though. I figured when my grad class ended, my stress would lower and I would sleep. That didn’t happen. Next, it was the idea that when summer vacation began I would be relieved and finally get some rest. Negative. My last hope was that I would have everything I needed and be totally refreshed after a family vacation with all my brothers and sisters together (first time in years) at a beautiful beach. Wrong again.
It was on this vacation though where I had totally lost hope. I looked really hard at things that had been going on in my life and realized I had not been honest with myself. I cried uncontrollably a lot on that vacation and felt totally alone when I was with the people who meant the most to me. I finally realized I was probably depressed and It was time to face this and get help.
I found a family doctor who diagnosed me with not only depression but anxiety as well and prescribed me a low dose of an anti-depressant (lexapro). I began taking the medication and felt an almost instant change. Within a week, I was back. I finally felt like myself again. I honestly think it was years since I felt this normal. I was so in denial that anything was wrong. I knew there are so many people who have it so much worse than I did I didn’t deserve to complain or say anything was wrong. I came across depression as a reason for insomnia online and I honestly thought “People like me don’t get depressed. Depression and happiness are a choice. I decide how I live my life and my mood.” I was so wrong. It took a lot of soul-searching, prayer, time to myself, and help from an amazing doctor and therapist to allow myself to be real with what was going on.
Depression has many different faces
The journey I took to realize I was experiencing depression is a whole other story. I learned that depression doesn’t always look like it does on a screener, in a medicine advertisement or in your health class text book. I always thought that people suffering from depression would lay in bed and sleep all day, they don’t want to get up. I thought depression meant you’re uninterested in friends or a social life or setting and reaching new goals. All of these things were opposite for me. I was raised with the idea that people have it worse (still very true) and I can choose to be happy. I was raised to never stop striving or fault on my committments. I was honestly just muscling through my life. I wasn’t ready to give up but I was so very, very unhappy and honestly thought it wouldn’t be fair to admit it. This would just be complaining and I wouldn’t want people to feel bad for me. Wrong again.
The life that followed that realization and the life I am living now is more than I could have imagined for myself. I went through more changes in the last year than I have in the previous 4.
Maybe you know someone who can benefit from this post. I hope you share it with them. That’s the whole reason I decided to start this blog. I want to help people the way I was helped. I want them to be able to move on and live a life far better than the one they are living now.
In my next post, I will fill you in on how I came to the realization that I was experiencing depression and what led to it in the first place. I’ll fill you in on all of the areas of my life I was ignoring and what happend when I spoke up and got real about my feelings. I will also tell you how things are now.
Sorry, I can’t wait. F-ing amazing! My life is really great and so much better than it was just one year ago. More on that in my next post.