I’m going to step out of the closet and tell you one of my most deeply held neuroses (I say "one of", because there are, in fact, many). I have some major issues with sleep. And while I may make light of it sometimes (as part of that laughter-is-the-best-medicine theory), it is, in fact quite serious, at least to me. Here’s the whole story.
I’ve always been a night owl, even as a child. I have many memories of lying in my bed as a little girl, terribly anxious over the fact that I couldn’t sleep. I would wake up my mom in the middle of the night and ask her to sit with me while I battled insomnia, and my mother, angel that she is, would do it.
College, strangely enough, was the only time in my life since puberty that I remember feeling rested. That season of life is perfectly suited for staying up until 2 or 3, and sleeping until 10 or 11 for carefully scheduled afternoon classes. It was heavenly.
Shortly after I was married, I began taking melatonin each night, a commonly used (and safe) sleep aid. I took it every single night. I had pretty good success with it and was finding my sleep beginning to normalize. Until, of course, that Great Disturber Of All Reasonable Sleeping Patterns….motherhood.
I don’t suppose I really noticed the sleep disruptions that much during the early years of motherhood. I was so generally exhausted that it was hard to tell if my problems were caused by insomnia, or by the demands of my kids. Certainly the mommish tendency to leap out of bed at the slightest sigh from a child is NOT helpful to an insomniac. But when I heard my friends talk about how they "fell into bed exhausted at the end of the day", or were "asleep before their head hit the pillow"…well, I’ve never been able to relate to that. Sleep has never come easily to me, no matter how tired I might be.
Fast-forward a few years.
I’ve shared before my battle with severe anxiety and depression. What I did not share, in the interest of brevity before, was that that particular episode was "launched" by an extreme episode of insomnia. At one point, I went 48 hours without sleeping. My doctor prescribed Ambien, and it worked, but I was so afraid of becoming hooked I didn’t allow myself to depend too much on it. Within days of the onset of the insomnia, the bottom dropped out, and my battle with anxiety was on.
Now, my head knows that most likely, the insomnia was simply the first major symptom of a much larger problem. The insomnia did not cause the panic attacks, they simply were the first in a long string of symptoms that let me know I had some major issues going on in my body. My heart isn’t so sure. For now (and maybe forever?) the "discomfort" of not being able to fall asleep always triggers in me that instantaneous panicky thought: is it starting again? It’s an irrational thought, but there it is.
Nowadays, the extreme insomnia from those hard days is gone. Left behind is the "typical" insomnia that often plagues night owls like me. But because of my strange history with my sleep battles, what would be a simple speed bump to others is a massive road block to me. As a result, I will do whatever it takes to avoid feeling that oh-no-I-can’t-sleep feeling. I take Ambien in very small doses, but I take it often. Very, very often. This bugs me, even though my doctor has assured me that the small dosage I take is not physically addictive. It’s certainly psychologically addictive.
Add to that my tendency to stay up very late–I guess I figure if I wear myself out I’m less likely to be unable to sleep, and you have the recipe for one very tired momma in the mornings. Even my kids notice it. In fact, what prompted me to write this post is a conversation with my seven year old yesterday; he told me I "look droopy" in the mornings. Last night at bedtime he prayed, "God, please Mom go to bed early so tomorrow she won’t look like she normally does in the morning." (Let’s ignore the insult in that and just move forward with the sweet part, okay?)
I don’t even really know why I’m telling you all this. My tendency is to think I need to wait to post about something until I have it all figured out, so I can seem all wise and profound. The truth is that I’m smack in the middle of this. Hello, my name is Shannon and I don’t sleep well. I take too much sleeping medication. And I stay up too late. There, I said it.
I think it’s very likely that the issue of sleep will be a thorn in my side the rest of my life–a nightly reminder of how much I need to depend on God for even the most basic of life functions. I’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing it with Him, and reading what He has to say about it in His book (see here, and here, and here, and here, among others). He and I will sort it out one day, of that I’m certain. And I’m sure the lesson in it will be yet another example of His teaching me to stop trying so hard. To be still. To rest.