The first night I remember waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep again I was 15. It’s likely my sleep issues started earlier, as I remember always being a very light sleeper, but that was the moment when sleepless nights became something like normal routine to me.
I tried everything I could remember, especially because I didn’t want to be medicated (I’m currently taking 6 different medications every day, so haha, the irony). Medication had side effects. I didn’t want to become a zombie. I didn’t want to admit defeat and ask for help. I thought I could outsmart myself and beat this devil in me that didn’t let me rest. I always had the notion that what was causing this was psychological rather than physical, so I thought I could somehow turn this around.
Then at the end of 2010, when I was 28, I went through a really rough period in my life and became severely depressed. I wasn’t neither eating nor sleeping at all. That’s when I saw a psychiatrist for the first time in my life. I started on an antidepressant (Agomelatin, which didn’t do much for me) and on small dose Cyamemazine for sleep. Cyamemazine is an antipsychotic drug and for some time I thought I was going psychotic much like other members of my family, but later my new psychiatrist explained Cyamemazine is also used to treat anxiety in other cases, so I took a deep breath.
Cyamemazine made me sleep deep and peacefully like a baby and those were happy sleeping times. Funny enough, after a while on it, it occurred to me for the first time that something could be seriously wrong with me. You see, I’d been feeling abnormally tired for years now, but I attributed it to suffering from insomnia. But now… I was sleeping safe and sound and still kept on feeling so awfully tired. Then at the end of 2011 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and things started to make sense.
I had to change medication, because Cyamemazine, being a neuroleptic, can accelerate demyelination, which is not good news when you have ms. I couldn’t go back to not sleeping because not only studies suggest our body produces myelin during sleep but also because I couldn’t possibly handle the subsequent fatigue. I changed psychiatrists (my first one didn’t want me to stop Cyamemazine despite what my neurologists said) and I started taking Escitalopram at breakfast and Trazodone before going to bed.
I immediately felt a difference. On the one hand, Escitalopram really did its job with stabilizing my mood and my anxiety. My chest used to hurt due to anxiety to the point I thought I had some cardiac disorder, but as soon as I started taking Escitalopram I never had that again. On the other hand, Trazodone wasn’t as good as Cyamemazine in making me sleep. I noticed my sleep became lighter and I sometimes woke up a little earlier, though nothing compared to waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning. So as long as I was having 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, even if it wasn’t such a deep one, I was still happy.
Then last summer my psychiatrist and I decided I was more at peace with my diagnosis and dealing with things much better so we tried to take Escitalopram from my cocktail and see what happened. A month off of it I started waking up half an hour before the alarm, then one hour before, then two hours before, and so 4 months later I went back to taking it. This really seems to confirm that my sleeping issues are all related to depression and anxiety and panic disorders.
Sleep became an issue again these past two weeks. I’ve been waking up before the alarm, sometimes 20 minutes earlier, sometimes one hour and half earlier and anything in between. This isn’t something that bothers me much if it happens occasionally, but these past two weeks it happened every day. My fatigue worsened a lot and my mood became somber. And why have I been waking up? Well, there’s a simple answer for that: nightmares. I wake up after a nightmare (or several, it depends) and I can’t sleep again. Sometimes I consciously decide not going back to sleep, because I don’t want to keep having nightmares and become so agitated.
What do I dream about? It varies. Sometimes my nightmares wouldn’t be considered nightmares by most people. They’re just uncomfortable dreams, but those uncomfortable situations I dream about connect with very deep insecurities and fears I live with, thus resulting in my body setting off the alarms. I’m also very susceptible to everything I read or watch. Working in a publishing company mostly with children and young adult fiction, I read a lot of books that sometimes upset me. I remember having several nightmares after reading The Hunger Games, and when I read Pure I dreamed I was spying on my ex-boyfriend through a camera inside someone else’s head, much like happens with the main character. Needless to say, I didn’t like what I saw in the dream.
And then, like today, I break down. I woke up early as usual, had breakfast, and as I was feeling really dizzy and numb, decided to pick up my e-reader and do a little reading in bed. I don’t think I read a single page – I fell asleep and only woke up at 1.30 pm because I have my alarm set to that time in order to remember to take one of my many medications. I was so so so tired. I don’t even remember the last time I woke after noon, probably back in 2011 during my Cyamemazine days. I’m feeling better, but I wish my sleep would be normal enough so my body wouldn’t have to occasionally shut down like that.