Insomnia: Truths and Technicalities

May 6, 2016
Embed from Getty Images

Almost everyone experiences the occasional sleepless night, and the average adult American carries a bit of sleep debt. These experiences, while exhausting and of concern, are nothing compared to chronic insomnia.

There are three broad types of true insomnia: sleep-onset insomnia, in which sleep takes an inordinate amount of time to arrive; sleep-maintenance insomnia, in which the sleeper wakes repeatedly throughout the night or has difficulty falling back to sleep after a waking; and early-wake insomnia, in which morning sometimes comes for the sleeper before the clock has acknowledged it. Each of these types can be transient (lasting just a few nights), short-term (lasting a couple of weeks), long-term (lasting months or years), or idiopathic (permanent, beginning in early childhood).

It’s hard to imagine the depths of exhaustion and stress experienced by the true insomniac. People who have experienced a sleepless night or two are prone to recommending the same few things. “Have you tried a good sleep routine?” they’ll ask. “Avoid screens in bed,” they’ll say. Journalling and tea are often recommended to those who haven’t slept in weeks. It can make an insomniac want to scream — if he or she had the energy to do so, anyway. Most insomniacs know the expert advice which works for average bad sleepers isn’t as helpful for chronic insomnia.

Many insomniacs discover that nothing works reliably to bring about consistent sleep. What works one night, or even one month, may abruptly stop working. Drugs are habituating and can become less effective over time; herbs are almost laughably useless to someone who can’t fall asleep even after five nights awake. Sleep science is in its infancy; the newest research suggests that sleep variations such as insomnia have so many determinant factors that the true cure may be unique to each sufferer.

If you experience insomnia, the best thing you can do is discuss it with a medical professional as soon as possible. Sleep deprivation is dangerous in myriad ways, from long-term health effects to simple dangers such as driving while sleep-deprived. Medical advice can help you find the best way to treat your insomnia and mitigate the factors causing it. And in the meantime, try not to scream when your friends suggest a hot cup of tea.


I don’t think it’s wrong, it’s just gone to my head. *

April 3, 2009

I did not actually see my doctor on Thursday, because she rescheduled for Monday. Today her office called and rescheduled again. Apparently tracking down my various medical records is harder than it should be, and it also cuts into the doc’s vacation time.

So I’m in a holding pattern for now — I don’t have my pain meds and that makes me cranky and useless; I’m not sleeping, but I finally have library access so the nights are better; I’m washing everything in the house that’s washable, throwing out everything worthless. And thinking a lot, of course, because there’s a universal law against moments of peace when it comes to me.

I’m getting pretty sick of my own “everything sucks” mentality. It used to be how I lived, but it’s too foreign now. My marriage is up-and-down lame/awesome and my body is disintegrating and I’m alone 95% of the time, but… the world isn’t ending, and I thought I’d taught myself how to recognize that. I know perfectly well that this is mostly chemical, physiological — some combination of months-old grief, sleeplessness, and boredom twisting my neuroreceptors back into their old patterns — but knowing that doesn’t change it.

Still, I’ve managed to do 35 loads of laundry in the past three days. (That number is not exaggerated. Many — most — of those clothes went to Goodwill or into the bin, but it is still a lot of laundering.) I got the kitchen almost all the way clean. My seedlings are rioting about the place, and it’s almost consistently warm enough to harden them off. I had company the other night and managed not to devolve into a raging bitch or a sobbing wreck (score one for self-control). I have cold beer on a hot day, and my mom bought me plenty of cigarettes to see me through the weekend.

Oh, and I’m quitting smoking. The doctor who washed his hands of me helpfully offered treatments for everything but the non-arthritis, and one of those offers was a prescription for Chantix. I turned it down then, but in the midst of all this self-pitying I thought that maybe quitting smoking would be one thing I could do to feel a little better. I pick up the prescription on Monday, and… well, we’ll see how it goes. I hesitate to call this public accountability (I mean, what are you going to do if I don’t manage it — boycott my blawggy-blawg? bah), but it’s something to announce, anyway. It would be better if I could have anti-anxiety meds already in my tight little palm before I start this experiment (reasons range from panic attacks to sleeplessness to fucking hell what am I going to DO if not smoke), but nothing is ever easy.

This year is almost 1/3 over. If 2009 were a painting, January-April would be one twisted plane of an unrecognizable face. I’m anxious for summer.

*The GooGoo Dolls

You’ll start to think you were born blind.*

April 1, 2009

Yesterday, within the span of twenty minutes, I whacked my leg with a vegetable knife while cutting carrots for Connor’s lunch and dropped a metal bedframe on my arm. The former was irritating but Band-aidable; the latter required five stitches and a tetanus shot.

I haven’t slept in forever and ever and ever, and it’s starting to be dangerous. I’m seeing my doctor tomorrow to (hopefully) refill the crazy pills I’m supposed to take all the time, because this shit does not fly. I’m going to ask about anxiety medication too; I’m going to ask for something to put my ass to sleep at night, and I’m going to ask for Vicodin because the ER doctor did not give me any pain meds, even before stitching me up. And, uh, this shit hurts.

In sum, everything sucks. I’m gimping around today, trying to accomplish spring cleaning, by which I mean “getting rid of the two rooms and four closets full of crap I can no longer manage.” Michael is balking, because that is what he does these days, but I seriously cannot handle everything in our home right now. It’s time to simplify.

In the meantime — and that is such a good word, because this time is very mean indeed — I’m trying to write. I’m trying to write because it’s what I do, and I’m trying to write because I no longer have friends or therapists or a husband who gives a shit upon whom I can dump all of this crazy-brain stuff. It’s an up-and-down process, but it’s tried and still true. Some of that, like the last post, might end up here. Most of it, again like the last post, won’t be particularly pretty, so remember that I have a blogroll over there in the sidebar if you want to click away now.

In other news, my seedlings have exploded. Not (quite) everything sucks, and y’all should kick me if I forget it.

  • matchbox twenty. Oh, the shame.

Roses have thorns, they say.

March 16, 2009

I wrote this as an email a while ago, but I realized that it makes a near-perfect blawwwwg entry, and thus I am copy-and-pasting. Email: Now a handy labor-saving device! (Actually… I guess it was kind of labor-saving before, too.)

Well, I got the first of my seedlings started (eight tomatoes, one cucumber, a strawberry pot, sweet basil), and tomorrow Connor and I are going to set up “his own” strawberry pot. We’re rotating the soil in the big box, adding more whenever we can beg/buy some, and I’m looking into cow poop. Today was warm, sunny, and not windy, so we did grocery shopping. I made burritos for dinner. It was all right.

The rheumatologist has gone beyond “ridiculously expensive” into “outlandish” — it’ll be $150-200 for my damn appointment, depending on what tests he does. I have to pay $125 up-front, and whatever remainder there is will be billed. A pox on these stupid… healer-people. It’s like they think they’re necessary or something. I almost hope that the proposed increase in Medicaid spending will magically make us eligible, but I doubt it will. Fie.

Still, the day was — for once — not a waste. Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s day, so we’re doing a picnic in the park with Connor and whichever of his friends can come. I would like to go have a green beer, but for the fourth year running St. P’s falls the day before payday instead of the day after. (The day before payday is, historically, the brokest of broke times.) I will accomplish this goal before I die, though. It should be a nice day for a picnic, at least.

With as tired as I am right now I feel like I should have more news, but alas, that was the whole day: grocery shopping, putting away groceries/cleaning out the fridge, calling the rheumatologist, planting things, making burritos. It does not take much doing to wipe me out these days, although that is probably because I have not slept in like four days. Diphenhydramine — it is to laugh! Tramadol — a mere bagatelle! No, this insomnia can be stopped by none other than the Acme Anvil of Great Cartoony Hysteria! And if I could find such a thing, it would be awesome.

*Lady GaGa.

Worry — why do I let myself worry?

March 10, 2009

The more I think about it, the more my ongoing health nonsense disturbs me. It seems like I should be able to receive some sort of care or relief — or, at least, a diagnosis — but I am always butting up against more questions. I have been working on the assumption that my Problems and Issues are a result of arthritis; it seems logical, as I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis very young and a lot of my symptoms (deformation and swelling of joints, pain in joints, more pain in joints, fatigue, yet more pain) are arthritic.

When the doctor told me my bloodwork showed nothing arthritis-related, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I think I actually said aloud something like, “Bzuh?” I was not prepared to consider that something was just wrong, and I was all too familiar with my own history — my history of arthritis, arthritis, arthritis.

I should have known something was off, maybe. I have had random symptoms for the past two years, none of which really connect to arthritis. I gained 45 pounds in 2006, and they have not come back off. I lose vision in half of each eye at random times. I throw up sometimes, for no apparent reason. And, of course, there is the ever-worsening joint pain and deformation, which is what I focused on. It’s also the only thing that really sounds like arthritis.

I don’t know what to do about any of this, and neither does my doctor. Everything is getting worse, and it’s happening pretty quickly — this time last year I was gardening and maintaining a sparkling home and chasing Connor around for hours and working 6 hours per day and cooking fabulous meals. Now, I am spending most days in my pajamas, in an increasingly messy house, trying desperately to think of ways to amuse my kid that don’t involve expending any energy. (Here, Connor! Wouldn’t you like to fold this paper over and over for hours while Mommy takes a nap?) I haven’t cooked anything substantial in several weeks; these days, I mostly use the Crockpot or toss random food-like items at Michael and Connor. I am working less and less, spending more of my computer time clicking and reading, avoiding anything that requires typing. I can’t get moving, sometimes I can’t even get upright. Everything is overwhelming and painful and exhausting.

I wonder, sometimes, about the inevitable day when I have to call Michael home from work because the pain is too bad or my joints are too stiff. I can almost feel the sobs in my chest, but I can’t imagine what he’d say. I know what I would say — something like, I’m sorry, but it hurts too much, I need you to come take care of Connor, because I can’t. I don’t know what would happen after that; what would be the point of calling anyone? The doctor I can afford can’t help me; the doctor(s) who can help aren’t affordable. I’ve been to the ER for this three times, and their procedure (a painkiller, some X-rays) isn’t going to change. All that’s going to change is me; one day, probably soon, I just won’t be able to take it anymore.

I only ever have panic attacks anymore when my hands and hips are particularly bad, but when that happens, the whole thing is a clusterfuck. I wake up in agony and unable to move, which makes my heard start to swim as my mind tries to get away from the trap of my body, and when it can’t? All hell breaks loose. I can’t breathe, I flail my aching limbs about in their shattered joints, my heart races along with my mind — I can’t move, I can’t move, OH MY GOD I CAN’T MOVE — and by the end of everything I am totally out of commission.

Sometimes I can stave it off with Pilates. Sometimes, frequently, I can’t. Even when it’s not that bad, it’s bad enough. I can’t write, I can’t carry things, I can’t clasp my watch without using my leg because my fingers don’t work. I can’t open my own water bottles or play Legos with Connor. I can’t wash the silverware because I can’t grasp the silverware, so it piles up in the sink. There are so many I can’ts and no solutions in sight.

I have been close to making that phone call, the biggest I can’t of all, at least twenty times. Maybe thirty. The only thing stopping me is the realization that it wouldn’t really do any good. There isn’t anything anyone can do until we know what’s wrong and I can afford to fix it. All the pajamas and Advil in the world won’t change a thing. What am I going to do?

*Patsy Cline.

Take a look at me now.*

March 9, 2009

Oh, my goodness, it has been so long. So very, very long. So incredibly long that I kind of don’t want to write this post, because so much trivial-yet-essential stuff has happened! I don’t even know how to connect everything together, because it’s not like over a month’s worth of life is really going to have a narrative flow. Also, I don’t really remember what I wrote about last time, although I guess I could just check, and this paragraph is really just more procrastination. Deep breaths. Okay, here we go:

I dyed my hair blue a while ago, except that I didn’t dye my hair as well as I dyed the bathtub and my toes and also, every inch of my skin from the shoulders down. I thought I had taken pictures of the tub, but alas I did not, so you will have to take my word for it. That word, by the way, is “disaster.” I’ve been applying straight bleach to the entire tub twice a day for three weeks, and the color still isn’t completely gone. On the other hand, my hair is now mostly not-blue, because the dye washes out in copious streams if I so much as think about wetting my head. I don’t know what possessed me to dye my hair blue, but… it doesn’t really matter, because in this case dying my hair a funky color on a whim was totally fine and not permanent at all! I will try to take pictures before all the color is gone, but I make no guarantees.

I went to the doctor, finally, to have that whole arthritis thing checked out, and he was very alarmed by my blue toenails. Aside from that, it’s apparently not arthritis causing the pain and the swelling and the pain and the discoloration and, oh my God, the pain. I got prescriptions for the pain, but then I had bloodwork that showed the problem isn’t arthritis, and now I need to see a rheumatologist and my doctor won’t refill my prescriptions, and did y’all know that healthcare is expensive? Because it is. Those taxes I was so excited about aren’t so exciting when pitted against multiple appointments and prescriptions and blood tests and, now, specialists. The status of all this health nonsense is kind of undefined — until I see a rheumatologist, nothing can go forward; until I win the lottery, I cannot see a rheumatologist. I’ll just be over here, hoarding my dwindling supply of pain pills and NSAIDs, all right?

I also had the Most Expensive Day Ever a while ago, involving (in order): an auto-payment for our electricity that didn’t go through, late fees and reconnection fees, running through my phone minutes in the course of straightening things out so that I had to go buy more, ridiculous car repairs, an extra payment to our Internet provider because we’d thought we might switch providers and then could not, and probably other stuff I don’t remember. Then Michael booked himself into a convention in Denver without telling me the price had jumped, and surprise! My account was overdrawn by $100! Which meant that, after we replaced that $100 and the overdraft fees, I had to cancel my own trip to Denver!


I am still considering going to Denver anyway, just catching a ride with Michael and parking myself on a friend’s couch with my kid for three days, but dudes: lame. Can’t we all just trade pretty beads and shiny things for this stuff? I bet I’d never run out of those. (Although really, I haven’t run out of money either; I’m just at the point where spending any more this month is distinctly a Bad Idea.)

Bad Ideas notwithstanding, I have begun buying seeds and accoutrements for this year’s garden. Michael and Chris built me a 4’x4’x2′ box last year, and my plan is to try square foot gardening in it — which would give me 16 miniature plots for growing various things. I want to plant eight big tomato plants, two cucumber plants, two squares of bush beans, and uh… some other stuff, to be determined later. I’m using the pots this year for strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and herbs. If I have the time I’m going to build a tomato trench and grow three or four more tomato plants, because who’s obsessed with growing tomatoes? HAHA, CERTAINLY NOT ME. Except that I kind of am, and I really want to try some funky stuff (black tomatoes, blue tomatoes, striped tomatoes) this year. This has, so far, been the one spark of good in an otherwise crappy week, and I will be starting my seedlings as soon as the clouds clear out, which had better be soon because Velocibadgergirl totally has the jump on me.

Finally, can I just complain for a minute? Because my kid — my awesome, smart, hilarious, sweet kid — is DRIVING ME NUTS. I don’t know if it’s an early taste of Four Years Old or what, but he’s suddenly… well, he’s been whining. And arguing. And refusing to do things he’s perfectly capable of doing, like unsnapping his own damn pants when he has to pee, or holding his fork properly, or uh, listening. What the hell, almost-four-year-old? Please, someone, tell me that this phase ends.

There. I think this covers almost everything, although I still haven’t written about OMGBOOKS and OMGTV and OMGMOVIES and OMGCONSUMERISTBONANZA and OMGSTIMULUSPACKAGE. Later, maybe.

*The Postal Service. I have so much trouble with titles that I thought I’d steal a page from Jonna’s book and start using song titles. This will probably backfire spectacularly, as I display my horrible taste in music, but we’ll see how it goes.

Perfectly chagrined.

December 9, 2008

I don’t have a lot to say right now because I have a horrific stomach flu. Y’all, my hair is falling out. And I have random bruises. All from dehydration. This is unpleasant. While I’ve got time, though, will one of you kindly explain to me why I cannot stop reading those execrable Twilight novels? I started just to see what everyone else was talking about, maybe point and laugh and mock the terrible writing, and now I… I can’t stop. What will happen to Bella! What will crazy stalker Edward do next!

Help me.

Apparently this is what happens when I try to join the zeitgeist, and I have to say that I’m a little disappointed in myself. I mean, all that fancy education down the drain, you know? I almost wonder if the books are causing my mystery illness, because seriously: THEY ARE SO BAD. They’re terrible! There’s lots of gazing upon someone’s beloved perfection, and the heroine is a total fucking idiot (and yet still manages to also be a total fucking cipher), and the entire series is based on the World’s Most Unhealthily Obsessive Relationship, and also I don’t think Stephenie Meyer knows words other than “chagrin” and “perfect,” and… oh my God. This is so sad.

Quick! What else can I talk about? Uh… I had a spectacular vomit yesterday! It was truly magnificent! Never in the history of the world has there been such a OH NOEZ! AN EVIL VAMPIRE IS AFTER BELLA FOR HER DELICIOUS FLORAL SCENT AGAIN? TO THE BATMOBILE RUN LASSIE, GET TIMMY HOW EVER WILL EDWARD SAVE HER?

(Send help.)