I cannot remember the last time I found it easy to fall asleep at night.
Most nights I lie awake for hours at a time, my body exhausted but my mind resolutely refusing to shut down and rest. Even after the busiest of days and the most exhausting of shifts I toss and turn, unable to get properly comfortable or empty my mind of the thoughts keeping me from sleeping.
Somehow I’ve adopted the perverse pattern of being desperate for sleep at times when I need to be awake and unable to sleep when it’s actually bedtime. I find it very difficult to get up in the morning and often find myself sat on the sofa, my eyes closing with the need for sleep for most of the day, yet still unable to sleep when bedtime comes.
One more than one occasion I have ended up sobbing with sheer exhaustion, begging Squidge to have a nap so that I can lie down and close my eyes, unable to get through even the next five minuted without sleep.
I am ashamed to say that there have been a few times where I’ve accidentally fallen asleep on the sofa and been woken up by Squidge shouting at me and hitting me with a toy.
On my days off from work, before Squidge was born I would sleep for anything up to 14 hours at a time, only getting up when the guilt of staying in bed for half the day outweighed my ongoing need to sleep. The result of this was that was rarely able to fall asleep at a reasonable time before having to work the next day, often only getting three or four hours sleep before having to work a 13 hour shift.
A few years ago the Northern One and I lived it a bright, busy city where it never really got dark, even at night. The landlord of our rented flat refused to let us put up proper curtains and the paper thin blinds let in all the light from the street lamps and the noise from the constant stream of traffic on the main road.
After going to my GP in desperation I was prescribed a short course of sleeping pills to try and reset my poor sleeping habits. The idea was that if I was able to fall asleep easily at night I would wake in the morning feeling refreshed, I wouldn’t need to nap and that by bedtime my mind would be sufficiently tired to allow me to sleep.
The first night I took the tablets, I didn’t feel as though they were having much effect. I felt calm and comfortable but not particularly sleepy and rather annoyed that this medication that I’d paid for wasn’t going to work.
The Northern One’s sister was staying with us and I could hear them talking and laughing through the thins walls of our flat. I reached for my mobile phone to call the Northern One and ask him if they could talk a bit more quietly but I couldn’t seem to press the right buttons or even really remember what I was doing. In the end I gave up, snuggled down under my duvet and feel asleep.
After the first few nights of easy, peaceful sleep I understood how easy it would be to become addicted to these sleeping pills.
On the nights that I took the tablets I knew that almost as soon as I took them I would start to feel warm and calm, comfortable and safe, without a care or worry in the world. Within about half an hour I would get a bitter taste at the back of my mouth and I knew that I was seconds away from falling asleep. No longer did I have to lie awake, staring into the dark with only my own thoughts for company, worrying about how I was going to get through the next shift on so little sleep. A huge weight of worry had been taken away by one small packet of little white pills.
Then I ran out of sleeping tablets.
I tried to keeping going with the healthy sleeping patterns but after a few days I was right back to where I started and ended up back in the GP’s office, begging him for another prescription which he was understandably reluctant to give me.
Clearly my inability to sleep had deep, psychological roots but with the waiting list to see an NHS counsellor being several months long and unable to afford a private counsellor I was given a second prescription for the sleeping tablets. I listened to the GP remind me that the tablets were highly addictive and that I needed to work on discovering the cause of such unhealthy sleeping patterns but all I wanted was to go home and slip into the sleep that only the tablets were able to provide.
Then they stopped working.
I knew that after a period of time it was likely that my body would develop a tolerance to the tablets and that their effect would lessen or even stop all together. I increased the dose from one tablet to two but after a few days even this higher dose couldn’t send me off into the chemical-induced sleep that I craved. I learned to cope with my sleeping patterns as best I could and managed to get by without any medication
After two years the Northern One and I moved out of the city, to a much quieter town where it actually got dark at night. I remember the first night when we closed the curtains and the ease with which I slept, free of the light and noise that I’d never been able to shut out of the flat. But the relief didn’t last long and soon I was back to my old sleeping habits, sleeping for hours on my days off and then unable to drift off at night, even when completely exhausted.
I managed without sleeping pills until I fell pregnant and sleep was the only release I had from my destructive thoughts of self-loathing and hate. My wonderful GP, who readily prescribed my antidepressants to take throughout my pregnancy was also willing to provide me with a course of sleeping tablets to try and help me find the short term relief that would help me to deal with the bigger issues.
That night, after I took the sleeping pills, my last coherent thought was how easy it would be to take the entire packet of tablets at once and to just drift off into the longest sleep. I did not want to be dead but I also didn’t want to be awake and have to live the terrifying direction my life had suddenly taken. I had the vague sense that if I could just sleep for a really long time I might wake up and feel able deal with being pregnant.
Although I still don’t sleep well I have’t taken sleeping tablets in over two years. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve come to realise how addictive they truly are but it’s mostly because I’ve developed such a tolerance to them that they no longer have any effect upon me.
I still have a few tablets, although why I keep them I’m not entirely sure.
Maybe I’m hoping that the time will come when my tolerance diminishes I will once again taste that bitter taste that tells me sleep is close by and I’ll experience those feelings of calm and peace that come with the sleep I’m unable to find without medication.