MENTAL MONDAYS | Insomnia & Me
I CAN’T GET NO SLEEP!
I have never considered myself to be someone who suffers with mental health problems. Then the other night, Hubby suggested I might need to ‘see someone.’ He’s not usually so concerned about my emotional welfare, but apparently having heard me crying in my sleep for most of the last week, I am starting to upset his natural sleeping pattern. Or as he so kindly puts it… I’m doing his head in!
“Don’t be silly – I’m just feeling a little sad”. I said, and then, out of nowhere, I started balling my eyes out.
“My mother is close to death’s door and has been for some time. She has no life and I miss her. My father’s health is a constant worry and sometimes I JUST WANT TO F**KING SOB MY EYES OUT – IS THAT OKAY WITH YOU?!”
He hasn’t suggested that I might need to see someone since. World Mental Health Day came along and it got me thinking: Am I as strong as like to think I am? Have I been crying in my sleep? I certainly don’t remember doing, but maybe I am in need of a little help? I have always considered myself mentally strong. A tough old bird. Practical and solid. Not the two most attractive of adjectives, but that’s me.
It’s not like I am ignorant about mental health. I have a wonderful friend who struggles with anxiety and depression and has done for years. We talk about it a lot and we laugh about it a lot. I try to be there for her as much as humanly possible. To give her that all important boost when she is down. I’m there when she needs a shoulder to cry on. I don’t know if I am helping, but I try my best. That’s what friends are for.
As for my mother, she was always an emotional, delicate flower. Before she was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia she was misdiagnosed with depression. It had been bubbling away for years. I know what it is like to love someone who is struggling with mental health issues. At least I thought I understood mental health. But, I always believed I was impervious to it.
And then Hubby got me thinking – maybe I do need a little help? I can’t get no sleep. I was about 11 years old when I first started with sleep problems. My worry was always death. I was terrified of it. My parents were in their 30’s by this time and I remember working out that soon they’d be in their forties, then their fifties, then they’d be like, really old and then they’d die, and I’d be on my own. And then I’d grow old and I’d die too.
I used to lie in bed at night in darkness and imagine that was what death must be like. There would never be a morning. Just darkness and loneliness for eternity. I would lie there for hours. Tossing and turning. Worrying and panicking. I would huff and puff loudly as my parents came up to bed. My mum would always pop her head in and I’d be crying but I could never really tell her why I was upset. It seemed stupid. No one else was worrying about this shit, so why was I? I remember one night she told me to curl up in a ball and think of nice things. Picking strawberries on a summer’s day. It didn’t work. She left the room, thinking I had drifted off to sleep. I hadn’t. I’d tried, but it hadn’t worked. This went on for months and months.
It got to the point where I would worry about going to bed from as early as breakfast.
The panic would start to set in and I would get myself ready for bed at around 4pm as the birds were still singing in our back garden. The sound of wood pigeons on an early summer’s evening still makes me have slight palpitations and I remember which such clarity, that scared girl who worried about death continuously.
My parents knew something wasn’t right. They asked me if my aunt’s divorce had upset me. It hadn’t. I’d not given that a second’s thought. The teachers spoke to my parents on occasions as apparently I’d become quiet and withdrawn in class. Everyone, looking back, was a little concerned. Then, after months and months of not sleeping, just like that, I started sleeping again. I can’t remember why or how. I do remember thinking that I couldn’t dwell on those dark thoughts – that I had to remove them from my thinking. Focus on other things. It was hard. But, I managed, eventually. I was free of insomnia for years. I’d regale friends and boyfriends with it every so often – by doing so I was shocked at how alien that young girl was from the confident adult I had become.
Then a few years ago, out of nowhere and in my 30’s, the insomnia returned to haunt me I’d had my son Archie and was pregnant with my daughter Martha and I was working away from home a lot. Insomnia crept up on me out of the dark depths of nowhere. It took hold and the more I tried not to panic, the more I panicked. I would lie awake all night, then get up at 5am to drive to London for client meetings, shaking with tiredness. My heart racing with anxiety all the way.
I tried everything. “Just get pissed!” Hubby suggested. “Hopefully you’ll pass out.” It didn’t work. I just got more anxious. “Try chamomile tea,” my friend’s mum suggested. That didn’t work either. “Oh, I’ve not slept in years!” was my mother’s (not so) sympathetic response.
I eventually went to my GP who suggested ‘off the record’ that I see a hypnotherapist. I did. It was the oddest thing I have ever done. It involved cuddly toys in the shape of frogs. Frog ornaments and frog doorstops. Frogs – everywhere – but that’s another story.
It didn’t work. Not immediately. What did help though, was the knowledge that I’d taken action. I’d done something to combat my wonky wiring and I really think me trying to take back control helped me somewhat. I still live in fear that insomnia will come back and debilitate me again. But, I push those thoughts to the back of my mind. I have a strict bedtime routine I stick to – come hell or high water – and it involves a chamomile tea and reading. Every night. Even if it’s 3am in the morning before I get to bed I stick to my ritual. It is a constant battle to NOT think about it. And, the fact I have written this all down, means I will have to work hard this evening to not set off the cycle of insomnia again.
My insomnia started because I was worried about death. Funny that now, almost every day, I expect my phone to ring with a message telling me my mother has passed away. Or that I need to hot foot it to Scotland immediately to say my final goodbyes to her. The feeling that consumes me when I think of my mum dying is not fear though. It’s relief. Relief and pain, loss and grief. It’s so many things, but it certainly isn’t fear. I also don’t worry about death in general anymore. I know I cannot do anything to control death. It has released its power over me in that sense. I know that I need to focus on what I can have an impact on and what kind of person I can be; the best possible person for my children, for my family and for my friends. I fear, as I write this, that it all sounds too simple. Not severe enough maybe?
The thing is, mental health is not simple is it? My apparent sobbing in my sleep for the past few weeks without even knowing it proves that this is all far form simple. But help? Do I really need help?
I’m a Yorkshire girl born in the 1970s. I was raised with a stiff upper lip. ‘Show some grit girl. Be brave. Hold your cards close to your chest. Just get on with it – there’s plenty a lot less fortunate that you.’
My friend is so brave. She is open about her anxiety struggles now and talks openly to me and many of her other friends about how she is feeling. I don’t consider her weak for accepting help. I admire her more than she could ever know. Why then, do I consider all this a self weakness?
Just be kind – to yourself We are all busy advising each other on social media to be kind. Telling our kids to be kind. Declaring loudly and proudly that being kind is one of the most important things to be in life. So, isn’t it about time we were all a little kinder to ourselves? And, for those of us who may need a bit of help, or a long, hard cuddle, or a few extra sturdy shoulders to lean on through some difficult times, surely, we should not react to the suggestion of help like we’re weak? Or failing? Or not good enough?
Kindness is important. And kindness should start within ‘Take back the control Sarah!’ I will tell myself this evening as I sip my Chamomile tea and read my book. And then, after my rituals, I will send insomnia packing with a big fat FUCK YOU! The sobbing in my sleep though – that might take a bit more than a few cuddly frogs, a cuppa and a couple of pages of a Mills & Boom classic. And if Hubby is so concerned as to suggest that I should ‘think about seeing someone’ a second time, I won’t be so quick to shoot him down, and maybe I just will. Sleep well folks x
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I’m a primary school teacher and I’m a mum to a beautiful, bright and bubbly six-year-old. I witness the ups and downs of wellbeing in children every day. Every parent faces the same dilemma – how to ensure the wellbeing of our children – particularly from a mental health perspective in a world that is more pressured than ever in more ways than one.
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