I am tired.
I am always tired. It ebbs and flows and fades into the background, but it is always wanting to sneak back in.
I am tired.
I have never had a normal, healthy sleep schedule. I remember one time, some family friends were staying over, and in the dark, quiet room where all the children were sleeping, I remember asking the eldest son of the other family why everyone else seemed to find sleeping so easy.
“I don’t know,” he said, “I guess that’s just something younger kids can do.”
We were eight.
It came in useful later, that ability to function after a night of no sleep. When other people rightfully joined in my love of Harry Potter. I could stay up all night reading and still go to school the next day and be as much of a human as ever. I beat the kids who loved spoiling the books, who only read the last chapter so they could come in and shout out who’d died.
Obviously, my parents were against this. They thought I was staying up to read, not reading because I was up anyway, staring at the ceiling telling myself stories. They checked if my light was on, so I used to sit on the toilet and read instead. For hours. They couldn’t tell me off for using the toilet.
This is probably why I didn’t notice it getting worse. I thought everyone had nights where they hadn’t slept. It just wasn’t a big deal. But exhaustion makes everything harder to deal with.
Then, suddenly. I was able to sleep. 8 hours a night. Needed to sleep. 10 hours a night. Craved sleep. Suddenly I was in bed 14 to 16 hours a day. And was still exhausted. I still needed more. This was when I was first diagnosed with depression.
As I came out of my first depressive episode, insomnia returned. This time, worse than ever. Instead of regularly sleeping 4-7 hours a night with some nights wandering around sleepless, I was sleeping between 30 minutes and 2 hours a night. My body was depleted and my mind was wide awake. Once, after a night of no sleep, followed by a night of 30 minutes, I felt like crying. I went to the doctor. He suggested that instead of trying to sleep after a sleepless night, I make myself stay up the next night too. So that by the time the next night rolled around, I would be on 50 hours without sleep, and my body would be forced to crash and reset with a proper night’s sleep.
I have now done this three times. Each time felt like I was going mad. Once, I bought everything the shopping channel sold me. Some of them were subscriptions. It took a while to work out what I’d bought and cancel them all.
One time it didn’t work. I went to bed, exhausted, at 11 pm. I woke up at 11:45. I thought I’d slept for nearly 13 hours and was so annoyed at myself for oversleeping and putting my next night’s sleep in jeopardy. I had been asleep for 45 minutes. This was the only time I have ever taken sleeping pills. They worked the first night. And none of the nights after.
Now, I’m back to my 4-7 hours with occasional naps. Some nights are sleepless, some nights are under an hour. Some nights I wake up sweating every 2 hours. And then I go to work in the morning.
My normal is a terrible temporary for many many people. They have been through it and overcome it and so they believe that I can too. People have a lot of advice. A LOT. And trust me, I try it. I did a whole bloody course on sleep hygiene. Living alone with a lounge so that my bed is just for bedtime has helped a lot. But this wasn’t available to me when I was a student or living with flatmates. Also, living alone means that I don’t have the added guilt of still being up colouring in and trying not to look at screens at 4 am. I lived in a very safe city once, where I could go for walks at night if I couldn’t sleep, that was lovely. It didn’t help me sleep, but it was lovely. Everything is quiet and still at 2 am on a Tuesday. I know about caffeine and calming down before bed and meditation and mindfulness. I have experimented with cutting sugar out, cutting caffeine out, going to bed hungry, going to bed full, going without dairy, gluten, soy, and certain chemicals in fruits and vegetables. I have tried taking vitamins and adjusting the times of day I take vitamins. I do yoga and have tried doing it at different times of the day. My alarm clock is a lamp that gradually lights up before the buzzer so that I am woken up at a natural point in my REM cycle.
So far, unfortunately, what works best is other people. I wish I could rely on myself to regulate my sleep. When I am in a romantic relationship, or a friend is visiting, they remind me to go to bed. Not on purpose or like a parent, but just them going to bed reminds me to do the same. And then I lie there. If they are next to me, the feel of them falling asleep is so peaceful. Even those stupid twitchy kicks. The knowledge that sleep is happening, is possible, is very calming. Even if I am just lying next to them, watching the sky lighten. The presence of another person also stops me reaching for my phone, or the light, or a book. The other person keeps me in bed. One ex-boyfriend had night terrors and even that was better than suddenly realising it’s 7 am and I forgot to go to bed. Even if I’m not sleeping, at least I’m laying down. I wish I had the will power to do that alone, but I don’t, not yet. So I lie next to my lover and try to sleep by osmosis. As if I could steal the magic power they possess.
Every now and then I sleep for 13 hours. It’s a gift from my body. I don’t know if there’s a better feeling in the world than actually being awake.