My Insomniac Life

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting,

dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.

We loved with a love that was more than love.

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream  

only by night.

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall

say where the one ends, and where the other begins?

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December; And each separate dying ember

wrought its ghost upon the floor.

 All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and

poetry.

 And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted—

nevermore!

– Edgar Allan Poe

My Insomniac Life

* This is a long chapter but an important one as it is a major part of my own mental health– sleep is always an issue in my life.

This is a long chapter, and I apologize for it being so. This might become a series as I start to work on my insomnia again.

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Insomnia has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I like to joke to people that “it’s in my blood to not sleep.” But, it is a severe issue in my life. You ask any professional they will tell you that good sleep is key to your mental health.

Unlike most of the things wrong with my life, like living with Bipolar disorder or my social anxiety, I have never felt in control of being an insomniac. I have been through several sleep studies in my life, but they never amount to actually helping me. I have worked on my sleep hygiene but, to no avail, it doesn’t really help me get to sleep. My biggest problem is the actual getting to sleep.

I can remember growing up eight or nine and not being able to sleep. Over the years it has become impossible to get to sleep without medication. I can’t remember the last time I could lay down and go to sleep without medication. I sometimes joke about this because I feel insecure about my rest. If I really think about it, I spend more time at night trying to shut my brain off enough to get sleep, than actually getting to sleep. I have tried every sleeping medication on the market, both prescription and not, and at best they’re a temporary fix.

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What has gotten me through the last few years is that I take the antipsychotic Seroquel to help with my Bipolar disorder and it is one medicine that can sleep. It’s the one medication that has been consistent in my life because it does a great job at shutting my brain down (although the side effects of having trouble getting out of bed as well as being in a constant haze have always been the worst.) Over the years my dosage of Seroquel has changed.

At one point in my life, I took that max dosage of Seroquel allowed for a patient at 600mg every night. This was early in my diagnoses in 2007, and it went like that for years. Most days that dosage got me to sleep, but the problem was that oversleeping became an issue. When I would oversleep, it would make it harder to sleep the next day. I grew wildly inconsistent with my sleep, and sometimes I would go days without sleep even with the high dose of Seroquel. My days were spent mostly in a haze, at least a few hours after waking. The drug is potent, and I felt that sleep would be impossible without it.

Around 2012 when I was starting to get back to normal, and going back to school was on the horizon, my doctor and I came up with a plan to find a workable dosage where I could still function. Eventually, we settled on a 300mg dose. It worked for three or four years and while I even got less than five hours of sleep, but at least it was something.

I should have realized last year that my sleep was starting to become a major issue again. There would be spurts of time over the previous year where sleep was impossible at 300mg. My doctor at the time made a choice to give me options. I would get 100mg tablets and continue to take the 300mg dose with the opportunity to go up to 600mg if needed.

It was slow, but the dosage over the last year has steadily increased. It started with 400mg to get me to sleep, and I would raise it to 500mg if needed. Sometimes it took that much more, but 400mg was enough.

Then this weekend happened. If I had known on Friday that my sleep would take a wrong turn, I might have worked harder to get back down to my 300mg dosage in the weeks prior. By I digress.

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It started on Saturday. I knew I had to wake up around 5am over the next couple days, so I figured why not go to sleep at a decent time? It usually takes me two hours from the time I take my Seroquel, to the time my mind shuts down so I can sleep. I took my usual 400mg and went to bed— early. I honestly tried to sleep. I was in total darkness, and I just laid there not feeling even a little tired.

I figured it was a night for another single dose, so I did that, and still sleep escaped me. Hours had started to pass, and I began to panic that I wouldn’t get enough sleep, it turns out that was the least of my worries. Around 2 am, I decided I had to get some sleep before waking up and did the unthinkable. For the first time in five years, I took a max dosage.

This story doesn’t get better. I didn’t sleep that night/morning and still had to get up to be normal. I had to do the things that were planned. I was exhausted. I felt heavy. The worst part is, it was about to get worse. By the time the evening rolled around, I could barely keep myself upright, and I figured why not try and sleep? My anxiety was at a very high level, and it was already in my head things were only going to get worse.

I tried to go long into the night before taking my medication, but I finally had enough around 6pm. I received my regular dose, and I was barely aware of my surroundings. I laid down with the hope of falling asleep, and for some reason that woke me up. I lay there in my bed once again my thoughts racing faster than the day before. It had been close to 36 hours since I last slept. After an hour, I upped my dosage to 500mg. After two more hours of lying there, I took one more dose. After 40 hours, sleep finally consumed me.

This is where I find myself today. I am depressed about this because of it such a significant deal and its finals this week. I am worried that tonight will be another step in the wrong direction with my sleep. I have no choice but to really work on my CBT today so that there is a hope to get my mind right. I have to get my mind right.

Insomnia like depression never comes when life is good, and nothing can bring you down. It happens when your mental health has taken a beating you are failing to recognize the symptoms and even the triggers. When I am overworked, I tend to forgo the things that help me get by. CBT, meditation, or using my heat lamp in the mornings. When my routine starts to change like waking up later and later each day.

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Your body always gives you signs. It does that to protect itself from total collapse. Considering what I have put my body through over the last ten years, my body is well versed in what is wrong. I implore you in this mental illness life to take a moment each day and assess where you at with your health. How many hours did you sleep? There is often a correlation between sleeping less and less each night and when my social anxiety starts to spiral.

Sometimes in this life, all three hit me at once. My social anxiety, depression, and anxiety. This is what I call my worst-case scenario because it takes its toll. For me, it starts with sleep. The less I get, the more issues I have in my day. I still don’t have it exactly right. I am weary that Insomnia will always be a part of my life.

Many of the conversations that I have with my therapist when my social anxiety is spiraling is how your sleep is? Insomnia can be a dangerous thing. I remember before all my sleeping medications and Seroquel that I would go days without real sleep. I once almost made it to six days before exhaustion caught up.

In those times my thoughts would race for days. I couldn’t tell you how I functioned and in a way, I didn’t function at all. I would do what I could to occupy my time. Playing video games often helped me. Watching DVD’s for hours on end (this was before the whole Netflix thing.) I would lay there in the darkness for hours until the morning light reached through my window to tell me it was another day. The worse my sleep got, the worse my other things like depression got.

In my chapters about my suicides, you find that insomnia is tied into each one. My sleep was so bad at one point that I took a sleeping aid on top of the Seroquel. The thing is, medication only works for so long. In about seven years I went through every sleep aid my psychiatrist could give me. Eventually, they stopped helping.

My battle with insomnia has been a really long one, and it seems one that I will bring with me for the rest of my life. One day I will find a better way of managing those two-three hours it takes me each night to get to sleep. My point is rest is the most essential part of the mental health recovery process. If you struggle with it and haven’t sought help, there are many resources available to you.

Always Keep Fighting (AKF)

James

Photo Credit:
Quin Stevenson

kaluci

Annie Spratt

Rafael Barquero

JD Mason

Depression for Dummies

Hi. I’m Chelsea, and I am married to a wonderful, talented, intelligent man who is pretty dumb when it comes to mental illness.

Perhaps you know someone like this. Your bright, helpful person may be a friend, parent, brother, sister, or boss. As well-meaning as he or she might pretend to be, this acquaintance just doesn’t get it. Worse, he or she is often so inept that whenever effort is made, you feel he or she constantly places a clumsy finger right on a fresh bruise and pushes.

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But our friends and family don’t have to be idiots. Honestly, we really need love and support for our mental health and we can be tough nuts to crack.

In light of that, I’ve developed a helpful guide. I call it The Depressive Feelings/Better Responses Guide (of Science). Just whip this puppy out whenever you want to whip them upside the head and you’ll both feel better:

  1. When someone says that he is feeling depressed, a cheery life aphorism like, “Life isn’t all bad,” “Don’t worry; be happy,” or “The sun’ll come out tomorrow” isn’t helpful. At all.
    Instead, try, “I understand that you are feeling depressed.” This may easily be followed by, “I’d like to help alleviate some of your stress. Can I clean your whole kitchen for you?,” or “…I happen to know that chocolate is half-off at the store. I’ll be right back with a pound or two.”
  2. If a depressed person says she feels hopeless; that everything in life is hard: the incorrect response is to point out how easy her life is. Please oh please do not say, “But you don’t have any serious issues like cancer or your arms falling off.”
    A better answer? “Let’s address your concerns one at a time. Maybe you could write a list, then we can come up with a solution for each one.”
    Or simply listen, without criticism. Some people just really need an ear to dump in.
  3. How about fatigue? Do you tell someone with depression that he shouldn’t be tired? That he should get to bed earlier? No, silly. He knows he should get to bed earlier; worrying about how he needs to sleep is one of the things that kept him up.
    Validate the feelings of the tired person. A passable idea might be to describe a cool idea you read recently -about writing all of one’s concerns on a paper by the side of the bed at night. Maybe you have a really boring book you could lend him.
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  4. Let’s say she is feeling poorly about herself. Her self-esteem is in the toilet of the deep, dark dungeon of the evil underworld troll king’s nephew. Do not advise a person with depressive tendencies that, “You’re a great person,” or how many talents she has and how she has the potential for so much more.
    Telling a depressed person of wasted potential will bring on a crying fit. You’re just backing up the mean little voice already in her head (herself).
    One of the best things to say is that you like her, that you like a specific thing about her (say, her ability to come up with Britney Spears song lyrics at the drop of a hat). Try to turn the focus on something else, especially if that is on a happy memory.
  5. When someone with depressive tendencies withdraws from life, reach out. You need to act if he does one of the following: not answering texts, appearing less-frequently online, and even telling people, “Goodbye.”
    If you can’t go, try to get his family or other friends to physically check in. Even a vocal phone call is better than a text. A visit is better than an e-mail. A long, in-person conversation is better than a social media message.

I have a difficult time with about everything in life due to a negative perspective and very little self-motivation. I need my husband, my few friends, and my family. Theirs are the hands that reach into the cave of my mind and pull me to safety.

With specific directions like this, we can work toward loving the hand that reaches. At the very least, we won’t feel like slapping it away.

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Picture credits:
Pixabay
Pexels
Unsplash

Sleep Hygiene – Top Ten Sleep Tips

My therapist gave me this great sheet of sleeping tips that will help with my sleep hygiene. Insomnia is always an issue in my life, so I thought today I’d share each one of these tips and if any have helped me. Enjoy.

#10 – Keep your bedroom dark.

#9 – Get lots of natural light in the morning

This one is a good one. I went out and bought myself a lightbox to help in the cloudy coastal weather we often get where I am from, but going for a walk helps as well. I use my light box even in good weather for 30-45 minutes a day. It varies for each doctor recommendation. I never realized how important natural light is to mental health and sleep.

#8 – Don’t work on your computer late at night, or if you do get an application like “flux” to minimize the amount of bright light you’re exposed to.

This is a tough one for me. I always work the best writing late at night on my laptop, tablet, and even my phone (especially in bed). Often a great idea will come to me while I am laying down and I naturally grab my phone and making notes on my thoughts. I thought a great alternative could be making my journal more accessible or maybe a small pad of paper and a pen.

#7 – Don’t nap during the day.

This is an easy one for me to do. I barely can get to sleep at night, so it’s impossible during the day.

#6 – No Caffeine 3 hours or more after wake-up time.

This is the most unfair one in my opinion and the one that I regularly break. To compromise I made a promise to my therapist for no coffee after 12pm. For the most part, I stick to this plan and it has worked well.

#5 – Only use your bed for sleeping or romantic activities

More times than not at night I find myself in bed writing, and out these tips, this has been the hardest to give up in my life. I write so much better at night. I always have my phone at arms reach writing notes for chapters I will be writing the next day or ideas for my next blog post. I once started writing a chapter in a piece I was writing in at the start of my “sleep schedule,” only to find out it was 4am when I stopped.

#4 – Figure out if you’re a night person or a day person.

For this one, they recommend figuring it out and making a sleep schedule. I have learned that I am a night person who can’t sleep during the day. I must do my best at night to get as much sleep as possible.

#3 – Get a relaxation routine before bed.

The list says that this varies from person to person. Meditation? Taking a bath? Listen to easy listening music or a podcast? This is really what works for you, which I still struggle because writing relaxes me and they recommend not to have a bright screen in bed.

#2 – If you can’t sleep after 15 to 30 minutes get out of bed and do something relaxing.

#1 – Don’t drink alcohol in the evening.

            The last one is easy for me. I have been working on these tips to better my sleep hygiene but it’s a work in progress. Let me know if any of these tips help, or if you have others to add!

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit: Jay Wennington

The Cure for Depression: A Daily Routine

Aw, crap. It’s morning.

Let’s roll out of bed after not sleeping well, glare at our alarm, blame everyone in the world for how terrible we feel, and stalk off to the bathroom to read our phone get ready.

With a winning morning routine like that nearly every day, why are we confused when the days continue to suck?

Did anyone ever watch The Lego Movie? D’ya remember that Emmett had an instruction book literally subtitled: “The instructions to fit in, have everybody like you, and always be happy!”? We, the viewing audience, laughed as Emmett breathed deeply, greeted the day, ate, exercised, showered, and even said, “Hello,” to all the cat lady’s pets.

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In true exciting story form, the film suggested that Emmett’s real, interesting life began once those stupid instructions blew away. Sorry; but this is not how life works.

Life is really long, and we need to want to live it.

Following a routine like Emmett does is not bad. Routine is not a swear word. It’s actually a magic formula, far more magical than Expecto Patronum or even Avada Kedavra. A routine gives us a little, workable guide for getting through our foggy cloud of negativity and hopelessness.

And, you’re following a routine as we speak. It just may not be a good one.

So! *rubs hands together eagerly* Let’s get started on following one that is good. Here’s a sample morning that I threw together:

  1. Wake up, preferably early.
    Yep, we’re starting there. You already blew the early-to-bed thing. Plus, if we start with bedtime, you’ll be like me and procrastinate starting a routine until you can finally get to sleep before midnight -so we’ll get started, like, NEVER.
  2. Tell yourself you love you.
    This is not vain, it’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s good for you; and you are worth it, you beautiful/handsome person.
  3. Do something active.
    If you are following my advice to exercise daily, this may be the time to grab those workout clothes you set right by the bed.
    OR, to not stress you out at all, just do a little stretching. L’internet has loads of simple yoga day-greeting moves that only take a few minutes.
  4. Eat food or get ready for the day.
    I am the only woman in a house of males (all family, don’t worry), so I have to get dressed pretty much right away. For you, though, maybe you can slouch over to the toaster in your skivvies. Whatever; just go. Keep moving.
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  5. Whatever you eat, make it healthy.
    Healthy also doesn’t need to be a bad word. Toast is healthy, at least compared to a breakfast of peanut M&Ms you found behind the couch cushion when you sat down to read your phone instead of stretching.
  6. Shower and/or get dressed.
    Just do it. Don’t give yourself time to think, What am I getting dressed for? Life is…. Ending that sentence is never a good idea for a depressive mindset. Like I said, keep going.
  7. Take your meds, if you do that.
    I don’t know your dosing schedule, but most are taken after a meal and in the first part of the day.
  8. Go somewhere.
    Yes, to your computer chair to check into a freelance job is “somewhere.” I know that some of us are recluses by choice and/or mental condition. If you can get outside to at least stand on the porch and watch the sun, please do.
    Otherwise, I highly recommend getting completely out of the house. Go on a walk, pick up groceries, visit a friend, see a museum, or go to work if you’re employed.

Obviously, this routine is not a hard-and-fast rule. If you decide to pack a lunch in between steps 7 and 8 I won’t leap through your screen and slap you. I mean, you gotta eat lunch, too. I understand.

Still, it’s a good format. Use it like a foundation, something to plagiarize completely for yourself and adjust according to your personal flair.

In terms of the rest of your day, I feel that people’s schedules vary too widely to tailor as much as I did above. If you work, the day’s pretty much planned out for you because you have to do that. If you’re at home, set up activities similar to the morning one.

The main idea is to have assigned tasks; to keep moving.

Depression loves to settle on us like a putrid cloud. We let it. Making life pointless and then dwelling on the pointlessness of life is a vicious circle, but a daily routine will help break you out of that.

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Now, if you’re still with me, you may be wondering about a nighttime routine. I mentioned this in a previous article on sleep, so I don’t want to bore anybody. That, and I’ve exceeded my morning routine writing time. If I wait much longer, I’ll finish the rest of the chocolate almonds and will somehow decide to not exercise due to post-sugar crash.

Don’t get caught up in writing the perfect routine. Use mine for now; I gave you permission. As you follow it, you can slowly change to what works better for you and your lifestyle and work schedule.

You can do it, you beautiful/handsome person you.

Photo Credits:
Wikia
Deryn Macey
gbarkz

The Cure for Depression: Zzzzzzz

Good morning, everyone! I’ve been meaning to talk to you all about ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT topics ever besides food and sex, but I kept sitting down to do so at incriminating times -like, midnight or four a.m.ish.

Yeah, I oughta be asleep then.

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Now that I’ve pushed hypocrisy under the rug by typing at my local time of 8 a.m., let’s get into it!

Sleep is important.

Duh, right? Well, so is eating the right food, but I still picked up a full container of chocolate almonds at Costco yesterday. So is positive self-talk and such with CBT, but I forgot all that when my kids had a meltdown this whole summer. So is talking to my counselor and doing what she says and -no, wait! I did go back on my medication because the kids have been having a meltdown all summer.

Point is: we know sleep is important. However, if you’re like me, then a good sleep schedule is one of the first things to go right out the window as soon as you have a small sip of it.

Let’s remember why we need sleep:

  1. Better Mental Health
    Isn’t this our goal? My internet reading says that mental illness sufferers almost always do not get enough sleep. I think that’s often because our stupid problems don’t let us sleep; for me, however, I intentionally do not because I’m self-defeating that way.
    Sleep is CRUCIAL to better mental health, resetting emotions and releasing the happier hormones into our systems.
  2. Learning.
    Our brains HAVE TO hit all the key sleep stages in order to retain information. You know, all that REM/NREM stuff where dreams can happen. There are a ton of articles out there about this, if you want to do a little side research.
  3. Physical Health.
    After a good night’s rest, our muscles are relaxed and ready for a new day. Skin looks better, especially around the eyes. Joints, ligaments, and nerves have time to repair. Without the stress of maintaining activity, the body as a whole can work on healing.
  4. Longer Life
    No joke: consistently cutting back on sleep affects DNA. This bad practice physically shortens one’s life. Don’t get paranoid; decide to get a better schedule.
  5. Creativity
    Despite your tortured artist soul’s ideas to the contrary, good sleep produces more creativity. I am a regular practicer of late-night muse-calling; I often produce dark poetry detailing horrific, depressive mindsets.
    In terms of consistent artistry, though, I am much more productive when I’m regularly rested.
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  6. Lower Stress
    Yeah, you should know this one. Well-rested is the opposite of high-strung.
  7. Other Crap You May Not Have Known About
    Like, lower testosterone (meaning you’re not going to feel like sex so much), weight control, disease immunity, and focus.

Like water and breathable air, humans have to have sleep. The next question, then, is how do we go about sleeping?

  1. Make a sleeping place
    Yep, like a bed. Maybe you’re literally more comfortable in a recliner, though. Wherever you do your business, make it only for sleeping and sexing. Make it comfortable, dark, and free from distractions.
  2. Make a sleeping time
    Ideally (in a fiction novel), you’d get to bed around 10 p.m. every night of your life. I find that aiming for a reasonable time gets me close to it, plus trains my body to expect that.
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  3. Have a relaxing routine
    Once your time’s set, prepare for it about an hour in advance. We’re talking: showering if you do it before bed, reading a book or your phone on the couch, reconnecting with your loved one(s), getting a drink, bathrooming, etc.
    DO NOT EAT an hour before bed. If you are positively famished, I’d recommend light foods at least two hours before, for metabolism and heartburn reasons.
  4. Stay in bed, but don’t stress yourself
    Occasionally when I wake in the middle of the night, I toss about and decide I’d be more productive getting up. Then I’m a zombie all day. Instead, I’ll choose to make myself more comfortable by repeating my relaxing routine and possibly adjusting the house/bed temperature. Then, I’ll go back to bed and just rest.
  5. Sleep aids and medications
    I’m not going to pretend some people don’t need medicine to rest. The elephant’s in the room (and now, in the bed), right? If you’ve tried a bunch of stuff listed above and have serious trouble sleeping, get your doctor on board to prescribe something to help.
  6. Cut out the crappy stuff like smoking, drinking, recreational drugging and caffeinating
    Tricky, of course, but so so so so so so so helpful for your body in so so so so so so many ways -especially sleep.
    If you gotta do it, keep booze and coffee to healthy times: alcohol in small amounts after an earlier dinner and caffeine in the morning after food.

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The other side of excellent sleep habits is your waking ones. Early to bed and early to rise isn’t just a great poem; it’s a blueprint for most people and a healthy lifestyle.

After a good night’s rest, a consistent, early waking time is equally vital.

In my crash-course study on this topic over the past few days, I learned that waking at the same time each morning trains your body. Our smart little brains start increasing key protein levels (PER) just before the anticipated wakeup. Some people don’t even need an alarm clock because their body has been set.

You, too, can be a living alarm clock.

Resolve today to make sleep a higher priority. Make your bedroom cozy, cut out stimulants of all varieties in the evening, wake early, be consistent, but -most of all- RELAX!

Sleep feels great; get some and you’ll see.

Thank you for joining me on Consider not Depressing. Tune in next time, when I remember what #11 was on my list of cures for depression.

unsplash-logoMaeghan Smulders
unsplash-logorawpixel
unsplash-logoKristina Flour
unsplash-logoKinga Cichewicz

I need my Sleep

My husband and I enjoy old movies.  My favorite movies of all time are Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life.  In fact, we have a jumbo canvas print of an original movie poster from It’s a Wonderful Life hanging in our kitchen–it’s my husband’s favorite movie as well.  Over the past week or so, my husband and I have been watching snatches of a classic movie we hadn’t seen before, Citizen Kane.  Desperate to understand the meaning of Charles Foster Kane’s dying words, “rosebud,” we stayed up much later than usual to watch the conclusion of this film.

It was almost 11:30 when we turned off the blu-ray player and tv and started heading upstairs to bed.  I could feel right away that staying up so late had not been a wise choice, on my part.  I didn’t feel great emotionally.  I could feel some mental pain creeping in at that point.

I have learned, over the years, that no matter how good I feel during the day, sleep is not something I can compromise on.

Sleep disruptions, such as having trouble falling and staying asleep, were the hallmark of my child and teen years.  And even then, I can remember my mom remarking on my excessive “grumpiness” after a poor sleep.  In the home video made at my wedding reception, my mom and sister both made sure to record for all of my posterity (and my new husband, Ryan), that I should never be allowed to get tired or hungry, (or stressed) because each of these states would cause me to be “very grumpy.”  I was, of course, annoyed at this reference to my moodiness, but they were right.  This has been true for me throughout my entire life.

The effects of fatigue have been most pronounced when my thyroid was also out of wack.  I can remember after the birth of my first son, before I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, I was in a constant state of emotional distress from being so tired and never being able to recover.  I asked my mother in law at that time, with exasperated and exhausted tears, “Will I ever feel better?”  Some months later, after breaking down emotionally in the doctor’s office, a doctor finally thought to check my thyroid and after getting proper treatment, I was able to feel relief from the constant, plaguing fatigue.

Throughout my most recent episode of depression, falling asleep was extremely difficult due to the persistent, agonizing mental pain I was experiencing.  Thankfully, over time, things got better and now, as long as I get to bed at a decent hour, I can sleep without problem.

Last night, however, I pushed myself too hard.  When I lay down on my pillow to sleep, my mind was exploding with pain.  I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to remember how I had gotten through it before.  I attempted to relax and clear my mind, but it was to no avail.  I finally prayed for help, and before I knew it, I was waking in the morning.  I was tired from a late night but extremely grateful that I had fallen asleep so quickly.  It was a good reminder for me that I can’t be careless about my approach to getting enough sleep.

Submitting to the fact that I need my sleep, and not compromising in this area, is one thing I have had to come to terms with when managing the symptoms of my bipolar depression.

There are other things I have come to terms with, and I will cover these topics in future posts.  Because Bipolar Disorder is a chronic health condition, I have learned I have to make lifestyle choices that support me in feeling my best–just like any other chronic health problem.

What are your experiences with sleep and mental illness?  What struggles have you had?  How have you dealt with them?

As always, I love to hear from you!  Comment to share your experiences.

Anxiety: The Silent Struggle

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Anxiety: The Silent Struggle

I will admit. Depression sucks. I deal with it just like all of us in the Bipolar/mental illness struggle. It’s true, I hate depression. It’s been my oldest companion and worse tormentor. It can feel like the end of the world, and three times in my life it almost killed me.

I always tend to hide my struggles, but with depression I am still more open to talking about because I understand it. Anxiety— and by extension, my social anxiety— it is the silent struggle.

It’s true, I have talked about my social anxiety here on my blog. But, for the most part, I struggle with it in silence. I think most people struggle with it in silence because it’s tough to understand— at least in my own experiences.

When I sit at a coffee shop, it is all alone. Don’t get me wrong, but I do like it that way. At the same time, I struggle. People make me nervous. I tend to look for the tables that I can be alone. When I have to sit at the “big table” with others, my natural instinct is to put my headphones on and drown out the world.

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I do it because it because every second alone in this world outside my safe places I am struggling. I struggle to be around people because I have never felt normal. It’s not anyone’s fault but my own. I have spent the majority of my time isolating myself because it is easier than trying to live.

Why do I write this blog post? I realize that my biggest issue with my social anxiety is me. I am my worst enemy. I have doubted so much that I can really change. I am so set in my ways, but I honestly feel that I am missing out on something. Life is not about isolation and being alone.

I am not going to change overnight. I have a long road ahead, but I set out to make 2018 the year that I conquer my social anxiety. For the most part, I failed in that regard or at least hit some major speed bumps. Still, my point is that it is only May. At the same time, we are five months into 2018, and I am so much better than letting my silent struggle win.

I have not entirely conquered my depression, but I have more control over it (granted I have struggled through so much more depression, at least at this point in my life.) It took me years to get to a place where I could be comfortable talking about depression. Even talking about my mental health is really new.

I just started opening up the last two years now. It took the right therapist to get me to my blog. Now eight months of blogging has changed me, but it’s been a long process. I have to be willing to grow. That’s how I started to understand my depression. Can it be the same with my social anxiety?

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Time will tell. In the meantime, I am going to start working on getting better. As cliche as it sounds one day at a time is all you have in this struggle. May has always been the month where things turn. I am hoping that is what happens with my social anxiety.

Stay tuned. Always keep fighting.

James

Photo Credit:

unsplash-logoEmiliano Cicero

unsplash-logoPaul Volkmer

unsplash-logoIsmail Hamzah

unsplash-logoJeremy Cai

Memories and Dreams

I dream a lot. In fact, I dream almost every time I sleep.

I also sleep a lot.

Sleeping used to be the way for me to escape the awfulness of being alive, back during the darkest days of my depression. As my illness mutated and changed and I found medications to keep me balanced, the sleep followed me. I sleep at night, without difficulty. I sleep when I’m not at work. I sleep during the day, often for hours at a time. I take naps, snooze, drift off … you get the picture.

And when I sleep, the dreams come. They aren’t bad dreams; nor are they particularly good. In fact, most of my dreams involve mundane, everyday things, like brushing my teeth or driving to work. I can even remember some of them, long after the initial grogginess of waking has left me.

I am also—sometimes—aware that I’m dreaming of the dream. Not necessarily to the extent that I think to myself, “what an interesting dream”, but because the continuity of my dreams fluctuates, and when it morphs from one location to another, and one scenario to another, a part of my mind that keeps track shouts out, “this isn’t where we were just a moment ago!”

But the clarity of the dreams is, as usual, somewhat opaque. Through a fog of distance and sleep, they return to my waking mind as a faint memory of an event that may or may not have taken place. I think most dreams are this way.

But for me—perhaps because of my illness or the medications, or just because of my own perception—this becomes a difficult thing in my head. You see, I often find that I can’t distinguish between the memory of a real event and the memory of a dreaded event. When the event is terribly fantastical and otherworldly, yes—it’s easier. But since so many of my dreams involve things I actually do every day, I find I can’t recall if I actually did something or not.

This is apparently more common than I realized, but when I suggest to my wife that I definitely turned the heat down before going to bed, yet in the morning it’s still on 70°, it’s still disorienting. She appears not to suffer from this problem; nor does anyone I talk to about it.

Dreams, of course, are experiential, just as are actual events—we generally believe they are happening when we’re dreaming—but upon waking, they usually disappear rapidly, or are relegated to a memory state separate from reality. For example, I can recall a memory from very early childhood: taking a bite of a hotdog. And I remember that it was, in fact, a dream, because I remember waking up and thinking that it was funny how in my head only a moment had passed, when in the world outside the whole night had come and gone.

But I also remember images and events—great castles in the fog, ski accidents, conversations with friends—that I have no basis for comparison. These are all things that definitely might have happened because in the past I’ve seen or done all those things. Yet I can’t be certain because I so frequently dream of those things as well.

It’s disturbing to see someone at work, or in your own home, and remember some bit of knowledge about them—only to find that you don’t actually know it because you’ve never actually discussed it.

It’s equally disturbing to think you’ve driven your wife to work and returned home, only to wake up in bed. And when memories of dreams begin to intersect with memories of reality, it brings the whole nature of reality into question. What’s real? What isn’t? And what, if anything, can be trusted?

I don’t know if this is an aspect of mental illness or something that everyone experiences, but it’s disturbing nonetheless, and something I wish I had a better grasp on.

What are your thoughts? Do you remember dreams as dreams, or do you also sometimes confuse them with memories of actual events?

Sleep Hygiene – Top Ten Sleep Tips

Top Ten Sleep Hygiene Tips

My therapist gave me this great sheet of sleeping tips that will help with my sleep hygiene. Insomnia is always an issue in my life, so I thought today I’d share each one of these tips and if any have helped me. These tips hep added one to two hours a day of sleep. My sleep issues will never be perfect but sleep is the first step in self-care.

If you have time please look my latest post.

CBT – Mood Induction with Music

#10 – Keep your bedroom dark.

#9 – Get lots of natural light in the morning

This one is a good one. I went out and bought myself a lightbox to help in the cloudy coastal weather we often get where I am from, but going for a walk helps as well. I use my light box even in good weather for 30-45 minutes a day. It varies for each doctor recommendation. I never realized how important natural light is to mental health and sleep.

#8 – Don’t work on your computer late at night, or if you do get an application like “flux” to minimize the amount of bright light you’re exposed to.

This is a tough one for me. I always work the best writing late at night on my laptop, tablet, and even my phone (especially in bed). Often a great idea will come to me while I am laying down and I naturally grab my phone and making notes on my thoughts. I thought a great alternative could be making my journal more accessible or maybe a small pad of paper and a pen.

#7 – Don’t nap during the day.

This is an easy one for me to do. I barely can get to sleep at night, so it’s impossible during the day.

#6 – No Caffeine 3 hours or more after wake-up time.

This is the most unfair one in my opinion and the one that I regularly break. To compromise I made a promise to my therapist for no coffee after 12pm. For the most part, I stick to this plan and it has worked well.

#5 – Only use your bed for sleeping or romantic activities

More times than not at night I find myself in bed writing, and out these tips, this has been the hardest to give up in my life. I write so much better at night. I always have my phone at arms reach writing notes for chapters I will be writing the next day or ideas for my next blog post. I once started writing a chapter in a piece I was writing in at the start of my “sleep schedule,” only to find out it was 4am when I stopped.

#4 – Figure out if you’re a night person or a day person.

For this one, they recommend figuring it out and making a sleep schedule. I have learned that I am a night person who can’t sleep during the day. I must do my best at night to get as much sleep as possible.

#3 – Get a relaxation routine before bed.

The list says that this varies from person to person. Meditation? Taking a bath? Listen to easy listening music or a podcast? This is really what works for you, which I still struggle because writing relaxes me and they recommend not to have a bright screen in bed.

#2 – If you can’t sleep after 15 to 30 minutes get out of bed and do something relaxing.

#1 – Don’t drink alcohol in the evening.

The last one is easy for me. I have been working on these tips to better my sleep hygiene but it’s a work in progress. Let me know if any of these tips help, or if you have others to add!

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoHernan Sanchez

Relapse in Mental Illness – Part Two

In a blog post earlier this week I discussed what are some of the signs that you might be relapsing.My focus in that blog post was more about ways to prevent by noticing the signs. Today a question arose in my comments for that blog post. What can you do when you have relapsed into your mental health?

I will discuss my own methods.

What Can You Do When You Have Relapsed in Your Mental Health?

For the most part, I write my blog’s from the position of my experience. Relapse is inevitable in my life. I often find myself right back in a depression or manic episode at some point in a year. A year is 365 days, and there is no way for me to escape the forces that conspire to make me relapse. So what can you do when you have relapsed?

The first thing that I do when I realize that I am relapsing with my mental health is I take a step back and figure out where I at in that moment. Take my last relapse around Christmas last year. It was a combination of things. The holidays. The fact that my depression gets worse during the winter months. Along with a long year of overworking myself became my relapse into my depression.

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The first day, I noticed that I didn’t want to get out of bed. I was laying there and I knew that my depression was winning. It was Christmas Eve and it was the last day of a long semester. I was looking at the prospect of a few weeks off and my depression was salvaging at the mouth. I let it win and I stayed in bed all that day.

Sometimes you have to let something like depression win temporarily. It is your body telling you that you need to slow down. I am not saying stay in bed all day, but give yourself a break. I let the depression take over me for a few days. I watched Netflix and I rested a lot. I tried to sleep and when I did it made me feel a bit normal.

Then after two days, I got out of bed for a few hours. I wrote some blog posts and proofread a couple of chapters in my memoir. I ate a decent meal in the morning, afternoon, and in the evening. Then when I hit my limit, I went back to bed. The next day it was a little easier and I got more done. I gave into depression knowing that I need to stay focused on getting better in the following days.

The biggest thing is not letting depression win. It‘s a war. You’re going to lose some battles. Think big picture.

For me, writing brought me back to life. I made sure to gradually work towards my goals. That’s the other thing. Your goals can be a major way to get you through a relapse. It wasn’t all writing that helped me get through all the depression.

I listened to a lot of music. I read a book. I left my house for a few hours to my favorite coffee shop and hung out with my book to read. Other days I wrote non-stop until my depression, my familiar companion, left me again. When things became good I was always in a flow and that came from staying focused.

There is no right way to get through a relapse in your mental illness. Every mental illness is different. I have written so many pieces about others lives in the mental illness community. I have learned that there are ways that we get through the worst parts of our illness that are special to each one of us.

For me, it’s writing every day which helps me get through anything. That may not work for you. Find a hobby. Look for the one thing that makes you smile. I love to sit in coffee shops and read or write. It feels amazing to find what get’s you through a relapse.

It wasn’t always that way for me. It took years of experience of letting my relapses go for weeks, months, and yes years. I finally could understand how to get out of a relapse and I have used my experience to my advantage.

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It’s a bit different for my relapses into mania. I do still have manic episodes but I learned long ago what helps me with my relapses into mania. I find it easier to deal with because my manic episodes don’t last as long as a depression cycle. My experience limits me to say what works exactly. My relapses are usually excessive spending sprees. I get extreme levels of irritability and euphoria. I become reckless. My eventual relapse is going back into depression. Which I can deal with because I can figure out what is making me angry and I always run out of money.

My point is a simple one. Relapses happen in our lives. Learn what works for you and do some trial and error. It won’t be perfect. What works for me has limited my depression cycles to a few days or a week instead of months. Learn from your past, so that you don’t continue to relapse. Eventually, you can recognize the signs and get to a point that you prevent relapses. Still, relapses happen, so give yourself a break. Life with a mental illness is already too short. Don’t let relapse get you down.

As always. Always Keep Fighting.

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit:

unsplash-logoAsdrubal luna

unsplash-logoWarren Wong

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