For some, and that was me included, sleep comes as regularly as the setting sun. I took for granted this quintessential automaton of the human body, and used to accept its warm embrace as a child does its mother. I’m from Kent, and as a boy I slept through the infamous hurricane of 1987, waking up to devastation and obliqueness that I just couldn’t fathom. It seemed like a dream. A dream, ah, if only now I could dream.
It all started earlier this year. My mental health suffered at the back of 2021 and I was signed off work 2 weeks short of Christmas. A few areas of my life had broken down all at once, and in a nutshell, I kind of came apart at the seams. I was put on the NHS waiting list and told there was quite a backlog, and that it might be a few months before things started to happen. To start with it wasn’t too bad, sleep wise. I wasn’t getting a lot of it, mainly being up late as I wasn’t tired, but then also finding I’d wake up very early, like 5:15am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I'd get up. This pattern repeated itself and I slowly became more tired but unable to properly sleep. Sometimes I’d find I fall asleep for a couple of hours on the sofa in the day, but then of course this had an adverse reaction to me getting sleep at night. The problem persisted, to the point where once or twice I was up till 3-4 in the morning before I felt anywhere near zombie tired.
So I reported it to my doctor and explained the problem. He offered me some sleeping tablets - I forget which they were - I am quite knowledgeable about prescription drugs, but these were some I hadn’t heard of, I decided to give them a try. Now he did say to me they were only mild, and I should only take one when needed. Fair enough. However these little rascals had virtually no effect on me whatsoever. I felt a little high and dazed if anything, but sleep didn’t join the party, and I just lay about like a drugged up addict staring at my wall for what seemed like hours. I even started dropping 2, then 3 (I do not condone this behaviour with any meds) but did finally knock myself out. However, this was over the recommended dose and also, I was going through them like smarties. Back to the doctor. Now, I know myself, and I know
that I seem to have a high tolerance to drugs/medication. (I once woke up during surgery under general anaesthetic). I knew of one type of tablet that did work for me, and I used sparing years before. I’m not a great fan of pills, as you may know if you’ve read any of my other articles here, but sometimes there is a time and a place. I requested Zopiclone, a strong sedative/sleeping pill. The reason at this point I wanted something was because I could see my body clock shifting into a reverse pattern, and I was missing important calls etc during the day. I couldn’t function. The doctor didn’t want to give me this drug, telling me, as I knew, that it was addictive and strong etc, but after explaining my problem and that I was all too aware of the drug, he let me have some. Well, 5 to be exact! Now I don’t want to knock my doctor, but this wasn’t going to solve my issue. I used the 5. They worked a treat. To cut a long story short, after being reluctantly given another two lots of 5 over a period of about a month, I gave up asking. This was when the dark knight came along.
Insomnia is having weakened neural connections to and from the thalamus, the part of your brain that regulates consciousness, sleep and alertness. In other words, my wires went doo-lally and I couldn’t sleep for love nor money. It is listed as being caused by many different factors but ones attributed to me were anxiety, depression and stress. I had those in abundance. So the dark knight mounted me up and we went for a ride. Without the sleeping tablets, and to be honest I’d rather not get on them, I was at the mercy of my warped psyche.
Over the next few weeks I began to experience the land of insomnia and it wasn’t a trip I'd recommend. I’ve always been a bit of a nighthawk, but overall, in the end, you get so tired that you can barely keep your eyes open and you go to slumberland. This was different. The first night was ok. I feel fairly content at night. The anxieties of the day diminish, you know you are safe, no one is going to bother you or come around unexpectedly (a peril of anxiety). I read, watched random TV, thinking I’d probably pass out sometime by morning. Daylight arrived, the cars outside started humming, the birds sung and the world began again. I was trapped in the same entity. I felt tired, but not in a sleepy kind of way. More knackered, drained. I went to my bed and tried to fall asleep but everytime I closed my eyes, my brain seemed to become more alert, with different thoughts running around in my head, and I seemed to even become more energised. So up I got, and sat through the day. I felt grumpy, anxious. Low mood. The phone rang a couple of times. I didn't have the energy to answer it. I couldn’t be bothered to do anything, even cook. I felt mentally and physically exhausted but still I couldn’t sleep. That night, night 2, was the same, but I was even more zombie-like. I was looking at the TV but wasn’t taking anything in. I just sat about, wired.
Night again turned to day.
Day 3 was intense. My eyes now stung, hurt even. I was completely out of it like I was on some drug. I couldn’t function properly. For example I’d get up to get a drink from the kitchen and by the time I got there I was wondering what the hell I’d come in there for. I’d just stand in the doorway and stare. Then after 10 seconds or so, I’d remember. Curse myself, get said drink then sit down. I had other menial things to do, like call the doctor or the council. Reply to an email etc, all of which I forgot to do until hours later when it was too late and things would be shut. I couldn't remember the morning. I couldn’t remember what day it was unless I checked. Even what time of day it was escaped me, and I couldn’t even tell you what I had been doing or what I was meant to be doing. I was now a zombie. Towards the end of day 3, I struggled with any menial task, and could only lay down on my sofa and pray sleep would come. At some point in the evening, it was dark, that's all I knew, I felt my stinging eyes closing and prolific yawning started sleeps approach. I took myself to my bed and passed out for 14 hours.
This pattern repeated itself over the course of the next 3 months, on and off. I stopped being contactable, I stopped being able to do the things I should have been doing and generally became a sole entity in my own world. It was a blur. You may be thinking why I didn’t report this to my doctor. Well, as I had mentioned, he was reluctant to prescribe me sleeping tablets, and second to that it was nye on impossible to get an appointment, let alone me function properly to even leave the flat. I can’t deny, I did the wrong thing and self medicated with alcohol and cannabis, which sadly works for sleep purposes, however not for your mental state, so that went out the window too. I felt mentally worse for 2 days after doing these things, especially with alcohol being a depressant. So I journeyed with the dark knight for around 4 to 5 months in different spiralling ways, not always as extreme as above but generally following that pattern, and I found one thing about this insomnia lark. It affects quite a few people. Through the powers of dreaded social media I found quite a few of my friends up all night through Facebook, and started conversations about this subject. Many were living normal functioning lives, and had always had the problem. They lived with it and were used to it, however it was still a drain on their mental resources, but I found speaking about it and sharing our experiences gave me a ‘brothers in arms’ mentality and helped me realise I wasn’t alone.
You don’t have to be in some extreme mental state or anxious or depressed to have insomnia. Although it does mainly affect people of that type, it is around all of us. Yes tablets can help, and for some are necessary as there isn’t so much a ‘cure’ for it, rather that you have to exhaust yourself out. So I started taking long walks. I'm lucky enough to live by the sea, so I went swimming. I obtained a free cross trainer and used that to burn off energy, much to my dislike of ‘gym’ type exercise. But changing your routine and fighting back does help. It’s never easy, but when the chips are down nothing is. I’m fortunate to have the inner strength sometimes to start these tasks, although I promise you, my brain tries to tell me ‘no’ everytime, but because I have walked through that wall before I know I can do it again. If you suffer from insomnia, try any of these things i’ve mentioned above, and also, look for friends or family at night who are also ‘online’ (one perk of social media) as they may be experiencing the same patterns you are. It’s good to talk, and may help give you new ways and new ideas of tackling the dark knight. He’s out there but likes you on your own, whereas together we are an army, and together we can beat it. Work together, stay together and look after each other as one. Be united in all our struggles and don’t forget, there will be someone out there struggling just like you. Stay strong and remember, you are not alone.