I wanted to share a chapter from the first draft of my memoir. I have written about insomnia before but this is an extended version of what it is like in “My Insomniac Life.” I will admit this is a chapter so it is quite a long one.
The Insomniac Side of J.E. Skye
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.
Insomnia has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I like to joke with people that “it’s in my blood to not sleep.” But, it is a very serious 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 maybe eight or nine and not being able to sleep. Over the years it has become impossible to get to sleep without medication. I literally 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 sleep. 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.
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 became 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 very powerful and I felt that sleep would be impossible without it.
Around 2012, when I was starting to get back to normal, and made the decision to go 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 still 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 last year where sleep was impossible at 300mg. My doctor at the time made the choice to give me options. I would get 100mg tablets and continue to take the 300mg dose with the option 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 increase it to 500mg if needed. Sometimes it took that much but for the most part, 400mg was enough.
Then this weekend happened. If I had known on Friday that my sleep would take a bad turn, I might have worked harder to get back down to my 300mg dosage in the weeks prior. By I digress.
It started Saturday. I knew I had to wake up around 5 am over the next couple days, so I figured why not go to sleep at a decent time? It normally 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 normal 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 started 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 6 pm. I took 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 almost 40 hours, sleep finally consumed me.
This is where I find myself today. I am depressed about this because of it such a major 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 comes 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.
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 is your sleep? 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 many ways, I didn’t. 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. Maybe 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 sleep is the most important 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
James Edgar Skye
Please Help me Publish my Memoir
I have finished the first draft of my memoir “The Bipolar Writer,” and I have decided to go down the self-publishing route. If you can donate anything towards my goal, it would mean the world to me. Those that give will get a special mention in my memoir on a page dedicated to those that made my memoir possible. Thank you in advance!