I wonder how many people really understand the meaning of the term “depression.” In everyday parlance, people use it as a synonym for melancholia, usually a temporary state of mind linked to some unhappy news or low pressure weather event. Nothing wrong with that. Context is everything.
I wish there were a different word to describe the condition that I suffer from, endogenous clinical depression, because there is a tendency to downplay it as a serious medical problem. “Oh, not feeling the best are you?” I recall the male nurse saying to me one sunny Saturday afternoon a few years ago in the triage office at the E.R. down at the Q.E. Hospital in Charlottetown (PEI). “Maybe just a change in medication will help. We’ll soon fix you up.” Right. Six and a half hours later, having watched numerous patients skip the line ahead of me with cuts and bruises visible to all and sundry, I was still waiting. My symptoms were hidden. How convenient. And after all, what did it matter if I hadn’t slept at all for a whole week? My wife, Alison, took my pulse and discovered that it had skyrocketed during the wait. Being a nurse herself, she was able to talk to the triage staff and get their attention. I did manage to get a knockout prescription and slept that night.
Sleep and depression are intertwined in a vicious circle. I am willing to accept that there are many people who suffer from insomnia who are not depressed. But, those of us who are depressed need sleep and if we don’t get it, we become anxious, which in and of itself prevents sleep, which exacerbates the depression, and on it goes, around and around. Sleeping medications can help, but if taken over time, they can become habit-forming and the body becomes habituated to them. They don’t work. I move from one prescription to another. The list is surely finite and I will eventually exhaust it. I worry about this, but my psychiatrist, one of the top professionals in his field, keeps re-assuring me I’ll be alright.
I even bought a book on how to sleep, authored by a sleep disorder specialist. She advises not to go to bed until one feels tired. But, I am a creature of habit and besides, I
can only take so much television pablum before I start to regurgitate. Don’t read in bed, she says. Read in another room before you go to bed. Hello. I like reading in bed. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something. She even mentions washing dishes. At three in the morning? Are you kidding? Bed, she says, is for sleep and sex. Hasn’t she heard of multi-tasking?
So, while I haven’t thrown the book away yet, I’m reading it with a critical eye. I’m on the waiting list to go to the sleep clinic in Halifax (Nova Scotia), where they’ll attach electrodes all over me, as though I’m about to get zapped into the great unknown. And they’ll undoubtedly come up with a physical cause, like sleep apnea, and provide me with a sleeping mask to cover my face, so I’ll look like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Such an outcome would leave me pondering why, if the problem is my not getting to sleep in the first place, would a solution be for me to wear something to stop me waking up.
I do all the right things. Exercise, keep busy, eat healthy, go out with my wife on dinner and theatre nights, drink only in moderation, attend meetings like my writing group TWIG, force (sometimes) myself to write and read. I am exploring alternative forms of treatment to the conventional pharmacological one. These include breathing exercises and acupuncture, both under the guidance of a naturopath. I might consider yoga. Whatever will help.
Suggestions on dealing with insomnia most welcome!!