Isn’t it funny that it takes someone not connected to your little world to ask a straight question, and be given a straight answer?
Isn’t it funny that we can see the problems of others so clearly, but yet struggle to give ourselves the same clarity?
Someone recently asked me how long I had not slept for. The answer, when I thought about it was – years. And just like that, as soon as the question was posed, I formulated an answer, and I surprised myself with the words that followed.
In the beginning I blamed becoming a new mother. Sleepless nights, endless feeding – always keeping an ear open for a whimper or a cry. There have been times when I have shot out of bed in the dark to the aid of a choking child only to sit them upright as their sickness ensues. I have stumbled downstairs in the dead of night, only to realise that it is just very, very early in the morning and that the day is just beginning.
I reasoned with myself that it is a mother’s job isn’t it?
To be there anytime of day or night.
The thing is that my children have slept through the night for years now. My youngest has always been a good sleeper, she takes after her daddy. My eldest (or the practice child) has always woken at the crack of dawn, but even he sleeps through the night on the whole. Of course we have episodes of illness like any family, and more often than not someone decides that they need a cuddle in the early hours – but I realised recently that I cannot always blame these little visits.
A few years ago I suffered from anxiety (and that in itself is a fairly big thing for me to admit to). I would fall asleep no problem, but within a matter of hours I would be awake again. Wide awake. I spent many a night battling with it. Laying very still with my eyes closed – almost pretending to myself that I was asleep. Some nights I would wake and give in, going downstairs to make a drink or a hot water bottle. This went on for sometime, almost like a catch twenty two, and eventually I realised that it would actually be a much better idea to make my peace with it. And so I did. I accepted it, and I lived with it and eventually I learned ways to manage it where I could.
There were points where it was improving but then of course, real life stepped in an threw a ‘curve ball’ by way of illness. A diagnosis of breast cancer brought with it a multitude of thoughts, worries, fears and those peaceful nights became a private time to pore over research and facts.
I began to write, as a way to draw out the thoughts and emotions dancing around my head.
And it seemed to work, for a while. I spent a short time in hospital after my operation and the nurses got used to my midnight wanderings. I would chat them and ask about their day. I tried to use it as a positive step to get some exercise as part of recovery and I would walk to the end of the ward and make myself a cup of tea. I think I have mentioned before that cancer patients don’t sleep, and it is true, they don’t. Sleeplessness is not just a ‘side effect’, as I have read in many a leaflet.
And yet all of that is behind me now, and it is still there.
I have made steps to improve things. I don’t nap during the day (not that you can as a mother of two), I’ve cut down on the caffeine – treating myself to one or two cups in the morning and the rest decaffeinated. I have explained to the children that mummy gets very tired and they now each have a reward chart for sleeping a whole night in their own bed. Even so, I often lay there jealous of my husband as he sleeps so soundly and for as long as he needs.
Sleeplessness is truly awful and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It is difficult to describe unless you have experienced it yourself, but it is a little bit like ongoing torture. Sometimes it is your mind unable to go through all of the day’s proceedings. Sometimes it is a worry or a fear that haunts your thoughts. Sometimes it is a slight noise, a tap, a nudge or even a creak.
Once awake, the nights are long and the days even longer.
A friend of mine recently mentioned her sleepless nights due to various worries, and I instantly went out and bought her some herbal tablets to try to ‘calm’ her restlessness. I almost didn’t want her to get stuck in the ongoing cycle of sleeplessness – as if I could do anything to prevent it. My husband noticed them on the side and asked if they were for me? And I realised, suddenly, that the thing that I live with everyday is something that I can notice in others – but not always in myself.
Sleep is so important, it helps your body heal, it keeps you well and you take it for granted until the day it is no longer there..
Isn’t it funny?