Sleep is for the Wise

Sleepy-bulldog-falls-asleep.gifWe become sleep-deprived without even noticing. A couple late nights on the weekend at my age and I will surely still feel cranky on Monday. Stay up too late spiraling down a Youtube documentary rabbit hole and I’ll need to schedule a recovery nap. The sleep debt creeps in slowly but eventually, enacts harsh consequences on my body and mind.

I used to be such a good sleeper! My mom brags that I grew easily from an idyllic, snoozy, baby to a teenage bookworm who read my book every night before drifting into peaceful sleep. I didn’t think about sleep or being tired – THAT’S how rested I was.

So, wtf happened.

As much as I am tempted to blame my induction into the world of poor sleep habits on the unnamed ex-boyfriend who required the sound of 80s sitcoms to fall asleep every night, the fact that I’ve been dependent on background noise to sleep for the remainder of my 20s…? Well, that’s on me. Oh…and anxiety.

The big bummer about using distraction techniques to manage anxious thoughts and feelings throughout the day is that when there are no more distractions, anxiety pounces on the opportunity to be heard. And I’ll tell you, that background noise is loud and does not soothe us into a restful slumber. Perhaps for the mind, bedtime is the equivalent of flinging your bra off at the end of the day and slipping into your apartment pants, and I can hardly hold THAT against my brain. But I am interested in improving my sleep habits to be less dependent on these modern sleep aids.

Many of us become dependent on that glass of wine, the melatonin, the medicinal toke, or perhaps even a more formal sedative agent to fall and stay asleep. And we do this because being tired is the pits. It affects our daily functioning, memory, mood – the side effects are endless. When sleep-deprived, our poor bodies look for energy sources wherever they can: sugary, sweet treats during the day, that mid-afternoon latte that gets us to 5pm*, the after-work nap. We are less able to resist the donut holes in the staff room not only because we are tired and need a boost, but our ability to reason and resist impulse has been compromised and we gravitate towards the quick fixes and easy comforts.

NEEDLESS TO SAY, subscribing to the modern “sleep is for the weak” ideology has had some very real consequences for both my mental health and my party thighs. For all the parents of small children reading this, you have my reverence. Chronic sleep-deprivation represents your sacrifice and you manage to keep your child alive and get to work**. I know only a sliver of your struggle.

Much like a poor diet can impact on your overall health, underestimating your need for sleep long enough and you’ll guarantee yourself a bad time. Your body may forgive you and adapt for a measure of time, but even the strongest and smartest need to refuel the tank.

*lol

** I’ll save my thoughts about the pitiful and frankly, offensive, maternity leave policies I’ve become aware of for another day

Living Tired

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Somehow, between pursuing a career and keeping up with our social commitments, being tired has become more than a feeling, but a state of being that our society has submitted to. If you ask anyone how they’re doing, odds are you will hear some variation of “tired”, and how else will you commiserate with them without discussing how your life is tiring too?

Because saying that you’re tired is so commonplace and overused, it can be easy for signs of deteriorating mental health to go unnoticed by loved ones and friends. Mental Health on the Mighty released an article that asks what people with mental illness really mean when they say they are tired, and I thought it was a great exercise to verbalize how my depression feels, and what I mean when I say “I’m tired”.

I feel heavy: This is a commonly used descriptor of depression, where people feel physically and emotionally heavy from their illness that has little to do with body weight. Not only does my body drag, but my face droops with the weight of how I feel. I find myself heavier on my feet, slower to carry out the tasks of living and end up injuring myself if I try to rush something (my hands are constantly covered in nicks and cuts from not being careful with utensils or dishes). My thoughts are heavy and solid somehow, and they seep into my body, burdening my movement.

I feel overcast: If someone (qualified) were to open my cranium and look at my brain, I’m convinced it would appear to be a dull and colourless concrete slab because that’s how it feels sitting in my head. Truth be told, the image of a cartoon person with a storm cloud tracking their every moment is not far off the mark. Sometimes I will have sparks of vitality – I like to call them champagne bubbles – where I feel lucid and remember how being bright feels. Usually I’m with loved ones, or trying something new, or having a really good conversation with someone and I forget that I’m trying to be happy and I just am.

I’m always missing the bus: There is nothing that describes my depression more accurately than the feeling of just missing the bus. In almost all aspects of my life, I feel like I’m chasing something down that is just out of reach, all the while beating myself up for putting myself in a position where I have to run. In my life, depression and anxiety are BFFs, in that when one shows up to the party, it will always extend the invite to the other, so even when I have barely enough energy to shoulder the day, I somehow have enough energy to be panicked about what I’m not doing well or getting done.

Sleep is peace: I’ve been given a lot of suggestions of how to quiet my mind and find peace in the moment, including yoga, meditation, thought-stopping techniques – you name it. It can be difficult to try to learn these strategies when my mental illness is running on a hamster wheel of negativity from which I get little reprieve. So while I’m trying to concentrate on the day, take in information, and be productive, anxious thoughts and self-doubt are on loop in the background. By the end of the day, I’m completely depleted from all the self-management and redirecting it takes to do what I need to do. Sleep is the only time I feel at ease in my mind and so the adorable napping habit that I’m so well-known for comes to serve a much more important purpose.

I’m waiting for my life to start: Perhaps the most painful of all and most uncomfortable to admit, but my illness will sometimes make me feel like I’m waiting for my life to start. My illness tells me I need to wait until I feel better, have a better apartment, have more money, meet someone who changes the game, and then – finally – my real life can start. Until then, I’m not quite enough to attract goodness my way. Now that I know that depression is feeding me false information, I’m learning to challenge my inner critic on this one. Logically, I know that my life is full and rich and worthy of appreciation today, but it takes monumental effort to resist the pull of “someday”.

When anyone tells you they are tired, they could certainly be tired. Or they could be feeling emotionally heavy, overcast, restless, impatient, and yearning for life to start. They could be feeling lost at sea, drowning, or feel nothing at all. Let’s listen generously to our tired friends, and explore what their tired really means. You could be the first person for them who has listened to understand.