health

I couldn't sleep for 100 days.

"Insomnia took me to hell for 4 weeks"
“Insomnia took me to hell for 4 months.”

by TRACEY McCLURG

You have to try so hard these days to be truly calm and relaxed.

Signs stare out in markets and shop windows reminding us to “Keep Calm and Carry On”, to “Always Make Time for Laughter”, even to “Just Breathe”.

And they’re right — but when did it become so darn hard to do that?

Six months ago I went through insomnia boot camp. The synapse in my brain responsible for sending me to sleep suddenly went on vacation, leaving no note about when it would be back.

It wound up having a good, long holiday, as all I could grasp was maybe one or two hours each “night” for close to four months.

Four months of living hell.

For most people, the odd bad night’s sleep is normal, forgotten about quickly, like a slow traffic light. But superglue a few sleepless nights together and you begin to notice the effects. It’s debilitating: work feels harder, noises louder, people more irritating, and the urge to leap onto the nearest train track disturbingly appealing.

A few restless nights became three or four sleepless weeks which rolled into months. It was at this stage that my body began to feel detached from my mind, an awkward, perpetually exhausted, lumbering nuisance. You begin to consider seeking help outside your own mind. Within the first few days of my insomnia ordeal, I turned to Google for answers.

Typing symptoms into an internet search engine leads irresistibly to the conclusion that one has contracted a terminal illness and ought to start bidding their loved ones farewell. But there’s a wealth of information out there and different methods for someone willing to try them — and god knows by this stage I was desperate.

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Tracey
Tracey

Let me run through them; the first DIY attack on my conscious-coma involved soaking in a bath of Epsom salts to ease my muscles, a snack before bed to trigger a shot of serotonin to my brain (though a sledgehammer of serotonin sounded more appealing — and perhaps even just a sledgehammer), and the deep, soothing tones of a catalogue of self-help gurus.

My chosen yogi was Deepak Chopra, whose calm, liquored voice reminded me of a Sunday school teacher running an art class. In other words,  really annoying. I tried music, hoping the serenity of an orchestra would shepherd me to sleep; but the melancholic undertones of the music just depressed me.

What about nature? Surely a tranquil waterfall and rain on a mountain stream would ease my jolted brain. But telepathically traversing Peruvian mountain ranges at 2am only took me further away from where I wanted to be — at home, in bed, fast asleep, like I imagined the rest of society must be.

Another theory had me manipulating my body temperature, taking long, hot baths to raise it, so it would plummet when I stepped out, and somehow “fool” my stubborn mind into thinking it was bedtime.

I don’t know if I ever believed that would work; if it were that easy to fool myself, I could’ve just clambered into bed in workout gear and told myself I’d just finished running a marathon. Grudgingly, I turned next to sleeping tablets. I was born and bred in South Africa, where sedatives are virtually unregulated. Buying pills here felt like going to the shops to buy detergent and finding only soapy water.

The first sleeping tablet granted me four continuous hours of sleep. I was overjoyed — it was so close to six hours, which almost qualified as a proper night’s rest. Applying my scientific acumen, I figured that if one sleeping table delivered four hours of sleep, then two would obviously give me eight, right?

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Wrong. I lay there awake and exhausted, hyper-alert, eyes frozen open but wanting, wishing to close. The next plan of attack was two-fold: First, red wine — yes, sweet, glorious wine! I had read, in the course of trawling every insomnia-related article on the internet that red wine could help in the sleep process due to the high levels of melatonin found in red grapes.

The second part of the plan involved those dreaded pills. I took two in my hands, gulped them, and washed it down with half a bottle of red wine. Feeling groggy, I laid down in my bed, hoping that if the cocktail I’d just digested didn’t put me to sleep, then maybe it would kill me; and surely death would be the best sleep of all. Such are the desperate thoughts of the insomniac.

No such luck on either front. Maybe the wine cancelled out the pills, or the pills the wine. Whatever happened, I was back at square one, only now I looked like I had a three year hangover which I’m sure raised a few eyebrows at work. Salvation eventually came in an unexpected way.

What hot baths, pills, wine and Deepak Chopra couldn’t accomplish, was finally achieved by realising that I was suffering from being constantly worried and that cutting back on sleep depriving acts such as drinking alcohol, late nights, giving too much to too many people and generally finding time to do things I love, like laughing, really was the remedy you won’t find in stock in the local drug store. It’s no wonder we have to be reminder by kindly merchants and their beach wood crafted signs.

Born in South Africa, Tracey dreamed of being a journalist as well as being excruciatingly rich. This posed a problem. Her career counsellor should have advised writing numbers into ledgers instead of sentences onto pages. Happily enough she found common ground freelancing whilst driving a career doing other stuff.

Have you or do you know someone who has suffered insomnia? How did you deal with it?

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