health

"I’m a middle class mother of three, and I feel like a drug addict."

It all comes down to sleep. I don’t sleep like a normal human being. Whilst it seems that everyone else around me can drift off anytime, anywhere, for most of my adult life I’ve needed a little something extra to help me nod off.

It isn’t a matter of not being tired enough; if I don’t take something to help me sleep, it literally doesn’t happen. I can go day after day after day with no sleep at all, running on caffeine and nervous energy alone.

It started after my first baby was born. She wasn’t a great sleeper, and was difficult to settle back down at night, so I developed an anxiety around going to sleep, because I knew it would only be a matter of time before I had to get up again to the baby. My mum had always said that she became a light sleeper after having children, but it took having my own baby to be able to really understand what she meant. Naturally, the complete sleep deprivation took a huge toll on my mental health and my ability to care for my baby as I plunged into post-natal depression.

Many mothers of babies talk about being tired, but we rarely hear about the physical symptoms of the sheer exhaustion which can result from prolonged and severe sleep deprivation. It might seem ironic, but despite not being able to sleep at all during the night, I would nod off throughout the day.

It sounds harmless, but it wasn’t the scenario of having a lie down on the couch and nodding off. I would drift off feeding the baby, terrifyingly behind the wheel even on short drives to the shops, and even once whilst carrying my baby down the hallway to put her to bed. Not voluntary snoozes, but rather my entire body would just go slack no matter what I was doing at the time.

I started taking over the counter “herbal” sleeping pills which worked for a little while. When they stopped working, my doctor prescribed mild relaxants like Temazepam, but they only worked short term. I had some success with Stillnox, however I also became dependent on it and needed higher and higher doses for it to work. Eventually when I stopped taking it I experienced horrific withdrawals which included muscle twitches, extreme anxiety, and of course, sleeplessness.

Why sleep is so important. Post continues after video.

I have gone on and off Stillnox many times over the years, including taking it in hospital after my next two babies were born. I’d send my baby boys off to the nursery and pop my pill and enjoy a night of sleep. It may not have been ideal, but I knew it was the only way to avoid spiralling back into post-natal depression. Side effects of Stillnox aren’t great either, ranging from hunger, to reduced inhibitions, to most recently sleep-walking around Sydney at night to buy some sour gummy worms.

Prolonged sleep deprivation has driven me to the brink of a breakdown on more than one occasion. There have been times where I’ve been tempted to take every drug in the medicine cabinet, just for some shut eye. These days I take mostly antihistamines and painkillers containing codeine to relax me enough for sleep. I know it’s a terrible habit – but I don’t know what else I can do to sleep.

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I play the game of twenty questions every time I visit the pharmacist. I say that the antihistamines are for allergies, and the ibuprofen with codeine is for my husband’s dental pain, and the night time “calmative pain relief” is for migraines, but really it’s all just to help me sleep. On any given night, I’ll take a combination of the three just for a few hours rest.

Pills. Image via iStock.

I sleep with ear plugs in, my husband can’t come to bed until I’ve had at least half an hour to fall asleep, and if anything wakes me up sleep is done for the night. It just won’t happen.

I have tried every prescription sleeping pill on the market only for the dosage to increase gradually over time until it stops working altogether. I’ve tried every natural remedy, seen a sleep psychologist, participated in blue light therapy, learned meditation, exercised myself to exhaustion, and cut out caffeine, but nothing helps and I don’t know what else I can possibly do.

It was recently revealed that as of 2018, chemists will no longer be able to sell products containing codeine over the counter which has me positively terrified. People think this is going to “stop drug addicts”, but a drug addict is not necessarily the bony, rotten-toothed, scabby-skinned degenerate in an alley with a needle hanging out of their arm that popular media tells us a drug addict looks like.

I am a middle class mother of three who works, studies, has friends, and is a contributing member of society. There is no doubt in my mind that there are thousands of others just like me out there, ordinary people living ordinary lives who depend on pharmaceuticals to function.

I am a middle class mother of three, and I feel like I am a drug addict.

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