There are few things I hate worse than not being able to fall asleep. Tossing and turning and punching my pillow and kicking my covers off my feet. I’ll turn my light back on, try to read a bit, turn the light back off, groan out loud, swear. This tossing and turning is irritating, to say the least. It’s part of NOT being manic anymore. When I was manic I wouldn’t have even considered going to bed and wouldn’t have counted on knowing I would eventually fall asleep.
Sleep is something that’s incredibly important if you live with a mental illness. I remember my psychiatrist, when I was in the hospital, telling me to sleep as much as I could. I remember him telling me that SLEEP is MEDICINE. But in the beginning of my hospital stay I walked the halls, talked to the nurses and attendants until the wee hours of the morning. I would be told, repeatedly, to go back to bed and sleep. I’d retreat to my room, read a tiny bit, then come back into the hall to bother them again. I guess my medications weren’t working yet!
For most of my life I stayed up as late as I wanted. I loved the quiet and the feeling that I was the only one awake. For those of us who have experienced mania, we can manipulate ourselves into staying awake until dawn to trigger a full-blown manic episode. I thought that was my secret until my doctor told me he knew all about it. He added that most bipolar patients know this instinctually.
My relationship with sleep has been a tumultuous one. My mother tells me that when I was an infant I exhausted her because I hardly slept. She would put me down in my crib and before she knew it my head would pop up. I’ve raised babies myself and know that bone crushing exhaustion and am forever grateful my mother didn’t do away with me.
I discovered that I loved nighttime at the same time I discovered drugs at age 16 in Los Angeles. An older boy took it upon himself to introduce me to pretty much all the drugs that were available and we would stay up 24 hours many times over. I guess it goes without saying that amphetamines were my drug of choice. My family had no idea I was living this way until Glenn and our mother came to visit and saw me – rail thin, my hair falling out from malnutrition. I was 20 when they rescued me.
As far as nighttime, I remember, when living with the older boy, that he needed more sleep than I. I would sneak out of our bedroom while he was asleep. At those times night cloaked me with the blue light of the moon and that was all I needed to enjoy time with my animals. I had a dog and a rabbit who played together and a huge, orange cat who snuggled with me, purring.
Mental illness was not a subject I heard about back then in the early 1970’s. My I had no point of reference, no dialogue. I believe I was only able to sleep when I had drugs make me sleep; street drugs that were slowly killing me.
Nighttime is as important as daytime. Night and sleep are huge slices of our lives. My relationship with night and sleep has evolved over the years and circumstances. Now that I take psychiatric drugs I can’t stay up all night. It’s few and far between that I don’t fall asleep about an hour or two after I take my medications. It’s very rare that I can’t sleep and, when I can’t, I suspect mania is punching around in my brain but ultimately not getting it’s way.
I can’t say exactly when bipolar disorder descended on me. The drugs I took in my teen years and early twenties, even after being rescued by Glenn and Mom, hid my cycling moods. Then, marriage was supposed to keep me in check, keep me from the wild and crazed, manic me. And it was supposed to keep me from the inevitable depressions that followed. But marriage didn’t change anything; it only gave me something to destroy. Back then I could pinpoint depression but mania left me, once it passed, speechless with grief.
Now, when I think of those forbidden hours between midnight and 7am, I can hold them close to me, in remembrance, and sleep.