Tag: Medication

A Few Tricks for Kicking Insomnia (Without Medication)

A portrait of the author, Lisa Marie Basile A portrait of the author, Lisa Marie Basile

People say “I’ve got insomnia” the same way they say “I’m depressed.” They don’t mean the literal, actual, clinical condition. They mean, “I’m not sleeping as well as I usually do,” or “I’ve been kind of down lately.” But as I’ve recently discovered, true insomnia is like true depression. This year, I got to the point where my days were starting at 2 p.m. and ending at 6 a.m.; my body felt feverish and disconnected; swirling lights took over my periphery… and I knew it was getting serious. I wasn’t just sluggish or tired; I was disinterested and constantly fatigued. Any semblance of circadian rhythm was gone.

Have you ever had one of those incredibly turbulent years, where every month seems to bring about disaster after disaster? I know that basically everyone hated 2016 with a passion, but aside from all the major world issues and deaths, the year felt simultaneously unstable and monotonous—plagued with repetitive vulnerabilities and new problems. On a personal level, my job’s department shut down. Suddenly, I was unemployed and grasping for stability—change and I are not friends—and I developed my first bout of true insomnia.

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So I saw a doctor, who noted that the reasons for my insomnia were glaringly obvious. They were pretty textbook: I had no real daily schedule, I was battling anxiety over major life changes, I wasn’t very active, and the days were getting shorter as fall approached.

When I think back about my habits at the time, I see myself moping all day, working, and staying up all night. I even became a little addicted to the idea of staying awake through the night: Maybe I’d get more done? Maybe I’d wake up early tomorrow anyway? When I thought this way, sleep never occurred to me, despite knowing how I was wreaking havoc on my body. So it was me against myself—fighting sleep while simultaneously fighting for a desperately needed change.

There is no perfect cure for insomnia, since everyone experiences it differently. We all have our own triggers, and we all respond to potential solutions differently. Let’s just say that I’m picky, which means I really had to get creative about fixing the issue. Among the ideas my doctor and I discussed were yoga and sleeping pills. Now yoga makes me want to gouge my eyes out (I’m not knocking yoga—this is a me problem), and I personally tend to veer from the pharmaceutical route. So I considered my alternatives: working out, melatonin, and meditation.

Melatonin

Melatonin seems to be a great choice for plenty of people—and some science really seems to back that up. A friend of mine swears by its ability to knock her out immediately. Not so for me. After a month of use, I noticed even a half dose made me groggy the next day and caused the kind of dreams I can’t write about here.

Meditation

I downloaded the Headspace app, which promises that its 10-minutes-a-day meditations could “help people stress less, exercise more, and even sleep better.” Yes, please. I’d force myself into bed around 9 or 10 p.m. to meditate, which due to my off-kilter schedule, felt more like afternoon tea time than any normal person’s bedtime. I was able to decompress enough to focus on the meditation, to breathe slowly, showing my body that the bed wasn’t an enemy. My body fell into a soft place, and even when my mind raced, I pushed through. I kept coming back to the core thought: my breath. It was simple, conceptually. Just be mindful. Just keep being mindful.

So I meditated one or two more times per day. I focused on releasing all that stress, anxiety, and self-doubt that had built up in the months of self-neglect. I confess I’m no expert, but I sensed a change, a release, like a grid was shifting beneath me. It don’t know if the meditation had changed my brain chemistry, per se, as science suggests it might, but I was definitely giving myself the chance to heal.

Working Out

I also started working out at night, not too close to “bedtime,” but late enough to tire me out. I hadn’t really stuck to a workout routine in a while, but I gave it my all: I went for an hour a few times per week at night, and really pushed myself. I wanted my body to feel tired, like it had done something. I wanted it to feel alive, to remind myself that I was an engine of blood and muscle—not a listless bag of bones. I actually cried because it felt so good to treat myself with kindness. Gray Line Break

These simple acts began to change things. Complacency had kept me in a spiral of sleeplessness, and laziness had made it all the worse. But by trying—and failing—and trying again, I found the right solution for me. I took actual care of my body, said no to the problem, and gave myself the time I needed to move through it.

Last month, my body slowly started to reverse itself, and due to utter exhaustion and my efforts, I’d begun falling asleep at a regular grown-up hour: 11 p.m. Getting my sleep back was, frankly, a magical experience. Looking back, my fling with insomnia feels like a manic nightmare—a physical representation of my fears and stresses.

“It was me against myself—fighting sleep while fighting for a desperately needed change.”

I’m still dealing with many of the same issues I had before, but I have a few new tools to combat them now. I still struggle with waking up early, and I still am tempted to stay up well past a reasonable bedtime, but I was never going to magically become a morning person overnight, although that’s certainly next on my list of things to try.

If I can go from making to-do lists at 3 a.m. to getting to bed before midnight, I can be the person who wakes up at 7 a.m. to—hey, let’s be audacious here—work out or clean house or, should miracles exist, write.

Lisa Marie Basile is the founding editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine and moderator of its digital community. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Bustle, Bust, Hello Giggles, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, and The Huffington Post, among other sites. She is also the author of three poetry collections and holds an MFA from The New School. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Taking Medication for Depression Doesn’t Mean I’m Weak

“How long have you been experiencing symptoms of depression?” the doctor asks, and I laugh awkwardly. Not because it’s funny, but because I can’t remember.

“Since high school. Maybe before,” I answer, trying not to think about all the hours I have spent feeling depressed. Fifteen years is a long time. He scribbles in my chart.

About a year ago, I started taking an antidepressant. Until then, I had been terrified of meds, even when my first therapist told me she thought I needed them. At the time, I was 22, unhappily married, and more depressed than I had ever been.

“Depression without medication is like cleaning your house with a ball and chain on your ankle,” she said softly, knowing I was afraid. “When you take medication, you still have to clean the house, but without the ball and chain.”

Even with that analogy, I saw medication as a sign of weakness. Depression wasn’t a chemical imbalance; it was the result of a disorderly life. If I could get my marriage, my career, and my writing in order, I would be happy. It was my fault I felt this way. Medication was a cop-out and proved how weak I was against the symptoms of my depression.

When you take medication, you still have to clean the house, but without the ball and chain.

“I want to feel what I’m going through,” I told her, believing I deserved every terrible feeling. She didn’t bring up medication again. I saw her weekly for almost two years. Talk therapy helped, but the intense symptoms of my depression remained. Sometimes the tools I learned through therapy helped, but on my worst days, I didn’t stand a chance.

Fast-forward to last summer. I could feel myself spiraling, but now I couldn’t point to unhappy life circumstances. Since my two years of therapy, I had gone back to school for mental health counseling and had learned many additional therapy skills. I had also left my marriage; graduated; gotten a decent job; and was in a happy, healthy relationship. We were planning for our future. Even still, I needed additional help.

Almost seven years after my first therapy appointment, I agreed to try medication. I started taking Wellbutrin because a friend of mine had good response with it. “I didn’t have many side effects,” she told me. “I just felt stable.” That sounded great, so I got a prescription and had it filled.

Medication

The first week or so on Wellbutrin was a blur. We were in the process of moving from Louisiana to Texas, and I felt a little like I was on speed. Wellbutrin contains a stimulant, so it’s different from other antidepressants in that way. I found I couldn’t drink too much coffee or alcohol, because both brought on horrible side effects when combined with the medication. I was clenching my teeth and shaking my leg a lot more, but I also wasn’t coming straight home from work and crawling into bed or spending three hours in the bathtub crying, so I accepted the side effects. Eventually, I got used to it, and the effects lessened. It helped for a while.

A couple of months ago, I found myself spiraling again. I was now living in a beautiful apartment, in the city I’d always dreamed about, with a man who loved and supported me. I had finally received my professional counselor license, a huge career step, and had a great job at a private practice. So why was I feeling out of control? Why was I sobbing uncontrollably and having daily anxiety attacks and passive suicidal thoughts? Why was I feeling like there was a crushing weight on my chest that wouldn’t go away no matter how much self-care I attempted?

I talked to my psychologist about a med change, and he agreed. In the state of Texas, he is unable to prescribe, but is extremely knowledgeable about medication. We spent the better part of two sessions talking about med options, and I did my own research as well. He wrote a letter to my prescribing doctor, who wrote me a prescription for Lexapro.

I’ve been taking Lexapro for two weeks now, and to be honest, it’s been terrible. Usually, medication takes about a month to fully take effect, so I’m waiting for that. I haven’t been feeling as anxious, and I certainly haven’t been feeling as depressed—I haven’t been feeling much of anything. This is common with SSRIs, or so I’ve been told. I’m sleeping better, almost too well, but not doing much of anything otherwise. I put all of my energy into my work with my clients and have very little to spare at home. I have more mental clarity and am able to think externally, but am having a hard time processing how I feel internally.

In my personal life and in my work, I have seen time and again how necessary these medications are, despite their side effects. The stigma of mental health treatment is slowly shrinking, in large part due to people being more vocal about the treatment they are receiving.

Regular talk therapy and a personalized self-care regime is as important as finding the right medication.

An important thing to remember is that medication is not enough by itself. Regular talk therapy and a personalized self-care regimen is as important as finding the right medication. Having a good support system is also invaluable, and I don’t know where I would be without my friends and my supportive partner. Talking about medication—what’s working, what’s not, what you like, and what you don’t—are all critical parts of finding the right medication. I have clients who will go months and even years on the wrong medication because they’re convinced that they’re the problem—or they don’t want to complain, again, and ask for yet another med change. But that’s the thing about meds. What works now might not work later, and it’s important to do regular check-ins with yourself and your symptoms.

My experience with medication has proved to be challenging, but not as terrifying as I originally thought. With the right professionals and support systems, a hefty dose of self-empowerment, and finally, the assistance of modern medicine, I am confident I am getting the help I need.

This post originally appeared on LaurenHasha.com and was republished with the author’s permission. Lauren Hasha is a writer and mental health counselor living in San Antonio, Texas. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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