To sleep or not to sleep - that is the question

I recently stopped my evening medication because it was playing havoc with my gut - of all things. That plus the violent headaches, the awful nightmares (sorry 'vivid dreams') and the massive weight gain that moved me up the list of candidates for hip and knee replacement.

A month after I stopped my medication, I started to sleep less and less until I got to the point where I had trouble sleeping one and a half hour in any twenty-four hour period. One saturday, my husband and I moved all our lounge furniture in the courtyard and lifted the huge carpet off in readiness for the carpet layers to do their bit. When they had finished, we moved all our furniture back into the lounge. At the end of the day, we were both exhausted. How did I sleep? I managed to sleep from 6.30am until 8.00am on Sunday morning. This is not the kind of sleeplessness that can be knocked on the head by physical exertion.

I also tried all my usual bag of tricks: meditation, deep breathing, sound healing, massage, self-hypnosis, you name it. After a couple of weeks of so little sleep, I noticed my brain started to do some very strange things (such as standing in front  of the dish washer and not knowing what to do to empty it) and I decided I had slipped into my danger zone long enough. For the first time EVER, I asked for help from my medical team BEFORE reaching crisis point.

I am very proud of myself for that because I have a long history of reckless optimism and of using any difficulty as a test of my mettle. When the going gets tough the tough get going, and all that good stuff. The wisdom lies in how I interpret 'the tough get going'. Often, the toughest thing to do is ask for help when we really need it. There is no toughness in playing ostrich hoping that things will get better.

And so I called my local Psychiatric Support Unit and spoke to the Psychiatric Nurse on duty. To her immense credit, she got me an appointment the very next day with my psychiatrist's right hand man who knows me well (my psychiatrist is on leave until mid-April). We discussed various options and he stressed in the strongest terms what I already knew: regular sleep is VERY important for me. No sleep is dangerous for me.

We agreed to try a mood stabiliser again (Carbamazepine, also know as Tegretol) to see how I would respond this time. This is a medication I tried four years ago prior to the ECTs and it did nothing. At the time, I tried sixteen different medications that did absolutely nothing or actually made me worse so Carbamazepine was not in any way unusual in its uselessness!

This time, I felt a noticeable difference when I took the first tablet. That was very good news. The other good news is that I started to sleep again - admittedly, also helped by the sleeping tablet I have to take for a week to help my sleeping pattern restore itself.

Things became more dodgy when I upped the dosage as prescribed and found that I now had trouble staying awake! I now sleep all night AND half the day. In typical bi-polar form I have gone from one extreme to the other.

I am now playing with dosage, cutting tablets in half and in quarters, feeling like some demented chemist in a cheap horror movie. Apparently, I am not the only one who struggles with pill cutters, knives, resulting powdered pills, etc. In a fit of extreme bad taste, I have even suggested to my fellow pill destroyers that we start snorting our powdered pills for fun...

Joking aside, I need to be patient and treat myself like the object of my little medication experiment. I am both the observer and the observed. Tonight I caught myself calling myself nasty names like pathetic and useless. I soon stopped, reminding myself that the drug I am taking is a strong drug that would affect many people in the same way. I am not lazy: I am over-medicated, and I am dealing with.

All this reminds me of a great truth I often forget: very few things are all good or all bad. Sleep is no different. Not enough and I am in trouble - too much and I am in trouble in a different way.

To sleep or not to sleep is not after all the question. How to reach a place of regular quality sleep is the real challenge :D

Hello there, Gabrielle!

Dear Gabrielle,

I have recently discovered your blog andI wanted to tell you that you have just gained one more follower!

I am 19 years old (will be 20 next June), have been having sleeping troubles for the last 6 months, and just two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

Right now I'm on Cipralex and Prothiaden (the latter improved my sleeping a bit). Quite terrified that I'm starting this whole depression thing so early, but reading your posts made me realise that it is something I can deal with (or at least I hope I can).

I shall digress no further.

Thank you for sharing.


Thank you so much for your comment Dina

I am glad you are enjoying my blog.  Prothiaden is a very good medication - I took it for years until I made the classic mistake and stopped taking it because I thought I was all better...

Depression develops at any age - please do not feel despondent about that. My son was 14 years old when his mental health problems kicked in and he is not unusual in this respect. In fact, there is some advantages to becoming aware of clinical depression early on in life rather than later because you are much more able to 'factor it in' in the way you build your life. It is much more difficult to change your life once it has been built a certain way for forty years or so :0)

For a young person I strongly recommend this book: Depressive Illness the Curse of the Strong by Tim Cantopher.  Reading it will help you avoid the temptation of thinking yourself as 'weak' and 'useless' because NOTHING could be further than the truth.

BIG Love

Gabrielle x

Fast release Tegretol

Have you tried the tegretol that goes quickly through your system, rather than the slow release kind? It made a world of difference in how I am treated for bipolar. My energy level is satisfactory and it does not make me feel sick or over-medicated.

Thank you so much for your comment Fernanda

I will mention slow release Tegretol to my psychiatrist who I am seeing tomorrow :D

I appreciate your suggestion.

BIG Love

Gabrielle x

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