Tuesday, 14 April 2015

In pursuit of sleep

Most of my childhood was spent living in a village on the North Cornish coast.

Our garden backed onto a caravan park and with a swift hop up, over the stone walling - I was able to trespass in effect and masquerade as a child on holiday, where I would play on the swings and the climbing frame of the large play area designed for vacationer children on their annual holiday to the seaside.

During that time, I made many friends - and learnt all the tricks of the trade. From hanging upside down on the monkey bars to standing upright on the swing that creaked and whistled with every bit of energy I could muster from my 8 year old legs. I played pinball with free credits in the games room that had been left by previous players in error and I invented a host of different games, changing the rules frequently depending on how mischievous I felt.

Sometimes other kids would invite me into their caravans for tea or occasionally I would bag a day trip with them somewhere, providing it was at the weekend and it didn't interfere with school. It was an idyllic childhood on that patch. - it was where I had my first kiss and also my first cigarette. My mother caught me smoking when I was 9 and I never did it again. Until I was 22.

But my time on the play area was always cut short. My parents were strict with bedtimes and even though it was daylight until nearly 10pm, I would always get the 'fishwife shout' over the wall from mother who would announce to the world at 6.30pm that it was time to come in and get ready for bed.

And I was always mortified. The other kids would poke fun at me then because I had to go to bed. It wasn't unreasonable of course, because I had school the next day but I vividly recall my embarrassment at having to leave the party early. And then lay in bed, with the daylight still showing through the thin cotton curtains of my bedroom whilst I could still hear the squeals of laughter and playtime adventures going on just underneath my window.

I couldn't wait to grow up. When I was grown up, there would be nobody to dictate when I went to bed. In fact, I thought I would never go to bed when I am older. Sleeping is far too boring when there are far better things to do.

Well sure enough, as I entered an independent life of student hood, I explored a life of burning the candle at both ends. Often, there was no such thing as an early morning as the night turned into day and the boundaries of wake and sleep became increasingly blurred. I either went with no sleep at all for days or I crashed and burned to not being able to wake for many hours. Partying for days on end and staying up all night to do assignments at the last chance saloon were all episodes that fed my chaotic lifestyle but I somehow managed to keep going in some kind of boom and bust slumber culture. With nobody to call time on me or set any expectation of routine, I was dangerously close to burning out.

Real adult life, the kind where I build a home with my soul mate and settled down to a working pattern, eventually sorted this out to a large extent. But my mind was always so active and I still found it hard to switch off at the end of each day. This wasn't helped by the fact that I always had other projects on the go - building a business with my husband and writing articles and a book that I had been commissioned to undertake, all contributed to a lifestlye that required me to build 2 working days into 24 hours and I do not know how I managed it! But I did.

It wasn't unusual for me to do a full day of normal work and then after an evening meal, start another 8 hour shift on my own projects. Having a partner that is similarly driven both helped and hindered in equal measure because we both lacked the discipline to switch off.

And then he died.

 I searched for sleep like a woman possessed. I crash landed into this new weird world and was absolutely exhausted. But with no routine or sleep map, I found myself more lost than ever before and the sleep that I had shunned for so much of my life became a beast that I could not catch.

I yearned for the peace that sleep might bring me. I tried the conventional routes of warm baths and chamomile tea. I listened to soothing music and sounds of the sea. I counted sheep and doused my pillow in lavender oils.

I cried.

I mostly cried without any noise. The volume of tears astonished me as they managed to escape my tightly closed eyes and still soak the pillow. The texture of those tears were unlike any I have ever experienced. They were salty, heavy and silk like - and they just kept coming.

Sometimes I would doze off. Eventually. But then I would be awakened by tears that emerged from my subconscious to disturb me enough to come to, and realise over and over again - on each time waking that Bebe had died.

After all conventional routes had been exhausted, I was prescribed tamazapan, A tiny white pill, no bigger than a tic-tac was the bait I needed to catch the beast. It knocked me out and I slept. I had been warned not to take one every day but as the next evening came, I took another. Finally, I had found some peace. The doctor had only given me 7 tablets and had been very forthright in telling me that I would not get any more. I was angry about this but it forced me to ration them and the next night, I took just half of the pill.

I made a promise to myself the following morning that I would only take another if I absolutely needed it. I began to understand that the only person that could call time was me and that if all else failed, that I had a back up plan. It was a diminishing back up plan but it forced me to rethink my attitude towards sleep and to stop chasing it but instead try to trap it somehow.

In the early days, there was no point in me chasing the beast and telling myself that it was time to sleep. Instead, I crept up on it and tricked it by sleeping when I felt the urge too. For me at least, a routine as such didn't work so I looked at it differently and began to sleep at other times - in the middle of the day or early evening - following my body, listening to my body and going with what felt right.

In effect, this took the beast by surprise. I gave into it when it showed itself and this was far more successful than calling for it to come at a conventional time. This way, the cat and mouse chase was rendered powerless and I began, in some small way to become the boss.

It is a slow process. It is why I sit here after midnight, writing these words to you like I am now. Some days I still exist on just 4 hours sleep but thankfully they are becoming less frequent.

At nearly ten months, I end my day shift tearless most of the time. Occasionally I wake up sobbing and feel heartbreak but those times are more manageable and I can settle to sleep again quite soon.

And so to bed....

For Bebe: This journey is becoming easier. It is becoming bearable. My mind is still overactive at times and I am working hard to switch my thinking off through mindfulness and meditation. I realise that despite your passing, I am in fact trying to also break the poor attitude to sleeping that I have had for a lifetime. I am relieved that I am able to settle more regularly without the volume of tears that once flowed. I know that you would understand that this is not a sign that I love you less - it is a sign that I am moving forward with a sense of peace and confidence that you knew how much you were loved.

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