Since coming off the chemo drugs and feeling gradually better I have gone gradually madder. I noticed almost immediately that as my body started to run more normally my brain was skating off in the opposite direction. How could it be that a holiday from daily poisoning was making me feel more anxious and disorientated? The responsibility of going back to work with a brimming bowl of teaching was not something that would normally bother me but, on this occasion, I was choking on every morsel of preparation, feedback or marking. My 9:00 till 5:00 Friday (hardly exceptional but necessitating a 5:30 alarm) paralysed my eyelids open. I certainly wasn’t worried, depressed or even sad, actually the opposite, just hyper anxious and obsessively hard working. What was going on??
Yes what was going on? – I failed to ask myself in the rush toward start of trimester. As day one of teaching approached I decided to revisit resort-not-sleeping, a place that had been off my bucket list since the trip to China in the 80’s fiasco, the abandoned to burn by my costume designer fire incident and the dragging my mattress around the hotel corridors looking for somewhere to shack up with the sleep fairy debacle. Anyway in the last few weeks, and after some practice, I manage to achieve that special status reserved for only serious insomniacs of not sleeping for one night AT All! OK so a slight exaggeration – I needed to get up at 6:00 am. I slept from 5:45 till 6:00. I know because I was digital-flashing-clock watching all night. For those of you who have never tried it, I recommend insomnia as way to experience what it’s like to have OCD. I guess it might be a derivative. Your head goes into a loop ‘Look at the time, and I am still not asleep!’ -> ‘I am still not asleep. What time is it?’ -> repeat ad-nauseam. For those of you who have it, and I know some of you in the family suffer, maybe it helps to know we are all in the same club, even if nobody in their right mind would want to be a member.
Tips for surviving insomnia
- take pleasure in punching the smug, right-on GP who puts up a massive fuss about giving you sleeping pills and recommends mindfulness (more about that incident when my rage abates)
- Read what the brilliant Labour MP Jess Phillips has to say about managing anxiety and insomnia
“When things are really bad I take medication.”
so refreshing to hear someone say “Take the drugs.” Instead of – go and swim with dolphins with crystals down your trunks.” Yes, she also advocates regular exercise, I can forgive her for that, but a public figure addressing the stigma felt by us ‘softies’ that occasionally need some chemical coping strategies, is just what the doctor ordered, at least for me.
- And this is the big one – read the back of your drug packets when you are on chemotherapy because ….
I mentioned in passing to my consultant that I was surprisingly anxious and had trouble sleeping despite being in such a positive place medically. I expected an explanation along the lines of – ‘now you have a bit less to worry about, your brain has invented some trivial worries to fill the hole’ … but no, he barely broke his verbal stride (you know the one that goes Him: ‘How are you?” Me: “Good.” Him: “Fine. Shall we say see you in 3 months.”) as he explained that for the last nine months I had been effectively taking sedatives. More than one of the drugs I was taking, even in small doses (I was taking big ones) would put most people to sleep. Thalidomide was prescribed originally both to alleviate morning sickness and to calm the mother down. My body had grown used to daily inputs of self-inflicted narcolepsy and now I was cold turkeying.
So there it is – now it all makes sense.
I am not having an Ingmar Bergman (Persona) moment.
I am having a Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) moment.
The anxiety and sleeplessness has not stopped yet but I have got a grip and a bunch of pills. Meanwhile Tracy Emin, another hero of mine, has taken a bunch of selfies to make all us nutters feel less alone at 3:17 in the morning.