Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sleeplessness and Its Discontents

I read a novel years ago called Fatelessness, written by a Nobel Prize winner – a fictional account of his experience as a 15-year-old Polish Jewish boy in Auschwitz and other death camps. One surefire way to torture prisoners is with sleep deprivation.

I am not fateless, but I am sleepless. My lack of slumber arises from many contributing factors.

The first one is the liver disease I have (primary sclerosing cholangitis or PSC). Doctors and scientists don’t know why this symptom raises its ugly head, but it is observed in, and experienced by, many patients with PSC.

Another factor is my age. Lots of older people develop sleep problems as they age. They don't get their 40 winks the way they used to.

One more factor I’ve got weighing against me is the form of chemotherapy I’m going through as a result of the type of breast cancer I had (estrogen-induced). To hold back recurrence, I take a tiny pill daily that sucks out all the estrogen from my body. Therefore, I am going through a second menopause; the lack of estrogen causes little drowsiness and lots of hyperactivity.

So, combined, these factors add up to a pretty strong physical inclination towards lack of adequate dozing at night.

I make up for some of the loss with afternoon naps, usually two hours long. Last night I stole about 10 winks of snoozing – about two hours. Most nights it’s closer to four or five hours (or about 30 winks).

I feel crazy in the middle of the night, like jump-out-of-my-skin crazy. I don’t know what to do with myself. My cat is lolling about on the bed with me – stomach, back, side – kicking out long, loud purrs. And I watch her with such envy. 

Long novels help. They don’t put me to sleep, but they distract me from thinking of taking more drastic measures. I don’t like the craziness; it even frightens me. But no matter how the night goes, at around 5 a.m. I return to a more normal state of mind. I’m not sure why this happens, but I’m terribly grateful it does.

I feel ready to add more structure to my day to help solve or ease the sleeplessness. I’m also going next week to see a biofeedback therapist and pry some help from him.

What tortures me most? The utter and complete ease I used to have with slumbering. Anywhere, any time, on any surface. The perfect amount, and if interrupted, quickly made up very soon. That was then. This is now. I hope my fate is to add more sleepfulness to my nights.

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