Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and the medications, dosages, and treatments described here are not meant for any readers to use as their own diagnoses and dosages. I have deliberately been vague about actual medications and some of their dosages to prevent this. They are described here purely for the purposes of showing fellow anxiety sufferers that there is help for them out there and that there is hope for them. Please seek professional medical help if you need it.
My sleeping problems started in late 2015. I had moved out of home and in with my boyfriend, was financially independent (or trying to be) on a poor salary, and worked in an extremely high-pressured job with poor management.
The problems started presenting themselves in somewhat inconspicuous ways at first: I often woke with a start while I was dropping off with my heart racing and feeling like I had just gotten the biggest scare of my life or I would sleep very lightly during the night and wake up frequently.
I have been on melatonin for quite some time prior to these problems (I’ve always had a bit of a hard time nodding off) and got my doctor to switch that for valerian which helped for a month or so.
In early 2016 the problems just got worse. Most nights would be a battle with not being able to fall asleep and then, once I was finally asleep, only sleeping for about 4-5 hours in total each night. I was also sleeping incredibly lightly and would wake for long periods during the night drenched in sweat, my heart racing, and feeling like I had run a marathon.
This started to take it’s toll on me mentally and physically. I developed anxiety and would often experience racing, frenzied thoughts; heart palpitations particularly during the night; would constantly worry and panic about things beyond my control; and was frequently experiencing what I can only describe as that feeling of butterflies in your stomach but on steroids. It was awful. I’ve always been a bit of a worrier but had previously managed to balance that with common sense and being quite a rational person so this was totally new to me and absolutely awful. Physically I developed a slight tremor in my head, neck, and heads; couldn’t make sense of mundane things (people talking to me, forming responses, making a cup of tea, getting dressed, spelling, talking, etc) and my sensitive stomach’s acid reflux issues kicked into overdrive. It felt like there was a living knot of horror in my stomach with it’s own heartbeat that was constantly aching.
As I’m sure you can imagine, all of these issues cannot be managed in the long-term let alone in the short-term. I had managed for a few months by withdrawing completely socially and keeping my head down at work, making sure I added notes of absolutely everything to my to-do lists so that I wouldn’t drop the ball. I also took myself off to my GP to get checked out. She put me back on melatonin, ran some blood tests, and prescribed a beta blocker to manage the heart palpitations.
One morning in April 2016 as I was getting ready for work I walked out the bathroom stood still, felt my heart rate escalate and experienced a complete melt-down. I couldn’t stop crying or shaking, my heart rate was still racing, I was sweating uncontrollably, and struggled to breathe. I phoned my mom and she calmed me down as best she could, got me to take a beta blocker to bring my heart rate down, and came around and took me off to the doctor. She was such a star. I don’t know what I would do without her.
My mom took me off to our doctor (homeopath – don’t judge me!) who was, understandably, shocked by what had happened and how badly the toll of insomnia had affected me. She booked me off of work for the rest of the week, prescribed natural medication to help manage the anxiety and stomach issues, and also urged me to go and see my GP again. My GP was also concerned about my health and prescribed sleeping pills.
The rest of that week was a lot better but not great. Having the stress of work removed helped immensely (although the sleep and anxiety did not improve) and it was then I realised I had to leave my current job.
From then on improving my sleep was a battle, one that I had to learn to get comfortable with to try and eliminate anxiety around it. I’ll cover more about the months following this breakdown in the next post.
For now though I want to remind anyone needing it that reaching out for professional help is nothing to be ashamed of. Chat to your GP, therapist, or psychiatrist, whatever you have access to. They are there to help you.