Origins of My Insomnia

Growing up, I never thought of myself as someone with insomnia.  I thought of myself as a “night owl.”  I felt more energy after dark.  I could easily stay up all night and then get by on 5-6 hours sleep.  If tired, I slept to catch up on the weekends.  I was not subject to wakefulness.  I didn’t have a problem sleeping through the night or even sleeping for 10-12 hours.  One of the few benefits to loosing ninety percent of the hearing in my left ear remains the ability to sleep through noise and disruption by cuddling my right ear into the pillow.

I was also a lucid dreamer.  I could plan and plot a scenario and holding it in my mind as I fell asleep allowed me to actually live inside that dream.  I could even wake just enough to redirect it as needed to keep it within the framework.  Of course, I also had nightmares and sometimes had trouble waking and avoiding the fall back into those.

This habit changed little into my freshman year in dormitories at Washington State University.  I slept a little lighter, but I would up without a roommate and enjoyed my privacy and safety once inside my room.

I didn’t even have a great deal of trouble sleeping with another person.  My younger sister and I shared a double bed and then the same room with bunk beds. I began to experience some sleep issues evolving from hyper awareness after marrying.  I worried about disturbing my husband, although he didn’t appear to worry much about me.  In fact, when we both needed to work and I had flu or cold symptoms that disturbed his sleep, he expected me to move to the couch or another room so that he wouldn’t be disturbed.  I chose to move out when he was sick, believing that rest for the sick person was crucial.

Once we got pets (and the first ones were puppies), I began to listen for them.  And that listening was about 80 percent my responsibility.  Again, he needed his sleep and mine was secondary.  Also, I felt more responsibility for their welfare.  Time went on.  I kept listening and waking a little more often and a little more easily.

Upon moving to Arizona from Alaska (where I loved both the place and my job), I needed to find employment quickly so we could qualify to purchase a home.  For most of a year I commuted 150 miles round trip every weekday.  I left home at about 6 am and returned about 6 pm.  I had a couple of hours at home before needing to go to bed in order to rinse and repeat.  Then, on the weekends, my husband wanted to get out-of-town explore … driving the same route I used to commute all week-long.

By this time, my insistence on equal consideration of my career, on ranking my time equally valuable, and on dividing home care and life management tasks equitably had created stress in our marriage.  I was no longer focused on fitting myself into a “normal” marriage, but rather in fitting our marriage to our lifestyle.  In addition, the pets were now nuisances and my husband could be expected to shove, kick or otherwise retaliate against an animal sleeping on the bed who got too restless or curled up against his body and “imprisoned” him in that position.  If either he or an animal stirred during the night, I woke up.  And that waking meant I surfaced about every 20-30 minutes all night long.  I was tired, achy and disinterested in sex.  That from his point of view was the real problem.

Eventually, this led to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and depression.  I’ve been taking Amitriptyline (then called Elavil) for 25 years now … because both of those things are due to a chemical and/or hormonal imbalance.  And I sleep much better.  And I function with fewer symptoms when I get 8-9 hours of sleep each night on a regular schedule.  However, I continue to feel like a “night owl” and enjoy more energy at night if I happen to be awake.  This served me well after the divorce during my dating years.  Now I am back in a relationship that has changed from full romantic integration into roommates with benefits.

I have also been reading about cumulative research which has determined that biochemical changes aren’t causal to most depression and anxiety.  The research also shows that about 75% of the “improvements” after being given medication are placebo.  And, whether real or placebo, those benefits diminish and disappear over time.  The migraines that I’ve suffered from since my teenage years have nearly disappeared over this same period and off-label usage of Amitriptyline has proven effective.

I currently have neither animals nor a partner sharing my bed or my bedroom at night.  Did I ever have insomnia?  I believe that my emotional normal is closer to depression than happiness.  I have found, for the most part, that my emotional investments, bring minimal rewards.  Most people, prefer not to be “understood” to the degree that I eventually understand them.  I love ideas and problem-solving.  People are partly problems to be solved … and understood.

I’ve also been looking at the known side-effects for the class of drugs that mine belongs to.  Some of the “mysterious” symptoms which various doctors have never raised possible side-effects very probably are.  Therefore, I’ve embarked on a slow program of reducing the Amitriptyline that I take daily.  My intent is to stop taking it.  When I do so, I believe that I’ll improve my weight, my weird skin issues and my gastro-intestinal problems.  I don’t think that I ever really had insomnia and I don’t think the medical profession should have left me on the medication for 25 years.