Every Thursday night I get home at 6.30pm, have a nice glass of wine with dinner, then within half an hour I am on the brink of deep sleep. Due to daylight savings in Victoria I am wanting bed in complete daylight at 8.00pm. My body and mind after nearly a week of 12 hour days at work and train travel its had enough and I need a long and deep sleep to get me through Friday.
Before I started back in the workforce recently I was recoverying from a major depressive episode that nearly claimed my life. I would often, well more than often, sleep until lunch only waking to make the pj wearing dash to drop my little boy to school, then home again for more shut eye. I would get up around midday feeling drowsy from a sleep induced hangover, feeling like crap, I would eat, drink coffee, check my social media, read my book, then study for a few hours. Some days the exhaustion would be to much and I’d head back to bed for a Nanna nap, setting the alarm so I was awake when my little boy got home from school. I would then be awake for hours, lucky to be a sleep before midnight. This is not an ideal routine for anyone, let alone someone suffering severe depression.
One of the biggest issues when living with depression is often the complete exhaustion that floods your body with a heaviness that doesn’t leave you, nor ease once you have received a ‘proper’ sleep. By proper sleep I mean an eight hour sleep. However, it is not that simple, what healthy people find the norm, depressives find a dream. Ideal sleep is what we all crave, with the occasional sleep in to get over a long week working, being a parent, managing a busy household, and keeping up with the daily requirements that life continually throws at us.
For those of us living with depression, sleep is a devils curse and a blessing all at the same time. The devil’s side is the need to sleep constantly in the hours we are meant to be awake. The exhaustion of dealing with depression is hard on our bodies leaving us weak, spent and unable to think, be active, concentrate, or participate in anything around us. Hours upon hours are spent in bed dozing on and off for hours, praying for complete sleep that will take us off to the world of nod, escaping the exhaustion that life torments us with. You would think that following sleep we would feel fresh, ready to face the world? No, this is rare. Most of the time we are left hungover from restlessness, and dozing, leaving us just wanting more. Bed is our best friend, sleep is our enemy.
Sleep for us becomes a blessing when depression causes us with restlessness, a mind that won’t stop, and a mania that keeps us on a massive high, and then days, sometimes weeks of insomnia, with little to no sleep. In these days, no amount of insomina or sleeping medication can assist you in getting to sleep, you are wide awake while the rest of the world sleeps.
Neither over sleeping nor insomina are healthy, they are just factors on the fast train to more depressive episodes, caused by the effects of exhaustion. Exhaustion from too much sleep, exhaustion from no sleep. A vicious circle that nobody wants or wishes on other people.
After literally months and months of living in this cycle, I gained a new job, the first in a 12 month period when I was very sick with severe depression, and recoverying from a major depressive episode and the affects of large doses of prescribed medication, electro convulsive therapy (ECT), retrograde amnesia caused by ECT, issues with sleep, and a lack of energy levels to sustain a normal, day to day existance. I admit that re-entering the workplace has been exciting, hard, and scarey all at the same time.
While I was excited for the opportunities that this job would give me, and looking forward to a new start, moving on from the illness that has plagued my mind and body for many months, I had and continue to have fears that plague my mind every day, just waiting for that Black Dog to pop its head up after hiding for a couple of months or so. I fear that these 12 hour days will send me back over the cliff into the depths of depression, that I won’t be able to sustain not just the hours but maintaining the brain power to get the job done each day. I fear my new work colleagues finding out that I have severe depression, and that this knowledge will then shape their perception of me, and I will face the discrimination and bullying that my last three workplaces had inflicted on me. I fear that life will just become too much for me, and shielding off depression will become impossible. I fear that I will let me soul mate and my little boy down again, because I won’t be able to sustain this.
What has kept me going to date, and has maintained my health, mentally and physically, has been routine – routine is your best friend when you are living with depression, it is what gets you through the day, and it is what keeps you on top of the illness that threatens you every day.
My routine begins at 5.30am when the dreaded alarm wakes me up, I press snooze exactly three times, I get up and do all the stuff that us women have to do to look beautiful. I leave the house at exactly 6.41am, I get on the 7.01am train, where I sit down, go through my social media, check out my stats and comments from my blog, and then I begin writing my first blog of the day. While the passengers around me are snoozing, reading books, or tapping away on work emails, I am frantically writing a blog that I hope gives my readers a little bit more hope. I arrive at Parliament station at 7.55am, change trains, and get to work at 8.01am, ready to start my day. I then spend until 12.30pm at my desk doing my job. At 12.30pm I take my phone, my ipad, and my lunch to the lunchroom, where I check social media, my blog, and then either finish the blog I started on the train or begin my second blog of the day. I return to my desk at 1.15pm and look forward to my clock ticking over to 4.30pm when I can leave for the day. I get on the 4.40pm train to Flinders Street station where I change trains again, and then sit down to writing my second blog of the day. By the time I have done all this, I am home at 6.30pm.
Other parts of my routine, include taking three vitamin tablets with my depression medication every morning – one fish oil tablet, one vitamin B tablet, and one kava vitamin tablet. I will be honest I have never been a person to stay committed to religiously taking vitamin tablets. I often give up after a few weeks, because I feel no better for it. However, the combination of these tablets, and my soul mate’s persistance to keep me taking them, has made me feel so much better. By the time I get on the train I feel energetic and I feel alert, without these I feel tierd, lerthargic, and just want to go back to bed. With these tablets I find that I don’t get as stressed as I normally would, while I get anxious I don’t feel overwhelmed by stress anymore. Or maybe it is because I see my job as just that, a job now, I am not working with huge expectations on myself, my job while it is busy, it doesn’t have a lot of huge deadlines and priorities, but most of all I see this as a new start, and I take one day at a time, and for what it really is, just a job!
I still have some nights where I struggle to get to sleep because my mind just won’t stop, but overall after taking my night time medication I am usually asleep within half an hour of going to bed. Most nights I sleep through, and wake up feeling like I have actually slept, which previously I never felt.
For me, and it maybe some of my readers want to try, it is developing your own routine for each day, stick to it every day rain, hail or shine. With routine include taking your medication as close to the same time every day and every night. Add vitamins to your daily routine – try fish oil, which contains Omega 3 which is known to reduce the symptoms of depression as well as improving heart health, add one tablet of kava, its effects include muscle relaxation, sleepiness and feelings of wellbeing, and then finally have a vitamin B supplement, which help with energy production, and make red blood cells, helping to fight off illness. Of course, I don’t recommend these are what you need, they are suggestions that work well for me, before you run off to the chemist to buy them, check with GP/Doctor first, ask if these are the right vitamins for you. For me, I now swear by them, for getting me through each day.
With this daily routine, I neither have the time or the energy left at the end of each day to go to the gym and exercise, I know its bad, but it is what it is! However, just by doing this routine every week day, I am more active, healthier, and feeling much better. I am not saying that this routine may be right for you, but sit down and jot down a daily plan that you can stick to, that I am sure will help you feel better, and help you start that road to recovery.
I still expect days when I am not well, when I can’t go to work, or I can’t get out of bed. I still have my fears of that bloody Black Dog coming back, and that depression will take me again. But with all this as part of my routine, and management of depression, I feel that there is hope that I am past the extremely rough and sick days, that I may be able to, touch wood, stay on my journey to recovery, where ever that may lead me.