How To Break Up With Your Bed
It seems the state of waking up at the same time each morning and getting the same number of hours each night is today considered something of a barometer for healthy sleep. Picture this smug model citizen – always refreshed at seven every morning, cheerfully sipping his mug of hot water with a lemon wedge. Does your mental image feature seven hits of the snooze button and bleary-eyed bargaining for a reason to call in sick, or eyes puffy from lying awake worrying for nearly three hours the night before? Not likely.
Few of us boast an exemplary sleeping pattern. But for those who suffer mental health issues, shaking the bed bugs that come pre-packaged as psychosomatic symptoms can seem utterly impossible. The result is a toxic relationship between you and your bed — and, potentially, between you and leaving the house.
Take generalised anxiety, for instance. Now, it has its perks — when you’re always up at least half an hour before you ought to be, you’re always ready at least ten minutes before you actually need to leave the house. When you’re always ready at least ten minutes before you actually need to leave the house, you can use that extra time to indulge in some of life’s simple pleasures, like compulsively checking TripView and pacing in front of the door with your keys tightly in hand. Take a deep breath, and another one, and another one. Keep going until you need to do it into a paper bag. Then leave early even though the bus stop is barely sixteen paces from the door.
The anxious part of my brain is trying her best. Perhaps her methods are a little extreme — telling me I’ll fail my classes and alienate friends if I don’t do as I’m told – but in her defence, she gets me out of bed in the morning. Indeed, personifying her as a well-meaning voice in my ear rather than a debilitating illness helps no one. But when you’ve also endured days on end without changing out of your pyjamas, alternating only between scrolling mindlessly through the newsfeed and staring at the ceiling above your bed, it’s hard not to be a little relieved to feel something other than fatigue – even if that something is apprehension. Better to fear things will get worse than to be adamant they’ll never get better.
In depression, sleep disturbance is almost universal. Excessive sleep, while less common than insomnia, is a coping mechanism to which many sufferers resort. It can manifest as an avoidance behaviour or simply as the product of perennially poor energy levels. On a bad day, a marathon sleep-in is my escape route of choice. I dip in and out of consciousness for hours with a sore neck and the covers pulled up over my eyes. Then, as if by magic, half of the day has already disappeared by the time I’m forced to yield to a full bladder and the nagging white daylight soaking the walls of my bedroom.
I’ve long been forced to plan my uni timetables accordingly — no tutorials before midday under any circumstances. I throw my head back and laugh at email bulletins sent out by subject coordinators insisting that all students attend the 9:00 am lectures. I was as surprised as anyone else that I managed to work a job in a bakery last year where I’d wake up at 5:45 am to make my morning shifts. Yet, my ability to jump so readily out of bed during this time wasn’t exactly a bright-eyed sign of recovery. My neuroses had simply left an imprint so deep in my brain that I’d wake up ten minutes before my alarm went off every Saturday without fail.
Maybe the smug model citizen rising early for his yoga routine needn’t be ushered out of bed by the nag of his anxieties, nor does he have to bribe himself up with the promise of a nice breakfast or the thought of catching up on his favourite podcast on the train ride in. But for those of us who suffer from multiple mental illnesses, navigating the disturbances in our sleep can be a particularly thorny operation. The good news? It’s been well-documented that when either the mental illness or the sleep disorder is treated, the other is likely to improve. Right now, you have every right to view every morning’s passage to the front door as a small victory.