Diagnosis: I’m A Shitty Sleeper
…I have the auditory capability of a fruit bat. I can hear someone break a sweat or drop a hint from forty yards
It’s 3:43 a.m. and I am awake.
I’m not a doctor on call with a patient in labor or a farmer with cows to milk and I don’t have a paper route. Nope. None of the above. I am awake because of an accurate diagnosis by my psychiatrist/sleep disorder expert who is also the Chief of Staff of a major psych hospital and a published expert on everything from bad moods to Double-blind Crossover and withdrawal of Neuroleptics in Remitted, Recent-onset Schizophrenics—one of many doorstop sized books in his office.
I am awake because this guy, Dr. Crazy Smart, says that I am, and I quote, “a shitty sleeper.”
This all started when I was about ten. My bedroom was right above the living room where my big brothers were watching TV switching between “Combat” and “Hogan’s Heroes.” The screams of soldiers in battle would alternate with the bellowing of “Schhhhhullltzzz!” by Colonel Klink—all of it rattling the floor beneath my tiny twin bed.
Jarred from cozy slumber I’d shuffle across my bubble gum pink shag rug and park myself at the top of the stairs. Then in my best future-theatre-major delivery, I’d implore Mike and Bobby to “Turn. That. TV. Down.” This would be repeated at higher and higher decibels until said TV. Was. Turned. Down.
The TV really didn’t need to be too loud since I’ve been blessed with the auditory capability of a fruit bat. I can hear someone break a sweat or drop a hint from forty yards—which is a great attribute if you’re training to be a guide dog or cracking a safe. But when you’re just an exhausted human being trying to sleep— it’s a pain in the ass.
I mean it’s truly a pain in the ass.
I’ve been known to dismantle a clock in 30 seconds if it’s emitting even the faintest “tick, tick, tick.” I’ve buried my husband’s left arm under spare pillows to shut up his beloved Rolex which he only takes off to shower. How can a watch that expensive be that loud?!! I keep earplugs handy to mute certain inescapable rackets like the ear shattering explosions and roars of “Duuuddddde!!! You got so destroyed!” coming from my stepson’s Xbox game down the hall.
I use earplugs to quiet the gnawing grind of leaf blowers erupting like a plague of mechanical locusts at 7 a.m. up and down my block. Heck, I use earplugs so I can’t hear myself think. Even that keeps me up at night.
I especially need earplugs to drown out my Labrador Retriever’s snoring. Stogie has always snored, but now at 84 (in dog years) his snoring, as Spinal Tap would gauge, “Goes to 11.”
Every night I’m jolted into consciousness by his strained, wheezy gasps for air followed by raspy choking noises and implosive sighs. It sounds like someone being strangled and taking an inordinately long time to die.
Older dogs sleep in a semi-comatose state which means Stogie is now immune to the sweat socks I bean at him from across the room. I’ve always kept a pile right by the bed for just these occasions. The gentle “thwock” of the rolled up socks used to be enough to gently stir him. He’d look up, slightly stupefied, then grunt and quietly go back to sleep.
So would I, until I married the above-referenced husband and had the added challenge of his snoring keeping me awake. Something told me it would not be a good idea to throw socks at him.
Instead, I would gently nudge him. And, just like our dog, Bob looks up, a little stupefied, then defiantly grunts at me. (Translation: “I wasn’t snoring.”) Husbands never do.
Light also keeps me awake. Even the tiniest glimmer. Every night I black out our bedroom like a Vegas hotel, turn the alarm clock’s glow toward the wall and, as Bob settles in with his latest novel, I don my sleep mask since they have yet to design a reading light that only illuminates the damned book.
So, yes, my doctor is right. I’m a “shitty sleeper” and have been all of my life. But, it used to be mild and occasional.
Then, in my early 40’s I stopped sleeping. Period. This descent into sleep deprived madness was the result of personal and professional life traumas so overwhelming that I told Bob, “Sweetie, I know I promised to grow old with you. I just didn’t think it was going to happen in three months.”
So here I was in the prime of my life being treated for major depression and sampling anti-depressants like Pez to see which one had the least disruptive side effects. I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials rattling off a laundry list of symptoms that should scare anyone in their right mind from taking this shit. But, ah hah!! I’m depressed. I’m not in my right mind. So, pop, pop. Happy, happy!! And…AWAKE.
Most antidepressants warn against “difficulty sleeping.” Difficulty? Hmmm… I know difficulty sleeping. But now, I simply don’t sleep. Dr. Crazy Smart thought it was anxiety so he prescribed some giant horse pill tranquilizers to down with my sleeping pills at night. Pop. Pop. Zzzz. Zzzz. Oh, what a relief it is! I popped those puppies going to bed and again with my “Up with People” meds in the morning. Suddenly I was Judy Garland— without the voice. But, now, life was good. No, not good. Tolerable.
These were the years I also got hooked on Law & Order. Dun. Dun. Numb. Numb. I’m pretty sure I watched every single episode of every single version which is approximately 6,382 shows, not including reruns. SVU was my fave. I’m not sure why watching crimes that are “particularly heinous” was a mood lifter. Was it because it made me feel like my life was better than the poor prostitutes they’d find strangled and stuffed into Hefty bags? Or, is it because I loved staring at Christopher Meloni?
Heck, I’m just grateful that eventually modern medicine, Dick Wolfe, and the healing effects of time and a new job helped turn my life around.
I finally crawled out of my black hole into the light of day, went off medication and awaited my new found slumber. And I waited. And I waited. Usually while watching Christopher Meloni dig prostitutes out of the trash at 3:43 a.m. Dun. Dun. Numb. Numb.
Back I go to Dr. Crazy Smart… bleary eyed and haggard, but happy to be laying on his couch, or any couch for that matter. “Are you taking the Ambien?” he asks. “No.? I whine. “I’m tired of popping pills.” Not impressed he asked, “Quick question. Are you still a shitty sleeper?”
I shot him a dirty look and held out my hand for the prescription.