We can’t be mentally ill all the time; sometimes we are just regular people. I have this whole entire blog devoted to the ways and means of treating mental illness, but what else is there?
I awoke this morning at 5:30 a.m., which is normal because I go to sleep around ten o’clock. I used to be up until 1:00 a.m. but I finally figured out why. Most antidepressants have a half-life of twelve hours. That means that they are pharmacologically active for twelve hours, then the blood level begins to drop off. In other words, the drugs you take in the morning don’t work their way out of your system until nightfall. Therefore, I would stay up at night to write because that was when my brain crawled out of the pill bottle and could think for a little while.
I also had major insomnia, lying awake for hours after I went to bed, so I was put on Ativan, which I didn’t know was a narcotic, or that I had become addicted to it. Bad stuff—cold turkey drug withdrawal. There’s a trip for you.
Well, after I stopped taking drugs, the insomnia stopped. (We will make the unproven assumption here that some one or more of my other drugs were causing the insomnia.) So, for the past undrugged decade, I’ve been dropping off to sleep about five minutes after I turn out the light. Is that way cool, or what?
And my friend and teacher, Dr. Stephen Wechsler, explained to me that the sleep you get in the early part of the night is more restorative than the sleep you get in the latter part of the night (or morning, as the case may be). In other words, you will feel better if you sleep from ten till six than if you sleep from midnight to eight o’clock. So I go to bed early, but the main reason for that is that I’m sleepy and nodding off by nine o’clock.
I like waking up early. In the olden days, I certainly didn’t. When I was drugged and working full-time, I’d stay up late, not get enough rest, and have to set the alarm clock to wake up. I’d smack the alarm off, drag out of bed, race through dressing, and leave for work twenty minutes after waking up. Breakfast was coffee, and a pastry from the machine in the employee’s lounge.
Now, I don’t wake up until I’m done sleeping—no shrieking alarm interrupting me. I float into wakefulness and lay there in the dark. Then I get up and empty my catheter bag. Doesn’t everybody? No, huh?
A doctor poisoned me with unmonitored lithium. The damage included wrecking my kidneys and my immune system so that I not only have a rare kidney disease but also can’t take the drugs to treat it. So I had to go to the bathroom every two hours, day and night. There’s a bummer for you. Now I have an indwelling catheter so I can get restorative sleep. Hey, it’s not everybody’s life choice but—given the fact of drug damage—it works for me.
Then I crawl back into bed, and it’s a “hospital” bed. I hate calling it that. It ain’t no hospital bed; it’s my bed, and its name is Buddy. My psychiatrist ordered it for me back in the days of drugging when I was really, really sick. In order to keep from dehydrating from the aforementioned kidney damage, I had to drink during the night but I was too sick and tired to sit up. That’s why he ordered the bed in the first place, but I would recommend an electric bed to everyone. It is a better life choice. You can sit up to whatever degree you feel like, and you don’t have to fuss with pillows sliding all over the place. I have one degree for reading, another for drinking hot tea, and yet another for this, now: writing.
I pull over the tray table that holds my auto BiPAP (treatment for obstructive sleep disorder, aggravated by Ativan), lightbox (treatment for seasonal affective disorder, caused by living in Central New York, which is a really dark place), and my laptop computer. I fire up the laptop and begin to write.
I’ve been a writer since I was eleven years old and wrote a story called “The Bookworm.” After I stopped drugging—and started going to sleep at night—I would wake in the morning and write a thousand words before breakfast. That was my mantra: A thousand words before breakfast. It used to make my psychologist nuts. It would take him two weeks to compose a thousand-word essay. On a good day, I can do it in forty minutes.
Morning is great for writing. The day is empty and silent and hasn’t been used yet. Nobody’s messed it up. My electric bed faces the window. The moving company man who has moved me several times always tries to set up my bed facing the door, and gets angry at me for insisting that he turn it around to face the window. Some people are weird. Why would I want to face the door? I live alone and nobody’s ever going to come through the door.
Alternatively, there is a whole world out there. My window faces east so I get the rising run. The sun always rises but in Central New York often it only is visible for ten minutes before it slides up behind our semi-permanent cloud cover. Have you ever watched a sunrise? I see it every day. The black turns to gray and a slit of pink appears on the horizon, then the cloud bottoms turn to raspberry. There is so much color and so much beauty, and you don’t have to pay to see it. You just sit there, watching the world light up.
First I see the edge of the laptop, then the windowsill with its African violets, ceramic frog and little pumpkin. Then there are the houses outside the widow, interspersed with trees, climbing four blocks to the top of the hill that is fringed with trees in the park. Then the clouds, which are drifting north this morning—a bad sign, because our usual weather pattern is from the west. Rain today, for sure.
Today I will get up and go on. I will eat oatmeal with apples. My aide will give me a shower and shampoo, and help me get dressed. Then I will get in my wheelchair and go to my therapist, where we will talk about all the damage I have suffered from psychiatrists prescribing pharmaceuticals.
Doctors doing drugs is the pain from which I never can escape.