Typically I prefer to refrain from all-inclusive terminology: every, none, always, never, everyone, no one…you get the idea. I’ll stick to my leaning in that regard while suggesting that it might work in this particular instance.
When it comes to individuals with certain mental illnesses, such as Bipolar II in my case, most of us of a fairly reliable list of warning signs that things are about to go really bad. In fact, to take it a step further, the list is usually not even a short one.
Which means that as I entered my third day of hospitalization it was no surprise to begin reflecting on what went wrong, how it might have been avoided, and discover a rather lengthy list. It flowed easily, and for each item on the list…there were plenty of warnings!
I have been told the “Big Three” for Bipolar are Medications, Therapy, and Sleep. Well, since I was not on any medication, or in any therapy (yeah, I know) that only left sleep or it was three strikes and I’m out.
For me, seven hours a night will generally cut it. An average of seven and a half is better, and under seven…things are probably going to get a bit dicey. Quickly. Especially over any extended period of time.
I wear a FitBit to try and keep me honest and make sure I’m somewhere close to on track. And I wasn’t. Over the previous month just under seven hours had slid. First to six-and-a-half hours. Then to six, but that was largely due to five-hour nights getting supplemented with 60 to 90-minute naps. By the week before my hospitalization, I was pushing almost five days at right around four-and-a-half–hours a day…total.
One of the reasons sleep makes the Big 3 is due to the chain reactions created by a lack of it. For me, headaches ensue. My temper shortens. My hands start to shake. Under stress, I’ll experience chest pains and shortness of breath (fairly alarming for a man who survived a heart attack back in early 2015). Nothing in life seems to bring pleasure or fulfillment. And all while the mind is racing, thoughts are spiraling out of control, and hope of things feeling normal is plummeting.
Let’s face it, no one likes to be tired. I get that. People with mental illness are not special in that regard. Here seems to be the difference as I have experienced it. Without the illness, finding a way to catch up (sleeping in on the weekend, taking a nap, going to bed early, etc.) can get you back on track pretty quickly. With the illness, in a very short period of time, everything can start misfiring to where lack of sleep isn’t even recognized as the problem. Even if you do see it and find extra time in bed, lethargy sets in with its best friend depression. Life falls into a quicksand. Sleep wise you feel damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
All the while our world’s shift. Rationality disappears. Very smart people can begin to lose their grip on very rational, even simple solutions to what is taking place. And the ability to write…to process…to even come up with the list I sat down and wrote above seems so very far away.