Sleep Deprivation, The Edge of Sanity and Breaking Through Resistance

Happy woman laying on bed
Happy woman laying on bed

My story begins at the birth of my second daughter. My first girl was only eighteen months at the time and had just started walking six weeks earlier, so suffice to say I was already pretty exhausted from being pregnant and looking after a tottering toddler.

My pregnancy had been healthy and the birth was a cinch compared to my first, but little did I know what I was in for over the next twelve months. The first few weeks started much the same as before, lots of sleepless nights breast feeding a ravenous new-born. She guzzled every feed, but then proceeded to projectile vomit half of what she had taken and then cry for hours until exhaustion took over and she finally slept.

For the first three months of her life, the only way I could get her to sleep at night was to put her in a small sleep bed with handles that I strapped to my leg under the table whilst I ate my dinner. That way I could rock her using the motions of my leg and still have hands free to eat. It was then a ninja move, to move her from my leg and into her cot (still in the little bed). However, this never lasted much longer than a couple of hours before she woke needing another feed or more comfort.

Over the next few months, her sleep patterns didn't improve. She was getting plenty of milk, was gaining weight nicely, was happy and healthy but she just didn't sleep much. Four months was about the limit to what I felt was manageable with the natural hormones a new mother produces to help with a newborn.

And so it continued.

A good night would be her waking maybe four times. Most nights though, it was six or seven times. There were nights where she would wake Every. Single. Hour. And this started to take its toll. I started to lose my train of thought during conversations, I would easily snap at my then two year old, and any rational thought at that point had left the building already.

Worst of all, my husband was working very long hours and didn't understand what I was going through, so I felt very lost and lonely with the accumulated effects of sleep deprivation.

I sought help from the health visitor, but all the different suggestions on sleep training didn't seem to work, mainly because I was just not in any state of mind to implement anything consistently.

I had lost all sense of who I was, and I couldn't think clearly about the most simplest of things. In fact, right now as I write this, I find it really difficult to put into words the haze I felt and the fuzzy dream like state I was living in for nearly a year, as the months and months of lack of sleep took over my life.

I fell into a depression. I suppose it could be classed as post-natal depression, but I knew it was really a symptom of the sleep deprivation. I was told anti-depressants could probably help. But I didn't want to admit defeat. I felt like accepting that kind of help was a sign of failure and that people like me, strong independent women, didn't succumb to 'depression'.

Even though I knew people who suffered from various forms of depression, which I did not judge, I still felt a stigma around the idea that I was suffering from depression. It just wasn't acceptable to me.

I fought it and fought it until one day I knew something had to give. I couldn't continue living in a state of stress, anxiety and depression any more. I was no longer ME. I was some sort of automotron playing at being me, but doing a really bad job of it.

It took for me to rationalize the idea of taking anti-depressants before I sought help from my doctor. I had read that sleep deprivation desensitizes the synaptic receptors to the natural chemical Seratonin and when your body is deficient in Seratonin, this can cause depression (source). The fact that lack of sleep was tricking my body into not recognizing the levels Seratonin in my system meant that I needed a boost to get my levels up. This meant taking an anti-depressant.

Whether the facts I read were medically accurate or not, it still allowed me to change the way I thought about the depression I was in and actually seek help. Yet, even though I took those steps, I still resisted taking that first pill for three days after I got the prescription. Eventually I took it. It felt like more than just swallowing a small pill, it felt like the world had come crashing down around me.

However, it took a few weeks before I noticed an effect, but slowly and surely the fog started to lift and I could once again think straight. I could even see that my decision about taking the anti-depressants was very practical and not at all based in the drama I had previously concocted.

I had more patience with both my girls and suddenly I was able to take stock of the situation and see what I needed to do. Finally being free from the haze, allowed me to do some sleep training with my then one year old. I know some people are adverse to 'training' children in sleep methods, and so was I to being with (yet another resistance I had to work through), but I knew it was the only thing left to moving forwards to a healthier way of living.

And it did work. She started sleeping better after a few weeks and by eighteen months she was mostly sleeping through the night. I only took the pills for three months, but it allowed me to take a breath and see through the fog that was clouding my brain.

My story is not about depression. Nor is about parenting methods or in fact sleep deprivation. It is about how we sometimes resist making decisions in our lives because of beliefs we have bought into or stories we have told ourselves that hold us back from achieving new possibilities.

So perhaps take a moment to see what you are resisting in your life right now and think of what could be achieved if you let go of the beliefs that are stopping you. Maybe this will allow you to take a step forward today -- a step closer to the things you really want.

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