It doesn’t help that I get to bed so late. But what’s the point? The circles under my eyes may be permanent. I don’t know. I vaguely remember what it was like to not have them, but that’s been years ago.
I used to think it was just plain insomnia. That’s what you assume when someone struggles to get to sleep. I still think there’s an element of insomnia there, from time to time.
A lot of the time when I can’t sleep, its because my brain is too active. My adrenaline gets pumping much too easily. Paranoia sets in. It doesn’t matter if I’m alone, sharing a room with others, or sleeping out in the middle of nowhere. For some reason, my brain is thoroughly convinced that if I close my eyes and let my guard down, I’ll be too out of it to notice someone or something attacking from the dark. It goes into survival mode. My senses become alert, and suddenly I’m jumping at the slightest noise, pacing the halls looking for anything out of place, and flipping the lights on. My mind distorts normal noises from the fridge or the house settling, and makes them sound sinister. It gets even worse when I’m alone.
The Oatmeal did a great comic about the difference between hearing a strange noise when there are other people around versus when you’re alone. Its funny, and pretty true. However, for me, that bottom pane is what I’m like every night. It doesn’t matter who is around, I have to try and convince my brain that its safe enough to close my eyes.
To an extent, everyone goes through something like this, especially when they’re alone. That’s why the comic is funny. It’s also the biggest challenge with helping others to understand why this won’t go away without treatment and is somewhat out of my control. I’m not looking for sympathy, but when you try to explain why simply shutting all the lights off and going to sleep directly just isn’t an option, it gets difficult. I don’t blame them. It was difficult for me to figure it out, because again, everyone goes through it to an extent. For a long time I didn’t ever stop to think about why I could be in a hotel room with friends and be the only one awake at 3 a.m. It just never occurred to me that something wasn’t normal.
I’ve tried treating the “triggers.” I’ve installed alarm systems on doors and windows. I sleep with one hand on a shotgun that can be loaded in a single, quick pump. I’ve tried meditation and self-hypnosis. I’ve used logic, trying to convince myself of the statistically low chance anyone would ever break into my house, but that 1% or even 0.01% chance is still a chance. I’ve used spiritual reasoning: if its my time to die, then it’s my time. Sometimes that one works, but it means you have to reconcile yourself every night that you could die, and surrender yourself to it. And that’s no way to live.
I’ve tried sleeping pills. Certain types, I found out, induce schizophrenia in me, meaning that I hear music and voices from unknown sources. Almost all of them leave me feeling chemically groggy for a few hours after I wake up. These days, Melatonin seems to help with no side effects or next-morning fog, but as the drugs kick in and my brain begins to feel the pull toward sleep, it sometimes panics. What if I can’t wake up? What if someone breaks in and tries to kill my wife, and I can’t react in time because I have drugs in my system?
Then there are the times when my over-reaching anxieties cause other issues. This might make some people laugh, and to an extent it is funny, but for a while I was convinced that people around me could read my thoughts. Not all of them, and not all the time, but I lived in a constant paranoia that people were listening to what was going on in my head, and like most creative people, I have a very active inner monologue. This was actually new for me and took me a few months of conscious effort to quail. It sounds completely illogical, but again, the brain is not always a logic beast.
In addition, I occasionally get social anxieties that result in panic attacks. I’m not from a large family, nor do I have children. I have no problem with kids. When I get into a particularly noisy situation involving many children, however, the results have been miserable. My chest tightens up, my breathing becomes shallow, I begin to sweat, and my brain starts to become somewhat irrational. The only real thought I have is “I need to get out of here right now.” Finding a cool, dark, quiet spot where I can be alone usually does the trick. These anxieties aren’t directly related to the fear-based anxieties I get at night, necessarily, except that they all seem to sprout from my over-active imagination and general anxieties.
I feel I should also point out that it has been some time since I’ve seen a therapist. I’ve never been formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but I have spent a long time trying to figure out what my issue was. It wasn’t that I needed a label to make me feel better, but having a prognosis helps me understand better how to fix it. Its like knowing your car steers to the left; you recognize it’s happening but without really diagnosing the issue, you don’t know what to fix. I definitely need to see a therapist about these issues. Its still on my list of things to do and when that does happen, I’ll update here.
In the mean time, while these things were kicking around the back of my head, I was reading a recent local article on the topic that was written to help dispel myths around marijuana, the author referred to the fact that there are different strains with different chemical make ups and are used to treat different things. This I knew. The misconception that medical marijuana (MMJ) and recreational marijuana are the same thing, and further that they are all pretty homogeneous, is wrong. Very wrong.
What I did not know was that there is a naturally-occurring chemical compound that is heavy in some strains of MMJ called “Cannabidiol,” or CBD. There have been many tests with CBD, which is sort of a counter to the more infamous THC people usually associate with marijuana. THC is known for causing euphoric highs and giving a more detached feeling. Strains higher in CBD counter the psychoactive effects of THC and have been used successfully to treat panic attacks and anxiety disorders, as well as schizophrenia.
Luckily, I live in Washington, a state which now has legal MMJ and recreational marijuana. I basically just have to go to a doctor, tell them what I’m experiencing, and they’ll give a prescription which I can get filled at any of the MMJ dispensaries around the city. That is, if she or he decides it a valid treatment.
There’s still a part of me that’s reserved about the idea, which is why I’ve still been debating it with myself. I grew up in the 1980’s, when Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign was integrated into our Saturday morning cartoons and comic books. While I believe in the research, there is a stigma associated with the product that the general public is still getting over. I know and have known many who feel that MMJ is just a loophole in the system for recreational users.
From my experience, that does happen but it doesn’t need to live up to the stereotype. For starters, a person with an MMJ card can legally purchase CBD oils that can be mixed into drinks or put in gel caps. It does not have to be smoked in order to get the effects, and for younger patients under 18 and adults not keen on smoking, this is a very valid option. There are also edibles made from “pot butter” (marijuana compounds are fat-soluble so butter is a popular choice and can be used like normal in cookies, brownies, etc.), and last there are vaping options, which are usually cleaner than pipes and produce a mist rather than a smoke.
If you pay attention to the site, you might have noticed that I pulled this article temporarily. I realized I hadn’t made something very clear that I felt was important. MMJ and other drugs aren’t necessarily a cure-all. In most mental health cases, a therapist or professional psychiatrist is necessary for truly getting over the problem. However, that takes time. A drug can help alleviate symptoms while a professional helps treat the cause, just like a painkiller and a physical therapist for physical injury.
Also, while I’ve done a bit of self diagnosing, it was not done in 15 minutes on a website like WebMD. That site has a lot of information, almost too much, but it’s not a substitute for a real doctor. I’ve been dealing with these issues for a while and spent a lot of time reading articles, testing treatments that can’t really hurt (such as meditation), etc. I’m not a therapist or any degree of clinical psychologist, which is why I know I need to see one. So please, if you think you have anxiety, depression, or other issues, please see a professional and never self medicate with drugs or alcohol.
As for myself, I’m sure there are other drug options on the pharmaceutical market as well that I haven’t explored, but after some research this is the one I’m most interested in. While I’m not a full-on “organic food only” hippy, and I don’t really buy into all the hype around essential oils, I still like the idea of a more natural chemical compound. If that doesn’t work, I’ll consider other options, but either way I’ll try to keep this blog updated with my experiences and try to grade the effectiveness objectively.