Friday, July 04, 2008

Eyes Wide Open

I sat in doctor's office, a tight smile pulling my lips against my teeth. "I'm okay. I'm fine. It's really nothing, don't worry."

Pynchon held my arm and leaned in closer to me, whispering support in my ear. The doctor looked at me, kindly. She had nice shoes; she was funny. I liked her. I was embarrassed. We had come together, Pynchon and I, booking back to back appointments for nagging issues we just weren't motivated enough to attend to on our own. I'll go if you go.

Our family doctor was away and the resident, probably, I realized with surprise, younger than us, had ably diagnosed Pynchon's rash and commended him for coming in to treat it. As she explained the treatment and the likely cause, I patted his leg, commending him for his good sense in coming in, showing my support. All aglow from my role as caring wife who was vindicated in her nagging of 'go see the doctor, already, that's not getting better on its own!', I was not really prepared when she turned to me.

"Mimi? What are you here for?" She scrolled through my digital chart, narrating as she went. "Ah, I see you get a lot of sinus infections, oh! And you have a daugther. A toddler? Have you caught another cold, from her?"

"It's nothing ... I'm fine ... don't worry ... it's silly." I just couldn't, suddenly, couldn't say it: I can't cope. I can't sleep. My heart races and my breathing speeds up and I jerk myself away from rest. I lie in bed for hours. I'm so tired I snap at everyone, so tired I can't manage basic household tasks, let alone my very well-paid and increasingly neglected work. I sit in my office and stare at the screen, blankly, dreaming with my eyes open: of rest, an oblivion to wrap around me like a blanket.

I couldn't say: I'm a failure. I'm overwhelmed. It's not like I can't do it all: I can't even do half of what would be just enough. I couldn't say: I'm so desperate for sleep that sometimes I sob from exhaustion, or rage against myself, my own thoughts a poisonous swirl of vicious blame.

Pynchon held my arm, giving it a little squeeze. "It's okay," he said, "you can tell her."

I tried, and I got maybe three words out of my mouth before the tears came, my shoulders shaking. The weight of my failure threatened to crush me to dust. She leaned forward, said soothing things. "You need a vacation," she counseled, "you need to take naps."

I cried harder: vacations are for people who have accomplished their goals, put in their hours, bought groceries for their families, dusted at least once every two months. Naps only seem to ensure that sleep retreats ever further into the nighttime distance, leaving me quietly despairing in a quiet house, too groggy to do anything but worry. Vacations were for people who do not, rather than sheep, count major work deadlines marching across the summer calendar; naps are for people who are not adjusting three times over 9 weeks to jetlag from 3 hour, 6 hour, 3 hour time changes, internal clocks set somewhere in the blank vastness of the Pacific ocean, hungry at midnight, nauseated from sleeplessness at 9am.

We talked. I'm not depressed. I'm anxious and insomniac. I'm very busy and under a lot of pressure and I need my sleep and I simply can't get it. Can't get my brain to turn off even when I have one caffeinated beverage, before 10am, when my bed is used for nothing but rest and love, when the room is dark and quiet, when I'm in bed by 10pm. Can't stop the worry, the fret, the planning. Can't help but tot up the sleep debt in terms of lost productivity to come, a fear of bad moods and ill will. Can't help but blame my own neurotic personality for this problem: when I'm away for work, I sleep soundly and for 8 hours at a stretch. I'm much less comfortable, apparently, at home. How awful.

She wrote me two prescriptions. One, oddly, is for an antidepressant that has a drowsiness side effect. I'm to take this on evenings I feel I'm not going to get to sleep on my own. The other read: "2 days vacation. Naps as needed." This last she wrote for me in hopes of easing my guilt. I'm not sure it's working.

Since our visit to the doctor, I flew to Hawaii (6 hour time difference) and spent a week at a conference, capped off by a red-eye flight home. I have been in complete disarray since my return and parenthood means I can't go to bed at 6pm when I'm overcome by drowsiness, and can't even sleep past 6am, when I'm pulled out of sleep as if from the ocean floor. I can't think, and I'm too exhausted even to pass the time in housework.

I feel broken and ashamed. I feel powerless, and, more than anything, I feel so very, very tired. I just needed to tell someone, and everyone here? Is asleep.


Anonymous said...


I've no words of wisdom or bits of advice for you, Mimi.

All I can manage is a Hello. A Hello filled with compassion, topped up with empathy, tinged with sadness for your quandary and buoyed by good thoughts directed at you.

I hope you get to the mental place where you need to be. Where you deserve to be.

Good night.

naomicatgirl said...

Not a lot to add, but I can empathize. Many mornings I'm awake at 4 am, restless, fretting, wondering why I cannot sleep.

Naps are good. They really are. I embrace the afternoon nap, when I am able. And getting someone else to clean the house - worth every single penny and then more, if you can manage it.

Good luck.

cinnamon gurl said...

Oh Mimi... that sucks! That reminds me of when Swee'pea was a baby. And it sucks that the more sleep-deprived you become the more intense your anxiety gets, which makes it harder to sleep.

And dusting??? Sheesh, I NEVER dust. But I do hire someone to clean key rooms. Maybe worth considering?

Take care!

Omaha Mama said...

I was just thinking too...maybe a cleaning crew for a few months? Or forever...that's my goal. That would be one thing off your plate. And then, maybe for a while, you could go to bed when Munchkin does. Just for a week or two.

I'm so sorry. I can say I have spent many an awake night, lying there fretting about this fear or that. I can't imagine how debilitating to have it stretch on night after night. You are not a failure, please don't say that.

Mad said...

Yes, get some cleaners. That's a start.

I can relate somewhat--not to the insomnia, although I do find it hard to get to sleep at night, but to the competing priorities. Those of us who were attracted to academia in the first place tend to be people who put all or most of our apples in one cart. Until I had Miss M, I would procrastinate in order to think and then work long intense hours to get a job done. In order to live I needed big, uninterrupted chunks of time. That simply hasn't happened since I had a kid nor is it likely to happen any time soon. Frankly, I get overwhelmed by the piecemeal nature of my brain these days and find that rather than being sorta productive at 10 things I am completely unproductive at everything. I can't send routine work emails, I can't follow up with kitchen contractors, I can't keep on top of my work meetings and Miss M's appointments...let alone taking on big projects. It is overwhelming and it pushes me to the point of depression.

To take the truth one step further, I know that one of the reasons I blog is because blogging is the only avenue in my life right now where I feel as if what I do has some marginal value and where I know that I will receive positive feedback for this fractured state my psyche is in. Sad but true...and I think it is true for many of us.

I keep expecting to hit the wall with all these feelings of being overwhelmed but somehow I simply manage to defer my depression and live somewhat contentedly with malaise instead.

So, I want to end this comment by saying "chin up" but alas it is never that easy.

On the bright side, Pynchon did get that nasty rash cleared up.

crazymumma said...

Insomnia. My bestest buddy in the whole wide world. And anxiety, her sidekick.

I know it all very very well. But I do not 'work' for a living and parent. Like you so, so the symptoms must be exponential.

I hope the pills work for you. But in my unsolicited opinion, I think they might be a slippery slope. A bandaid. Just. Be careful of them please. They messed me up.

I know you have very little time. I know that. But you might try some meditation (free!) or yoga and some herbal stuff.

Want me to shut up yet? Sorry. Its just I have watched the inside of my eyelids for so many years now and this post just really spoke ot me and i want to help in my little ways.

Mad said...

One more thing (ok 2):

1. Cut yourself a bit of slack. Look at this past year and all that has happened to you. You're bound to be recovering from the intense stress of it all. Stress demands recovery and vacation with naps can be just the thing.

2. My friend Lisa once told me that a career was a long-term investment. There will be times when we are less productive just as there will be times when we take the bull by the horns. I have seen this happen with a number of my colleagues as their small children grew. The tide will shift again so try not to let yourself feel overwhelmed and fatalistic about the current situation. Please try.

Enough assvice from me. Mad, out.

Patti said...

Mimi - In my job, sometimes people sit in my office telling me the exact same things you have expressed here. I tell them to breathe, I pray with them, I tell them they aren't alone, I try to be there for them. And I tell them to tell their doctor everything.

Sometimes it will pass.

Sometimes it's a sleep disorder. Sometimes the meds help.

So ... I don't really know you ... but may I say, keep breathing. In and out. Allow yourself to do less than what you think you should be doing right now. Refuse to run faster for your job. It's not worth it.

Who cares if the house is dusty? It's not important until it triggers allergies, as far as I'm concerned!

Your commenters here are right - you've been through so much change and intensity over the last year - that takes energy and brain power and motivation that you would have used elsewhere. And that's OK.

Pink Mist said...


I have no experience with being a mother but insomnia does suck, hugs and cuddles generally help! Hope you feel better soon..

Kyla said...

Well, here's one of my little secrets. I don't dust more than every 2 months. Or every two months. ;) I'm telling you, frat boy chic is the key to a relaxed existence. LOL. Or my way of letting myself off the hook, one of the two.

I'm buying you a drink in two weeks, most definitely.

I was up for hours last night (but eventually did fall asleep) and it was entirely miserable. It must be so draining to struggle against that all the time. I'm sure you've thought of this, but the only thing that helps me calm deadline anxiety before sleep is getting up and writing it all down. Once it is on paper, sometimes I can release it enough to sleep because I know it will still be on that paper in the morning.

Wishing you peaceful dreaming soon, Mimi.

Bea said...

Oh, Mimi! I second (third) what Mad and Patti said about all the stress and change you've been through this year. This will pass. In the meantime, is there a guest bedroom farther away from the action that you could get to? I find that just knowing my sleep MIGHT be interrupted makes me more wakeful. We moved Pie into a bed this week, and now I wake up at the slightest sound after around 5:30, nervous that she's getting up (which she usually is).

Beck said...

You know - and I don't know what sort of comfort this is - I know SO MANY anxious, panic-attacking-having mid-30s moms. (like me, for instance. And I don't even have a career to explain it.) I think this is SUCH a hard time in our lives.

I figure that moving is in itself enough to knock the dust off furniture to keep anyone who is not my mother-in-law satisfied. But should you want a less dusty enviroment, there are lovely people who you can get to come in and do that for you.

Too much change makes even the strongest person feel a bit weepy. Try and get some rest.

Cheryl said...

I empathize...been there. I bet that you're probably stressing a lot about not having everything just the way that you want it in your new home...boxes still unopened...Munchkin's needs...Pychon's needs...your job...
The only thing that's working for me...and I'm not feeling like myself yet-is to just let some things go. Ok, a lot of things! I'm trying to cook BIG so I don't have to everyday, plus making a lot of healthy sandwiches and salads. I'm not keeping the house or yard as tidy as I would like ...that's really hard! Just taking everyday in stride now. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one that's burst into tears in front of a doctor this year. Hang in there, you're doing great. Oh, and I have had a cleaning crew before and it really does take a lot off of one's shoulders-that's a great suggestion and will make you feel a bit better. Even if it's once a helps.

kittenpie said...

Oh, Mimi. I can't imagine how frustrating, to not sleep when you need to so badly. I think that although I am someone who resists medication in general, I would say taking those pills a few times, at least until you have gotten some rest, would really be worth it.

And vacations - well, everyone needs some time off work, if only to catch up on the other stuff, like the housework. I've been off this week and hey, now my bathroom is clean, my third floor reno has progressed, and I'm seeing friends I havent' seen for too long. It may not feel like a getaway, but even th chance to catch up on things, a change in routine, can feel really good. I say, take a couple of days and at least cross off some things that way so you have less on your mind.

And an even bolder suggestion - one I'd hate to hear myself, so I understand if you just squirm and demur - enlist some help where you can. Hire someone to catch up the cleaning for you, even if it's just this once. Order groceries online and let Grocery Gateway deliver them. Hire a sitter for a few hours some weekend afternoon so you can nap or clean or whatever. Ask pynchon to take over a bedtime or morning a couple of days a week. Something that will lighten the load enough to get you through the next bit, so you can get back on top. It certainly doesn't meaning abdicating your responsibilities or beconing a lady of leisure. (Of course, as I say, this is easy to say, but I KNOW it will be making you feel funny. Still. Sometimes, it doesn't hurt to say.)

motherbumper said...

I'm not sure what this housework is you speak of, but the rest of this post SCREAMED AT ME. I'm sorry that you are feeling this way, I'm sorry this weight is here and lifting it seems impossible, and I'm sorry there is nothing I can do for you. From personal experience, I know naps are impossible and it doesn't take much for the crack to happen, but I like what kittenpie is saying "a change in routine, can feel really good" - nothing radical, just something you can control. Because that is key in these chaotic times, control over something you can actually control. I'm glad to see the most recent post includes some relief. See you soon Mimi.

Lisa b said...

love this - I live for your comments
yes I too am overwhelmed with anxiety and have at long last acquired a stash on antidepressants. I've not taken any yet but the acquiring helps me to know there is something if I hit bottom.
Unlike the psych I happen to think that my drug is sleep, so she told me to take gravol if I can't sleep.
Which makes no sense because *I* can sleep, it is my children who cannot.

Zip n Tizzy said...

Parenting truly is the hardest job, and it's so repetitive, as in I clean up, the house is a mess. It's impossible not to feel like a failure, when your feeling stressed by the existence of the most important person in your life! I have so been there.
And vacation? That's all very nice, but where is it going to come from?
You have to be gentle with yourself. Write down everything you do... took a shower - check!
You have to lower your standards because the things you could do pre-children were done by the you that didn't have a little being attatched to the side of your leg. As she get's older the challenges will change, but you will find that you get more done than ever before, because you know how to make every moment count. There will never be enough time, but know that what you're doing is worthwhile and it is enough.
Also know that you are in good company!

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I'm so sorry. I've only experienced insomnia very rarely, and it's maddening. The anxiety on its own makes me rage and sob. I hope you get sleep soon!

Her Bad Mother said...

Just this: I SO KNOW. (especially? the 'I'm not depressed; I'm just anxious and insomniac') I so know.


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