Insomnia is defined as the inability to sleep and it can be either acute or chronic. I am certain that most people have had restless nights, however insomnia is a totally different issue. I had always been the kind of person who required a lesser amount of sleep than most, or so I thought. There were times when I stayed up all night and other times when I got between three to five hours of sleep. I was functioning well, continuing to excel in my professional and personal life.
A few years ago I began noticing a change within myself. I was extremely tired, irritable and overwhelmingly sad at times. I was on an emotional rollercoaster and I knew it was just a matter of time before I ran off the track. Attuned to my body, I concluded that these episodic occurrences were due to my lack of sleep. Initially, prescription sleeping pills were not an option. Having heart disease makes every decision much more complex.
My mind has always been overactive. I cannot remember having a moment in waking life, when I am not thinking about something. Often comparing myself to the energizer bunny, my mind keeps going and going and going. A significant amount of my time was spent envisioning, worrying and supposing about my past, present and future.
In 2012, I experienced some increased neurological activity. It began with numbness on the left side of my face and a tingling sensation in my mouth. It was believed that I had a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), or most commonly called, a mini stroke. Several tests were done and this is when the possibility of having multiple sclerosis entered my life and usurped my mind. This was a very scary and stressful time. I could not think of anything else other than having MS. I was battling a permanent shoulder and neck injury and was in pain most of the time. My stress level escalated and sleeping was impossible. My overactive mind had become hyperactive. I would have bouts of crying, worrying and depression. The lack of sleep intensified these emotions. It was around this time I was placed on Ambien. I was advised to take it every other night and take Melatonin on the alternate nights. The Melatonin in addition to other suggested natural sleep remedies had no effect on me whatsoever. The attempts were fruitless.
It is a known fact that proper sleep is a necessary component of life. Sleep allows the body to replenish itself and is essential for your heart, weight, mind and overall immunity. This clearly means that the lack of sleep is detrimental to our physical and mental health. With chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and heart disease, the severity of sleep deprivation on the human body could not be refuted. Therefore, for me, the sleeping pill prescription was the lesser of two evils.
Truthfully, I was very nervous about taking the Ambien. I always read the warnings and that was enough to discourage me from taking the sleeping medication. I heard the continuous use of prescribed sleeping medication would cause dementia and cognitive decline. However, I felt my options were few. I needed to sleep. Over the past 6 months, I have noticed some cognitive differences in myself. I forget things much more frequently and I am often misplacing things. In addition, I have to think a lot harder than I’d like to admit. This is a major concern of mine. As a poet and writer, my memory and vocabulary is of utmost importance. In the past, I rarely had to write anything down. Today my reality is much different. In attempts to assuage me, my friends and family say that I am doing too much. They tell me to slow down. They can’t understand that with multiple sclerosis, you have to do what you can when you can while you can. Slowing down may help the physical strain on my body; however, it will not solve my cognitive issues. As a community activist, a significant amount of my time and talent is given. At times, it is a welcomed distraction.
I would be remiss to dismiss the possibility that my lapse in memory may not necessarily be caused by multiple sclerosis, but could also be a side effect of the sleeping medication. Honestly, I have stopped imagining myself ten years later, in the throes of dementia, because I NEED to function today. It is therefore my personal choice, with the consent of my MS specialist to continue my sleeping pill regimen. The truth of the matter is, there is no case against sleep. We all need it.
Do you struggle with insomnia?
Teresa Wright-Johnson is a 43-year-old MS Warrior and Congenital Heart Disease Survivor. She has had multiple open heart surgeries and cardiac procedures and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in November of 2014. She also is a community activist with a background in Criminal Justice and Social Services. She aspires to use her life to empower and inspire others. A retired Sr. Parole Officer, a Poet and an Inspirational Speaker, she enjoys spending time with her loving family and friends, writing, reading and listening to music.