The Blog

Depression: Sleeping to Escape the Pain

Several years ago my penchant for sleep and the accompanying lethargy had got so bad I went to see my doctor. I felt there was obviously something wrong with me physically as I struggled to get from one hour to the next.

"Whenever you visit your always so sleepy, so tired" my mother gently exclaims.

Its true. I go into a 'slumber' that pervades my 3 day visits to her and doesn't lift until the train hits its speed past Preston and onwards to London.

I kind of like this slumber state - it reminds me of my adolescence and the times when I would bypass my A level lectures in favour of lying on a park bench, in the sun and sleeping till lunchtime.

I tell myself that my lurch to sleep is the consequence of escaping my high velocity life in London - a well earned respite away from the hurly burly.

But theres something else at play. I'm shutting down, switching off.

The exuberant, expressed gay child that I was started 'slumberland' around the age of 8 and it progressed, unconsciously, through my teenage years and into adulthood. (Aged 8 was the time my father died unexpectedly on Boxing Day aged 37. That was the moment that I decided that my feelings did not matter and that I had to look after my brother and my mum or else we would not survive. My first words on hearing that my dad was dead was "Who is going to look after the garden?" That was the day I started shutting down my own feelings and stopped expressing my own needs. I metaphorically 'looked after the garden' for the next 30 years ) Now, aged 50 it is a constant challenge - this desire to sleep. Some call it depression.

Several years ago my penchant for sleep and the accompanying lethargy had got so bad I went to see my doctor. I felt there was obviously something wrong with me physically as I struggled to get from one hour to the next. I explained the symptoms and he dutifully ran a whole series of blood tests. I was confident the physical lament would be discovered and a remedy prescribed that would allow me to engage in a world that was becoming difficult to inhabit.

The tests came back. Negative. Nothing.

I was deeply disappointed. I needed a solution - some days the only thing I could summon the energy to do with any certainty was boil a kettle and make a cup of tea.

Then the doctor said - 'You've complained of this lethargy before...exactly the same way...several years ago" "Really???" I was surprised. I had no recall of this earlier conversation. He flicked through my patient notes and there for all to see were almost exactly the same complaints and comments, the same tests and the same negative results. "Theres nothing physically wrong with you" he re-stated.

"Theres nothing physically wrong with you..." If it wasn't physical then...

A comment from a friend at the same time was also telling: when I told him "I'm just so sleepy all the time at the moment" he replied "You've always been like that!"

It was no longer a case of skipping the odd lecture, it was now a case of never venturing too far from a bed or sofa I could lie down on.

And so I took myself off to therapy. Psychoanalysis to be precise. You see, what I later discovered was happening was that I was withdrawing from the world, I was erasing myself from conversations. I was making myself redundant. When this happens I suddenly become heavy and sleepy - like going under a general anaesthetic.

I never liked my weekly therapy sessions. I had to talk. I had to talk about me. I couldn't hide. I had to talk about things that really mattered - the anxieties, the resentments, the disappointments, the confusion and worst of all the hurt. Most significantly of all I had to bring myself to the table, I could not escape into slumber.

I'm not sure how long it was before I started to recognise that I was feeling less tired. Over time I started to sustain longer periods of activity and engagement. Something was happening and it was such a relief to shake off my disengagement.

So, fast forward to my visit to my mum. We are sitting in the kitchen having breakfast and she is chattering away as she has all my life. I feel myself drifting into 'the lethargy' even though I have only just awoken from a 9 hour sleep. I know whats happening - I'm withdrawing. So I have to engage, I have to break out of my spell.

I have a mantra - "Offer Something, Offer Something"

I could feel it ringing in my ears. It brings me back. As simple as this sounds, its often very difficult for me, especially when what I am offering is personal. It takes all my determination to utter those words - that beginning of a conversation about me. Most of me thinks I don't have a right to speak about myself, that I am not important enough, that what I have to say doesn't matter. But another part of me knows that I need to follow my mantra, to "offer something"

I start talking about a guy I had been dating recently that has gone off the boil and that looks like its over. I can hear my own voice, like listening to somebody else recalling the details, and it just sounds weird. I say I'm sad, that I would have liked it to continue. It's hard doing this, but I plough on and offer more details. Along with the part of me that thinks I don't count, I also have a part that thinks what I'm saying will make her turn way from me - the shame. Theres two things at play trying to convince me to shut up.

She listens. I wonder how it sounds having her son, who rarely shares his life, talk about his most recent relationship let down. She joins in the conversation, trying to make things better for me and we talk about relationships. For a moment she becomes my friend.

Following this conversation I go to shower and dress. I notice something odd - I'm feeling awake, alive even. I have energy and I feel that energy that often comes after rising from a good nights sleep. No longer wrapped in lethargy, I feel fresh and alert. This is the result of my speaking, of my sharing. This is what happens when I bring myself to the table and offer something. It's a triumphant moment for me, especially with my mum who was the first person I started to withhold from all those years ago when I was 8 years old.