Author: Melinda Goedeke
Sleeping is an event for me. 8:30 p.m. comes around, and I start thinking about sleep. I put on my oversized jammies and crawl into bed ready…..ready to shut down. To stop. To rest. My husband doesn’t do any “readying” and is asleep the moment his head hits the pillow. My head hits the pillow, and there it sits – awake. I read, I adjust my weighted blanket, I pet my dog, I squeeze my eyes tightly shut hoping they’ll stay shut. Some nights I continue a version of this routine throughout the night. And sometimes, sleep comes and stays.
Unfortunately when sleep does come, it turns my mind into a poorly made movie where disconnected thoughts race frantically showcasing the details of my past traumas and failures in full color. So though I want and need to sleep, I have to be ready for those replays. When I don’t sleep, the quiet is amplified. I hear the ticking of the clock, the chimes softly singing or, depending on my mood, screaming, the deafening or soothing snoring of my husband and the heavy yet resolved sighs of my dog as he settles in for the night. In these quietly loud moments, my mind re-centers and focuses on nothing. Though not sleep, it is sometimes preferable.
Those who live with bipolar disorder understand this all too well. My daughter Laura suffered from bipolar II rapid cycling. For multiple days at a time, she either slept or didn’t sleep. Her sleep was a raging battle between her mind and body. She didn’t get to notice the silence of the night or be lulled to sleep by the rustling of Gus, her pet rat. That makes me sad for her as it is within that silence that I am sometimes able to find peace, even at 3 a.m. I see the stress-free calm on my husband’s face. I see total relaxation in my dog as he sprawls out on his back, limbs loose and wonky. In these rare moments of calm, I get to just be. Exist. Stop. Reset. I do have a purpose, a reason to be here. And after this reset, if I am lucky, I can slither back under the covers believing in that purpose and fall totally asleep ready to face whatever lies in my subconscious.
Laura used to always call us a we. We were one and the same. Though that was so true, she was seldom able to experience those rare moments of quiet and reset. She was always on the go. That might explain why she was a terrible driver. My grandma used to tell me that stop signs were just suggestions; Laura thought that too. Don’t stop. Don’t feel. Don’t let the world catch up with you. After a run of no less than 10 miles at midnight down the St. Charles Line in New Orleans, she would bike, do crafts, clean a room, write a letter, bake cookies and on and on. Occasionally, we would run together, and it was energizing as she skipped and danced along the route. She had a laugh and a smile that made you want to run with her, well, behind her. She talked through every mile while I just tried to breath and listen. Sometimes after a long ramble, she would say, “Right, Mom?” and I would barely be able to eek out a “Yes, honey. I think so.” I loved those runs. She shared her dreams, her hopes, her secrets, and we loved our running gear. Why else would anyone really run? I got to see the side of her that was hopeful and authentic, not hopeless and hidden. That girl could live big. Unfortunately, her mind and body ran every minute until she crashed at which point together we would clean up the pieces, rinse and repeat.
Sleep is restorative; medically necessary. For those with bipolar, it can be a nightmare. It doesn’t come easily or even at nighttime. Laura slept three days straight once missing classes, work, commitments, everything. She knew she was sleeping but not like you or I would know it. She did not have the ability to not sleep once the crash hit. Her body simply said no more. I am guessing her brain in those days did not sleep either. Her nightmares were likely scary and self-deprecating which wasn’t far from her daymares. When she awakened, she did not feel rested or restored. She knew she had to regroup because mania could overtake her anytime. Though she remained hopeful that she could live a happy life with bipolar, the quiet never came and the sleep never comforted.
I like to imagine Laura as the bluebird of happiness dancing over a rainbow. I hope she is running in her underwear wearing beads from her Meemaw and saying, “I miss you, Mom and I love you” as she snuggles into bed where sleep comes bringing her dreams of jet skiing with Hannah and laughing like only best friends do.