So I had this dream the other night that I had one more class to pass before I could graduate (college? grad school? not sure). It might have been an English class–but then, it might have been math. In any case, it was a class I hadn’t been keeping up with like I should. It was getting down to the last couple of weeks of the semester, and I realized that I had all this unfinished work, some of it almost due, some of it overdue, all of it really difficult (MUST have been a math class…) and it was going to be a struggle to finish it all. But I was telling myself, it’s okay, this is the only class you have this semester, you can put all your time toward studying, and you only have this final to pass, you can do this! And then the teacher started giving us MORE work, very DIFFICULT work, and I just started to freak out. Because there was no way I was going to be able to do it all in time and pass and graduate. So I ran out into the hall to try to get to the bathroom, and people in the hall were being jerks, and I used some possibly unnecessary violence on them, and I finally got into the bathroom, and I couldn’t find an empty stall with a door that worked, and the stress was just building and building and I started sobbing, about to burst into tears–
–and I woke up, gasping for breath. Because I have sleep apnea and my throat had closed. My chest muscles had also really tightened, trying to get my lungs working, so I had an intense physical stimulus of stress long after I wasn’t stressed about the dream anymore.
And I realized, this is what sleep apnea has been doing to me for YEARS. My body spends most of every night on high alert, trying desperately to keep me ALIVE. It invades my dreams, it exhausts my body, it gives me stress signals even when there’s nothing to stress me out. It’s no WONDER I’m exhausted. It’s no wonder I’m depressed! Even though I’m rarely conscious of it, my body knows perfectly well that it’s been struggling to keep me BREATHING every night for nearly a decade. It’s no wonder my brain thinks everything is hopeless. I can’t concentrate–because I never get into the deeper levels of sleep my brain needs to repair itself. I can’t find enjoyment anymore in activities I used to love–because I never get peace, uninterrupted dreams necessary for a healthy psyche. I can’t exercise–because my body spends every minute of the night fighting for breath, so my asthma kicks in the moment I try to make my lungs fight for breath during my waking hours. I’m irritable–because my body is in a life-and-death struggle for at 8+ hours a day, so every little bit of stress that’s added to my life causes a backlash. If I can sit through a day in front of my computer and not get suicidal, and not fall asleep at the wheel when I drive to town, and occasionally have enough energy to supervise high-schoolers for seven hours–I’m doing pretty damn well!
Knowing that part of my problem is as simple and visceral and intense as sleep apnea is really helping me make sense of symptoms. It’s one thing when you say, “I have hypothyroidism and every cell of my body is struggling with an energy depletion and that does funny things to me.” It’s something else to say, “I spend several hours every night in a desperate struggle to breath and I probably haven’t had a good night’s sleep in nine years.” It really concretizes it all for me.