I HAVEN’T BEEN THIS EXHAUSTED since last giving birth 29 years ago or since enduring a three-month severe bout of whooping cough in 2005. But the past two weeks, I’ve experienced such a sleep deficit that I feel like a mom with a newborn or a woman with an uncontrollable, body-wracking cough unable to sleep. I feel absolutely, utterly sleep-deprived to the point of wondering how I can function.
The culprit? Medication, specifically the anti-inflammatory steroid Prednisone. For 10 days I took 60 mg daily. Then I tapered down over four more days to 10 mg on the final day, Tuesday. Prednisone has horrible side effects, the primary one being insomnia. I managed several hours of sleep most nights. Do the math and I am basically 70 hours short of sleep over a two-week period. That’s a lot. Enough to mess with my mind, my body, my mental and emotional health.
From the get-go, I hesitated to take this drug prescribed by my ENT doctor. I have been on Prednisone twice previously and understood it would wreak havoc with my body. Besides insomnia, the med also causes restlessness and an irregular heart beat in some people. I am “some people.” But I also understood the need to reduce inflammation, specifically an inflamed vestibular nerve in my right ear that controls balance. I’ve been diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease (related to previous sudden sensory hearing loss in my right ear) and vestibular neuronitis (caused by a virus I had in January). For now, Google my diagnoses; I’ll follow up with a second post next week.
POWERING ON & COPING
After the first few awful days on Prednisone, I messaged my doctor about my struggles. She suggested I taper off earlier if I just couldn’t handle the side effects. Reading between the lines of her telling me insomnia was a common side effect (yes, I know that), I decided to continue on with the med as prescribed. I could, I encouraged myself, power on through this. And, I did. But it wasn’t easy.
When I found myself wide awake after only a few hours of sleep, I exited the bedroom for the living room recliner. (No sense keeping Randy awake with my tossing and turning.) I coped by coloring. I coped by working crossword puzzles in the middle of the night and in the wee hours of the morning. I drank tea. I used a heating pad. Reading proved impossible. Sleep proved impossible. On and on the hours went until daylight began to break and light seeped into the room and the pace of traffic picked up along our busy street.
And so this has been my state of being. Mostly exhausted. All the time. Between dealing with med side effects and symptoms of my diagnoses—especially sensory sensitivity, tinnitus and feeling like someone slapped me on the right side of my head—I often feel overwhelmed. My brain is working overtime to deal with everything. But I am determined to power on. So I write when my vision allows me to do so. I need the distraction, the mental escape, the act of creating which sparks joy within. I do my vestibular rehab therapy exercises designed to retrain my brain. I’m seeing some improvements, pushing myself just to the edge, as my therapist advised. I recognize my limits.
CLARIFICATION & GRATITUDE
I’ve asked my husband to stop telling people I have vertigo, even if he says at least they can understand that. I mostly don’t have vertigo anymore (which, for me, was only when arising or turning in a supine position). My symptoms are much more layered and many.
It’s complicated and a lot and not something most people “get.” I’ve learned a lot in recent weeks. For those who attempt to understand and have reached out to me, I feel grateful. Compassion, care and connecting uplift me as I continue on this journey of retraining my brain, managing, coping. And maybe, just maybe, soon getting eight hours of sleep in a single night. Onward.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling