“I had no idea how I kept going for so long.”
After almost 2 years of very little sleep, I was contemplating making an appointment with my doctor to tell him it was becoming insufferable. I needed help! And while I am generally against medication or sleeping pills, I was really desperate! It was only later I realized sleeping pills only scratched the surface of the problem.
Before I reached that point, I can’t tell you how many times I had thought about how bad my situation was, but didn’t know what to do about it. I mean, who makes an appointment to see a doctor and say “I can’t sleep”? It seemed impossible that a doctor would be able to help, and I didn’t know how to explain everything else that was going on, medically speaking.
How did I get there? And most importantly, how did I get out of it? This is my story and my first real moment of awareness about my mental health.
In 2012 I got a new job. I was super excited. Not only did the job description fit (social media manager), but I was going to work for a famous company! I had been job hunting for a while and was happy to catch a break. I started working for an agency, knowing nothing about what that meant. I had no idea about client relationships, managing accounts, let alone all the expectations that came with it. But I was eager to get back to work and passionate about social media, so I figured I could do it.
The job definitely had its positive aspects, but it very quickly became apparent that it was going to have its challenges.
I was inexperienced.
I was on my own with a very demanding client.
Social media is an always-on business and at the time, the client’s channels were booming.
As it turned out, there was too much work for one person.
I am a perfectionist, and being new, I wanted to prove I was able to do the job well and was dedicated.
In addition, the work culture at the company I was working for was toxic. Everything was of utmost importance, urgent, and last minute. Any mistake was the end of the world and unforgivable- it was very dramatic. I lived in absolute fear and terror of making a mistake. I was also very afraid to ask questions for fear of looking stupid.
Very early on I started to be overworked. I had so much to do, the list was never ending, and I was pushing myself to do more, more, more… I was working long hours and often weekends, and this was how I felt:
Stressed and anxious about my gigantic to-do list.
Fear that I would never, ever get to the bottom of it.
That I didn’t have time for breaks, for fun, for anything other than work really…
Those are the main feelings I recall. Since I was working a lot - and as I mentioned before - eager to please, I started checking my emails really early in the morning. As soon as I got on the train for my commute to work around 7am, I would start. I would get a pounding, fluttering sensation in my heart just from opening the inbox.
I kept on checking emails during my commute home and after dinner too. I felt like it was expected of me - not only because I worked in social media but because I worked with countries around the world in different time zones. Since I was struggling and suffering, I would communicate with my boyfriend about my days at work. What had happened, the various difficulties encountered, negative exchanges with colleagues…. So by the time I got to bed, needless to say, I was not at all ready to sleep.
I had emails on my mind, I had relived all the emotions from the day by telling my boyfriend about what had happened, not to mention the long list of things I needed to start working on the minute I woke up. I would lie in bed, not be able to fall asleep. Sometimes for half an hour, sometimes for hours on end. Sometimes I would dream about work or sleep in fits and bursts. Most of the time, however, I just wasn’t able to fall asleep. And then it would be 06.30am, time to start this process all over again.
Just thinking about it makes me feel completely exhausted. I have no idea how I kept going for so long. The first sign something was wrong was when I cried because I couldn’t go to bed early. My boyfriend turned to me and said “Emma, something’s wrong with you. No one cries because they can’t go to bed early.”
And then it hit me - something was definitely wrong! I was not in the right state of mind. Looking back, I think the months of bad sleep had many serious effects on me that I didn’t fully realize until later. Aside from exhaustion, it also made me:
Less able to deal with my emotions or more emotionally fragile.
Anxious - less able to manage my anxiety.
Less mentally acute and agile.
Not to mention eating badly and not taking care of myself. I stopped exercising altogether, I was just too tired. It was a horrible place to be in, and if you know anything about sleep deprivation, you also know that you never manage to catch up on lost sleep.
It was a really difficult time and like I said, I was ready to call the doctor. But then I caught a break: I was offered a new assignment. Two weeks in I went back to work (the assignment was offsite) and all my colleagues said I looked so much better, happier, and rested. I could feel the difference myself!
To start with, I didn’t start work quite so early. And while the job was challenging, the working environment was far less stressful. The calm I felt in the workplace, helped me feel a lot calmer.
Practically 5 years later, I can say that I am in a much better place and am so grateful. I take my sleep and mental health very seriously. To start with, I realized what mental health issues I had and how to handle them (I will go more in detail in the future). I also take better care of my sleep.
Nowadays, I make sure I get at least 7 hours of sleep per night on weekdays. I don’t check my emails until I arrive at work, nor late at night.When I leave the office, I try to leave work at work, and I don’t just meaning leaving the laptop in the office. I try not to talk about work unless it’s necessary. I make sure to plan activities afterwards so that I have to leave, and by the time I get home, it’s bedtime.
Sure I am a little sleep obsessed, but I feel so much better for making it a priority! I am a better person: less grumpy, more alert and better at my job. I am more self confident, healthier, and just all around better.
If you are suffering from sleep deprivation, first, let me say I’m sorry. I truly understand how horrible that is and I know it can be hard. There can be many different reasons people struggle, so I encourage you to understand what might be the root cause.
As you’re working to identify it, try various methods to help you sleep better such as meditation, yoga, sleepy tea, exercise… whatever might help. Once you’ve identified it, focus on it as much as you can.
But most of all, know that you are not alone, and eventually this will end. It will get better and you will get back to a normal sleep schedule, even if it takes time. Good luck!