Wired For Sleep

I’m not sure what it is they study in a sleep clinic but I’m pretty sure it has almost nothing to do with sleep.

I don’t know why it never occurred to me earlier but a few months ago I asked my psychiatrist to refer me to a sleep clinic. We had talked about it before, but from memory I always just waved my hand and said something like “I’ll bring it up with my family doctor.” Which I may have done, I have an annoying habit of forgetting everything my family doctor has told me once I get home.

My psychiatrist and I were working on the assumption there would be a space available in January. But thanks to a massive expansion project at the Montfort Hospital in Ottawa a new sleep clinic opened up a few weeks ago. So my psychiatrist put my name into their hat and I got the call on Thursday.

And on Saturday night a young technician was plastering electrodes to my head, face, neck and legs. To make sure the wires stayed stuck to my head they actually used the same material doctors use to make casts for a broken limb… I guess there’s some symmetry in there.


There are still parts of the hospital around the clinic under construction. Everything was brand new. Except the beds. Mine was a double cot. When I lay down so the technician could plug the wires into the wall I immediately noticed the bed was just a bit slanted, so my head was just a touch lower than my hips. But at the time I was too preoccupied with listening to the technicians instructions. Plus, the first thing I really noticed was tilt added a little stretch to my back that actually felt kind of nice.

But once the lights went off and I turned onto my side it didn’t feel so nice anymore. It felt like a steel bar in my kidney.

I had a thick velcro belt around my gut and one around my chest to hold the wires from my legs. I had tubes around my nose and mouth so they could monitor my breathing, the plaster was pulling on my hair and there was an oxygen monitor taped to my hand.

The wires taped to my legs were just short enough to prevent me from stretching my legs, so I had to sleep with my legs bent. And all of those wires were just long enough so I could raise my head about a foot off the pillow, and prevented me from sleeping on my right side.

When I wanted to get out of bed, for water or to use the washroom, the technician had to come in and spend a few minutes unplugging me.

Officially the clinic was looking into my sleep disturbances related to the probability I have sleep apnea. But that night at the clinic was the worst sleep I’ve had since before I started my recovery. I never felt like I got into a deep sleep.

The dreams I had were the kind where you’re so sure you’re awake you actually wake up to find yourself reaching for something which was never there. Toss in the four times I really did wake up to get some water, and I’m not sure what they studied.

…I can actually remember when my sleeping patterns got out of control.

Even when I was a kid I had always been comfortable staying up at night. When I was seven I had the bed next to the window and I’d stay up listening to the city, or watching the sky. I’d also sit at the top of the stairs and listen to the arguments about politics and religion between members of the collective I grew up in.

When I was a kid I’d stay up with a flashlight so I could read a Zane Grey novel, then when I was thirteen or fourteen I started staying up really late on Friday nights to watch a program called “Friday Night Videos”. Part of it was the music but mostly I was trying to catch a glimpse of 1980’s video chicks with their huge hair, bright makeup and tight leotards.

It came on around midnight and ran for ninety minutes. At first mom would tell me I could watch the first half-hour, later on she gave up giving me a time limit and would just yell down from her bedroom for me to turn it down. Which I would, then I’d drag the chair right up to the TV and watch David Bowie. Then, around 2:30am, mom would come downstairs and wake me up so I could get to bed.

But my reactions were always within a normal framework. When I was seventeen at camp, and I was up all night with someone, I was tired the next day. When I was fourteen and stayed up until 3am watching the PBS pledge drive movie marathon, I was forcing myself to stay awake so I could see “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. Without the movie’s or the Duran Duran videos I was awake in the mornings and in bed at night.

It was when I was eighteen, when I was working as a hunting and fishing guide in Northern Ontario, when how I slept left that framework.

When I was eighteen I moved, for various reasons, 2,000km away from home. I found work at a camp on the Woman River chain of lakes. The nearest town was 60km away by mining road. The nearest hospital was another 100km. The river itself links together about a hundred lakes. I lived up there for about seven months.

It was a pretty intense place. The next youngest guide was thirty-six, and of the thirteen guides only four of us had never done time in a prison. I’ll write about it later, but it was basically seven months of drinking, drugs and fish.

There had been a weird weather week in early September. Very dark, very windy and very cold. And then one morning I just didn’t get up. I was on the top bunk in one of the bedrooms in the guide shack, and I can remember one of the other guides pushing my shoulders and telling me it was 5am. By then I should have had my boat ready, ate my breakfast and getting my clients ready.

Then a few guides ended up in the room I shared with three others, and they were trying to figure out what was wrong with me, and whether anyone was going out on the river that morning. And one of them said, very seriously, “I think he’s got the sleeping sickness”.

It’s not from that point on I was up for three days or asleep for three days, or that I couldn’t sleep from that point on because my brain would shut down, or that I’d spend days on end in bed because I was too depressed to blink…

I had problems with natural depressions previously. The deeper I went into high school the more sleeping had become a problem. I had problems falling to sleep because I was working things out in my head, or because I was worrying over a test for which I had not even started to study. I had problems waking up because I had been up all night trying to study, or because there were a thousand programs on worth watching the night before.

But looking back that’s the moment I could see myself slipping from having a choice to not having a choice.




About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression when I was nineteen, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. It's now 2022, and I have an 8-year old son, and a 12-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, crazy people with no pants, Health, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Sleep. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Wired For Sleep

  1. giannakali says:

    love the picture…!!

    I had a sleep study done years ago…it is certainly NOT designed to let you sleep…

    I had the added misery of a sleep technician who was making sexual passes at me all night long. It was surreal and strange — he was grossly inappropriate and I somehow didn’t get it…like the thought that I could say “fuck you” and walk out into the night didn’t cross my mind…maybe because it was the middle of the night but in the morning when I left I felt traumatized and reported him for sexual harrassment…it was incredibly yucky…I was in my pajamas and in bed….somehow felt vulnerable…

    ahh…good old childhood trauma being awakened…

    I hope you find some answers from your sleep study in any case….they found I had sleep apnea, and gave me a CPAP which I never tolerated….a few years later I had surgery instead and have been cured since.

  2. bromac says:

    Good Luck. I hope you find some relief.

  3. Yeah, I’ve wanted to go to a sleep clinic for ages but the thought of being hooked up to all that crap seems quite counter-productive to me. I would NEVER sleep with all that attached to me. Secondly, I take a lot of medication that is sedating and in order to have an accurate test (according to my GP) I’d need to be off the meds. Ha! Fat chance! I did have to sleep with an oxymeter for two nights at home just over a year ago, and it attaches to your finger. That was annoying enough.

    Anyway, I do hope you find some relief soon. Sucky sleep = sucky life.

  4. dame says:

    “I shall need to sleep three weeks on end to get rested from the rest I’ve had”

    Thomas Mann

  5. Gabriel... says:

    Hi Gianna… thanks. I have a couple of others from that evening where I’m a lot more awake, but this one seemed more appropriate.

    Having my sleep monitored is something else that was on my list of things I should have done years ago. I had the operation to remove part of the soft tissue at the back of my throat several years ago but that did nothing to help me sleep… and I had to relearn how to swallow, if that makes sense. For about a year afterwards I found it much easier to choke when I swallowed liquid. I think the next step for me will be the mouth guard option.

    Hi bromac… thanks, me too. Even with the medications, either the Seroquel or the Remeron RD, I was still waking up several times because I couldn’t breath. When M. and I were dating last year she was the one who told me I would stop breathing. It also quickly got to the point where one of us had to sleep on the couch because I was snoring like a diesel engine.

    Hello Wandering Coyote… they asked I not bring the meds I take to help me sleep, so right there I knew there was going to be some trouble. But I also have a hard time sleeping in a new place, at least for the first few nights because it takes time to get used to the new sounds and lights. Halfway into the night there was a very loud announcement over the hospital PA system of a “Code White” on the floor above me… which, according to the technician, means a violent patient. The results of this test are going to be worth seeing.

    Hi dame, thanks for the Mann. There was a camera in my room so I thought they’d record my sleeping on film, but when I asked if I could get a copy the technician told me it was for monitoring purposes only and they didn’t keep a recording. Too bad, the photos I took of myself with the wires were cool, but a recording of me sleeping would totally have made the entire evening worth it…

  6. giannakali says:

    oh my god!! Gabriel,
    you totally explained a phenomena that was happening to me for a long long time but I had no idea what was up…I was choking on liquids forever!!! and it started “out of the blue” I thought!

    but it doesn’t happen anymore and I’m not even sure when it stopped…it’s amazing how sometimes we are so clueless of side effects…of drugs and it appears surgeries too in this instance…

    I appreciate the hindsight…I thought I had some sort of self-control problem….like I would drink too fast or something…amazing!!

  7. Yeah, sleep clinics are a messed up thing. I’ve had two so far, one to diagnose the Apena, the other to check how the CPAP was working.

    Fun, all around.

    I hope they found out some stuff that’s useful for you.

  8. dame says:

    that sucks, gabe.

    after all that, i’d want a vid souvenir, at the very least. yanno, something to play with in rw and ff; yann… like ya see in voyeur vids ‘n shit.


  9. qweenie says:

    hey gabe!

    I am a really crap sleeper. I don’t think it’s a physical thing at all. More a stubborn kind of ‘I want to sleep when I decide’. Like last night. I went to bed and read until nearly 2 a.m., knowing my alarm would go off at 6.30. But even though my eyes were shutting, and I could feel sleep fighting me, I fought back and stayed awake. I hate getting up early in the mornings, I prefer seeing the dawn after staying up all night, not because I got up at 5 a.m.

    I also know that now, I am knackered, in work, and not going to be in the mood for studying later. I think I just like to sabotage my life, for want of something better to do.

    Dame!!!! You’re back: I popped over to say Hi, but All Comments OFF! Where you been? I missed you.


  10. Gabriel... says:

    Hi again Gianna. Happy to help out. It took a while but I don’t choke anymore… at least it’s pretty rare and I can’t remember the last time. It was only with liquid though, I don’t remember experiencing the choking with food. And it was different from the regular “down the wrong hole” kind of choking. It felt much more dangerous. I don’t know if the choking thing was a regular side effect of the operation, but my doctor definitely didn’t explain it — or much of anything, really — to me before the operation.

    Lists of side effects to drugs, however, especially medications to control a mental illness, are readily available online. Someone can, for example, read your blog then mine to get two different perspectives on the importance of medications and psychiatry to control a mental illness. Then they can look at the manufacturers site and check out what the medical journals say. There’s a certain amount of responsibility on us as patients to be asking the questions regarding any operations or medications or procedures we’re prescribed.

    Hey Justin… talk about not knowing about what’s going on during a medical procedure, I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the appointment. There was no nurse or doctor on site and the technicians only knew how to set up the equipment, there were no forms to sign, no waivers and no one called my psychiatrist to let him know about the appointment. After “someone” looks at the data I think I’m supposed to get a call for a second sleep test. I’m not even sure who to call to find out what’s going on… I’ll figure it out.

    Dame, getting a video of me sleeping — especially if it was in that freaky green night vision — would’ve been the ultimate in cool. I’ve tried using my tape recorder to get some audio evidence of my snoring, but it never worked out.

    Qween… I wasn’t sure you’d ever come back here. Having you around, lemon, is a lot lot lot more fun than not having you around.

  11. giannakali says:

    There’s a certain amount of responsibility on us as patients to be asking the questions regarding any operations or medications or procedures we’re prescribed.

    In an ideal world that might be true. having worked with the “severely mentally ill” who are not stupid, but often terribly desperate, who get so heavily drugged they can’t read, unfortunately it’s not an option for everyone to properly educate themselves…doctors SHOULD bear this responsibility and they don’t

    also when I started drugs 23 years ago they DID NOT know that Zyprexa and Seroquel and Risperdal could make you balloon an extra 100lbs…they did not know that 70% of people on antidepressants lose sexual function….THAT fact is still NOT in the literature…the literature claims about 5-7%….they DID NOT know that Depakote could cause PCOS and permanent infertility in young women and the list goes on and on.

    NO you cannot rely on pharma literature, but if you have access to the internet (which everyone does not) you might be able to get a more full disclosure of what you are taking…

    also pharma does NOT study withdrawal AT ALL…it’s not in their interest and they simply don’t do it.

    So unless you can put in hours and hours a day, you are still not informed by reading a package insert that the pharmacy gives you…

    anyone who wants to start to get an idea of how little we know about these substances we put in our bodies can read Furious Seasons…the archives are well worth perusing.


  12. Gabriel... says:

    Gianna, I don’t know about twenty years ago, but if someone wants to know about Seroquel they can Google it or ask their doctor. They have access to exactly the same amount and quality of information you do, and I’m sure they can find all of Furious Seasons’ posts through any reputable search engine… but his URL has been in my blogroll for almost two years.

    As for the people who have no access or ability to ask questions then I guess they’ll have to rely on the people around them to find answers, or on the many people who monitor pharmaceuticals who can see the dangers inherent in any medication but who are also not afraid to talk about the benefits.

  13. You’ll get a callback from a Pulmonary specialist who’ll tell you what the results are.

    There are three, IIRC: You don’t have Sleep Apnea, you do have Sleep Apnea and should treat it, or you have Sleep Apnea and it’s pretty much required you treat it. The last one really only applies if you have a driver’s license, as a person with the worst kind of SA is at danger of falling asleep at the wheel if they aren’t treated.

    If you have Apnea and you need treatment, the government covers most/all of the cost of a CPAP (a forced air machine that keeps your airway open while you sleep).

    If you get a machine, you’ll get an appointment for a followup sleep study.

    They’re much easier when you have a shaved head.

    All this is anecdotal and based on my possibly flawed recollections, of course.

  14. john says:

    If I may add just a bit….as a nurse practitioner and one with sleep apnea on CPAP…

    the other important reasons to treat obstructive apnea, besides the concern re: falling asleep at the wheel, are the increased risks of developing serious hypertension and stroke. These risks are very real. Besides CPAP and surgery, weight loss helps. There are also dental/oral appliances(like retainers to elevate the palate) but I really don’t know how effective those are.

    I’ve used CPAP for several years now and it took me a while to get used to it. For me it took finding the right machine and mask setup. I use nasal pillows, which are a lot nicer than the facial masks.

    There’s a web site “cpapman.com” that has about any and everything you could ever need or want re: CPAP. Cpapman.com has a custom headstrap that is affordable and very comfortable (for CPAP). There are also different machines, Bi-PAP and Auto-PAP which allow for more adjustment on inhalation and exhalation. Some people require this and respond better to these refinements.

    Good luck to you!

  15. Gabriel... says:

    Thanks Justin and John… as cool as I thought it’d be when I was a kid, I don’t like the idea of looking like a tie fighter pilot at this point in my life. Once I get this sleep-testing thing done I think my next step will be looking into having my nose fixed. Right now the septum looks like this l/l, which is where the insane snoring is coming from. I’m also getting a mouthpiece which is supposed to keep my airway open, which would keep my dentists happy because I clench and grind my teeth as well.

Leave a Reply to dame Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s