My Bipolar Drug of Choice: Sleep

My Bipolar Drug of Choice: Sleep

When I’m feeling particularly sick with bipolar disorder I am excessively tired. From the time I wake up in the morning until the time I blessedly get to go back to bed at night, I’m exhausted; and every moment my eyes are open is a struggle. (And yes, fatigue and tiredness are symptoms of bipolar depression.)

And after more time than I can fathom feeling like this, something occurred to me. It occurred to me that I get more than tired. I get to a place where the pain is forcing me to search for a drug to escape. And sleep is my escape. Sleep is my drug.

Sleep is a Drug?

Well, yes. A drug is something that creates an escape from pain, generally with additional deleterious effects. This drug might come in the traditional form of drugs or alcohol but it could also be in the form other behaviors like self-harm or eating. What all these things have in common is that they elicit “happy” chemicals in the brain.

Sleep Changes from a Natural Need to a Drug

And of course, just like we all eat, we all sleep too, but there is a moment where sleep can cross the line from just what we do to live, to something that acts as a drug. I’d say this moment is pretty easy to pin down. It’s basically “feeling” tired every time negative emotions come out – seeking sleep any time any negative emotions are present. It’s sleeping instead of dealing with these emotions in other, more healthy, ways.

Sleep to Escape from Bipolar PainSo what is seen is “drug-seeking behavior” or “sleep-seeking behavior.” You see a person who finds more excuses to sleep. You see a person who schedules sleep into the day whether the person is tired or not. You see a person letting other responsibilities and commitments slide because the person would prefer to sleep than do anything else.

Excruciating Pain Creates Suicidality

The trouble with bipolar disorder and many other mental illnesses, is that many people who have them genuinely want to die, like, all the time. The first thought many of us think in the morning when we wake up is, “damn, I’m still alive and I have to face another wretched day.” And then we all work really hard not to actually commit suicide during that day.

And sleep is one of the techniques used to avoid that suicide.

Sleep is the “Best” Drug?

And I would argue that sleep is much preferable to any other drug one might choose too. Not that sleep is perfect. For example, it’s really hard to get articles written while you’re asleep; but of all the drugs, it seems the most innocuous.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would love it if people would find healthy coping techniques that would both facilitate life and lessen emotional pain, but that just isn’t a reality for so many of us. When people ask me what helps a suicidal depression for me, I say, “nothing.” Because seriously, nothing, save medical intervention, works. So sleep, so escape, so that drug, is the best thing I have in my arsenal, no matter how wildly imperfect it may be.

Nevertheless I do think it’s critical to recognize the behavior for what it is – it’s drug-seeking, pain-reduction/avoidance behavior. And one that, overall, isn’t desirable. But, in my experience, the only way to lessen the behavior is to lessen the agony of everyday life with uncontrolled bipolar disorder. Inordinate amounts of sleep translates into inordinate amounts of pain. And that is the real problem.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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