My Postpartum Sleep Odyssey

My husband and I on a weekend away
from our infant daughter. I distinctly
remember staying up that entire night
in the hotel on my laptop.
Sleep is the most important part of my mental health maintenance strategy. This was discovered about two years into my journey when it became apparent that antipsychotic medications had little to no impact on my brain. Sleep though. Regular, consistent, uninterrupted stretches of sleep kept me symptom-free.

My daughter was born at 12:19am after a full day of anticipating her arrival. By the time the doctors and nurses departed our room to "give us some rest" it was about 3 am.

That first night, I layed still and listened to the sounds of the hospital. The postpartum ward was filled, so we were camped in the delivery room. The next night in a tiny private room, I was awakened at regular intervals so a nurse could "check my bottom." The act of turning over and displaying my rear end was slightly disruptive. My husband and I were already leaning toward the short end of a hospital maternity stay. My inability to rest in the hospital confirmed our plan to head home at the earliest possible moment.

I would sleep better at home.

But the baby wouldn't sleep unless someone was holding her and at some point in those early days my brain and body switched into wakeful monitor mode. I'd been plagued with insomnia since childhood, but this was a different thing entirely. In addition to achieving unconsciousness for only brief periods of time, anytime I was awake I felt like I had to move. I couldn't be still even though my body was bone tired.

Seven weeks postpartum and I was in the hospital again, this time in an attempt to stabilize my mood. A variety of strong medications failed to knock me out until an outpatient psychiatrist prescribed Zyprexa.

"I guarantee you'll sleep," she said.

I took the tiny pill and curled up in my bed that night, terrified. The pill worked quickly and for the first time since my daughter's birth, I slept through the night.

The regular, drugged sleep gave way to "normal" function and eventually, I switched psychiatrists. The new doctor recommended the lowest dose of Seroquel, a tiny pill that I cut into four pieces. Relief was found in just the tiniest sliver.

By December of 2012, with a seven-year-old daughter, I figured it was time to try sleeping without the pill. It was a crutch and perhaps a bit of a psychological dependency. If I forgot my little shard of Seroquel, I'd be awake, sometimes for the entire night.

So I moved out of the marital bedroom and toughed through several nights of severe insomnia. Eventually, I began to fall asleep at a normal time without the drug. It's been good and close to what I remember as normal, except for one minor detail.

I hear everything.

Only now, after five full years off of the medication, have I begun to occasionally miss nighttime sounds. As if by some special mommy superpower, I sometimes didn't know I was asleep due to the clarity with which I heard everything around me. I still can't fall asleep in the same room with my husband. If he's not snoring (which is rare), he's breathing and that keeps me awake. Raps and taps and barking dogs, the kid bumping through the darkness to go to the bathroom, every slight little noise brought me to instant awareness.

So I'm happy now to occasionally learn of a thunderstorm when I show up at the breakfast table. It doesn't happen often, but I'm starting to sleep through some things. Perhaps one day, I'll even get back to tuning out the snoring.

#Unthinkstigma By Ending Mental Illness Name-calling

The world is in crisis. There’s so much finger pointing going on, between the news media and politicians, regular people and everyone in between, that a palpable national anxiety has befallen our entire country. With so much alarming baloney flying through the daily newsfeed, it’s difficult to pinpoint the most disturbing issue. But I’ve found my thing, a common thread woven through all of the news and the tweets every day. The thing I can’t abide:

The mental health accusations.

An annoyance has been bubbling within me for a while. It’s not that I agree with the top man whose mental acuity is most frequently discussed. No, I don’t think that guy is fit for office in the least. I just can’t believe it reduces mental health stigma to constantly bombard the public with the idea that poor public speaking, self-aggrandizing rhetoric, and incoherent babbles are irrefutable markers of insanity.

They could be.

But just as likely, they’re not.

The guy could be stupid or evil or a total liar or have a very weird sense of humor. He could have dementia, but he might just have a complete disregard for human dignity. Which is an appropriate slight? If we need to cut each other down as a society, and clearly we do because there’s hardly one among us that can speak without lobbing some insult, are we going to continue to be people that use mental illness as our go-to jab?

A recent White House press briefing, the WH press secretary said, “What I think is really mentally unstable is people that don't see the positive impact that this president is having on the country.”

And I couldn’t help but note how the whole issue has been made into a farcical sideshow. People struggle every day with very real disorders while the rest of the world accuses each other of those same disorders as a way to explain differences of opinion.

That’s crazy.

It’s time to find better language to air our grievances. Try talking about issues instead of attacking people. Even the worst among us, the ones we can’t find even a shred of common ground with, even they deserve respect. And to advocate for people that struggle with mental health issues (1 in 4 American adults) while at the same time armchair psychoanalyzing a person we only ever see on the TV... we might as well just punch ourselves in the face. The end result will be the same.

#IWSG Plans for the New Year


It’s the very first Wednesday of the year and as the first hump day of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day, it’s time for the #IWSG question.

What steps have you taken or plan to take to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?

In short, I have none. No plan. No steps. No schedule. I have nothing but the very realistic expectation that weeks will pass in 2018 with the same harried velocity of all past years. The dishwasher will need unloaded every day. The dogs will decide the area rug is their personal napkin. Winter will unload its daily two inches of fluffy snow to shovel. 

Life will happen. 

Writing and book marketing will simmer on the back burner. I don’t expect to publish much more than weekly blog posts this year. And though it falls short of a planned schedule, I do envision setting aside my most productive morning hours for those slow cooking professional pursuits. 

Dishes can wait until afternoon.

Reset & Refocus for the New Year


At the beginning of the month, #IWSG challenged me to take a look at 2017 and figure out what I'd have changed via mulligan or hot tub time machine. I've always known I'm a bit of a slow thinker. Witty comebacks dawn on me hours or days after conversations. It's no surprise that the one little change I came up with sort of percolated for all these weeks until it became something actionable.

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"I could have identified some sort of niche for the blog." - snip from December 6, 2017, Looking Back on 2017

The blog should have a focus. My stream of consciousness travel/food/Pittsburgh/personal story/parenting/memoir content isn't effective as a platform for my other writing.

So in the big do-over that is 2018, Big Teeth & Clouds is going to reset and refocus on mental health issues. Recovery, stigma, and empathy are my main areas of interest. There won't be much in the way of personal stories. At the present moment, my mental health concerns center around how to deal with others that have diagnosed conditions or erratic behavior. We need to support people with mental illness in our society. This will be a space to work through how best to do that.

Wishing you a happy & healthy New Year!


~Joey