Black Women and Antidepressants: On Being the Mule of the World
Earlier in the summer I shared on my IG stories that I was suffering from insomnia. I talked about how my doctor suspected sleep apnea and that I had to do all these sleep studies. I didn’t share the outcome of those sleep studies and my current treatment. Because I was embarrassed.
I was embarrassed that the diagnosis was “psychophysiological insomnia.” I was embarrassed that antidepressants were suggested as part of my treatment.
…Acquired sleep-preventing associations and increased arousal that results in difficulties falling asleep in the typical home sleep setting at the desired time. (credit)
Let me rewind a bit.
I’ve been dealing with sleep deprivation since Amaya, my 9-year-old, was born. In the beginning, I wanted to be up for every night-time feeding as a way to feel connected to motherhood since I wasn’t the gestational parent (my ex-wife was). After my ex went back to work, I stayed home for the next few months and due to a ton of factors including Amaya transitioning to bottle-feeding, I was typically the parent that woke up each night. I didn’t have 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep until Amaya was almost 2 years old. To this day, Amaya doesn’t sleep well through the night and I’m up and down with her. More on that later, as she’s benefitted from my sleep treatment.
The other biggest factor in my inability to stay asleep was my daytime anxiety. Previously, I was in an unhealthy relationship, and I had co-dependency issues dating back to my childhood. Currently, I work 60+ hours as a middle school principal and I have almost 50 direct reports. On top of that, I have general anxiety, and I share custody of my daughter. There are too many days when I’m running back to back in meetings, driving 2+ hours round trip to pick up my kiddo from school and come home, and having to do my “second job” as a parent in the evening right until bedtime at 9ish. My brain was on hyper-speed and could not turn off simply because I got in the bed.
That turned into waking up 3-5 times during the night, hearing every single blade of grass blowing, seeing every sliver of light. I would wake up groggy, not rested, and damn near mainlining coffee in order to get through the day. I had to resort to tracing letters during meetings or practicing my cursive in order to not fall asleep. At times, I would have to talk to people while driving at night so that I didn’t fall asleep behind the wheel. My irritability both at work and at home was through the roof. Understatement.
Wash, rinse, repeat for 9 years.
My sleep doctor prescribing trazodone wasn’t the first time an antidepressant was suggested. A previous therapist suggested it during the first stressful months of my first marriage. It was suggested again when I was painfully grieving my 3 miscarriages, general feelings of failure, and pending divorce. Each time I resisted. I could beat this. I’m smart enough, I thought. I know the tools. I can substitute vitamins. SAM-e, St. John’s Wort, 5-htp each worked for my anxiety for a while.
Yet, sleep remained illusive.
My current therapist had me on weighted blankets, oil diffusers, sleep wave music, Zzzquil, Valerian root, melatonin, ear plugs, and sleep masks. They worked about 30-40% of the time.
I finally decided that I didn’t want to live like this anymore. My body was physically breaking down because of the lack of sleep and the excess of stress; episodes of hypertension and hypoglycemia were increasing. I even had to go on medical leave at work when I began blacking out due to my erratic diastolic pressure.
I was tired of being tired and stressed. I deserved a better quality of life.
When my doctor suggested an antidepressant this time, I conceded. It wasn’t a narcotic sleep aid. It wasn’t habit forming. There were no long term side effects, and even if there were, lack of sleep was going to kill me faster.
Joy and Pain
Within two days I felt immense release.
The trazodone, plus quitting technology at least an hour before bed, plus insisting that the whole household has at least an hour of relaxation and chill before bedtime, brought me my first uninterrupted night of sleep in years.
It was like seeing color for the first time, and like falling in love with my soul mate. I never knew how pleasurable feeling rested was. I never knew what it felt like be managing my anxiety better, for my heart not to be racing or to not be up all night worried about what I’m not doing or how I’m failing.
And I felt deep sorrow.
Sorrow that I suffered so long, and that suffering was so normal to me. Sorrow that I thought I had to push through and make-do without help or relief for so long. Sorrow that I believed I had to grow the wheat, grind the grain into flour, and bake the bread myself in order to have peace of mind and solace. Sorrow that I had bought into Black women being the mules of the world.
Today, the sorrow is now replaced with grace and an even deeper appreciation and love for my health and my heart.
Caffeine fueled days are replaced with decaf coffee, herbal teas, and water as my body can no longer handle caffeine since it’s fully rested each day.
In this moment, continued gratitude, slow breaths, and my toolbox of strategies chink away at daily stress.
And love- always love- engulfs me.