Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Leg Tourrette's, or Why I'm So Freaking Tired

As you may or may not know about me, I have serious problems. I mean sleeping problems (I guess I shouldn't go around saying I have serious problems without saying what they are), but no amount of sleep advice or diet advice has helped me figure out what is wrong with me. At first I thought my depression and tiredness were related as they seemed to start at the same time, around the age of 13, but when the depression was treated, the tiredness stayed the same. Doctors called it "chronic fatigue," also known as "we have no idea," and gave me many blood tests which all come back normal. I've been tested for just about everything. Except Lupus. I once asked my doctor if I could get tested for Lupus and she laughed like I was one of those hypochondriacs and said no, don't be silly... Well, look who's got Lupus now, doc! (Not me. I don't have Lupus.) I've tried sleeping pills, melatonin, acupuncture, diet changes, sleep routines and different amounts of exercise. I've taken a summer off for the sole purpose of trying to figure out my sleep. For a very long time I thought that unlike normal people I just needed way more than eight hours of sleep a night and I was constantly getting mad at myself for not going to bed at four o'clock in the afternoon.

My chronic fatigue has put a serious damper on my life. My worst fears have been:
  1. I wouldn't get married until I was eighty-two (how can you get married if you never go places to meet boys?)
  2. I couldn't have kids (refer to number one, plus, kids = even less sleep)
  3. I would never get anywhere with my writing (how can you write novels when you are too tired even to write short stories? That's when I realized maybe I should become a poet who only writes Haikus)
  4. I would never have close friends (hermits don't have friends)
On my own I found out about the Nanaimo Sleep Clinic last year (there is a sleep clinic in Victoria but they only deal with sleep apnea) and asked my doctor to refer me to it. She knows that I've had sleeping problems for years and she never thought to mention the one place on the Island that was created specifically to figure out what might be causing it? WTFM? (What the Fudge-Muffin?) After waiting 6 months I got an appointment and they gave me a sleep routine to try. For almost two months I tried that sleep routine. I had to inform my boss what I was doing so he didn't fire me. In theory it made perfect sense: stay up late, get up early, no sleeping in on the weekends and no naps in an attempt to consolidate my sleep. It didn't work. Good news! I found new levels of tired in myself that I didn't even know were humanly possible while still being able to function! At the same time that I decided I couldn't take it anymore, my boss told me I needed to stop. I guess he didn't like that I was falling asleep at my desk every day. Just thinking about how exhausted I was during that time should make me never complain about being tired again. But we all know that's never going to happen.

You see, people who aren't tired all the time don't really understand what it's like. When I tell someone I'm tired, they say, "I know, I'm tired too." Oh, are you? Why? You stayed up late on purpose??? Now imagine that your being tired isn't the consequence of poor decision making. You know that feeling of getting a good night's sleep and waking up feeling good and rested? Isn't that such a relief? I DON'T KNOW, IS IT? Seriously. I'm just saying everyone knows what it feels like to be tired, whether it's their fault or not. It's just that I've known that kind of tired every single day since I was 13. There. That's my pity party. Be sure to drink a lot of the punch - it's spiked. Actually it's whisky... spiked with punch...

Sleeping Beauty: what I would
look like if I got some sleep (obviously).
See? I told you that was never going to happen. In the middle of trying that sleep routine I had my long anticipated pajama party at the sleep clinic. They hooked me up to a bunch of electrodes all over my body and a breathing tube in my nose and then told me to go to sleep while they watched me through a camera. Right. Lucky for me I was so freaking tired from my sleep routine I fell asleep right away. Unlucky for me, I also found out exactly why that sleep routine was not working - in another two months, when I had my next appointment. Apparently I've got Twitchy Leg Syndrome. (I made up that name, the sleep specialist just called it leg twitches). And no it's not the same as Restless Leg Syndrome AKA "Jimmy legs," or as I called it as a kid, "leg sickness," which I also have. This is some wonderful other phenomenon that wakes me up 19 times per hour, or over 150 times per night. I got to watch a two minute clip of me sleeping (not even a little bit creepy, so that's good) and in two minutes I twitched three times, twice making me turn onto my other side. No wonder my dad is always telling me I kick the wall in my sleep. It's like I have leg Tourette's. What was even more unusual about the leg twitches (like that's not unusual enough) was that they were happening even during the deepest part of my sleep cycle when my body is supposed to be paralyzed. Apparently not when you have leg Tourrette's.

Do you know how amazing it feels to find out that there is a real, live, solid reason why you have been chronically tired for over ten years? Do you know how depressing it is to find out that the whole time it was just some weird leg twitches that I would never have known about unless I asked to go to this sleep clinic? The sleep guy said it could be related to back pain or iron store levels (apparently they only check those if they think you are anaemic). If he said anything about needing to eat more meat I was going to punch him. Lucky for him he was a vegetarian too and said he preferred getting his iron first-hand rather than through a cow. He gave me a prescription for a small dose of Parkinson's medication to take before bed and then assured me I was not in fact developing Parkinson's at the age of 24. When I asked about the side-effects he said, "Do you ever have schizophrenic episodes?" "No." "Do you have a gambling addiction?" "No." "Then you're good to go." So hopefully my Parkinson's medication cures my TLS/leg Tourette's, without giving me hallucinations or a sudden desire to go to the Casino, thereby changing my life forever. Seriously? Couldn't it have just been something normal that was disturbing my sleep? No. Because that would make for a boring blog post.