Unlike the headache that brought on The Diagnosis article, this week’s inspiration comes from the cat on my lap and a particular book I’ve been re-reading. Juniper Puss’s contribution has come, not unsurprisingly, from his incredible ability to sleep anywhere, anytime. The book’s contribution comes from me wanting to somehow drag a connection into an article, so I can wax lyrical for a sentence or two about how spectacular the aforementioned book is.
Juniper Puss has gone in hunt of a blanket, so I’ll start with the book. Truly, I’m grasping at straws for a connection to this article, but here goes. So I’ve been re-reading The Fault In Our Stars, and with the vague notion of this article in my mind, I became aware of how sleep features in the story. To get one point out of the way right now: I don’t believe in any way that what we deal with every day is the same as what the characters of TFIOS deal with. But back to TFIOS: Hazel, the awesome gracious being that she is, and her doctors, mention “sleep fights cancer” a handful of times during the novel and sleep is a consistent feature of the novel, too. The tenuous link I’m dragging out here is the significance of sleep. And it really is significant, in both physical and mental health. Back (briefly) to TFIOS: it’s a story of incredible beauty. Go read it, Persephoneers!
That was one of my bigger tangents, so back to sleep, I think? The importance of sleep is often underestimated and yet it’s a massive part of our lives and critical to our wellbeing. The brain and body need sleep, so without it, our brain and body suffer. When sleep deprivation can be used as a form of torture, it’s no wonder that people can feel tortured when sleep is out of reach.
With both physical and mental health conditions, a good night’s sleep can seem like an impossibility. Either there’s an inability to sleep, disturbed sleep, or difficulties that come with too much sleep. Mr. Juniper has struggled with all of these. Sleep has possibly been one of the biggest issues Mr. Juniper’s had to overcome, because the world is a very different place to be in after a good night’s sleep than it is after a night of hell. Sleep has been the difference between a crisis and a rough patch, and so, when psychiatrists ask how he has been sleeping, it’s not to be polite.
Sleep has been something of a learning curve for both Mr. Juniper and I, and it’s also been an issue where Mr. Juniper has needed a lot of support. There have been periods of time where sleep issues have been incredibly distressing, and to an extent, I can understand why: lack of sleep is something else pushing his mind further. Lack of sleep has an actual physical impact. When he’s tired, Mr. Juniper struggles more, his mind can’t cope as well as usual, and he can’t think as clearly. His brain is not working as well as it should. Fun fact time: the danger of driving while sleep deprived can be as bad as the danger of driving drunk. In short (in case it wasn’t already clear), sleep is important.
What we try to aim for is ordinary nights with the hope they bring ordinary sleep. We go about this in a couple of ways: medication and sleep hygiene. I say “we” despite sleep being something I don’t have usually have issues with, because a significant part of sleep hygiene is environment. Sleep is also something where we’re all in it together, because I’m like a bear with a sore head if I don’t have a good night (thankfully those nights are few and far between), and there is also Juniper Junior to consider.
The needs of Mr. Juniper and myself are partly why we co-slept with Juniper Junior. In a way, having Juniper Junior was an excellent education in How To Have A Good Night. Very early on, we started co-sleeping (we did this safely by having Juniper Junior sleep between me and a bed-guard, because of Mr. Juniper’s medication, Juniper Junior never slept between us at night). We also had classical music on at night. By creating a soothing environment for Juniper Junior, we created a soothing environment for all of us. We try and continue with this low-stress environment even now, again it’s primarily for Juniper Junior’s sake, but it’s also for ours.
Trying to keep up a low-stress environment is something that I have found surprisingly hard at times because sleep really isn’t an issue for me. Like Juniper Puss, I can sleep anywhere, anytime. Blaring music, bright lights? Yeah, I’ll be fast asleep, thank you. So while I can gladly climb into my pyjamas, crawl under the duvet and be asleep in a few minutes, it’s a situation where my priorities really are Juniper Junior and his Daddy, because on my own, I wouldn’t need to make the same considerations.
One of the first things you’d notice if you spent the night here (oh goodness, Juniper Puss just clambered back onto my lap, hello darling) is that come early-evening, the main lights go off, so that there are just a couple of lamps on instead. It helps Juniper Junior and his Daddy to chill out, calm down and relax. It also helps make it clear that we’re into the evening, and that Bedtime Is Coming. With Juniper Junior in bed, we have a little evening to ourselves and try as much as we can to take that time gently. For us, evenings are not a time for shifting furniture or reorganising cupboards. It’s down time, it’s quiet time, and it’s precious to us.
Possibly one of the most important things, for us, in trying to create a low-stress environment is: it can wait until tomorrow. There is little that can’t wait until the morning. There’s a lot that simply can’t be done until the morning. Mr. Juniper has often become wound up and distressed about certain issues. A classic of these would be something financial or of a “household” nature. The conversations are pretty short these days, because we’ve had them so frequently, but the basics are: it can wait until morning. Seriously. In most instances there is little to nothing that could be done about the issue in the middle of the night, and so, it can wait until morning. To be fair, this is something that has benefited me, too. The idea of “it can wait until the morning” also means that we’re both more rested and in a better place to be dealing with whatever issue there is needing dealt with.
There is one big instance, however, of something that can’t wait until morning, and that’s Mr. Juniper and I needing to talk. With Juniper Junior in bed, evenings are one of the few opportunities to talk frankly. It’s important for me to know where Mr. Juniper is in his head and important for him to be able to talk freely.
Medication is something I mentioned earlier and is possibly deserving of a little more time. Medication has been of critical importance to Mr. Juniper. With all the good will and sleep hygiene in the world, he sleeps terribly. The good will and sleep hygiene are just as important though, because they work together with the medication to make sure Mr. Juniper is in as good a place as possible to be sleeping, and able to benefit as much as possible from the medication. Medication to aid sleep can be a hard one to get right and Mr. Juniper has recently changed his. Things will settle, but it’s always a strange few nights and days as he adjusts to the new medication and we get to learn what the daytime impact is.
Even with medication, there are still disturbed nights. Sometimes the disturbance is relatively benign, at other times it comes in the form of nightmares. This is one instance where support becomes very basic: “Wake me up,” I tell Mr. Juniper. More often than not, Mr. Juniper doesn’t wake me up, but waits until morning to talk. Nightmares are something, however, that have reduced over time. They’re also something that are unavoidable, even without mental illness in the equation. We try, where we can, to laugh about them.
Do we always have good nights? No. But they’re better than they used to be, and that in itself has been incredible for us all.
So, given Juniper Puss is struggling to understand the concept of me having things to do other than give him cuddles, it seems apt to end with a quote from one of my heroes, concerning the member of the Juniper family who excels at sleep, while I attempt to move him:
In ancient times, cats were worshipped as gods. They have never forgotten this.