Beyond Exhaustion // For years it felt like I was dragging myself around through molasses.

By Debra Kahan

It all started with yawning. It didn’t matter where I was and it was very embarrassing. I would do my best to stifle the urge, but I was powerless to stop it. Sometimes I would actually count how many times I yawned in rapid succession. I think my record was somewhere in the 20s.

I figured I probably just needed to get more sleep. Having recently given birth to twins, it was only natural that I would be sleep-deprived. I decided to hire some help to pitch in with the laundry and other household tasks. A mother’s helper also came over in the afternoons so I could have another pair of hands. Unfortunately, the problem didn’t improve; it got worse.

My exhaustion began to take over my life. Getting up each morning seemed impossible. The alarm would sound, and I would turn it off and go back to sleep. So I set multiple alarms, hoping that at least one of them would get me moving. At work, I was so tired that I totally forgot about meetings and deadlines, annoying my coworkers and bosses. At one meeting with my supervisor, she asked me, “What’s going on? You used to be our star employee.” I could feel my face growing hot, but I didn’t want to tell her about the trouble I was having just putting one foot in front of the other. I left feeling like a failure and wondering what was really wrong with me.

As the months turned into years, my emotional health began to deteriorate. At times, it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. It was an effort to remain in a vertical position for long, so I would lie down on the couch or my bed whenever I could. My children would shake me and say, “Mommy, wake up! Wake up!” They needed me, but it was hard for me to be responsive to their needs. I was in some sort of fog and desperate to do anything to get some energy, including drinking copious amounts of coffee, which I began to dislike after a while. Till today, I associate coffee in a negative way with those years when I was only guzzling it for the caffeine.

By that point, the situation was serious. My children were whiny, acting out, and wishing for a mommy who was really present. My husband was overwhelmed since much of the household responsibilities and childcare fell on him. He was trying to be both a father and a mother to our children. Eventually, my parents sat me down one day and said, “You have to do something! It’s very hard for us to watch you living like this, and it isn’t good for your family. We want you to see a doctor.”

We were given the name of a doctor who was highly recommended, but I had to wait another few weeks until an appointment was available. I started feeling hopeful that maybe this would usher in a new phase in my life, one in which I would finally feel functional and well.

The doctor diagnosed me with major depression, based on my exhaustion and emotional pain. He prescribed medication, a stimulant that would help keep me awake. This was crucial so I could take care of my kids, he explained. And so began a journey that would last four years, during which I was put on a series of various medications. Many of them had unpleasant side effects, which I would have to live with in order to derive the benefit of feeling better. Ironically, one of those side effects was feeling lethargic.

The challenges that those years posed for me and my family cannot be described in words. It was torture. I would write in my journal and listen to music as a balm to the rawness in my soul. It seemed so unfair. The worst part was when someone would ask me the dreaded question: “How are you?” The truth is that most people didn’t really want to know the answer. They just wanted me to tell them I was fine and continue on with the conversation. I felt isolated from my friends and family, but didn’t feel animated or upbeat enough to invest in those relationships.
After almost five years of misery, my husband made a comment about something he’d noticed about me that would literally change my life. I would have never imagined that such a seemingly minor piece of information could be so important.
He told me that I snored, and suggested that I undergo a sleep test to see if I was suffering from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. I shrugged it off. How could I have sleep apnea? I was such a heavy sleeper—impossible to awaken! I could imagine a light sleeper waking up multiple times during the night, but I was sure that I was out like a light when asleep.

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