I watched it eat away at my soul until I was a shell of my former self.
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I read once in high school that driving tired is like driving drunk. At the time, I found myself researching the subject to convince my grandpa that we should extend our vacation another day instead of driving home through the night. Given the choice between the boundary waters of northern Minnesota and the dusty skies of northwest Indiana, who would want to leave a day early? Looking back, though, I think the comparison between drowsy driving and drunk driving says a lot about the effect sleep has on our mental health.
In our society, sleep is a common topic of discussion. We all know we're not getting enough of it. But while juggling work and school and personal time, sleep is usually the first thing to get cut out of a busy schedule.
Our first act when we realize we’re not sleeping enough is usually to look for replacements for sleep. Energy drinks, coffee, power naps. Anything that will help us stay up late to get work done, then wake up early to get more work done. The typical solution for getting too little sleep, “get more sleep,” is more of a frustration to the sleepless than it is a useful piece of advice. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine argues that while brief naps and caffeine consumption may be a temporary solution to sleep deprivation, they hold no long-term benefits.
No matter how many ways we try to get around it, sleep is important. A lack of sleep can lower your immune system, and in an article published by Science Daily, there is evidence to suggest that missing even a couple of hours of sleep during the night can be a trigger for inflammation throughout the body, which can potentially be a cause for problems such as heart disease, arthritis, and certain cancers.
Sleep not only has an impact on our physical health. It also affects our mood and mental health. We can all tell when the people around us are sleep-deprived. There’s a lack of efficiency, increased forgetfulness, and mood swings we’d rather not be around.
The thing is, though, sleeplessness doesn't always make people tired. Sometimes it can lead to hyperactivity. In children, specifically, an article in the New York Times indicates that sleep deprivation can result in behavioral problems, including a possible ADHD diagnosis, because of the similarities between symptoms of sleep deprivation and ADHD.
The fact is, there isn’t any real substitute for sleep. Sometimes we really do just need to make more time for it.
My name is Joseph Fusaro. I am 32 years old. I was first diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and ADHD when I was a senior in high school, although I am pretty sure I had been suffering undiagnosed since I was around 6 or 7 years old. I had a problem with attention and retaining information in school. Looking back I think I did not care much about schoolwork because it did not help with my emotional stress. I have also suffered with insomnia since I was in grade school and as any health professional with attest sleep may be the most important factor in any health issue. Somehow I was always able to pull off A’s and B’s in school and thought things would just work themselves out and get better in college. This was not the case at all. I started college in September 2001 and things got off to a bad start. I was already having a tough time adjusting to college when September 11th happened. The days just got real heavy real fast. I was going home on the weekends to see a Psychiatrist and he had me on a couple different controlled substances that seemed to work at first but then I started getting dependent on them. I got into the routine of taking uppers in the morning and downers at night which really only works if you can keep the dosages to a minimum, and I could not. It was never really that I wanted to get high, it was just that after a few weeks they wouldn’t work the same as they originally did. One year of college was too much for me and I decided to leave.
Over the next several years I began to notice a trend. I would work somewhere for a year or 2 then I would get bored decide to try college again. Then I would take the little money I had saved, take out loans and attempt college again. I do not want to blame any of my decisions on bipolar or mania. I loved every job I had and every school I went to, but I would quickly lose focus once that new and fun feeling went away. I could not fulfill myself. The beautiful landscapes and amazing people I met were never enough. I was always looking for happiness in the form of medication. I kept trying to fix my emotional and psychological problems by making physical changes in my life. I have learned that doing this is like building a house without a foundation. All is well until the first flood.
I got sick of going back and forth between jobs and college. Neither of them were filling the void for love and understanding I had developed. I started taking more and more of my prescription medicines. It was mostly Amphetamines and Benzodiazepines. I was not getting any sleep. I was losing family and friends fast. I lost relationships. I lost my job. I lost my car. I lost my home. Worst of all; I lost hope, faith, and the will to live. I temporarily moved back home with my family in the spring of 2008 and they called the local police and had me hospitalized. I remember waking up a couple days into my hospitalization and no one was by my side, except a personal guard whose job was to watch me. Apparently I went on a psychotic rant when I was admitted. This scared me to death. I didn’t have anyone to call. I had used up all of my relationships. Everyone I had known wanted me to get help, but didn’t want to be there for me throughout it. I shouldn’t say that; my mother and father were there. Although, I could tell that was the 30 minutes every couple of days that they were dreading would come. At this time the Doctors at the hospital took me off all of the controlled substances and started me on anti-psychotics. My body and brain were in shock. I spent the next couple of months hallucinating and reliving my childhood in horrible ways that it did not really occur. My muscles were tight and in spasm. I would laugh for hours, cry for hours, or just stare at a wall in disbelief for hours. I overdosed on pills a couple times but always woke up. I would sweat when I was cold and shake when I was hot.
Finally at the end of the summer of 2008 I could not take it anymore. I did not understand how when they took me off of my old medicines and put me on anti-psychotics I had gotten more psychotic and more suicidal. It did not make any sense. I decided I was going to run away. I know it sounds crazy to say I was going to run away and I was 25 years old, but when my family, friends, doctors, and the local police all know that you are supposed to be detoxing at your mothers’ house it feels like running away. I went to Venice Beach Los Angeles and quickly got a prescription for Adderall, Xanax, and marijuana. I figured if I had to take meds I may as well take the ones that made me feel better. Even if better meant moments of extreme mania and depression, at least I would not be in severe physical pain from withdrawal and the side effects of the anti-psychotics.
There was a common misconception by people that I moved to LA to write, record music, act, or do any of the preconceived Los Angeles notions but the truth is that Los Angeles was the furthest place on the map from New York so I chose it. Yes I did write while I was there but I have been writing since I was 14 years old. I spent most of my days and nights (about 14 hours a day) working at a Hostel to barely make enough money to pay back my boss with my paycheck for the 12 foot by 12 foot room he rented me that I shared with 2 or 3 other people. I spent most of my time cleaning bathrooms and shaking bedbugs out of mattresses. After a year of this I could not take it anymore. Once again the lack of sleep caught up with me. I had to give up. I had to give up again. I lived on the street for a couple weeks. I would just walk day and night. I felt that if I stopped police would either bring me to a shelter or a mental hospital and I was scared to death to go to either. I finally ran out of steam. My feet were 2 big blisters that anchored me to the earth. I thought my head would explode from the pain with each step I took. I had been eating off the dollar menu from fast food restaurants and I was now tapped out searching my backpack for change. I had thrown my cell phone into the ocean months earlier and there was only 1 phone number that I could remember. It was home.
In 2010 I decided to go back to New York. I was tired. I was physically and mentally beat up. I had nothing. This is what people must have meant when they say “rock bottom.” There was no way anything bad could happen to me because I even enjoyed bad news because at least I would feel for a short moment. Sometimes people with depression think that that is the worst feeling. I thought that too until I couldn’t feel anything at all. I was numb. I have never felt worse than numb. I am not going to say it was smooth sailing after this. I was hospitalized at least another 5 times that I can remember. I went through many doctors and several medication combinations. For some strange reason or by the grace of some force that is stronger than me I found a great Doctor in 2013. He was the first Doctor that I could tell had faith in me. He encouraged me to tell my family and friends how I truly feel and to try and repair my relationships. He taught me breathing exercises and self-compassion. He taught me about eating healthy and getting sufficient rest. He not only prescribed me medication but he made me believe in me, which is something I wish a Doctor would have taught that 6 year old kid with depression.
As of 2014 I can feel the change of seasons again. Holidays feel like special days again. I have friends and family I can call if I am having a bad, or even a good day. Now that I am focused on the right things I am finding that I attract more of the right things, the right people, the right lessons. I can honestly say for the first time since I was a kid that I am happy. Every once in a while I still feel a little behind the game when all of my friends are getting married and having children, but I know that I have been so patient for so long that if I keep the right attitude good things will happen. I now know that I cannot search tirelessly for patience, peace, or love to add to my life until I already have it. I just take a deep breath, smile, and think, yes I am happy, but I am not done yet. I may have lost everything but I did gain one thing. I have a constant desire to spread a positive message that there is hope for those with mental illness. There is no reason to feel ashamed and you are not alone. This is all I have and I am making it my responsibility to shine a light on mental health.
What is ADD/ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), sometimes referred to attention deficit disorder (ADD), is a condition that is characterized by problems paying attention, poor impulse control, restlessness, and hyperactivity. Some degree of these characteristics is normal for most people. However, AD/HD causes serious disruptions in a person’s daily life, and often interferes with their ability to focus or complete tasks. There are three subtypes of AD/HD: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined (inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive).
It is estimated that about 8 million adults and about 5 million children in the U.S. suffer from AD/HD. Although the average onset age is 7 years old, AD/HD can occur in both children and adults. Individuals who have AD/HD are likely to continue suffering from the symptoms throughout their lifetimes. There are many treatment options for AD/HD, and many health care professionals recommend a combination of therapy, counseling, and medication as the most effective way to manage symptoms.
What are the signs/symptoms of ADD/ADHD?
There are three categories of symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the signs and symptoms of ADHD as:
- Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
- Have difficulty focusing on one thing
- Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable
- Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new
- Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
- Not seem to listen when spoken to
- Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
- Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
- Struggle to follow instructions.
- Fidget and squirm in their seats
- Talk nonstop
- Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
- Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
- Be constantly in motion
- Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.
- Be very impatient
- Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
- Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games
- Often interrupt conversations or others’ activities.
What are the risk factors for ADD/ADHD?
- Having a family history of AD/HD
- Environmental toxin exposure (ex: lead)
- Premature birth
- Maternal drug or alcohol use during pregnancy
- Maternal exposure to certain environmental toxins
What are treatment options for ADD/ADHD?
There are a variety of treatment options available for AD/HD. While medication is one of the ways attention and focus can be improved, it is only one way symptoms can be managed, it is most effective when used in conjunction with therapy and counseling. In some cases, individuals with AD/HD may be able to successfully control their symptoms without medication, instead focusing on lifestyle changes and the cognitive/behavioral aspects. Some alternatives to medication include dietary changes, exercise, and relaxation/meditation techniques.