Healthy Obsessions The Adventures of a Mild Obsessive Compulsive

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Data

When I say I love data, I don't meant this Data. Although I do love him, too.

You know that line about cleanliness being next to godliness? For me, it’s the collection and organization of data that is next to godliness. Except my version isn’t quite as catchy. I have this underlying belief that by collecting information, and organizing it, and presenting it correctly, we can figure out almost anything. (In my universe, God is a statistician). I can’t tell you how much I wish I’d taken statistics in school.

So, when faced with seemingly endless exhaustion and no solution for it several years ago, I started tracking my sleep.

I’d already gone to a doctor and asked for help figuring out why I was always so tired. She ran a blood test to check if I was anemic and then told me, “You’re just depressed.” Which was pretty, well, depressing. Looking back now, I wonder why she didn’t at least run a thyroid test (not that it would actually have helped, but at least it would have been more thorough). The thing is, I knew I was way more tired than I ought to be. I was 25 and needed more naps than my 85 year old grandmother.

I knew that I had a wonky sleep schedule, staying up until somewhere between 2 and 6 am and then sleeping as late as I possibly could whenever I had the chance. Which, considering that I taught two days a week and then graded or lesson planned the rest, meant that I did that the majority of the time. But then those two days when I actually had to get up and go somewhere and be vaguely alert and coherent were excruciating.

This is what exhaustion looks like, only far cuter.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to get to sleep earlier, it was that I couldn’t. I would lie in bed, unable to fall asleep, and then give up and read a book. Or grade papers. Or write. Or IM with friends on the other side of the planet.

I began keeping a sleep chart, to actually track when I fell asleep, when I got up, and how I felt during the day. (I’ll see if I can find a copy and post it here, later.)

I also began reading The Promise of Sleep by William Dement, which had been a gift from an ex-boyfriend of mine.  (That ex had been more worried than I was about my ongoing exhaustion. He was certain I had a sleeping disorder long before I was even willing to consider it.)

Reading that book, and looking at my own sleep patterns, it seemed pretty clear that I had what’s known as Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. Which simply means that my body wanted to go to sleep at the wrong times. My circadian rhythms were off. The book also talked about several potential treatments, most of which would require prescriptions.

Unsurprisingly, I was pretty wary of going in to a doctor and and asking for help with my exhaustion again. So, I prepared. I actually called up a friend who worked in a military think tank to go over my approach. I wasn’t going to ask for any specific medications (hello, Ambien!). I wasn’t going to tell him what I thought I had. I was simply going to present facts. Then, if necessary, I would present my argument. I gathered together several weeks worth of sleep charts, with the times I’d been asleep highlighted in green.

I went in to my new doctor (you didn’t think I was going to stick around with the lady who told me I was just depressed, did you?). I presented the evidence. He looked at my charts in silence. He looked up at me. “All right,” he said, “I have to confess. I need you to show me how to read this.”

I showed him. He looked at my charts again, and began exclaiming. “What? You don’t get to sleep until after 2 am? You never get to sleep until after 2 am! No, no, no. This is too late. We need to do something about this!”

He ran off, grabbed me some samples of Rozerem (which, I’m sad to say, turned out not to work for me), and told me to call him in two weeks and let him know how it was going. If it wasn’t going well, I was to come back in and we’d try something else.

And that was how I discovered that I could use my OCD need to track data to get myself decent medical care.

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