Friday, January 29, 2016


On melatonin, I actually thought of posting this
image on my Facebook page because I felt like hell.
Here's something I learned lately: Grief and depression are two different things. Losing someone you love is heartbreaking and the grieving process can be hard and painful. I know. My son died in an accident on Halloween night. My life will never feel the same. But my sadness is different from how I feel when I'm depressed. Fortunately, I've experienced depression, so I know what it's like. And I say fortunately, because I recently had an experience that I could have been mistaken for grief and bad things might have happened.

I just got through a fairly severe bout of depression brought on by taking melatonin.

Around Thanksgiving I developed severe pain in my left arm/shoulder (the doctor said it was tendonitis) and it would wake me several times each night. I don't really believe in taking sleeping pills, but immediately after my son died I took a narcotic one for about ten days. Then I quit. With the tendonitis, if I lost too much sleep I would take a Nytol to get one good night's rest -- about once every five days.

On Christmas I was out of Nytol, but I found some Melatonin in our medicine drawer. The bottle said: Melatonin works in harmony with your natural sleep cycle to give you the tranquil rest you deserve, so you can awaken feeling refreshed and revitalized. Melatonin may be appropriate for people experiencing occasional sleeplessness, those with jet lag, or anyone wanting to promote sound, quality sleep. I took the first 3 mg. tablet on Christmas night, and I slept so well I decided to take one nightly. Seemed safe since the bottle said: Limit use to two months with a break of one week.

A little background: For weeks after my son died, I cried several times a day. But by December I started pulling myself together and I was really looking forward to seeing family at Christmas and more family after New Years. However, starting December 30th, five days into my nightly melatonin habit, I began waking up in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep and feeling very angry -- angrier than I've ever felt. On January 3rd, I woke up crying for so long and so hard that I got up and hid in the living room so no one would hear me. I was embarrassed because my depressed thoughts weren't just about my son's death. Suddenly, everything was wrong. I went back to sleep, but woke up crying a second time.

In the morning I decided I better find a different sleeping pill because the melatonin wasn't keeping me asleep. When the pharmacist offered me a 5 mg. melatonin, I thought, "Well, if that's the answer, I can just take more of what I already have." Then, walking home, I said to myself, "But before I take an additional dose, I should probably mention to my husband that I've been having suicidal thoughts just in case they're related to the melatonin...WHAT THE HECK????? Suicidal thoughts? I've never had suicidal thoughts in my life!"  I went home and googled melatonin and depression. And duh! The explanation was right there along with an illustration of a woman in her bathrobe sobbing on the floor (and looking just like me).

It turns out that there's actually a lot to know about taking melatonin and it's probably not the right choice for many people. For one thing, it's not really a sleeping pill. Here's a decent discussion about it: How to Use Melatonin Correctly. As for me, I won't be using it at all. I quickly got it out of my system by drinking a lot of water and sitting in the sun -- Vitamin D reverses the effect. It only took a day for the depression and anger to leave and for my grief to go back to something I could handle.

What I find interesting, if a little embarrassing, is how cautious I was about taking the narcotic sleeping pills after my son's death and how incautious I was about taking the melatonin because is was "natural" and a "supplement" instead of a "drug."

And even though the pain in my arm still wakes me up at night, I'm thinking twice about going back to Nytol. The active ingredient in it -- the same ingredient that's in Tylenol PM and a bunch of over-the-counter meds -- is strongly linked to dementia. So even though the study involved people who take these drugs frequently, I don't want to take any risks. Here's a discussion about the Nytol/dementia link: Media dementia scare over hay fever and sleep drugs.

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