Insomnia is cruel. Like an invisible burgler it crawls through the window of your brain robbing you of sleep. The parts for sleep may all be there, but insomnia has stolen them. You can try the tools, valerian root, guided imagery, good hard exercise during the day, earplugs, white-noise machines, eye covers, making certain not to drink any liquid before 8, but they operate like an average casino against Danny Ocean. They just don’t work.
I manifest stress as insomnia. I have for years. Sometimes it feels as if I have spent as much time staring at the walls and ceiling in the dark as I have during the day. I have learned to manage stress and all the techniques for its alleviation. Above all, I have learned not to sweat the small stuff because it’s the small stuff that makes the big stuff even bigger. Because I have had insomnia off and on for years, I have of course read all about it, in books and on the internet. I have swapped stories with my other insomniac friends. I learned there are two primary types of insomnia: one in which the insomniac cannot fall asleep and the other where the insomniac has little difficulty drifting off, but awakens in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep, then finally falls into a deep sleep right before it is time to get up. This makes getting up and getting moving extremely difficult. I have the second type.
I recognize different facets of insomnia. If my brain is running in circles, I hear the same song over and over and over like a broken record, and I know I have to find some way to break the cycle to get back to sleep. An insomniac friend told me of a technique whereby you roll your eyes back and forth while closed, mimicking REM sleep. This works in some instances, but only for the brain running kind of insomnia. Other times my brain isn’t running in circles, it is just awake, moving from thought to thought. In this instance, I try to focus very heavily on where I am: the pillow, the blankets, being comfortable, being warm. The only problem with this method is that if I have to go to the bathroom, it becomes immediately obvious.
I normally have a vivid, photographic and strong audial memory, but it disappears when I have not been able to sleep. I turn into a zombie after a few days of this misery. Staring into space, missing words, forgetting things. It’s terrible. Because I knew this about myself, I knew that if I was able to sleep while taking the bar exam, I would pass. If I did not sleep, I would not pass. It was as simple as that. I had the experience of hundreds of tests prior to go on, as well as horse show competitions. I knew my performance depended on my ability to sleep. Because of this, I went to a hypnotist three times before taking the bar exam. It worked. I slept. I passed.
Insomnia has not been nearly as big a problem for me for some time as it used to be. I think my body just became so used to outside stressors it gave up even bothering to respond to them. I’m sure my cortisol levels were through the roof. But at some point, stuff really didn’t bug me anymore. Some person pulls in front of me in their car. Ah well, it’s not me, it’s them. The dog tracked in poop? Okay, guess I’ll clean that up. I don’t know. I suppose it just did not seem worth it to ruin a moment getting all worked up about something meaningless, something that would increase my stress level, and ultimately impede my ability to sleep. I have even learned to relax about insomnia, and that step alone seems to have been the biggest contributor to ridding myself of it. I wake up in the middle of the night. Okay, fine. Guess I’ll lie here. I’ll be fine tomorrow. And so it’s been.
Only now I have insomnia again and it is different. First of all, I can’t go to sleep. Falling asleep has never been so consistently difficult for me. Then once I do fall asleep, it’s fitful. I awake easily and also awaken at my old insomnia wakening time of 3 or 4 a.m. And it is like I have multiple facets of insomnia manifesting at the same time. The brain is running in circles and active. Plus I have been getting anxious about having insomnia, and I haven’t been anxious about insomnia in years. Last night for instance, I finally reached that relaxed point between sleep and wakefulness when my brain interceded with the thought, What if I don’t fall asleep? With that, I was instantly awake. Damn brain. Shut up already! What is that? Why did it do that to me? And so it went for what felt like hours. Time always feels longer when you are trying to go to sleep. I finally did fall asleep, but I woke up several times. This morning when the alarm went off it was torture to struggle out of bed.
So here I am. I know what is going on. I have a pile of bills and I can’t pay them. I have dozens of outstanding job applications, even for mundane positions, and no one is calling. My house is for sale and I need for it to sell so I can leave here. I try not to get too excited about leaving, but it is hard not to want to escape when it feels like nothing works. It doesn’t matter if the approach is to lay low for a while or go gung ho for a while or somewhere in between, nothing works. Maybe I have been cursed. But I don’t go around feeling that way. I figure life hands you stuff, you deal with it. It doesn’t help to go all martyr and negative and lament a lousy life. I can want to leave more than anything and see if it’s better somewhere else, but I’m not going to ruin this moment hating it. Only it seems my body hasn’t gotten the message. It’s freaking out on me even as the mind says no.
I asked my counselor about this. Why is it, I say, that my body is rebelling? My mind is cool with this. I’m getting these trials to become a stronger person. I’m growing. I’m fine. She says it is an enormous amount of stress not to be able to pay your bills because it goes to fundamental security. Okay, fine. I get that. But if I’m not stressing about it when I’m awake, I don’t need to when I’m asleep either. What is the point of getting to the point where you don’t sweat the small stuff when you are awake if your body freaks out when you’re supposed to be asleep? I suppose it is something to do with the stress not necessarily being small stuff, but I just don’t want to sweat that either. It’s not fun.
So I’ll keep on keeping on. I’m sure this is a rambling incoherent post because I am kind of like a drugged person, I’m so tired. I stop periodically and stare at the lamp. I pause because I’ve forgotten a word. I actually had to spell check thief. That’s sad. For me it’s sad. And then I come to the end and have nothing further to say.