I’ve been an insomniac since I was nine. I don’t want to imply that I’ve been awake since I was nine years old, it just started then. It came in irregular waves throughout my childhood and teenage years, became a regular visitor in my early twenties, and has become my constant companion since.
Carla and I once read a book where the lead character complained that “sometimes her insomnia persisted for three days at a time”. When we were done laughing, we moved on to the wanting to stab stage. Then I moved on to the crying in the bath stage.
I haven’t slept well since February, not consistently. Fortunately, when on holiday, my body is so shocked that I’ve left the country (it happens about once every eight years) it goes into shutdown mode. I spent most of my time in Vegas, when not getting wed, or watching Meat Loaf or WWE, either asleep or frantically praying I would stay awake long enough to get to my bed.
February aside, I’ve had trouble sleeping for so long I can’t remember the last time I was sleeping consistently, I’d hazard a guess at around 2008, but that also coincided with a heavy bout of depression that just made me want to sleep all the time. Uncharacteristically for me, I was actually able to sleep too.
I don’t know how insomnia works for everyone else but for me, my body slowly subtracts the amount of sleep I’m getting per night until I get to the point when I’ve been up for about 40 hours, then I have a massive shutdown, and start the process again.
You have no idea how many holiday days I’ve wasted at work by phoning my manager in tears saying “I’ve been up since the day before yesterday, please let me take a holiday!” Thankfully, so far, my managers have been incredibly understanding about this. Although one is prone to saying things like, “Have you tried cutting out caffeine?” or “My friend swears by a few drops of lavender in the bath at night.”
Just FYI, if you ever run into someone with insomnia, these little bits of advice provoke a rage that would ordinarily result in homicide if we weren’t too fucking tired to stab you.
And to answer the questions I’m often asked:
- I’ve had insomnia longer than I’ve been drinking anything containing caffeine (I don’t drink fizzy drinks).
- Lavender fucking reeks and it brings on migraines.
- Warm milk makes me vomit.
- Walks in the evening only work right before shutdown, which is going to happen anyway, but sometimes it will bring it on a few hours early.
- Nytol (over-the-counter herbal sleeping aids) and others of the same ilk don’t do anything at all.
- Sleeping pills are dangerously addictive, and largely anyone who thinks they’re being given sleeping pills are actually receiving anti-depressants, which I have been on and off for thirteen years (both for depression and insomnia), with no discernible effect on my sleep.
If anyone has had much success with any of the above, they are more likely to be someone suffering from sleepless nights, rather than insomnia. There is a difference between the odd bout of being unable to sleep and years of constant problems getting to sleep, staying asleep and getting good sleep on a nightly basis.
Saturday night, for example, I had dinner with the husband, watched an episode of Person of Interest, and realised I was dozing halfway through. I always give dozing more credit than it deserves. It happens about halfway through the whole cycle of not-sleep. When it does happen, I take myself off to bed. (I still adhere to that rule about only sleeping in the bedroom, and only using the bedroom for sleep, so as not to accidentally teach myself bad habits – this works about as well as fucking Nytol.) I then lay in bed for five hours straight, wide awake. Then I got up and watched Nightmare on Elm Street (what could be more apt?). Then read all the related TV Tropes pages. Yes. All of them.
At 7:20 a.m. I forced myself to go back to bed. Not because I was sleepy, but because I had to try. I lay awake for another few hours. And finally slept for a couple of hours.
This happens every time I doze. And still I get ridiculously hopeful that I’m about to get real sleep.
And anyone who doesn’t have insomnia must surely be thinking, well, if you can’t sleep, at least you can use that time productively.
You try getting by on a couple of hours’ sleep a night, and then using the rest of that time for anything of use. First of all, it’s the middle of the night/early hours of the morning. This is not a good time to run around with the vacuum. Also, it’s not a great time to use your brain. The less sleep I have, the dumber I get. It takes me longer to process information (so I read very slowly) and I feel very emotionally raw, which means I can’t even talk to Carla, my fellow insomniac, at times, because I feel too fragile. I can do these things with my time, but it’s a lot harder, and I get a lot less enjoyment from it.
Just to clarify, it’s now Monday, 2:32 a.m. I haven’t slept since. And I’m not even sleepy. Exhausted. But not sleepy.
Another thing I run into: “Oh, I know how you feel. I have a baby.”
No, you do not know how I feel. Craig and I did not plan for this. We did not sit down, discuss the situation and agree to bring insomnia into my life. Insomnia doesn’t smile at me, make me melt inside and make it all worthwhile. Although, on the other side of it, insomnia will never ask me for a car or money for college, so, there is that. A baby is (mostly) a choice. Insomnia is just a bad thing that happens to good people.