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On Being a Rookie Insomniac

February 21, 2013

“The last refuge of the insomniac is a sense of superiority to the sleeping world.”
Leonard Cohen

What do you do to get to sleep after some failure? Until about two years ago, I never had problems sleeping. I’d go to bed, and wake up the next morning with my morning person suit on, almost every day. I felt rested 98% of the time. End of story really. I’ve never use to relate to people who had trouble sleeping. Because of my hard, beautiful rests, I’ve been able to nourish my love for mornings.

Leonard Cohen, Live-2013, Brooklyn

Leonard Cohen, Live-2013, Brooklyn

You are either a morning person or you’re not. Yes, there are episodes where it switches, but those are usually flukes based on poor decision-making from the previous day.

I’m into awakening after some serious power hours. I like making my coffee, the smell of it throughout my house, and taking it into the shower. And I love my morning shower. I enjoy just staring out the window, taking in the scenes of morning: the sounds, the weather, the light. I like listening to tunes or the news, but I like the quiet just the same. I like cuddling. I like morning sex. I enjoy the fact that I don’t have to talk to anyone; even when someone is around. I like how people don’t necessarily  need to talk. Because I do enjoy conversation, the morning provides me rest from it so that at times, I am better at it later. I don’t know if that is in fact true (I should probably ask those that hang around me regularly), but it is good for me to just Be. Quiet. I find that my morning time also helps me to be a better listener.

I like the fact that no one is calling me on the phone or asking me questions about work. My favorite meal is breakfast. I’m more efficient and effective with my time. Not that we need do-overs in our lives all of the time, but isn’t it cool that we get to start fresh with each day? That is of course, if you sleep. Lately, I’ve found that my 98% success rate is slowly going down.

I’m getting acquainted with very odd sleeping patterns, but I’d still say that I’m a rookie insomniac. When you have a battle with insomnia, which usually wins, the day stretches out. Your morning becomes your night. Do you feel that way? What I do know is that half of me feels like I’m the luckiest person alive because I am awake and I get to reap those benefits, but then the other half of me realizes that I’m not really me. I don’t know if I should be celebrating or moaning. The feeling rests in between those stages of growth you feel about yourself when you’ve just learned something incredibly important about life, and wished you had known it way earlier. Not really regret, but you just found out how much more effective you would have been as a human being had you known what you just learned. When I’m not able to sleep, I always ponder Cohen’s thought about superiority for the insomniac over the sleeping, like I have more control over the inevitable, and for a split second I feel invincible, smarter….only to sink into the realization that at that same moment, I am broken.

“Sleep is the most moronic fraternity in the world, with the heaviest dues and the crudest rituals.”  ~Vladimir Nabokov

Homer, Alaska

Homer, Alaska

Awhile ago, I had a lot of strange tests done to me for this bizarre numbness I was having.

My favorite specialist was Alaska’s premier neurologist. I can’t remember his name, but the hallway to his office was lined from floor to ceiling with books; I quickly glanced at some of the bindings and while I couldn’t even understand most of the titles, I did get to see that he had some of the regulars too: Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Whitman, etc. When I reached the main room, he was stooped over his very old oak desk, nose into a book, with a full-on Santa beard and silver-rimmed glasses. He slowly glanced in my direction and gave me a wink. This guy was going to cure me.

I had to do lots of tests with him watching me walk, balance things, etc. In the end, he required that I get this test done where they pump fluids through your body that basically lights up your internals so that they can see, via these glowing lights, your blood patterns, organs, etc. The trick was that I had to stay up all night so that during the test, I would be in a deep sleep. Me, stay up all night? Being forced not to sleep-in my mind at the time, nothing could be worse. I quickly called my friend that works at a hospital, thinking that he would have loads of tips for me about how to stay up all night.

Answer: the gym. I’m known to be a gym rat so it made it more of a positive challenge in that way. My strategy was to go a couple of hours before I had to be at the test, but I arrived at the gym around 3:30 because I had already gone through my previous strategies for staying awake, and was falling asleep! I had to fast, not drink any alcohol, and limit my water intake. Huh? My system was shutting down.

I hit the gym and there were two other people there: one guy who looked very pissed; he either needed to have a lot of sex or he just came out of a some sort of crazy brawl; he was the cardio-master with an angry face. The other participant was a calm lady, clocking about two hours of cardio when I joined. I got running, got awake, and managed to make my appointment on time, but on the way there, I was crashing again. Every other word crossing my mind was sleep. I had to wait about ten minutes for them to process me and all I was thinking about was that kind of drooling rest that you are sometimes awarded: swollen eyes, slobber rolling down the side of your cheek, and stiff muscles. A sleep hangover. Who appreciates that? Not many, but that is exactly what I wanted in that moment.

They got me on this table, and stuck all of these black circles with wires coming out of them on me. There was this big tube that collected all of the tiny wires that led to a fancy machine of some kind. The nurse told me to relax. Goodbye. About one hour later, she woke me up.

“I’ve never seen anyone sleep that hard during this test.”

Homer, Alaska

Homer, Alaska

A couple of weeks later, the data came back inconclusive so I would continue to feel numb until about a year after, and then it suddenly went away. Every now and then, I get this numb-like twinge in my left hand, and because I’m left handed, it screams at me a little bit.

Years later, with my recent appointments with insomnia, I’ve noticed that it is always screaming in the middle of the night. When I can’t sleep, my numbness returns at times, to remind me. It’s my body telling me something, but what is it? I am constantly reminded of that night when I wasn’t allowed to sleep, the forced deprivation, the weird test and wires, and my complete desire to fold deeply away from earth. On the one hand, Nabokov’s dues may be the analogy of us losing time in life, but the rituals are our total inability to win that battle, even when we try. In the end, I was awake, but I don’t believe that I was living.

“It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”  ~John Steinbeck

Typically when you can’t sleep, something is eating at you, something that you didn’t conclude, or at least, not in the way that you wanted. You fixate on the other possible ways that this thing could have gone, and before you know it, your mind is wrapped around it-hopelessly. It’s this black hole of a cycle because whatever happened….it’s over. You can make up for some of it tomorrow, sure, but chapter 1, round 1, episode 1-that’s done. Sometimes, we can’t sleep because we are thinking about someone or some adventure and we are so excited that thinking about it is way more important than sleeping. Either way, sleep is much better medication for whatever is on your mind than insomnia. Your committee of sleep is a master at problem solving, just like mine. I use to be better at giving my committee of sleep the power than I am now, but usually if I have  a poor night’s sleep, it is followed by some serious REM that equips me with a sleep hangover the next morning. It isn’t that the issue went away, but it took me longer to check-in with my committee so it’s upset with me and just like a hangover from alcohol, it decides to speak to me for much of the day so that I’m reminded to let it do it’s job more efficiently the next round.

“Insomnia is my greatest inspiration.”Jon Stewart
Each day is another chance at getting better. I don’t believe that I want perfection; I don’t think humanity desires perfection; we desire positive experiences where we are learning and laughing and loving. I try to consider my insomnia my muse or my hero, like Jon. I try to grasp a hold of it, and reap its benefits, and I can admit that sometimes, my best thinking is during those moments.

Still, I feel like a rookie and I’m o.k. with that. I’m fond of Nabokov’s sleeping fraternity and Steinbeck’s sleeping committee; I’ve got years of experience where both of them have done me wonders with life. I’m not sure the inspiration or muse from insomnia will ever catch up, but I’ll keep giving it a try.

If you’re in the insomniac battle, I wish the same for you.

Thanks for stopping by!

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From → Self

6 Comments
  1. I am with Steinbeck all the way but I don’t think he was talking about nights when he tossed and turned and punched his pillow because he was so pissed he could not sleep due to some insignificant event or thought that is now irrational and spiraling out of control keeping him from sound sleep. Nay, he was talking about the good sleep.

    This turned out well, Laura. Interesting to see someone tinkering with my life long companion. Perhaps I’ll see it differently next time.

    • Laura Hilger permalink

      Thanks! Right, of course. I was trying to show my failure at his concept when I allow those things to happen. The committee is more effective.

  2. So glad to know I’m not alone in the lost sleep universe these days…and I’m pretty much a novice, too.

    • Laura Hilger permalink

      I hear you! Good luck with effective strategies 🙂

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