2 Jul

You start by carefully arranging everything on the bed: the long skinny pillow on one side, the regular pillow at the top, the pretty handmade blanket folded just so. You place your glasses and phone and kleenex on the night table and turn off the light. You lie down, wriggle yourself into position, and close your eyes.

Stop thinking, you tell your brain. Go to sleep.

But your brain won’t stop. Instead, it offers you bits and pieces of information, things that are useless on their own but suggestive of something deeper, more frightening. Or else it takes one small event from the day and expands it, blows it up like a grainy old photograph, then picks it apart. Or else it gives you just the beginnings of sentences, stuff like:

My kid is. My partner doesn’t. My boss won’t. My friend says. She knows. He wants. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

You try to stay very still and think about nothing, but since when does thinking about nothing ever work? And while we’re at it, how does sleep work? How does everyone make the daily transition from conscious and thinking and feeling to, well, unconsciousness?

You squirm around, trying to find that elusive perfect spot on the pillow, the one that’s smooth and cool to the touch. Your legs get tangled up in the blanket, and the sheets feel wrong and scratchy. Frustrated, you strip the sheets and blanket off the bed and throw them into a pile on the floor. But now you’re cold, so you put on a sweatshirt and a pair of socks.

You lie there. You check the clock. You close your eyes. You open them. You check the clock. You count down how many hours are left until you have to get up.

And your brain says, Let’s have a drink.

And your brain says, Let’s read Sylvia Plath’s journals.

And your brain says, Let’s make a list of all of your shortcomings.

But you’re smarter than that, aren’t you? So instead, you do this relaxation exercise that you learned years ago in some theatre class that you took, where you bring some kind of mindful awareness (what does that even mean?) to each of your body parts in turn, starting from your toes all the way to the crown of the head. And as you’re doing this, you remember how, another time, in another theatre class, you learned to do a sort of bastardized version of the Alexander Technique. After class, you went back to your dorm and offered to teach it to the boy you had a crush on, just so you would have an excuse to touch him.

From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the memory of how you told him that you were in love with him. It was in a friend’s dorm room, where five or six of you were lying piled on a bed, watching South Park. At some point, people decide to go find snacks and drinks and you end up alone with your crush and you suddenly, bravely, think, now or never. And so you tell him, awkwardly, in fits and starts, how you feel about him and then you start to cry because you’re so nervous and you love him so much and anyway how could anyone ever love you back?

Then he takes your hand and, very kindly, tells you what everyone but you already knows – namely that he’s been fucking your best friend for the past three weeks.

That anecdote offers an easy transition into the list of people who you’ve loved but couldn’t, or wouldn’t, love you back. Also included on this list are those who loved you at first but eventually stopped loving you. And then, of course, there are the people who really did love you, but loved you badly, or too much, or not in the way that you needed.

But why didn’t these people love you? They must have had reasons, good reasons, even. What on earth did you do to drive them away? And ohhhh shit here it comes, the list of all your shortcomings. And it’s too late to stop yourself, because you’re already halfway done.

You’re a fucking sneaky bastard, brain. Did you know that?

In the morning, you drag yourself out of bed. The insides of your eyelids feel like cat’s tongues, with all those scratchy little barbs. There’s grit in your mouth, like someone’s tried to bury you in sand. You feel queasy.

You don’t want to eat anything, but you force yourself to, hoping that it’ll give you a boost of energy.

You spend the day downing coffee and you swear to god that if one more person tells you that you should cut caffeine from your diet you’re going to punch them in the face. Caffeine is the only thing that’s currently making your life bearable, and the idea of not drinking it makes you feel like you might want to die.

Everyone has some sort of solution to your sleep problem, but none of them, in your experience, work. Or rather, they work for a few nights, maybe even a few weeks, but then they stop. For all you know they never worked in the first place, and it’s all one big placebo effect. The fact is that you should just stop complaining about how tired you are. You don’t sleep. You’re never going to sleep. End of story.

By the end of the day, you’re so tired you could cry. Sometimes you really do cry, and when your partner asks what’s and you tell him that you’re not sad, you’re just so tired, you feel like a stupid little kid. You spend the evening in a daze on the couch, your brain too fuzzy for activities like reading or conversation. You wish you were dead.

Then ten o’clock comes and it’s like someone’s flipped a switch in your brain. You’re wide awake, wired, even, ready to take on the world. But it’s bedtime, and you have to work in the morning. So you turn off the lights, lie down, and let the whole cycle start all over again.


Fuck sleep.


31 Responses to “Insomniac”

  1. AmazingSusan July 2, 2013 at 2:43 am #

    Been there done that. Still doing it.

    Lately, I have begun emptying my brain of the incessant thoughts by recording them on my digital recorder which I take to bed with me along with my iPhone (social media tool and flashlight), my iPad (someone somewhere will play Scrabble with you 24/7), my KindleFire (reading material), and a REAL book (additional reading material), all of which lay beside me like so many virtual lovers in the absence of a human one. I know which buttons to push the even in the dark… Hey…I’m gonna write my own post on this LOL! Thanks for the prompt 🙂

    • bellejarblog July 2, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

      Oh, that’s a great idea! And I totally look forward to reading that post 🙂

  2. Emily B. Gale July 2, 2013 at 3:54 am #

    This little late night, tired eyed rant is the most fantastic thing I have ever read. Being an idiopathic insomniac, I have had that night every night for the 22 years of my life. And here’s to many more sleepless nights, and to too many more times breaking down crying in the middle of bars, art supply stores, or in the middle of rush hour traffic.

  3. AmazingSusan July 2, 2013 at 4:02 am #

    P.S. Sorry to break it to you, but all those hateful people who tell you to cut out caffeine have a point. I haven’t had a cup of coffee in 20 years, and regularly quit drinking regular tea (go herbal), when I feel caffeinated anxiety coming on. Foregoing caffeine really DOES help. So does sobriety. The downside is you have to go through the caffeine (and/or alcohol) withdrawal to get to the eventual benefits. Not a pretty process. Not pretty at all. Too bad the truth always hurts. Life’s a bitch before you can sleep through it.

    • pfstare July 2, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

      I agree …. Some of us are very sensitive to these things (sadly) .

  4. Writer / Mummy July 2, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    Wow, spot on. Hope you find something that does work in the end. I’ve decided the only way I’m ever going to sleep again is if the husband and kids go away for a while…

    • bellejarblog July 2, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

      Thanks. On my worst nights, I end up out on the couch, and that does help a bit. Luckily my son is finally (mostly) sleeping through the night!

      I hope things get better for you too xoxoxo

  5. Killingdanse July 2, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    You are so right about this. I have had horrible insomnia since I was a kid. Once I went to the hospital because I didn’t sleep for a week. Not a bit. They believed the insomnia after 3 shots of a very powerful sedative didn’t put me out even after the length of time since I last slept. Yeah real fun. You start to play games with yourself trying to get to sleep. I often get stuck in the “what if I (add what ever you did not do to change a situation that had a horrible outcome) loop.

    • bellejarblog July 2, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

      Oh man, that’s bananas! I’ve definitely gone through periods where I’m immune to sleeping aids, but nothing that bad :/

      And yeah, the “what if” loop is a pretty brutal one. I hope that things get better for you soon!

      • Killingdanse July 3, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

        Both are not fun especially when the doctor looks at you and then your chart then back at you and asks for the 8th time did you take any stimulants… when you say no it starts over again until your blood work comes back and they read that the only things in your system they put there.

        I try never to let it get that bad but if it ever does you will need to be patient with medical staff. They take their time in believing you. LOL.

        It has been a long time since I have been that bad but the memory is imprinted on my brain. It is good to know that I am not alone in all this especially late at night.

  6. Elle July 2, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    Here’s the thing…live in the west and have the luxury of no sleep angst?
    I live in London …a charmed life, iPods iPads kindles WARM comfy bed and bedding,even running water to make caffeine drinks….like the ” posters” obviously do
    our lives as women are not a bitch…….
    SO…..Anxiety and depression? A luxury surely?
    cry for women WOW….India Egypt the list goes on…….and on and on
    So cry then know how fortunate you are, freedom to complain…
    And so you can’t sleep?….and…:-)

    • Merry July 2, 2013 at 10:14 am #

      So true. It’s like the tale of the man who laments he has no shoes until he meets the man with no legs…..we live at the level of our angst, comfortably numb. The hierarchy of freedom and material comforts perhaps? But sadly, the mind does not differentiate. A tortured soul is a tortured soul…….

    • Killingdanse July 3, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

      If anxiety and depression are such a luxury why does it kill so many people each year. Is the chemical imbalance of being depressive a luxury as well or just the one for anxiety and insomnia? I don’t know about other’s with a disorder but I would rather be working my ass off in a field every day for the rest of my life than endure what I go through on a daily basis.

      I am sure all of the physically ill people who get treatment in the west feel that having a physical ailment is a luxury as well. Not to mention the people who in the west are homeless and have a physical or mental ailment.

      You are right I am lucky. I manage to wake up every morning and not die. That is what I concentrate on because if I didn’t I would be a statistic right now. You might think having insomnia is a breeze but lets see you when you haven’t slept in days and start becoming physically ill from it and are hallucinating because your mind begins to shut down. At that point all the doctors can do is hope a sedative works and they don’t kill you with the dosage.
      I am truly sorry for the rant but those who describe any mental illness or disorder as a luxury need to be cursed with a severe one.

  7. hope168 July 2, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    They’re all real. India, Egypt, any person in discomfort physically or emotionally. We all need more compassion.

  8. Val July 2, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    I admire the Plath passage describing her life placed into stark relief, as if the window shades had snapped up & she could see her future like an endless progression of telephone poles, day after day after day…
    Damn, now I gotta go look it up so I can savor the exact phrasing!
    Another chronic insomniac here, offering virtual tea n’ sympathy…

    • bellejarblog July 2, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

      Yes! That’s such a beautiful passage. One of my favourite parts of the Bell Jar!

  9. scotsman July 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    Been there SOOOOO often, along with my room-mate, who gets it even more often and more severely than me! Melatonin helps me sometimes (doesn’t help her at all), but there are still those nights when the mind just won’t shut the fuck down! Memories won’t stop (always the unpleasant ones), your mind starts working on a snippet of a story you’re writing, that just isn’t going anywhere, and the clock ticks on, and you keep promising yourself “It’s ok, I can STILL get 4 hours of sleep …” then 3, 2, 1, even a half hour …

    For those who think complaining about this sort of thing is self indulgent, I have two comments: a) try functioning on 2 hours of sleep a night for a week, and THEN tell me how self-indulgent it is to long for a decent night’s sleep, and b) fuck you! I especially found the “crying about no shoes till he met a guy with no legs” comment helpful! YES, it’s true things can be worse – but at what point do you consider it appropriate to complain? At what point is it bad enough to decide some portion of your life fucking HURTS? Like I said, do without sleep for a while: if you’ve never had this problem, you have no freaking idea how agonizing it can be!

    • Merry July 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

      Scotsman: I meant no ill-intent concerning my remark “no shoes/no feet”; I was acknowledging that often, our level of pain is superceded by an individual who thinks if they share an antidote of suffering, it should somehow make ours more tolerable. And as a person who waffles between moods of full-tilt self loathing to “shut your mouth, there’s so much worse”, (which would considered just another form of self loathing by not accepting my own pain), I KNOW the world of insomnia. I’ve convinced myself 3 hours of even broken sleep is a good night and I stopped looking in mirrors because the face stares back is a face of hollowed eyed exhaustion…..

      • scotsman July 3, 2013 at 11:26 am #

        Perhaps next time you should share your own anecdote, rather than pass on a tired old homily which is generally taken to mean “You think YOU got it bad? Stop whining!”

        I apologize if I hurt your feelings, but I’ve never, ever, found any comfort in such sayings, and it’s hard for me to believe anyone else does, either. Shared pain can help – sermons seldom do.

    • Killingdanse July 3, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

      Something that helps me and you might want to try is Valerian root combined with Melatonin. Melatonin by itself doesn’t work at all for me but the combination does. They can be found in pill, tea, or whole herb form. Let me know if this helps. I am probably going to add 1001 ways to find sleep to my writing list simply because you find some helpful things in 38 years of insomnia.

  10. sisisodapop702 July 2, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    I’m sure I suffer from a permanent state of delusion…. If I can ever afford it, I may try to find a doctor to put me in a coma for a while. I think maybe, just maybe, that could help me catch up from the lost sleep over the past 20 years. Until then I will just have to exist as a zombie by day and vampire by night.
    I feel for you, and anyone, who understands this suffering all too well.

  11. E.H. July 2, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

    I know, I know, “f* ‘mindfulness’…what does it mean, anyway?” …except I’ve been sleeping regularly, through most nights, since I started ACT, practicing mindfulness, and learning to take better care of me… sleepless nights, now, are less about those miserable ‘brain attacks’ – lovely descriptions of the experience, by the way, they ring true – sleepless nights, now, are opportunities to meditate undisturbed by the flow of daylight events…

    …only I read my words and sense that I am coming across as ‘fixed’ or ‘solved’ or even… dismissive of your experience. I’m not any of those things. I sympathize. Wish I could share the relief I am finding. It’s not that sort of thing, though, is it.

    Sleep is such a big deal…matters to so many things… I hope you rest well tonight. 🙂

  12. KaT & Kiddo July 3, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Super, super like! It is so well-written. It has happened to me so many times and they way you have described it, seems like you know me and what I’ve been through! And I hate it when your brain starts working on auto-pilot picking and analyzing every damn event, especially people, why he did this, why he didn’t etc etc.

    Loved your post becos i could totally relate to it! Drop by my blog sometimes, hope you find something interesting someday. It’s all about kids, food, travel and parenting! See you around!

  13. annesquared July 4, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    Reblogged this on Anne Squared and commented:
    To sleep, perchance to dream…
    William Shakespeare – To be, or not to be (from Hamlet)

  14. TriDevi Diva July 6, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    I definitely know the feeling. Turning my brain off at night is the hardest thing to do. Thanks for posting this. I love reading what you write. 🙂

  15. Mary Strong-Spaid July 10, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    I can relate!
    It is 2 a.m. Thank goodness I have a computer to keep me company.
    I can’t go to sleep, because I forgot how to get there and I lost my map. 😉

  16. Madame Weebles July 10, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    This sounds like about 85% of my nights. Insomnia blows. And the brain really is a mean, spiteful little fucker. You describe the insomniac train of thought perfectly.

    • dinofond August 18, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

      I hate insomnia and its my new year resolution last time. Good post.


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