Insomnia

Image hijacked from ambienwalrus.com

I have it.

I’ve had it as long as I can remember. If I get five or six hours of uninterrupted sleep in one night, I consider that a total victory. If I get two nights in a row of that, well, we’re talking miraculous on the scale of Thomas Edison inventing the atom or whatever it was he invented…time? (I kid, I kid.)

Anyway, back to insomnia, which coincidentally, is the reason why I ramble so much when I write. It’s difficult to maintain focus when you see leprechauns riding whales in your peripheral vision due to sleep deprivation.

Just as I am drawn to movies about memory loss, I am drawn to movies about insomnia. Fight Club is one of my favorite movies of all time. After seeing The Machinist, I slept like absolute crap for a week. I also read a lot of articles about insomnia written by amateurs who obviously have no idea what real insomnia is like.

These articles generally suggest a regular sleep schedule, doing nothing before bed and getting more exercise. While all of those things might be good suggestions for those of you who experience insomnia once in a blue moon, I can tell you, for a professional like me, nothing works. Typically, articles like that just piss me off. As if not turning all the lights off in the house at 10pm on the nose has anything to do with my inability to sleep.

There are a couple of reasons why I’m a lifelong insomniac. The main culprit is a case of infant meningitis, which I wrote about in the post My First Experience with Death. Ask my mom, I’ve never been able to sleep. Ever. So, this whole nonsense that I’m just not getting enough exercise is bunk.

I’ve literally tried everything–prescription and natural sleep aids, exercising myself silly, yoga, guided meditation, white noise, alcohol, marijuana, not drinking any caffeine, regular sleep schedule, regular meal times, using my bed only for sleep, taking a bath, warm milk, sleep journals, taking a walk, daytime naps, polyphasic sleep, counting sheep–you name it, I’ve tried it. So, when your average person hears that I’m an insomniac, they generally ask me if I’ve tried one of the above. I try to reply without rolling my eyes, that yes, whatever it is, I’ve tried it.

Image hijacked from ambienwalrus.com

I have chronic insomnia. You lucky regular people out there have no idea what that really means. For a regular person, if you’re really unlucky, you might experience insomnia for a month and it’s usually due to stress. Once the stress goes away, you sleep like a baby again. That’s another thing–when I was a baby, I couldn’t sleep at all, even worse than I sleep now, so that phrase kind of sucks. I think I’ll stop using it.

But none of you, hopefully, really know what it’s like to have chronic insomnia. The Machinist and Fight Club were pretty close. I’m much more like Tyler Durden in Fight Club than I am like Trevor Reznik in The Machinist, only without the multiple personalities. What I mean is that I do get a few hours of sleep a night, every night. Reznik just didn’t sleep ever. But even these movies don’t really get it right. It’s not like I hallucinate an imaginary friend. I never hallucinate. It may have been a case of hyperbole up there where I said I see leprechauns riding whales (they actually ride unicorns).

Fight Club did get one thing exactly right: “When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep, and you’re never really awake.” That’s me. Theoretically, I am awake right now, but I never feel it. I never feel refreshed. I am constantly tired. One would think that, since I am always tired, if I didn’t have a job, I could just then sleep whenever I wanted. Nope. That’s not the case. When I was unemployed, I still slept horribly.  It is simply my cross to bear.

If you do not suffer from chronic insomnia and you are going to write about insomnia, please, for the love of fuck, do not confuse chronic insomnia with acute insomnia. They are two different animals. Acute is, well, a cute, fuzzy teddy bear; chronic is a 500-pound mama grizzly bear and you are messing with her cubs. Yoga might work for acute, but it does nothing for chronic. I’d suggest playing dead or running really fast in the direction of away.

And, to all you happy sleepers out there, the next time someone tells you they are an insomniac–not just a person experiencing insomnia, but a real, proper insomniac–do not tell them to “Chew some Valerian root and get more exercise.” Believe me, we’ve tried it.

This post is part of the On Being Series.