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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Eyes Wide Open

There is a strange world that lurks during the hours when most people sleep. I had known nothing of this world really. It's filled with people that chat on the computer during the wee hours of the morning or post on facebook about how they can't sleep only to find several friends that respond about how they too are awake. On the television it's filled with programs like ABC's World News Now where you can watch the stories of the goings on in the world peppered with the anchors joking that their demographic is mothers with nursing babies, people that work overnight shifts in hospitals and insomniacs. And now this world had a new member in its posse - me.

Never in my life had I suffered sleepless nights. I was always the person that seemed to suffer more from  hypersomnia if anything. But here I was - night after night - and sleep eluded me. I'd often find myself able to drift off somewhere around 6 a.m., sometimes 7 a.m. and two hours later I'd be up again for the day. I was walking through life in a fairly exhausted state but no matter what time of day I couldn't seem to find sleep for more than a few hours at a time. And so my "nightly" sleep and sometimes a short afternoon nap was pretty much the extent of what I could seem to achieve. So I was functioning each day on anywhere from two to four hours of broken sleep and it went on and on and on, day after day after day.

And so every night I was left alone with only my thoughts - and the less I slept that more self-defeating they seemed to become. I'd even stopped venturing much to the confines of my bedroom. It was much better for me to pass out exhausted on my sofa watching television or staring at my laptop then it was to lie in bed with my eyes wide open as I silently cried. And the tears were numerous as I kept thinking about how hopeless the present and the future currently looked - again.

I wasn't in the dark about at least part of the origin of this phenomenon - my anxiety about possibly losing an important friendship, the cancer scare of another, wondering if I'd find employment and financial apprehensions were all weighing on my mind. Add to that the side effect from my medication, that before this had only been mild sleeplessness that had robbed me of an hour or two of my normal, and I was now a walking poster child for how insomnia develops.

And so here I sat again - wide awake - as the hours ticked away. My thoughts were not the best companion. I was petrified of how quickly my life had seemed to be coming together and how rapidly it now seemed to be falling back apart. Those few hours when my body would become so exhausted that it fell into a slumber were blissful. When I'd look at the clock an hour or two later, weary but awake, I would curse what was happening to me. And then again there would be new tears - this time in frustration.

Eventually I fell into some unhealthy patterns. That is more unhealthy than merely not sleeping -ever. First, I started to eat and never anything healthy. For two months I had never turned to my familiar comfort of food and the results were evident in looser clothes and a smaller number on the scale. Now the allure of things that were bad for me was too great. It was at least something to do to get through the boredom. And deep down I knew that it was really worse than I was admitting. I'd stare at my phone waiting for it to ring and when it didn't I'd find myself mindlessly eating as I cried. I felt my heart breaking in the absence of one of my best friends. I was filling the space with my long-time friend - food - which wasn't as worthy a companion, but it was the one that was there by my side at the time. And then once I'd contemplate what I had just done I'd hate myself and my weakness even more.

I needed something that would occupy me throughout the nights. I had no energy, so it had to be something non-strenuous. And I still had little concentration so it couldn't be complex. Those parameters left very few options.

Eventually I found a friend to chat with that worked overnight monitoring a system server that pretty much had very little work to do other than being there to prevent a disaster and running a report in the early morning. We'd often fill the hours instant messaging until he left at 4 a.m. and I tried to find something to do to pass the rest of the night. He finished work at 6 a.m. and most of the time I'd still be awake to see him log off. We even played a somewhat risky game - where we'd tempt fate by talking about non-work friendly issues using euphemism and descriptions to fool the serve that only scanned for key words in employee correspondence. But he didn't work every night. And so as the rest of the world slept I searched for another insomniac. What I found was a graduate student up one night studying and taking a brief break.  He held my interest enough in my sleep-deprived state and so I started talking to him more and more as the days passed but I wasn't really invested in it. It wasn't kind or fair of me to occupy the time of someone that I knew wouldn't turn into anything. I didn't like the person that wasn't being completely honest with herself in the situation - deep down I knew that he was thinking as more time passed that I was no longer just talking to him because I couldn't sleep and I took advantage of that. The hours that I occupied talking with him were ones that I didn't need to occupy myself.  And so the guilt also began to build to join the exhaustion, the anxiety and everything else that seemed to be swirling around inside my mind.

 And the less I slept the more incomplete I began to feel again. My exhaustion was robbing me of more than my energy. I was trying to fill a void in my life, but anything I found to fill it was fleeting. It would do in the moment, but it didn't last beyond that. And as much as I hated to admit it that just made everything worse. Trying to filling my life with meaninglessness made me feel hollow. Knowing that I could only find things that held little value for me made me feel worse about myself. I was recognizing the pattern.

I was watching myself slide backward but I couldn't stop it.

And the timing of this slide could not have been worse - I had to stop therapy because I no longer had insurance and sadly on the balance sheet it counted more as a luxury than a necessity. And then the one person in my life that had told me he didn't understand why I needed therapy - that he would always be there for me whenever I needed it no matter what time it was or how silly I thought that need might be - well, he wasn't answering my calls. I was lost and I was too tired to figure out where the path was to return to sanity.

Try as I might I didn't know how to solve any of my issues. And if I could figure out how to sleep again I might clear my mind just enough to discover some answers, but sleep would just not come. The only thing that I could seem to do was cry. I had mastered the tears.

Days turned into weeks. Then the weeks turned into a month. And soon enough it was time to turn the page one more month on the calendar. And as time continued to pass I still could not sleep. And now I couldn't even concentrate enough to count sheep if I wanted. I felt like I was heading into the territory of an entirely new type of crazy - one where my eyes were wide open but couldn't see through the fog.

Even though I was exhausted the days were easier. During the daytime hours I could make phone calls to friends, go to lunch with my mom, meet a friend for coffee or just browse through the aisles of a store. I had things to occupy and distract me. At night I was alone. And even after I'd forged the shaky treaty with my friend and learned that my loved one didn't have cancer, sleep still evaded me. I was frustrated, pure and simple, with the fact that I couldn't sleep.

I found new ways to occupy my time - I worked endlessly on jewelry and my etsy site in the wee hours of the morning. I researched and investigated marketing techniques. I read job searching blogs, googled companies that I wanted to target and filled out job applications. And still even though I felt horrible about it I kept talking to the person that I should not have.

And still - I COULD NOT SLEEP. It had now been three months since I'd really had a decent night's slumber. The first time I found myself sleeping more than two hours in a night was when I was hit with a nasty flu bug - the flu or no sleep - if someone had asked me to choose I wasn't sure that I wouldn't have chosen a few more days of the flu. But the bug passed and so did my tentative pattern of sleep. I couldn't keep living like this - I was starting to resemble the walking dead.

And then that day came when I talked again with my friend that I'd almost lost. We talked a lot that night. Words that were exchanged surprised me. There was so much misunderstanding that had taken place. I had been laying across my bed that night when we hung up the phone in the early morning hours late in January and almost immediately I fell asleep. And for the first time since the beginning of October I awoke nine hours later. I didn't believe the numbers that looked out at me from my ipod dock. I picked up my phone and checked the time on it and sure enough it was not a joke - I had slept.

I couldn't be this simple right? After months of not sleeping one phone call could not an insomniac cure - could it?

With the clarity of my non-sleep depraved mind I thought that I might need to wait a few days to make sure that it wasn't just a fluke. But that night I climbed into bed at a decent hour when I felt tired and I drifted off to sleep pretty easily and woke up seven hours. And the next night - sleep. And it carried on into the next week.

And now that I wasn't wading through the days and nights with weary wide open eyes I had time to really stop and examine why I had stopped sleeping. I tried on a few theories and mulled them over for days at a time before I reached my conclusion - that talk had cleared my mind. I'd said the things that I needed to say not only to him, but about me. I'd shared my proud and not so proud moments. I told him how scared I was that I hadn't really found work yet. I worked out for the first time in words the plan I'd been contemplating on the job front. I'd told him how anxious I'd been about the cancer and how worried I still was. I talked and been real and vulnerable. I'd laid everything out there, listened to the responses, discussed the possibilities and heard someone say some really kind words about me. Eventually I would learn something more from this, but for now I knew that not sleeping had been about something more than a few bad things befalling me. And for now that and actually sleeping again would have to be enough.

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