The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I Think Stephen King Wrote a Book About This . . .

So as of late, I haven't been sleeping. And not the kind of not sleeping a kid gets on Christmas Eve or the kind where you only have four hours of sleep yet somehow awaken rested, but the kind those in the know call Insomnia. I capitalized this word on purpose. Because this isn't the insomnia someone talks about casually in the coffee shop the next morning: "oh my god, I had the worse sleep last night." No this is the Insomnia that wracks your whole body, saps your spirit, and takes your mind. This is the Insomnia that leaves you unable to even lift a coffee cup let alone make it to a coffee shop to chat about it.

This is the kind of Insomnia that will make you murder for sleep or kill yourself for rest albeit however final or maybe just go crazy.

In the past three weeks of my Insomnia, I have spent many hours analyzing its forms. The following are the four manifestations of my own personal hell.

1. there's the regular oh-my-gosh-I've-just-woken-up-at-2am-and-am-totally-
freaking-four-hours. At first, this one isn't so bad because you are at least alert and your body and mind are on the same page. A night of this one is regular insomnia, and you can joke about it the next day to your friends while describing all of the productive things you did while you couldn't sleep like chopping vegetables or cleaning the house or balancing your checkbook.

A week of this is draining. After this time, your mind and body might start to suffer irreparable differences of opinion. Your mind might wake up while your body begs for sleep. Or you body might crave the physical challenge of a marathon while your mind weighs you down like a boulder.

Three weeks is crippling. Combine this form of sleeplessness with any of the below, and it is deathly.

2. there's the lack of sleep brought about from chronic pain. This form wakes you up and while your body and mind might be exhausted, the pain continues to grab at you and pull you back from sleep. No matter how hard you strive to go away from reality, you just can't escape.

3. there's the ambient noise keeps you awake. This really isn't insomnia unless there is an incremental addition of sleepless nights. In my case, the noise culprit is a train. Now I am no noise sissy. I have lived within 500 yards of a major airport and freeway and train tracks for four years. I don't shut my windows. Ever. And I usually sleep completely fine. Fantastically wonderfully fine, actually. I have slept through traffic accidents, early and late flights, and stopped trains.

However, they have apparently invented a super slow train that is able to crawl past my house at an imperceptible rate of ten feet every 45 minutes while constantly blowing its horn. How can it do this? Why does it do this? And why must it do this at 2:30 in the morning? Every morning?

4. there's the sick kid. Again, in and of itself, this is not necessarily insomnia. However, this is a cumulative or combinative form of sleeplessness that contributes to Insomnia. Somehow children know when you are at your weakest and most vulnerable (it's a gift really), and always choose that time to come down with a fever that leaves them screaming, whimpering, or crying every 20 minutes or so. This time interval is precisely calculated to let you fall just into sleep before jerking you back out, thus creating even more physical and psychological stress to the act of staying awake.

For the past three weeks, I've experienced these four forms singly or in concert. It has left me weepy, cranky, unable to formulate any rational thought, and unprepared to deal with any aspect of life.

Right now, I would kill for four solid hours of repose. Right now, I would contemplate killing myself if I could be sure of the possibility of an afterlife with sleep. Right now, I can feel my sanity, slowly eroding away.

As Sir Philip Sydney puts it:
Come sleep, oh sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man's wealth, the prisoner's release,
Th'indifferent judge between the high and low;
With shield of proof shield me from out the prease
Of those fierce darts, Despair at me doth throw:
Oh make in me those civil wars to cease;
I will good tribute pay if thou do so:
Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,
A chamber deaf to noise and blind to light;
A rosy garland, and a weary head;
And if these things, as being thine by right,
Move not thy heavy Grace, thou shalt in me
Livelier than elsewhere Stella's image see.

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