Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Horror of Insomnia

Until a few years ago I never had trouble sleeping. I could sleep anywhere, at any time, and for as long as I liked. It was something I took a certain pride in, like being able to play the piano or making a really good spaghetti sauce.

And then, something changed.

Until I experienced it for myself, I didn't understand insomnia. For me it's not so much the inability to sleep -- though Lord knows that's the horrid end result -- but the inability to quiet my mind.

In the vast emptiness of night's dark middle, thoughts repeat and echo in mad, broken-record rhythms. Long-buried memories unearth themselves and take on new, vivid life. Fears and worries creep out of the shadows and crawl into bed beside me. Would-haves, should-haves and could-haves moan and rattle their chains. Often, I swear I can hear the far-away, nautical sound of fog horns somewhere outside.

Insomniacs are haunted. Not by ghosts -- though a poet or storyteller might make an effective case for that -- but by our own lives.

(Though it's been years since I've read it, Stephen King's Insomnia was a disappointment to me in this respect. His protagonist, though plagued with a lifetime of regrets, wasn't troubled so much by his own thoughts and memories as by the things he witnessed during his late-night vigils.)

The cartoon above by Roz Chast made me laugh out loud when I saw it yesterday. (Click the image for a larger version.) I cut it out and put it on the refrigerator, and I've looked at it again several times since. It's hysterically funny, because it's so frighteningly spot-on.

Sleep well.


Catherine J Gardner said...

A lot of writers seem to suffer from Insomnia at times - I think it's something to do with being unable to shut down our brains.

mrs beavers said...

Try a small dose of Ambien--there is a 4-hour dose available. This will help if things are getting a bit too...NON-SLEEP-like. When I get insomnia, I become anxious and I can't switch off the feeling. Ambien helps. This is NOT an ad for a drug company and I have only used Ambien a few times, but dang it helped!