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.