Insomnia is a brilliant invention. It is quite possibly one of the most irritating symptoms to one or more unknown illnesses. The universe is asking me (rudely) to solve a problem out of definitive reach. “What’s the answer?” asks the universe. “To what?” I inquire. “To the problem,” it bluntly responds. “To what problem?” I prod. “To the problem for which you are to find an answer.” It states. “So you want me to find an answer to a problem that is outside the realm of my current consciousness?” It doesn’t answer this time. The universe is annoying like that.
I have experienced regular insomnia, off and on, for as long as I can remember. My very first vivid memory is standing in a crib, crying, and moving my eyes back and forth between a closed door and green café curtains with the eerie glow of streetlights. The feeling right now is surprisingly similar to what I felt as a toddler. A mixture of fear, frustration and anxiety, the wide-awake nighttime ends ultimately in pure confusion. Trial and error is the only method of saving the few hours left. Pick a problem, fix it, and try to sleep. When that doesn’t work, try another. “If symptoms persist,” the metaphorical prescription suggests, “try solving others’ problems, and, if needed, problems which are unsolvable. Do not attempt to place blame or to utilize a quick-fix.”
If the problem is as minor as nervous excitement or moderate aggravation, the quick fix can be effective. A well-timed glass of wine, sleeping pill or self pep talk (not at the same time, mind you) has relaxed me into restless sleep a number of times. Distractions fall into this category, as well. Television, reading, and lesson planning may take my mind off the unspecified long enough to drift away. But it is at my weakest moments when a slew of these strategies conspire with the universe to really see this problem through. “Watch a full season of a television show, go ahead and finish that book, and pop in a Benadryl while your at it,” I am taunted, “but just a warning, insomnia will still be here waiting when you’re done.”
I usually start my pick-a-problem game with the usual. Is my work done? Yes. Is my apartment clean? Mostly. Have I forgotten to do anything? Rarely. Is there a hint of procrastination anywhere on my task list? Hardly ever. After this, I move onto emotions, an activity I find to be highly juvenile. I start asking myself, “Are you excited? Sad? Angry? Lonely? Hurt? Etc.?” A surface-level emotion can be bandaged with a deep breath, meditation, prayer and an actionable solution. It may not end pretty, but at least it ends with sleep.
When I am past the quick fixes, simple questions and grievances of emotions, I am left with a predicament. Do I keep trying to figure out what’s wrong so that I can make it better, or do I count the night as a loss and watch trashy early-morning television? In college, it was routine to pull an all-nighter 1-2 times per week, but anymore, that is an undesirable solution. Eventually my useful but unfortunate talent of falling asleep anywhere, anytime during the day will conquer my lack of sleep with a mid-meeting snooze, my chin resting in my hand.
I have also tried a handful of non-traditional tactics. “Never stay in bed if you can’t sleep,” suggested my friend, Rachael. “Otherwise your body associates insomnia with the bedroom and you’ll never be able to sleep there.” I expect that could be applied either way: “Never fall asleep during a meeting, because then your body will associate meetings with sleep.” A professor once told me to concentrate on the number “1,” visually and audibly for as long as necessary. If other thoughts tried to interfere, she recommended yelling the word, “STOP!” at myself and taking several deep breaths. Herbal tea, warm milk, a small accomplishment…sometimes nothing works.
The only thing that remotely helps is the act of composition. I do not mean this in strictly musical terms. In fact, I am neither a good songwriter nor a poet, so often my compositions are differently artistic. I crochet, color, and recently tried to teach myself to draw. But my most valuable form of artistic expression is writing. With that beginning, middle and end, my soul is set at ease and the universe seems amused and pleased.
I don’t expect publication or fame. I don’t even need to know it is being read (though I do like knowing!). All I need is an uninhibited space to spread, sort and stack my ego, piecing it together over and over again. By the end of the “column,” I am a self-centered, well-expressed and very tired woman. But the unsolvable equation seems to follow me always, in the form of a weird dream, terrible nightmare or broken alarm clock.
The universe exclaims, “Haven’t you figured this out yet?!”