So last night I had insomnia.
Like many creative people, I usually take an hour or so to fall asleep–my brain jitters and flops and thuds around inside my skull like a three-legged frog with a hangover. And it takes awhile to wind down and get all the thoughts thunk and discarded and so forth. I’m used to watching the clock slide past two, but when it starts homing in on three, I know that we’ve gone a bit past the usual, as with last night.
It’s probably related in part to going in for the root canal today–even though I have been assured that it’s not actually painful, dentistry of any kind is about as much fun as…well…having teeth pulled (Ha! I kill me!) and there’s some anxiety there. But I dunno.
The worst bout of insomnia I ever had was when I was thirteen. My mother was seeing this guy who lived on the Oregon coast, so every weekend, we’d drive out there and stay the weekend. Loathed him, myself–he wasn’t good enough for her by orders of magnitude–but she dumped him shortly, so all’s well that ends.
But anyway, the insomnia. I could not sleep in this guy’s house worth a damn. I’ve had insomnia from stress before–I don’t think I slept the night before I started high school–but this was crazy. I would lay awake, in bed, until five, six, seven AM. I blame the clock. There was this grandfather clock that tolled not only the hour, but the quarter hour as well, which is not helpful when you’re having trouble sleeping, and is rather like the Finger Of God stabbing you accusingly in the eardrum. “Why aren’t you asleep yet!?” *bong…bong…bong…stabstabstab* And the bed was by this window, which looked out onto a rather grungy little sideyard with a bare tree (it was winter and leafless) and I would stare at the bare tree, and the moon, and the sky, (which being at the coast had those high, cold scuddling clouds that look sort of like racing trilobytes) and the crumbling grey brick retaining wall for hours on end. The problem with doing this, of course, is that if you’ve got an imagination in permanent overdrive as I do, you start to think things like “What if a face suddenly popped up right in front of me, like six inches away, on the other side of the glass? What if it was a monster? What if I saw something moving over there? Did I just see something moving over there? What if aliens come out from behind that tree? What would I do?” (My plan of action called for wetting myself. I left my options open after that, displaying surprising self-knowledge for thirteen. I’m twice as old now, and my plan of action in case of alien attack has not changed significantly.) And after a few hours of this, of course, as those parts of the brain that do such things for a living made tormented faces out of the shadows and the tree and so forth, I would retire to Monster Defense Mode, whereby the blanket covers every square inch of flesh and you try to breathe through a miniscule crack between blanket and mattress. Generally, of course, you fall asleep due to boredom and anoxia after that, but not here. The clock would jab you in the eardrum, the moon would sail blithely across the sky, and eventually dawn would crawl up the sides of the house and go “My god, are you STILL awake?”
The nice thing about being a teenager, of course, is that you have energy reserves which you can only dimly recall as an adult, and it is possible to skip sleep for a weekend and still function. Even thinking about trying to do that now makes me want a nap.
Fortunately, I’ve never had any major insomnia like that since. Strange beds aren’t a problem–I can sack out in a hotel with the best of ’em. I can sleep in cars and airplanes and those little hospital lounges for the families of the dying (of course, at that point, you’re bloody exhausted anyway, so it’s not much of a trick.) I can even sleep in an airport terminal ten feet from the “Caution! The moving walkway is ending!” recording.
Of course, given that Athena the cat has learned to play the blinds in the bedroom window like the bongos, I still don’t always get the sleep I’d like…
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