Insomnia(2)

Being able to sleep through the night has always been my greatest goal in life. Screw getting the perfect job, the nice house or winning the lottery. Nope, sleep is what I want and lots of it. As ridiculous as it may sound, I am enormously envious of those who manage it each and every night with no idea of quite how lucky they are. I hate them, the rested bastards.

Insomnia has now been a constant, unwanted companion for 8 years. It’s not the ‘falling asleep’ part that I have difficulty with, it’s the ‘waking up’ and then ‘going back to sleep’ bit. Each and every night, after going to bed earlier than a toddler and reading solidly for a good hour (thank God for kindles) I fall into a blissful, deep sleep only to be woken up several hours later by the insides of my brain thrashing about loud enough to wake Sleeping Beauty. It is as though some bastard has planted a radio inside my head, flicked the ‘on’ switch and then run off cackling into the darkness without leaving instructions of how to turn the blasted thing off.

You may wonder what precisely is taking place inside my bonce but sadly I am totally in the dark. There is no rhyme, reason, theme or logical pattern to my thoughts, its just nonsense. I have arguments with myself, my better half, my family, my work colleagues, sometimes people I’ve never even met. ‘About what?’, I hear you ask. ‘Oh anything,’ I reply; work tasks, sleeping arrangements, family duties, general worries, events that will never take place, the weather, the future, religion, the meaning of life. Anything really, anything that can squeeze itself into my tiny brain and kick up a monumental fuss.

Song lyrics whirl around my head whilst I’m busy having a good shouting match with myself. Annoyingly, it will only ever be one verse of a song I absolutely loath and which doesn’t even fit the current slanging match enough to be considered an appropriate soundtrack. What’s most infuriating is that it’ll be a song I’ll have heard once, several weeks ago and then forgotten about completely but of course naughty ‘Mr Brain’ likes to store this detestable excuse for music somewhere in my memory boxes and pluck it free to play on a loop at precisely the wrong moment. Any attempts to fall back asleep will be interrupted by further episodes of mindless crap resulting in moments of sheer fury which inevitably promote more awake-ness and bring us back full circle.

I’ve re-written classical literature, re-shot epic film sequences, played Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody in front of a captivated audience in the Albert Hall and saved James Bond from sure death several times. All of which are super fun but terribly bad for a restful night. I often wonder whether some clever person would design a machine which, if wired up to my brain, could channel the useless energy which is produced and supply the electricity to a small village. At the very least, I’d be doing my bit for the environment. If, by some miracle, I actually manage to sleep, my dreams are the sort one wouldn’t even share with a shrink for fear that he’ll whip out the straight jacket and cart me off to the loony-bin immediately.

The effects of a severe lack of sleep can be described as follows;

Exhaustion
Lethargy
Fatigue
Inability to concentrate
Nausea
Fainting/dizziness
Shakes
Overly emotional
Heart palpitations
Inability to breathe properly
Anxiety
Depression
Irritability
Memory loss
Headaches/migraines
Loss of focus
Weight gain/loss
Stress
Inability to cope with daily life
Loss/Increased appetite
Change in body temperature
Low Frustration tolerance
Anger
Bad skin
Muscular aches

Suffice to say, after a good bout of insomnia, my days will consist of continually bawling my eyes out at nothing in particular (which results in a really attractive, puffy face) feeling extremely weak and dizzy (on a really good day I may even faint, sometimes in public, that’s always fun) overly emotional and prone to flying into a rage at the slightest thing (woe betide anyone who cuts me up or queue jumps) headache-y with blue spots or blurred vision, wobbly enough to fall over, losing balance or suddenly collapsing (which for a clumsy person is sheer hell; I have already thrown a cup of coffee over my front and a bottle of water into my lap; its not even 9.30, sigh) continually expecting to throw up (on an empty stomach) shaking so much it can be difficult to dress, complete lack of concentration and focus making it impossible to perform even the simplest of tasks, enough memory loss to make me forget my own name (who am I again?) either shivering enough to consider donning my entire wardrobe or so hot I’m sweating like a nun in a cucumber field, being so thoroughly angry and simultaneously depressed at the whole wretched situation that I could either kill someone or lock myself in a dark room and never come out. Even writing this feels utterly pathetic but I now understand why sleep deprivation is such an excellent form of torture, it’s enough to make one lose one’s mind.

What is most infuriating is the magnificently stupid, albeit well-meaning, advice offered by those who have never suffered from such a plight. On discovering that you are an insomniac their responses go a little something like this:

1) Oh that’s awful. Why don’t you just try and go back to sleep?

Gee, WOW! That’s an excellent piece of advice, how on earth did I not come up with that one myself? Thank GOD you’re here.

2) You just need to learn to stop thinking.

Yes, brilliant, have you ever tried that? Try it now, think of nothing, go on, do it. Nope? Didn’t think so.

3) Why don’t you just take some pills?

Oh my, you’re a clever one aren’t you?! I’m so pleased you’re here to state the absolute bleedin’ obvious. Here’s a list of just some of the pills I’ve sampled: Night Aid, Sleep Nite, Kalms, Nytol (herbal and chemical) St John’s Wort, Zopiclone, Valerium, melatonin, 5 HTP, Night Nurse. I’ve asked for Valium and Morphine from the doctor, he actually laughed at me. I’ve even begged the Boyfriend to drug my food and/or knock me out; annoyingly he refused. Trust me, if there is something to take, I’ve taken it yet somehow my brain manages to fight through the drugs, keep me awake and leave me with the hangover of death. It’s clever like that.

4) What about a bath or warm milk?

Hot bath, warm milk, sleepy-time tea, camomile tea, long walks, wearing socks, not wearing socks, wearing pyjama’s, sleeping naked, spinach soup, magnesium tablets, calcium tablets, massages, lavender oil, cold compresses, electric blankets, clutching a small chunk of amethyst in a sweaty palm…..oh, I’ve tried it.

5) What about meditation or deep breathing?

Meditation, whale music, songs of the jungle, hypnosis tapes, mindfulness CD’s, Buddhism, Christianity, Kabbalah. Short of applying to the Church of Scientology, believe me, I’ve tried it. Deep breathing? I’ve done enough of that to eventually hear my own heart-beat and sound like a woman in labour.

6) What about sleeping in a dark room?

I’ve practically taped the windows shut. There are three sets of curtains, I also wear ear plugs and eye masks. If there is a single chink of light, my beady little eyes will find it. How people sleep in broad daylight I will never know.

7) Why don’t you just have a nap during the day, perhaps in your lunch hour?

Deary, if I cant sleep in my nice super-king size bed with a memory foam mattress, behind three sets of curtains, in a room of optimum temperature, wearing ear plugs and eye masks, after having lulled myself into a coma by reading for an hour, I’m not going to have a quick ‘power nap’ with my head on the office desk under the frightful glare of fluorescent light bulbs, now am I?

8) God, I know exactly how you feel; I couldn’t sleep for an hour last night.

An HOUR!??? I would sell my own mother to be awake for only an hour. Try being awake for 3 weeks!

9) What about yoga?

Done it; I’ve contorted myself into such an array of positions that I can now complete the Karma Sutra all by myself. I’ve also tried Boxing, Kickboxing, Karate, Krav Maga, Hula-hooping, running, skipping, Zumba, pilates, suspension training, weight lifting. In theory, I should be an Olympic athlete. I’m not.

10) Therapy?

In it. It did work, for a bit, then I relapsed. Yes, I know I sound like a heroin addict. I rather feel like one too.

11) Have you tried counting sheep?

Yep, it goes a little something like this: ‘one sheep, two sheep, three sheep, ooo a duck, Old MacDonald had a farm, Haaaaaaaaaaaaaay Macarenaaaaa, ahhhh-AY.’

So, for those of you who have ever experienced insomnia, don’t feel you are alone in your madness, I am with you. For those who have never experienced it, (you lucky sods) you may never be able to understand the physical and mental effect it has on your everyday life, how it totally drains your every existence, is so wholly debilitating, frustrating and soul destroying that I can, in all seriousness, completely understand why some people feel there is no other option but to end it all.

Therefore, I would beg of you, if anyone in your life is currently experiencing such suffering, please bear with them. Until a cure is found, there is no advice you can offer, no remedy that will relieve the misery, it is something we must struggle with alone. However, a good cuddle, strong cups of tea, a reminder of what day it is and a little reassurance that we are not totally bonkers goes someway to alleviate the pain.

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