Insomniac

Dread is the feeling that hits as soon as about 9 or 10 pm rolls around. It is the sudden and heavy twisting of my stomach when my friends tell me they’re off to bed.

Dread is the fact that tonight, like every night, I’ll be sitting alone in the dark with all of my issues and emotions that I can so easily brush off during the day with a smile or a chipper conversation.

Dread is the weight of the unknown; the loss, the grief, the pain, and the utter silence of that person who–up until they started to notice my bones begin poking through my skin, the shine of my pale bald head or the dark purplish-black circles around my eyes–had said that they were going to be there by my side, all the way through.

It’s been happening for a little over a year now: this whole not sleeping thing. I’m not talking about going to bed too late or tossing and turning through the night. I’m talking about pulling back to back all-nighters, as if they were a normal occurence. When I did sleep I would rest for maybe three to four hours a night, and I say rest because that’s really what I was getting. Doctors confirmed that I wasn’t even hitting REM sleep, thus waking up the next morning feeling just as, if not more, tired than the day before. I became so fatigued that I was no longer able to remember even the littlest of things, like names or what my parents had asked me to pick up at the grocery store just minutes earlier. Other times I lost my car in the hospital parking garage, unable to remember where I had parked sending me into a full-blown panic attack. Even more worrisome was that I would lose my train of thought mid sentence, having to have friends or people around me remind me of what I was just saying. Honestly, this made me feel like an idiot for both not remembering things and not being able to recall simple things such as dates, numbers and spelling.

The real kicker is the way it messes with my head; making me feel disoriented, confused, and even a tad insane at times. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been pulled in and out of hallucinations. Seeing one thing or really believing you are in a certain place and then, suddenly, snapping back to reality only to realize that whatever you thought you saw was merely all in your head. They are terrifyingly realistic. Sometimes I wake up screaming. Other times as if the wind has been knocked out of me. One time I even had to call my friend to make sure that she was alive and not dead as my hallucination had suggested. It’s like being trapped between two worlds but you keep on switching back and forth, back and forth, never truly aware of where you are until you are whisked off into another reality your brain has created.

I’ve tried basically all the medications for sleep and sedation that my insurance policy will cover, but they only seem to do nothing at all or give me some pretty terrible side effects ranging from uncontrollable crying to suicidal ideation. Currently, I’m taking twice the normal dose of Ambien for an adult female. You know, that stuff you always hear about on the news on how some dude on Ambien went out and did something ridiculous like purchasing a live yak online from some foreign country for like $6,000 and having absolutely no recollection after the fact. So, I’m sure you can already predict how this can turn ugly really quickly. People have even committed crimes, even going so far as to murder people often as a result of mixing the drug with alcohol, which you are strictly not supposed to do for these stated reasons. Not to say that if you take it that you’re going to go out on a killing spree, but it’s easy to miss the thirty minute window you have to fall asleep and what you do in your unconscious-conscious state can be both difficult for others to understand/deal with and causes you to become a potential harm to yourself and others.

But there is also the fact that I do some of my best thinking at night. The quiet isolation helps me to think a little bit more clearly, listen a bit more intently to God and write about what is pressing on my heart. A good percent of my best pieces have been, as my best friend would say, written at some ungodly hour.These are the good times. The times when I can devour the book suggestions my friends have given me or enjoy some Netflix all to myself. I find that I enjoy the gentle company of the moon and the brilliant presence of the stars. How the low clouds blanket the hills and mountains or how the pitter-patter of the rain falling on the roof sounds as sweet as a lark’s song.

And while this all sounds rather dreamy there is also a painful, desperate and quite morbid side to staying up all hours. Every single day I wake up exhausted. I’m not really sure I could tell you what real restful sleep even feels like anymore. There are the hallucinations which make it difficult to distinguish between what is reality and what is psychosis. It’s seeing the best friend you called your brother for all those years. Being able to talk to him, hug him, lay on the top of that car roof up at the top of that deserted mountain road, counting the shooting stars in the heat of a summer evening. And it’s violently snapping back to the real world where that friend you called brother, who called you a princess, who always broke our small town curfew so we could walk to the golf course and lay, laughing, all night in the cool, dewy grass, has been dead for over two years because he took his own life. It’s flashing back to the family member who backhanded me so hard I fell to the ground; the family member who wrapped both of his hands around my neck, feet dangling above the ground. Their face, red with rage, burned forever into my mind. It’s waking up screaming or hyperventilating because even a dreamlike version of that night still sends me straight into an uncontrollable panic attack. The night is both a welcoming home and a barren ghost town that will haunt me until my grave if I am not careful.

But even in spite of all of this, I still see my severe insomnia I struggle with as both a blessing and as a curse. If you know anything about me by now, you should know that I truly think your attitude can make a huge difference in the outcome or path of your outlook, life, disease(s).. If it weren’t for my insomnia, how would I have my morning chats with Emma, a friend battling Mast Cell Disease halfway across the country? When would I have my quiet time, my creative time, my time that is just for me? I’m definitely not saying that the insomnia isn’t absolutely dreadful, because it is, and it kind of makes me want to punch the s*@! out of something. I am just saying that there are silver linings in every situation. You just need to look hard enough for them.

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Transparency

There are a total of seven different tabs open, each containing a draft of an attempted blog post abandoned part way through. It has been a week of absolute hell and if we are being honest, which we are, it took me about five good minutes to even sit myself up so I could start typing this. I think this and my mental state because of it have a lot to do with my complete lack of creativity and after spending the majority of my day in tears or staring miserably into space as one does when drugged out of their mind, it dawned on me that I don’t even have to be creative. I can just be honest, transparent about my experience, my feelings and the creativity will happen because I am an artist. The creativity is who I am.

Today I saw a caption on an Instagram photo that went like this: “I’m not going back to bed until I find a way to tire myself out. It seems that everything tires me out except trying to get some rest.” I have no idea if these are just someone’s words or if it belongs to some song or movie but that really isn’t the point. These words stuck out to me because I could relate and honestly, in the midst of my creative rut the pages of my journals are chock-full of disorganized and scribbled song lyrics, pieces of poetry, social media captions, and lines from films and books alike. As if in my loss for words these could somehow make up for the silence. Silence. I just spent an hour listening to a slam poet speak the same words over and over again until I felt that I truly understood what they meant. That, “..tragedy and silence have the exact same address..” and maybe that is the reason that I couldn’t speak, still can’t speak about the abuse I receive from my own family member or why I couldn’t even admit until this year that my own relative sexually assaulted me when I was a just a child or that in a few months it will be a year since I was raped and my mom still thinks that it happened to my friend because I was too ashamed to tell her the truth. Perhaps this is the reason that I shut down, have to go looking for my voice or claw at my esophagus for the words sitting so heavily in my voice box whenever something bad happens. Maybe, just maybe, this is why I felt relieved when my friend sat with me on the couch a few weeks back, holding my hand as I sifted through the sand of my thought because my brain had become a desert. My mouth, my lips desperately trying to convey the feelings I was failing to gather when he said, “It’s okay. Some things are just too terrible for words.” A rush of reassurance. It was, it is okay if there are no words in the face of calamity. In this new space of tolerance and understanding I was, by the end of the night, able to smile and utter the words, “I am so blessed,” because I am despite all the bad (and let me tell you there is quite a bit of it in my mere twenty-three years of life) the simple empathetic act of my friend created a safe space that allowed me to see beyond and rejoice in all of the goodness that I am also surrounded by each and every day.

I recently purchased a self-help book I saw on the Barnes and Noble discount table for two reasons:

  1. I am a sucker for good cover design and good design in general. I can’t tell you how many bottles of wine I used to have to pour down the sink after purchasing them simply because I found the label aesthetically pleasing. Oh, the life of an artist.
  2. When I opened the book to the first page one line stood out to me and I knew immediately that I had to own it. Well, and the fact that it was only seven dollars, but that’s beside the point. The line goes, “Emotions are energy. All of them – not just the good ones.”

This really struck me because for so long I believed that I had to repress my negative emotions so as not to come off as weak or crazy or whatever I seemed to believe at the time. I think this applies not just those who suffer from major illnesses or tragedies, but everyone because we all experience hardship and pain in our lives. Those things are not relative and it is not a game of who is worse off. Actually one of my biggest pet peeves is telling a person in distress that things could always be worse and while, yes, this is in fact true if does nothing but demean the individual’s struggles and create the complete opposite of the safe environment that I talked about earlier. This friend’s empathy created a safe new environment in which I now felt an overwhelming need to discuss what I had been at a loss for words of prior. After composing a quick text, my friend’s roommate came downstairs, sat and listened to me talk about the abuse and trials I have faced both throughout my life and now as well as my mixed feelings about the forgiveness and kindness I strive to treat these individuals with. His response was absolutely touching. “That’s the Jesus in you,” he said, then thanked me for sharing and waited until I dozed off to sleep. I awoke the next morning to a folded note next to my pillow that read, “1) Our home is your home, always. 2) You are loved. Don’t ever forget it.”

You see, it’s these seemingly small acts of compassion and kindness that make existing in a world filled with so many evils bearable. They enable us to see the good and spread the good even with the presence of wickedness still surrounding us. This is also the rooting of our Faith as we believe in a God who will deliver us from evil and His Son who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may be forgiven for our sins, our own individual evils. We all have emotions – both good and bad. Recognizing and giving the time of day to each and every one of our emotions is not only vital to our own mental health, but enables us to grow spiritually so that we may continue to strive to live in the image of Jesus, the ultimate example of empathy. All loving, all accepting and all-inclusive.

1 Peter 1:6-9

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show you that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
You love hime even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.