I have been an insomniac since birth. The mere word sleep sends ripples through my chest. Sleep? Sleep? What is sleep? How does one sleep? I’m fascinated and jealous. My dad can be asleep in four minutes flat. How is this possible? When I stay the night at a friend’s houses, I am awestruck. Everyone sleeps. And they sleep without medication, without chugging back little red and blue pills, without thought. Like a shrug. A whatever. Sleep is no big deal. Just something they do. As intuitive as breathing.
Not for me.
I have no memory of life before insomnia. My childhood nights were marbled with tears and anxiety. Rushing down the hall to my mother’s room, knocking knocking knocking, I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep again. It’s three in the morning. Mom, Dad, what if there’s a fire on the bank? What about earthquakes? California, California, California is going to light up in flames and crumble into the sea. A burglar. A scary man. He will climb up the sycamore tree and break my window and steal me. Tornadoes. I don’t care if they’re not unheard of here, it could happen. And I’m crying crying crying, never going to sleep, mom can you sing to me, please, can you tell me a story?
My older sister and I shared a bedroom until I was seven. I think. Anything below ten (in terms of age) is irrelevant and murky. We had a cheap boombox on our moss colored bedroom floor. We used it nightly. Played a CD with waterfalls and falling leaves, howling wind and tapping rain, all mixed in with piano melodies. My world would shatter if this CD was not played. My mind decaying, the scary man would come, earthquake earthquake earthquake, oh, no, flood! Who cares if we’re in a drought, there WILL be a flood and I will drown! The nature lullaby CD was my savior. My childhood addiction.
I remember a particular birthday party. Perhaps nine or eight. Fourth grade. Not really a child anymore, but not yet a “preteen”. A huge group of friends slept over. Twenty girls all crammed into the playroom, our hot pink sleeping bags and fuzzy pillows aligned like flower hedges. When it was time for sleep, an appropriate hour to call it quits on the day, I had my mom come in with the boombox. The lullabies. I requested she tell us a story, like the ones she personally told me every other night. It was necessary. I needed her to do this. The dark would consume me if my nightly ritual wasn’t complete. Who cares if I had my entire female class sleeping over, witnessing this pathetic behavior, listening to my stupid CD, there would be no hope for sleep if it didn’t happen.
I wasn’t friends with that group of girls for very long.
When I moved into my own bedroom, the nights shifted. I was older. I no longer blistered under irrational fears. No longer went tumbling down the hall wailing about the maybe-fires. At some point the lullaby CD disappeared. Maybe it broke. Maybe my older sister threw it away. I don’t know. But I stared at the ceiling nightly. Listing off things I needed to do, needed to be, all my worries, school, my health, the doctors, my then-disintegrating family and religion, did God hate me, should I fast, fast, fast, and repent? I was ten. I devoured books. My weak bedside light orange and humming until four in the morning. A book a night sometimes. With sleep deprivation, my anxiety deepened. Depression bundled in my stomach. I’d cry and cry and cry and long for sleep. Long for a break from conscious thinking. Flies swarmed in my brain. I was intolerably lonely.
I was taking sleeping pills by the sixth grade.
Took this gem back in the absurd days of Myspace. Fourteen. Wanted to portray the “despair of insomnia”. The world reduced to gray. I believe this was taken after 40-something hours awake. Obviously a pink border that matched the background was essential. And, yes. I’ve always been as dramatic as I am today.
By freshman year, the nights were stilted. Hazy. Black. Even if I took my Trazodone, Sonata, Lunesta, Ambien, sleep frequently didn’t come. My alarm clock would buzz and I’d still be trying to sleep, half drugged, going crazy. Time to get up. Get dressed. School, Heather, school. Okay. Okay. Push through the day. A triple shot mocha. Pumpkin scone. My diet at the time. This would push me through school, get me to the end of another day. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll sleep tonight. I’ll sleep like a baby. Just fine. It’ll be okay. I wore heavy black eye makeup, thinking it’d blend in with the shadows beneath my eyes. I wrote in those dark hours. Pounding at the keyboard. Sick of reading. Sick of the silly fantasies. I was furious. Furious at my snoozing family, at my incapability.
My insomnia goes through phases. Not much has changed the last five years, other than the fact that I’ve exhausted more tricks, no longer blame my family, am (usually — okay sometimes) calmer about the entire situation. I’ve been prescribed every sedative in my doctor’s book. Tried some holistic approaches too. Acupuncture. Special teas. Neurotransmitters. Herbs and yoga. Guided breathing. Couch syrup. Benadryl. Too much Benadryl. I’ve been taking at least two pills a night for the last three years. At some points getting up to six of those damn little pink red whatever they are tablets. My dependency horrifies me.
I’ll sometimes sleep like a normal human for a week. A few days. My energy becomes so high people think I’m snorting speed. But it never lasts. It always ends. Back to the dreaded hours of three, four, five in the morning. Okay, it’s six. Guess I’ll get up now and take the dog for the walk, perhaps make a sweet potato tofu scramble for the family. Try again tonight. Try again, take more pills, cross my fingers, hold my breath, sleep sleep sleep, where are you? I’m killing my liver in vain of sanity. Because sanity becomes so elusive when I don’t sleep. Gray and unreal and blurred. Like Chuck Palahniuk wrote, “everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.” But really, what IS sanity? This idea of clarity. Of good well being. I don’t know if this exists for anybody. What was I even saying?
But there is definite beauty in insomnia. I mean, isn’t there beauty in all things ugly? Some of my best writing has come from those manic nights. Candles lit. Incense smoking. Curled up in my bed with my laptop (RIP – story for another day) and a mug of chamomile tea. Pounding on the keyboard, it’s past two, the world is at ease. Once I’ve surrendered to the idea of no sleep, that’s when it becomes lovely. My dark morning walks are exhilarating. I often think things I normally wouldn’t think. I like being awake. No. I love being awake. Maybe my insomnia exists because I hate missing out. I want to be the first person up in the morning and the last to go to bed. I hate wasting a single hour, not being productive, and really, seriously, I have to give up at least seven hours a day to lie in my bed like a worthless corpse of nothing? That’s absurdity.
I obviously have some issues to work through.
I haven’t experienced unmedicated sleep since I was twelve. A fact that sickens me. I’m dependent on pills. Addicted. I said I’m an addict of moving, laughed, haha, so funny, but my need for sedatives isn’t a joke. I know this. The idea of not taking Benadryl makes me twinge. And no Ambien? I become a lunatic. Because without it I won’t sleep for days (last year I went a full three days with zero dosing of any sort). I dissolve. Rot in a grave. So even if my liver is failing and I hate those pills, I have to take them. I have to take them. Right? Right? Right? I’ve told doctors. Several doctors. Not one has blinked. Not one has given much thought to the fact that every night I’m drowning my insides in these futile attempts at relief.
Maybe returning to Colorado would help.Those eight months living above 6,000 feet gave me the best sleep. The altitude thinned my blood. Reeled me in to sedation. Or maybe I was finally and simply content. At ease, happy. Oh. Colorado. Why did I leave?
Or maybe not. I don’t know.
It’s not even nine am yet. I wonder how I’ll sleep tonight.
I’ll keep you updated.
Kinsale, Ireland. September 2010.
My days have been grand and crazy. Moving arrangements, college interviews, revisions and writing attempts, ACT planning, plane ticket bookings, trying to stay cool and sane and content in the 96-degree heat of yesterday… But life is good. Enthusiasm is my constant emotion. And really, what’s the point of life if you have no enthusiasm?
That said, I’m not so enthusiastic about my chronic case of sinusitis. I’m off to yet another doctor’s appointment. Woohoo!
Have a good weekend.
I didn’t sleep well last night.
I woke around three to my window rattling. Branches of a pepper tree swung against the glass. A low moan chilled the night. I instantly knew what was up. They had arrived. The Santa Ana’s. I’ve been waiting for them with vigor all autumn. The mania they infuse, the destruction. It’s inspiring. Invigorating. I can’t help but love them. Love them despite the nightmares they cause (after falling back asleep I woke up again two hours later screaming myself out of a dream), the trees they knock down, and wildfires they ignite.
When you fear something as much as I’ve always feared the Santa Ana’s, all that is left is to surrender in awe. I used to dread them all summer when I was young. A friend told me they scramble brains with their positive ions, and I read somewhere that the murder rates in Los Angeles rocket this time of year. Regardless, I believe positive ions feed creativity. Making the “scrambled brain” feeling (and higher crime rate) worth it.
I always write best during wind season.
Not that I like murder.
Or think that the wind is an excuse for crime.
I just like to write.
A quick update for you all.
To everything I said last week…
I’m moving in January. Probably moving to Humboldt County. I know, I know. I’m hysterical. A riot, my mom might say. But how can I explain this? How can I make sense without rambling senselessly again?
Not even an hour after publishing my last entry (in which I declared myself an addict to moving and swore I’d stay put), everything — EVERYTHING — began to work in favor of my leaving. And it feels so right. My gut no longer burns. I can’t stop smiling, but not in a manic I’m crazy and grinning like a mad food kind of way, but a sincere life may turn out okay and hope is real and I am happy sort of thing. That kind of smile. I’m not twitching as violently, nor am I constantly stalking the Colorado Springs classifieds…
Okay. That last part is a total lie. I will always lust after Colorado Springs.
I will also always do what feels most intuitive. That sounds hippy dippy — trusting my intuition — but it has yet to fail me. And while there was total truth in what I wrote last week, I also know that there are many rational, beautiful reasons behind the potential move. It’s like I had to recognize the negative motives to be able to see the real golden ones too.
Because even as I wrote that entry, muttering about my decision to stay in Orange County, I felt sick. Sick. Sick. Sick. The truth is this: I DO want to move to Humboldt. I’ll be honest, if I could, I’d drive back to Colorado Springs tomorrow. But Humboldt County entices me and there has to be a reason why I keep going back to it. (I almost moved to Arcata when I was seventeen, but instead settled on Berkeley.) Anyway, I have to stay in California for the next two years, and Humboldt County is the only place in this state I can see myself long term.
So, away I (potentially) go.
And maybe I am addicted to moving. So, what?
Who knows. I may move to Humboldt County. I may join the circus. I may go dig a cave in the sandstone of Lake Powell. I’ve learned that I can’t predict anything. I can only let it all fall into place. So flow, life, flow.
Just please don’t slap me if I come back next week and announce my plans to move to Alaska.
I’m sure I’ll dwell on this subject further, but for now, I’m jolting home to Colorado via FIY editing. See ya. 🙂
The expected fluttering began last week.
Like clockwork, my heart raced. Minutes passed and all I could do was stare out at the gray afternoon sky. Checking craigslist became a twitch. Every hour. Every thirty minutes. Every other minute. My blood ran hot. In acupuncture, I failed miserably at meditating, or even simply resting. Instead, my toes trembled as my thoughts galloped wildly. I bit my tongue.
No. No. Stop. Stop. Stop. Yes. Okay. This can work. I can move again. Move this January. That’s what I’m going to do. Move. It’s time to move. Is this right? Yes. YES! This is totally right. Must move, must move, must move. Humboldt is a 12 hour drive. Okay. Okay. That’s fine. Not as far as Colorado Spring’s 18, so easy, so easy. What about furniture? You’re going to find a place that’s furnished? So do not want to buy furniture again. Who is in Humboldt? No one. Not a soul but me. Why Humboldt? Adventure! Adventure! Gotta call College of the Redwoods. Time to condense my life into the Mini Cooper again! Gotta plan, plan, plan, plan. This will be my salvation. Moving will solve everything! Everything! And I’ll go to school full time and write like a mad woman and maybe find a job at a co-op on the side and it’s always drizzly there, so life will be MAGIC.
For four days, I was set on moving. The certainty consumed me.
But for all the thinking I was doing, I wasn’t thinking much at all. The craze and adrenaline fogged over any sort of mental clarity. In the last three years, I’ve moved five times. Up and back and down and over to always end up right back here. I only just returned to Orange County two months ago. I was in my house prior to that for a spare two months. And before that, six months. And I could go on and on about the lengths of time I’ve stood still in residency, but the point is, since moving to Berkeley, I’ve developed a tendency to move at any given opportunity.
Hi, my name is Heather and I’m an addict. An addict of moving.
My car can vouch for me.
I’ll admit another secret: For every time I checked Humboldt County’s craigslist housing postings, I also checked Colorado Springs. And Santa Barbara’s, Seattle’s, the Bay Area’s, Portland’s… Warren, Ohio’s, too. Point is, I really don’t want to move to Humboldt County. I just want to move.
So I slammed the book closed.
I wanted to move for the sake of moving. I wanted to move because it’s been two months and I’m still here. And Orange County is the last place I want to be and I really thrive when I live on my own and I’m nineteen and that’s almost twenty and I miss Colorado, hell, I miss Colorado more than I thought I could, but I CAN’T go back, because I MUST stay in California, need to dedicate myself to school, and let’s be honest, I have a lot of self doubts, confusions, I’m tangled and alone, so I need to fly, fly, fly away and move.
Which is exactly why I’ve decided to stay put. If I’m going to grow from anything, it’ll be from facing what I fear most and roughing out a semester in my childhood home. I think forcing myself to be stagnant is necessary right now. I need to stop running, need to sit still long enough to figure out what I REALLY want to do. Moving consumes me, it numbs out all other issues, gives me something to focus on for months at a time.
Making it unfathomably addicting.
My plans for the next six months are far from glamorous or exciting — live at home, attend classes at the local community college and work towards transferring to a university, write, write, write, write, find some sanity. And I won’t deny that thinking about this (about my not moving any time soon) makes my lungs itch. I’m not enthused. But it’s the right choice. I know this. I’ll make it work. My thickening despair (as I write this entry my twitch strengthens) is only making it clearer that I need to stay.
And anyway knowing me, I’m sure something dramatically fabulous will fall into place sooner or later.
Hm. Actually. Maybe I will move.