2am is the new 4am: Insomnia and Uncertainty

There is no cure for insomnia. I know this because one of the things I do at 2am, 3am, 4am is search for cures. And there aren’t any, not yet. Certainly not for the kind of insomnia I have, the kind so deep-rooted it can outperform strong sedatives without even breaking a sweat. In the Insomnia-V-Diazepam-Celebrity-Deathmatch that plays out in my mind every night, the drugs don’t stand a chance. If the mind is a tool that can be trained, sharpened, then mine is certainly a broken one, a wheel without an axel, too deeply damaged for repair. Mindfulness and self-hypnosis are about as much use as getting under a table during a nuclear attack. And yes, I’ve tried Melatonin – it passed through my body in complete silence, like a gliding condor. Sleep has developed the status of God in my mind. Something amazing that almost certainly does not exist. Something powerful and healing. Something so deeply desired and made even more desirous in its absence. I daydream about sleep.

The fact that, on the rare occasions that I do get real organic rest, I have insanely vivid, filmic dreams with plots even the most abstract-creative coked-up Hollywood producer couldn’t summon up only adds to the mystique. On those special, joyful nights, I awake fresh and bright and ready to take on the world, filled with the warm satisfaction of someone who has enjoyed a grand adventure. I used to write these tales of derring-do into a small shiny notebook, but stopped when our current reality made me prefer those other worlds so much more than this one that it became counter-productive to dwell on those exciting times lived entirely inside my head. Indeed, the depth and pull of the few dreams my body permits me never fail to remind me of the power of the human mind. The rich detail, so carefully imagined and almost always completely fictitious, must be created out of something. If only I could find a way to mainline straight into the source of my dreams, I would be able to write the most vivid, blistering fiction. Either that or I’d end up in an asylum, hallucinating uncontrollably. I think it’s a risk I’d be prepared to take.

I can just about remember not having insomnia. A time when going to bed at night, falling asleep and waking up in the morning were normal things, natural and unquestioned. I remember more clearly the time when that rhythm got lost. When fear, stress and anxiety imposed such a heavy burden on my psyche that I lost the ability to switch off. When the quiet of night time morphed from offering the peace of sleep to a bitter window of solitude in which my screaming brain forced me to revisit the day’s indignities, agonising over each stabbing word, each jeer and taunt. Next would come the heart-pounding dread of the dawn, not knowing what fresh hell my tormenters had in store for me. The night would be spent praying, wishing, bargaining with a non-existent omnipresent entity for some kind of respite, some means of escape, some tool to empower me or disempower them. Fruitless soul-searching born of despair. And so the insomnia took hold, the customary links between night, bed and sleep severed forever. Instead I found myself dozing off at my desk, in the car, in front of the television, minutes of broken, ugly, disorientating unconsciousness snatched in compensation, in desperation. I learned to live with exhaustion, learned to study and work in a zombified stupor, learned to always carry a toothbrush. I began to accept that the power of sleep, real sleep, was lost to me.

Sometimes, when things are better and I’m not constantly worrying, I may get a full night of rest. Sometimes my body may gift me one randomly. The current situation is taking its toll. The nights of freewheeling exotic dreamworlds are becoming fewer and fewer and the long, ragged slog through the hours of darkness increasingly inevitable. The immediate relief of unconsciousness that I feel when my weary body collapses into bed is broken agonisingly quickly as the power of anxiety pushes its way to the front of my brain, dragging me, groggy and defeated, back into reality after a mere hour or two. What was 4am is becoming 2am as pandemic-related worries spawn and multiply, amoeba-like, in my mind. Uncertainty becomes panic as financial worries build on career difficulties which compound social anxiety and my physical issues. I read, immersing myself in the glorious otherness of the page, but as soon as I try to rest, to reset my mind, to focus on a place of peace and safety, one errant thought will scurry into my brain, the ant in the sugar bowl, and I will be wide awake again. This cycle can repeat itself all night. Honestly, I am exhausted. The tiredness, the worry, the wretched uncertainty all feeding into one another, short-fusing my brain and eating up the little energy that I do still have, leaving me foggy and unproductive, eyelids constantly drooping, hoping against hope that sleep, that elusive white tiger of the mind, will graciously treat me to twirl of its tail.

15th July 2020

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