Let’s talk about the dreaded I word. Insomnia. I have it and over the years, I have fought the valiant fight of the sleep deprived. I can only remember a few times in my life when I slept well and unaided by chemicals, teas or potions and these brief interludes have never lasted very long. I have cycles of sleep that cohabitate with cycles of anger over my lack of sleep, and obsession with the amount of sleep I have had. These three are great friends and love to have long lengthy conversations in my head about…..sleep.
I have many memories of myself as a child lying awake in my bed thinking deep thoughts or being scared to death because I was awake in the darkest part of the night and could not go back to sleep. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I stood in my window and looked outside. My biological father always lived in remote places and his houses were very intimidating after dark. On nights at his house when I was wide awake, I usually just laid in a damp bed under 17 quilts (my brother wet the bed and my dad didn’t believe in heating the house at night) and tried not to think about whatever horror movie we had been watching before bed. Instead, I envisioned what I would do to stay safe if ever one of these horror scenarios ever happened to me. I think I built up a fairly decent arsenal of safety skills because of those late night thoughts. Maybe this ability to think outside the box and figure out what to do in case of weird corn children or zombies or sea pirate zombie ghosts is the lone parenting gift by dad bestowed upon me. Thanks, Dad.
Later, as a teen, I snuck out of my house, sat on the porch, smoked cigarettes and read books. On occasion, a friend (obviously older and with no curfew) would pick me up and we would just drive around. I know this wasn’t a safe option but I always left a note for my parents and I was not drinking or having sex or doing drugs. I swear. I just had two close friends who knew I didn’t sleep so they would pick me up and we would drive and listen to either classic rock or the Beasty Boys depending on which friend showed up. We would occasionally have adventures. I repelled from water towers a few times, swam in an abandoned mine shaft that had filled with water, and went into the sewer system to see what it looked like during a few of these late night jaunts. Good times, people. Good times.
In college, as you can imagine, life was more conducive to living happily with my insomnia. There were many other people awake in the middle of the night and I had plenty to do. Coffee shops were a favorite. Driving dirt roads still ranked high on the list. Talking until the wee hours with like-minded friends about politics, life, love, sex and who we would be when we grew up was always a great past time. I also cleaned my house a lot during the night. My room-mate had a boyfriend (OK- a Man friend, since her was 20 years her senior and in the middle of a divorce) and she was with him most of the time. This allowed me to clean with abandon and have long deep conversations with Opal, my soul mate/cat. She got me. She really did. My baseboards sparkled thanks to insomnia and weight loss medications.
When I was 22 I met my wife. BH eased into my life and within a very short period of time became my safe place. She had & still has the best calming energy. I have only met one other person who provides that peace and I plan to keep them both. Anyway, BH came along and I SLEPT! Sometimes it happened at inappropriate times and sometimes with no warning. It was like narcolepsy and I loved it. I also worked 3rd shift during these months so I was pretty much always focused on when I could sleep next. Poor BH thought she bored me to sleep until I explained the insomnia and then she wore my sleep like a badge of honor. She never asked about it much. She rarely made it a big deal but she loved that she provided me with whatever mojo she had that knocked me out faster than a dose of Tylenol pm, and without that nasty hangover.
BH’s mojo lasted until we had GC1. BH sleeps so soundly that I would have to wake her to feed the baby and then wake her again to put the baby back to bed. She sometimes wakes from her deep sleep/jealousy inducing coma with a fairly violent startle. I always stayed awake and checked on her to make sure she didn’t startle and huck the baby across the room from her rocking chair. I would often find them in crazy positions half undressed but both soundly sleeping in the chair. I love these memories. It gave me the opportunity to be a part of that late night bonding even though BH was the one providing the nourishment.
I had finally found a good dose of the right drugs to provide a decent amount of sleep while not turning me into a zombie when we decided to get pregnant again. Out went the drugs and back came the sleeplessness. I slept on Sundays. My body would just shut down and I would often spend the entire day asleep either in my bed, or on the couch. The rest of the week was usually a haze of work, childcare and sleepless nights where I tried not to freak out about everything from finances to birth defects. It wasn’t all bad though. I also imagined GC2 and tried to get a sense of who she was. I knew she would be demanding because she was kicking my ass as a fetus and I was afraid it would get more intense once she entered our world. I tried to prepare myself. I decided on paint colors for her room and picked things I thought would soothe her. I made lists. I wandered the house and attempted to find comfort on various pieces of furniture. I knew this behavior is fairly common for pregnant women so I just owned it and rolled with the flow. I made lists, I wrote stories, I listened to NPR pod casts.
Once GC2 arrived, I knew this insomnia issue was about to get worse. She is the lightest sleeper on the planet. She seems to a pretty sensitive person (who are we kidding, she’s HIGHLY sensitive) and is very affected by teething, congestion, hunger or hell, chirping birds. She and I have spent many a night in a rocking chair while I hold her so she will sleep. While she sleeps skin to skin on my chest, I stare at the wall. I may get frustrated by this sometimes, but mostly I just handle it. I get it. I hope I provide her with that safe space that allows sleep amidst growth and development. She’s the last baby I will have so I will hold her little shirtless little self through the night until she is embarrassed by the thought of it.
This all gets us to where we are today. Once I quit nursing GC2 (Or pumping since the little she beast would never latch appropriately), I could start taking sleep meds again. I refused to take Ambien because of an unfortunate incident that included the drug, me passing out and acting weird and BH having to watch me breathe all night to assure herself I wasn’t about to die. I took OTC sleep aid. A quarter of the recommended dose worked well for a while. Then it didn’t work so well. Instead of upping the dose, I quit taking anything in hopes of being able to sleep on my own. This hypothesis that maybe I was cured of insomnia has turned out to be a poor one at best and I have spent the last few months awake & sleep deprived or napping. And pissed off about it. Did I mention pissed off?
Recently I decided to go back to the herbal remedies that failed me in my younger days and give them a chance to redeem themselves. I had an herbalist make a tea blend that will supposedly help me sleep and calm me down a bit. I’m pretty sure it contains eye of newt and bat wings and it tastes wretched. Also, even though I swallow this vile swill, I’m still not sleeping. Valerian gave me nightmares and melatonin was the insomniacal equivalent of spitting into the wind. Stupid and pointless.
As soon as we have get an alarm system Caroline can’t escape through, I’m going back on drugs. If I have to put ankle monitors on everyone in the house, Earth Momma is getting some sleep. Until then, I have become a fan of TED Talks & This American Life. I've also started doing a bit of writing again. Call me sometime. I’m sure I’ll be awake.
Ambien & Eyes of Newt,