Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Every now and then a journalist will ask me to reflect on a topic and then, for whatever reason, my thoughts are not quite germane to the story finally written and my words are swept aside. A few weeks later I'll remember the hours I put into answering the question and think, well, What are blogs for?
Or this one, anyway.
And so today I share with you some thoughts I'd put together about what ultimately saved me from a terrifying bout of insomnia. I share this because sleep—its challenges, its blessings—binds us all, and because perhaps this will be helpful to one or two souls out there.
Many years ago, I struggled with a terrifying bout of insomnia. I would go days without sleep, then catch but an hour or so before the cycle would begin again. I was a thin sheet of glass, always on the verge of fracture, and this went on for weeks, indeed months. Desperate, long nights of no resolve. Ridiculous home cures that did nothing but exacerbate the panic. Useless doctor appointments. It was as if adrenaline, and adrenaline alone, coursed through my veins, non-stop. Nothing seemed big enough to stop it. I was surprised, at the end of each day, that I was still alive.
You can’t really survive something like that. You can’t let it continue. From an utterly exhausted place, I had to find a cure.
And so I began to ask myself What if? What if those desperate nights were actually gifts? What if that moon was meant for me, and the night songs, and the play of shadows? What if I simply hadn’t been seeing what I should have been seeing all along? What if I stopped using that word “insomnia”—stopped trying to force myself to sleep, stopped looking at night as a curse? What if I re-purposed night, if only for a little while?
I made the decision, I’m saying, to move from despair to a sense of near expectancy. I began (at first with great deliberation but, quite quickly, with ease) to look forward to the night, and not to fear it. I began to think of myself as being not at war, but on a soulful quest. I started writing poems in those dark hours, something I had not done for years. I started, calmly, to think about metaphors—until I became eager to find them. I listened for music (outside my window, and in my own poem-making head) and settled, peacefully, into the sounds. And the funniest thing is that, once I’d decided to make use of those long nights, the nights became shorter—almost instantly. I’d settle in to watch the moon through a downstairs window, take out a pen to work on a poem and the next thing I knew it would be dawn. I had—miraculously—slept. Yes, I had a line or two of a poem beside me. But I had slept as well, for a couple hours at a time, and this was the beginning of my road back to health.