my non-sleeping patterns
I haven’t been sleeping so well lately. I stay up too late anyway, finishing up work, trying to get things in before their deadlines. But lately when I finally get to bed, I’ll spend at least thirty minutes lying there, thinking about other things.
When I was a kid my mom told me to write myself stories in my head to fall asleep. I still do this now. I create a situation and then get myself out of it. At slumber parties, when we were supposed to all be asleep, my friends would have me tell them stories to help them fall asleep as well. Because I was sort of embarrassed about it, I would tell them that I would have to fall asleep first so that I could tell them the dream as it was happening. Part of this was because I knew that if they thought I was awake they’d argue my story, or request different outcomes. I just wanted my story the way that I wanted it, so I’d fake this half-trance and start talking.
The stories back then were always similar. We were all trapped in the school late at night with the boys that we were in love with, and there were bad people or evil teachers chasing us and we’d have to survive. I’d have one of them do something heroic which would make the object of their affection fall for her, or I’d have her rescued by the boy of her dreams. I switched back and forth having the girls and the boys rescue us out of dangerous situations. I would have the people in our class that we didn’t like get killed in various ways (getting chopped in half by two desks rammed together, electrocuted by the announcement speaker, locked in the gym closet until they clawed their fingertips off) and then we’d be the last ones standing. Just us and the boys we wanted to love us so badly. When one of them wasn’t needed for a plot, I’d send her and the boy she wanted into an empty classroom, and just let her imagination take over from there. We were all very brave and strong and knew just what we wanted. Who knew that if I had written those down I could be Kevin Williamson?
I still do it now, and it always makes me feel silly for the hero-worship stories that I create in my head. Always impossible or improbable situations that I’d get out of because I’m smart and have smart friends. In the end, the right couples are always standing together, arms around each other, as they watch the imprisoning building burst into flames before them, just as they’ve escaped.
Sometimes these stories would creep into my dreams. This was the original plan. I had nightmares all the time as a kid, and the stories would keep my mind off being afraid to fall asleep. When they got worse in college, a professor told me how to teach myself to lucid dream. During the day you’re supposed to remind yourself that you are awake, and not asleep, so that in a dream you could recognize when you were actually dreaming, and calm down and realize it wasn’t real.
It didn’t work so well for me, and what would happen is that I’d be very aware in a dream that I was dreaming, but this thing was so terrible and horrible that it was going to still be there when I woke up.
I have the same city appear in my dreams quite often. The same house. I’ve never been to this place in real life, but I recognize it in my dreams. There was only one time that I became aware that I was dreaming, and took control. I was running from that house, and I was running so hard that I felt that I was going to fall forward. I looked at my hands (this is what they tell you to do when you’re awake, to remind yourself what your hands look like when you’re awake), and I knew I was dreaming. I’ve never felt this before or since, but this calm washed over me. I knew that I was dreaming this terrible thing and all I had to do was leap over it into the next dream.
That’s just what I did. I took a big jump, soared over all of the bad stuff, and landed into a new dream.
I woke up very proud of myself.
I’ve never been able to do that again, even when I knew I was dreaming and knew how great it was the last time I jumped myself out of a bad dream. These days I’ll sometimes wake up and just lay there in the dark, wondering if I’m still dreaming or not, wondering if I’m still in the nightmare. I’ll terrify myself because I can no longer remember who is in my bed. I can’t remember where my bed is. I don’t know where my parents are. I can’t find my sister. And it’s dark and I can’t move.
This has worsened lately because Cal’s new thing is to sit by the bed all night waiting for me to make a move. If I toss or turn or even move my hand to pull it from under the covers– he leaps onto the bed and bites. Hard. Last night he attacked my foot and it jolted me so quickly from my sleep that I thought I was being attacked by a bear.
I don’t want to lock him out of the room, as the master bathroom has the kitty litter and the kitchen has the food. I don’t want to punish Taylor (under the bed is one of his favorite hiding places) for something that Cal has taken up as a hobby. But I can’t sleep peacefully anymore.
Eric moves in his sleep, he talks in his sleep, and sometimes he strikes out. One time I was dead asleep and caught his fist before it got near my head. Like a ninja. I guess my body just stays very aware of my surroundings when I’m supposed to be asleep.
If I’m by myself I have an even harder time falling asleep. I check the alarm clock over and over. The shadows on the ceiling look like people standing outside my window. The clothes on the floor are filled with insects. There’s a fire in the kitchen and I don’t know about it and I’m going to have to run outside in my underwear.
I keep a spare set of clothes by the bed since I was fifteen for that very reason.
Lately I’ve been up thinking about how it was just a year ago that Lillith was very sick, and we didn’t have much time left with her, even though we didn’t know that. I think about my family, and how I don’t see them often enough. I think about the choices they’re making, how I’m proud of my father, how I worry about my sister. I think of my distant family, and how they seem so far away. I think about what’s going to happen to me, if I’m making mistakes, if I’m making a huge mistake by moving. I think about how I didn’t finish something I wanted to get done. I think about HTML. I think about music and songs and lyrics and then I think about things that I like (I try and think of funny things that happened recently, so I can calm down). If I just performed that night, I’ll go over the show or the scene minute by minute, trying to fix what I did wrong in my head, trying to figure out what to improve. If I have a show coming up or I’m working on a script, I keep writing and directing in my head. I work things out and remind myself to remember them in the morning. Sometimes I start writing entries. I do anything I can to distract myself from the bad dreams, the bad thoughts, the things that make me wake up in the middle of the night.
My paranoia takes over when it’s time for me to go to sleep. I don’t like sleeping, not really. If I’m exhausted, sure, I love to sleep. But the best time for me, the time I get the most restful sleep, is that period between six in the morning and noon. The early-morning light is soothing. The house is cooled down. The cats are quiet. I know that I’m not late for anything. I didn’t forget to do anything. I’m just asleep and it’s the morning and everything is okay. It’s quiet. It’s safe.
I find myself staying up later and later to try and reach that time when it’s okay to sleep. For the past two weeks I’m averaging about four hours of sleep a night. I know this isn’t enough sleep. I know that I’m damaging myself. I can’t seem to help it. If I force myself to get in my bed earlier, I stay awake thinking of things I could be doing. If I take Kava Kava or something to help me sleep, I can’t wake up in the morning, and the next day I end up groggy until the afternoon. Also, whenever I take a sleep aid I have a tendency to sleepwalk, or have long conversations with someone who doesn’t know that I’m completely asleep.
I tried talking about all of this once, to a professor, to someone I trusted early on in my college years. After talking to him for two hours, I went to his office hours a month later to talk again, because he had given me some advice (I wanted to ask more about lucid dreaming). He didn’t remember me. He didn’t remember our conversation. I felt really stupid. And yeah, he’s got hundreds of students, and what should make me so special, but it’s this very reason why I’ve never gone into therapy.
I’ve thought about it several times. But it’s a hang-up of mine. I feel like I already know what the therapist will say. I feel like it’ll be that whole “It’s not your fault” thing from Good Will Hunting and I’m supposed to cry and hug and have this big break-through and I’m supposed to be all changed. I know it doesn’t work that way. I just don’t know how it’s going to help. Every time I’ve reached out to someone who wasn’t a friend or a loved one, it’s bitten me hard.
When I was sixteen I had just carved into my skin. I was sad and scared and felt terrible. I was still holding the lighter and safety pin I had used as I opened the phone book to find a number to call. I finally found one that sounded good. I called the number and hung up three times before I decided to just give a fake name and tell the hotline person my story and ask for help.
The hotline had been disconnected.
And I felt, yeah, maybe I’m just supposed to deal on my own. That’s why the teachers shy away from my stories. That’s why people pretend they don’t hear me (I actually had someone pretend they didn’t hear me). That’s why people tell me that they don’t believe me, or that I’m making stories up to sound more interesting. That’s why they forget who I am, or leave me. Why would I pay to just be another person bitching about problems?
I’m jealous of the people that get positive things from therapy. But I’m worried I’d be one of those people that starts every sentence with “My therapist says,” or just gets loaded up on all sorts of medication to try and make me like everyone else. There’s that Slavic part of me that thinks, “My parents didn’t have to go to therapy. Their parents weren’t ever diagnosed with a personality disorder. Everyone has problems. Deal with your own problems.”
But the sleeping thing, that comes back all of the time. And it’s when I’m going through my bad periods of insomnia, which always happen around August and September, that’s when I start breaking down and thinking about asking again for help.
I think it’s August and September because that was always the time I was moving or starting a new school or going back to school again. It was a very stressful time every year, being the new kid, wondering if they were going to like me, if I was going to like the school. And now every year around this time I get this knot of anxiety that doesn’t go away. I get hyper-sensitive. I start over-analyzing everything. And part of me goes, “Just don’t worry about it.” But I can only do that to things that directly affect me. I can put off buying a new car. I can put off working on my new project. I can put off looking for a new apartment or moving halfway across the country. I can talk myself out of stressful things. But that just leaves room for my head to torture itself on the things I have no control over. The things that are in the future that I physically can’t deal with right now no matter how much I wanted to.
Know that I’m not proud of any of this, by the way. It’s a part of me that I really don’t like talking about. I don’t like being afraid to fall asleep.
But Cal attacking me in my sleep and having Eric move around and make me terrified that a stranger has entered my bed is just making things worse. I know this will all pass come October, but until then it’s exhausting. And as much as I can convince myself that maybe it’s time I finally did something about it, maybe it’s time to finally see someone and talk and talk and talk until I break down and cry and Robin Williams holds me close I know that I won’t feel right doing it. I’ll feel like I’m doing it to please other people who think it’s a good idea. I’ll be doing it just to see if it’s going to work, and walking in with the “you can’t help me” attitude is only going to make things harder. I know that. I’m smart enough to know that.
So for now, I’ll probably stay up too late, read too much, work too hard, and wait for the summer to end so I can sleep again. When my body calms down and I let myself take a break. When my mind doesn’t think that people are coming to get me.
When there’s peace. And rest.
And when I feel like I’m home again.