Insomnia is a nasty disease or a vicious symptom.
To misquote the movie Fight Club, when you don’t sleep you’re never really awake either. It certainly feels true. I’ve suffered from sleep problems for many years in the form of sleepwalking, talking, kicking, hitting and other restless symptoms but the past five years have visited on me a hailstorm of sleepless nights.
It’s not that I don’t sleep at all. Studies have shown that your brain starts throwing off distress signals like hallucinations when you stop sleeping completely. I do something that feels more pernicious and mean. At my worst, I only sleep for a few hours at a time. This is worse than not sleeping at all because I expect to sleep and run through a gamut of unpleasant emotions when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep.
Frequently the dominant emotion is anger, sometimes even aimed at whomever is sleeping around me. I also get angry because in my sleep deprived state I can’t seem to focus enough to get anything productive done. And, I have a huge thing about being productive. My deranged psyche is based on what I get accomplished in a day. And, it’s not like I’m cleaning my kitchen or organizing my art supplies at 4 a.m. Invariably I end up curled in the fetal position on the couch watching one of my sleepy movies — movies I play at bedtime whose opening monologues help me fall asleep — desperately clinging to my dwindling hopes I can fall back to sleep.
I’ve found there are stages of my sleeplessness. It starts with sleepwalking. Next comes sleepwalking with eating. We know I eat because of the telltale colored drool on my pillow and the remnants of my snacking littering the house. After that comes waking between 3 and 5 a.m. Why 3-5 a.m? Your guess is as good as mine and maybe even better. After that comes the most damaging step, waking and not going back to sleep. In the past this has been the point where I’ve landed in the hospital. There I tend to confuse and astound psychiatrists with my extensive knowledge of psychopharmacology and physical resistance to drugs meant to put grown cows into comas.
Deep in my cycle, I’m struggling to maintain a mood that would be described as not cranky. On Tuesday, I was awake since 4:18 am. On Tuesday night, the bearded gentleman and I made the decision for me to move to a different bedroom thinking a change in light and noise might make a difference. It did and I slept through the night. I woke up Wednesday with optimism and spent a whole day simply enjoying the energy one night had produced. But it’s an ongoing fight and last night I tossed and turned. Eventually, I remanded myself back to our bedroom just to be near the bearded gentleman as he slept. Oddly, I didn’t check the time. It’s a reflex to note the time since the longer the cycle goes on, the weirder my Bermuda Triangle waking times seems.
Plus I’m gathering data for the next neurologist to cross my path. My favorite neurologist thus far was a kind man and sincerely wanted to help. But he had no idea what was going on with me. He looked at me quite sincerely and said “it’s complicated”. That missive was more than I could handle. I broke out into hysterical giggles which is a symptom of my exhaustion. In my last hospitalization, I was so overtired that I would bust into giggles at inappropriate moments. I frequently had to excuse myself from therapy groups because it’s just not right or socially acceptable — and there are social rules on psychiatric units — to be giggling while someone else is talking over their pain. I was so loud at times that a nurse would come check on me. It was so unfunny that, in my head, it became funny and I would start all over again.
Insomnia is frequently where psychology, art, and my life begin to overlap. Tuesday, I was tired and feeling out of touch with my body and brain. In our kitchen, as I building a cup of coffee I noticed a large box of Crayola chalk that the bearded gentleman got for me recently. I hadn’t used them yet because I hadn’t identified the perfect surface to color. I don’t want to piss the neighbors off too much and some of the more secluded sidewalks aren’t ideal surfaces for the soft chalk. But Tuesday, because I was so tired my crazy is started to show just a touch. I parked my car outside the car port and swept the stained parking space. I did research online and drew sketches. Then I played on the smooth gray and black surface. I’ve never worked in chalk outside of playing with Mini-me.
Yesterday evening, I set about a new project. A new friend has a stepdaughter who is turning two next week. For her birthday present, I made a black, dark pink, and light pink tutu with black embellishments. I don’t have any little girls in my life so doing a girly project was a treat. I’m thinking of making myself one for Halloween. Another perk of being eccentric is that you can always dress up for Halloween with no excuse.
These were my art therapy for the day. I’m pretty much running my own damn psychiatric unit. All I’m missing is endless juice cups. I’ve observed in hospitals that art therapy isn’t therapeutic for everyone. Some people are daunted by art the way I’m daunted by math. Often they seem to think that there are rules or it has to be perfect. Neither is really true. Especially on a psychiatric floor. During one hospitalization, another patient appointed me her collage tutor and would only work on her project in my presence.
I try to keep her in mind as I embark on my artistic whims. Especially when I’m in this diluted state, it’s important to enjoy the process and enjoy the play. Enjoyment is really what mental illness and insomnia steal from you. It’s my goal to enjoy as much as I can. I’m positive that, even cranky and miserable, I can enjoy smearing jewel tones across pavement or creating a pretty little something.