It's 3:30 in the morning. I can't sleep. I took a pill at 11:30 p.m. to knock me out but it did no good, so I took another half of one 30 minutes ago. I'm waiting for Morpheus, god of dreams. Meanwhile I'm writing and humming the theme from Valley of the Dolls.
This has been going on for two weeks. I've never had insomnia in my life. Indeed, I inherited from my father the talent of falling asleep under almost any circumstance.
I did my clinical training in the early '90s at a facility in the mountains of Northern California. Part of its philosophy was that people undergoing crisis got better when they were amid beauty. This was a former ranch, and a few cattle still roamed the premises, fenced off from the cabins in which clients and staff resided.
One night I awoke when my roommate -- a deaf staffer who could almost tolerate my snoring -- shook me wildly. I was very annoyed until I realized that a bull was trying to butt his head through the wall of the cabin. I'd slept through the racket that awoke the deaf guy.
In college, I was on a flight to New Haven. Lightning hit the tiny prop plane and required an emergency landing. As soon as I realized what was going on, I went to sleep.
No money to pay the overdue bills? Take a nap. Relationship falling apart? Zzzzzzzz. Hate your job? Yawn! I always dreamed and, yes, the world always looked better when I awakened.
So, considering my history, I'm shocked to suddenly be suffering insomnia. At first I attributed it to anxiety over my mother's death about six weeks ago. Initially, there were dreams that awakened me, including a repetitive one.
In the dream, a patio door opened at sunset. I heard lawn mowers running and smelled freshly cut grass. Coming through the door was a child, just old enough to walk, with a pacifier in his mouth, wearing a nylon parka. I recognized the child as myself from a picture I'd seen in my mother's room when she was dying.
The dream overwhelmed me with sadness. The child was looking for his mother, who was not to be found. But, more generally, there was the sense of an entire lost world -- the world of childhood, of the suburbs, the sound of mowers run in the early evening when fathers came home from their jobs. There was that sweet smell of grass. The dream made me cry each night.
But I fell back on my pillow, feeling the loss of the world of the mother and, as usual, fell asleep. Was the pacifier in the child's mouth a bitter anodyne? He showed no distress. I told myself: We are forever that child coming through the door in search of loving arms. The more we know death, the greater our hunger for love grows.
So I fell asleep, often with the image of the child curled against me, a totem from a nightmare that somehow pacified me.
"How could a nightmare pacify you?" a friend asked.
I pontificated: "Aristotle said that he loved Plato but he loved the truth more." And I pontificated further: "Maybe, like Keats, I have -- after seeing so much death -- fallen 'half in love with easeful death.' Death is truer than love, isn't it? Bitter but true!"
So I slept.
And then one night I stopped sleeping for the first time ever. I did not awake in anxiety. I did not awake in a dream. My body simply awoke and could not seem to become still. My mind wanted to sleep, so I could not read anything of substance. After two weeks, I did some research on the Internet and realized the insomnia was probably the result of finally tapering off a drug I'd been given after surgery on my knees months ago. As usual, doctors gave me no warning.
There is physical exhaustion, of course. But most of all there is the absence of Morpheus. Without my nightly absorption in those terrible but consoling images -- like the sight of myself as a motherless two-year-old -- the day world seems soulless. In such a mood, you look at a flower and have no sense that it looks back at you, as it does in a life rich in dreams. Language rarely consoles. It stings. So anger flares easily.
The pills help but only physically. They seem to blind the dreaming eye. That many people live years in such a state is a terrifying thought. So I am waiting, impatiently, to reawaken in my dreams.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.
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