Monday, 13 October 2008

How do you wake up from a nightmare if you’re not asleep?

The title of this post is the tagline for The Machinist, and it is a very good question indeed.

Unlike Christian Bale’s character in the film, my insomnia didn’t last a year. Had it done so, I would probably be dead. And, not having seen the film, I don’t know what steps the character takes to cure it.

Insomnia is now buried in my past, though I sometimes have difficulty sleeping. But there’s a huge difference between lying awake for a few hours, turning the light back on, then reading another chapter before finally crashing out, and not actually sleeping at all. Well, except for maybe two or three hours one night in four.

By which point you have discovered that a warm bath wakes you up, lavender smells atrocious, alcohol gives you headaches, sleeping pills don’t work, a night-time walk is dangerous, and any work you attempt at 4am -- having been encouraged by people who wish they slept less -- the next day turns out to be rubbish.

And during those daytime days you look terrible, you loose co-ordination, your voice sounds awful, you drag yourself around like a mixed sack of coal and scrap metal, you forget things you should do and imagine things you don't have to do, as well as occasionally hallucinating.

All is beyond a struggle. The vacuum cleaner is so heavy you can’t even use it, and all you want is sleep. You are so TIRED. And each night, completely exhausted, you crash in to bed ... but DON’T SLEEP.

Then you discover there are devices especially designed for your condition that are categorically proven to work. You LOVE the auditory glory of nature, so you order, and anxiously await delivery of, a sound machine, more luxuriously known as a sound conditioner.

(Like a sleepless night, this post goes on and on.)

You plug it in at your bedside, and feel like an old person. There is nothing cool about this beige plastic thing. However, there are important choices to make. Will you sleep better to the sound of a lake lapping on the shore, waves crashing on a beach, a babbling brook, Niagara Falls, or cute little crickets accompanied by croaking frogs?

But lo, you are soon yanked from the lakeside as you recognise the pattern of the water lapping on the shore. The waterfall’s tap is shut off as it re-loops, just for a nanosecond -- but you know exactly when it’s coming. You are wide-awake, and doomed to a life of insomnia.

You rest your head on the pillow and listen to hours and hours of crickets and croaking frogs. The glass windows break. You are surrounded by tall grass, your feet slipping on slimy, frog-covered ground. You swipe cat-sized insects away from your face, slithering to escape a gigantic monster, ready to whip its tongue around your neck.

You wake up screaming. Oh, happy day! Nightmares are so much sweeter than no sleep at all.


Caryn Caldwell said...

Oh, I HATE insomnia. I once went an entire year with insomnia almost every single night. I would fall asleep after 30 minutes to an hour, then wake up around two or three in the morning. I'd finally fall asleep again around five or six, just in time to get up at six-thirty. It was terrible. And the less I slept the more desperate I got, which of course didn't help at all.

Catherine J Gardner said...

Looks like a good movie.

I haven't had real insomnia, but I don't tend to sleep for more than a few hours without waking up - and it takes forever to get to sleep.

Mary said...

Caryn - I sympathise. When you have that level of insomnia, you don’t know how you are going to survive. And the anxiety makes sleep even more of a challenge. It becomes such a viscous circle.

Cate - these days, I usually fall asleep quite quickly, but wake up half-an-hour later, then take ages to get to sleep again.

Perhaps there is a connection between insomnia and writing.

Natalie L. Sin said...

I listen to "thunderstorm." When my old machine broke, I went nuts trying to find a new one that had the same feature.

Mary said...

Natalie - “thunderstorm” sounds great! I’d like to hear “earthquake”, too. The makers of these machines focus too heavily on the soft side of nature.

Whirlochre said...

I have a programmable animatronic Addams Family hand I leave in an old biscuit tin under the bed.

At the moment, it's the only thing standing between me and a plot to kidnap Brian Eno.

Mary said...

Whirl - gosh, old biscuit tins do come in handy. Will there be room in there for Eno?

Conduit said...

I've suffered periods of insomnia since I was twelve. If I may flatter us all for a moment: People with higher than average intelligence and creative minds are more prone to it than others. One of the things I hate most is that other people, including doctors, rarely take it seriously. Going to your GP about insomnia is an exercise in futility.

I think my longest stretch without any sleep at all (and I mean zilch, not a wink) was just under two weeks when I quit smoking. I remember bumping into someone I knew in the street and starting to chat, and she started backing away with an odd expression on her face. It was then I realised I'd been blathering incoherently for several minutes without stopping. Another good 'un was walking across a quiet street, realising there was a car bearing down on me, jumping to safety, and then realising there was no car there at all and I had imagined it.

Yep, insomnia is a tricksy beast. I haven't had a bad spell for two or three years now, thank God.

Mary said...

Stuart - I think you are right about the correlation between intelligent, creative minds and insomnia.

And I’ve had exactly that same experience when crossing a road. I also imagined people walking in and out of the room, and even spoke with them on occasion!

Hope you remain in your insomnia-free stage. :)