It’s 10 o’clock in the evening you’re tired and having not slept much the night before you’re convinced that you’re going to sleep like a log. You climb into bed but you’re too tired to read so you turn out the light. As you wait for sleep to come and carry you off into oblivion the realisation that it’s not happening slowly dawns and after changing position a few time you’re suddenly wide awake. This can’t be happening – how is it possible?
The following day is a mess. A constant sense of disconnection and tension runs throughout the body combining with total exhaustion to generate feelings of irritation, anxiety and depression. Your mind feels scattered and it takes all your energy to focus on the simplest of tasks. By lunch time you’re at your wits end. It seems that everyone else is full of energy but by late afternoon you’ve found some inner resource and you make it to the end of the day. To your horror the same thing happens again that night and then again, and then again. Eventually you’re convinced you’re losing your mind, that you’re ageing prematurely and the tiredness you feel inside is there on your face for all to see.
In the early hours of the morning when everything and everyone seems to be asleep. Everything that is except you. You believe you’re the only one in the universe unable to sleep and this is a desperately lonely experience. In fact feeling alone is probably the pre-dominant feeling when living with insomnia. If you have a partner chances are they sleep like a baby and this, of course, further amplifies your torment.
At some point you decide to take action and frantic trips to the doctors soon arm you with various pills beginning with ‘Z’ or ‘X’ but you find they make little difference and leave you with side effects that leave you feeling edgy and polluted.
By now everything feels polluted and increasingly stressful. Your work, your family, your relationships. You keep on going through sheer determination but because it doesn’t appear to be an illness and you have no visible injuries you don’t feel you can complain and that keeping it to yourself is the best option. Besides who would understand?
Next stop is the herbalist, followed by acupuncture, massage and hypnotherapy. Each work initially but eventually you’re back to square one. As you hop from therapist to therapist a well-meaning friend suggests it might be best to stick to one treatment at which point you explode and they experience the full brunt of your frustrations.
To the background of whale song and the scent of lavender you desperately search for that hidden pathway into the lost kingdom of sleep. Wearily you leaf, dry and swollen eyed, through the various leaflets you’ve gathered offering numerous techniques that promise to help with insomnia, all of which you’ve yet to try. Money is running low so you need to tread cautiously.
One of these leaflets came through your door years ago and has been en-route to the recycling ever since but some how it managed to avoid the pulping machines and as such has made its way from pile to pile. Smoothing out the crumpled and stained paper you read about an ‘Opening the heart’ workshop held at a local Buddhist centre. Whilst the workshop has long since passed you feel drawn to the theme, particularly since insomnia has left your heart feeling like a bedraggled and frightened bird. You find yourself googling the centre and discover they have ongoing workshops around similar topics at reasonable costs. Something inside stirs and gingerly flutters its tired wings.
Something about the language used in the books you subsequently buy on Amazon tunes you into a different attitude to the lack of sleep you so desperately crave. Now, instead of tossing and turning in the anguished hope that sleep is just around the corner, you break the rhythm of despair with stillness. Just stillness. In the darkness you observe your breath as it enters your body and as it exits. You observe your body as it lies there. You observe the darkness and you notice the thoughts ‘I want to sleep!!’ and then let it go. However, shortly after that you chase after it, grab hold of it and lose yourself in the restless war on sleeplessness. More and more, though, you’re able to come back to detaching from the frustrations and the pain of ‘no sleep’.
Slowly you wake up to the understanding that you are not insomnia. Insomnia is painful and you are not this pain. You become more interested in the Buddhist notion that the purpose of life is to wake up, to become conscious. After another slumber-less night you reason, “If this is the purpose of life you can forget it!!” But eventually you learn to be kinder to your tired body and your weary mind. You notice your clawing mind desperate for sleep and you begin to forgive your unsleepable-self. Sometimes this illuminates the way back to the mysterious kingdom of sleep even only for a brief visit.
It’s an odd parable but could it be that through the terrible and debilitating experience of insomnia we could actually learn how to wake up?