I’m not sure when that first, long night came. Perhaps in my early twenties. I do know it was uneventful; no specific event had triggered a restless night. The fact that I was in my early twenties meant that when morning came, I could go about my day unaffected by a sleepless night. I was fully insured back then, powered by that bright renewable energy of youth.
Over the years, my sleepless nights have increased, that inner power source, once bright; has dulled. I lie awake not so much tossing and turning, but rather consciously very still. In my awake-ness, I become aware of the warmth and weight of my covers, the play of shadows across my ceiling, the way they run to the corners to gather in inky pools. If the moon is full, it seems as if it is daylight outside, the ground is spotted silver and black, slender birch branches glow. The world outside is engulfed, not in quiet, but rather the sounds on a different frequency. At times I can hear Great Horned owls hooting deep and musically, as loud as a car alarm.
All my senses become heightened, there’s a certain kind of accursed magic that happens during these long, isolating nights that only other insomniacs know.
It’s the days that become problematic. Indeed, it is the impending sunrise that starts that anxious whisper; go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep. As the hours turn over, it becomes a percussionary cadence, in triplets and dotted eighths; GO TO SLEEP, MORNING IS COMING; GO TO SLEEP, MORNING IS COMING. And when morning does come (as it always does) my body is heavy with weariness, words tumble out like fuzzy pebbles, my eyes burn hot and dry. I navigate through my day in a cumbersome day-after-gravity, thinking surely I will sleep soundly tonight! But often times I don’t, and the sleepless nights continue, melting into new blurry, leaden days.
My well-meaning spouse emails me links about cures for insomnia from various professionals, leaves hand cut articles marked in red pen with added notes of encouragement on my night stand. And during those endless nights I listen to him breathe in natural sleepy rhythmus, with both affection and envy.
I have managed to control it somewhat. I do yoga in a quiet, dimly lit space, take hot baths laced with lavender, then anoint myself with scented oils of sandalwood and bergamot. These precautions help, a little.
For the most part though, I have surrendered to the fact that I simply don’t have much control over it. And I am never sure when I will turn into a Nightwalker. I can go many months without any trace of it at all, and then for no good reason, I am visited again.
As I lie awake, I sometimes tick off those who have shared this with me; Lincoln. Van Gough. Mark Twain. Arianna Huffington. Sometimes I wonder at all the other no-names like me who must be looking out at the same moonlit night, listening to the same nocturnal sighs, knowing we will share the same sort of weary next-day. Oddly, this brings me some comfort.
But not any sleep.