It is a horrible habit of mine—this waking up almost every night at 2:30 a.m. to stare at the ceiling fan churning slowly over my bed, feeling the cool whoosh, whoosh drift over my face. My best friend told me to always go to sleep with the ceiling fan running so that I could imagine it whisking my worries away. “It will help you sleep,” she advised me, being something of a middle of the night insomniac herself.
Insomnia has always dogged me to some degree. But it didn’t start to get really bad until the last weeks of my pregnancy. The inability to ever get comfortable kept me awake, Heidi kicking my abdomen but only after dark, willful even in the womb. I went into new motherhood already sleep deprived.
After my daughter’s birth, insomnia chased me so hard I could read an entire novel in one night because I’d never actually fall asleep, ever mindful, waiting for the middle of the night cry that would call me for a 3 a.m. feeding or a diaper explosion in the bassinet at 4:30. Remember those? The colors and smells would often rival a cat box.
But even once Heidi was sleeping through the night, I wasn’t. I could dream up a million reasons to stay awake or to wake up only three hours after falling asleep and stay awake until the sun rose.
The opportunities for wakefulness are endless….
Is that tech consultant really coming to fix my office network at 8 a.m.? That means before I imbibe Dr. Pepper. That means she’ll be there in the middle of my phone interview with a couple of Georgia cotton farmers. That means I’ll be distracted. And what am I going to talk to them about anyway? Have I done all my research? Do I know what I’m going to ask?
I wish I still didn’t have to write that column in the morning. And pay bills. I must not forget to pay bills. Or schedule interviews for that story on gluten intolerance.
I didn’t lay clothes out for Heidi. What if she dresses herself when she wakes up and puts on pink and black striped pants with an orange Halloween T-shirt, and sparkly Hello Kitty shoes?
And what do I wear? I need to exercise. I don’t exercise enough. Should I do yoga when I wake up? Should I bike before I get Heidi off the bus after school? My bike pants aren’t clean. I need to do laundry. Oh no, tomorrow night is choir practice. I can’t bike before choir. Then I’ll have to take a shower, and that’s one more thing….
I forgot to make Heidi practice the piano. How could I forget? And I didn’t wash her tutu for ballet. If I wash it in the morning, will it dry before practice?
Wonder what that certified letter is I got notice about from the post office? Is someone suing me? And how come that new client hasn’t paid me? Is he going to be a deadbeat? I should never work with startups.
I can’t believe it’s October and the grass still needs mowing. When the heck am I going to do THAT???
And so it goes. By the time 5:30 a.m. rolls around, I have planned out my wardrobe for the week, mentally packed my suitcase for my upcoming vacation, written an entire blog post in my head, and put my boyfriend through Gestalt analysis (and no, he was not present when I did this).
I am exhausted by the mental effort. I fall asleep.
One hour later the alarm goes off, and I feel like Rosie O’Donnell in a wetsuit stuck on the ocean floor at 60 feet.
I hit the snooze button. Three times…
I know it is going to be one of those mornings when I pull jeans on over my boxer shorts and put a sweatshirt on over my T-shirt so no one at the bus stop will be able to tell I’m not wearing a bra.
I pull together some semblance of an outfit for Heidi, whip her hair into shape even though I know it will look like a rat’s nest in five minutes, guaranteeing some kind of mental note on the part of Social Services: Heidi Grimes repeatedly shows up to school with unbrushed hair. Make home visit ASAP.
I have tried chamomile tea. Hot chocolate. Reading books about the hunt for Eichmann or ex-patriot love stories by Henry James. Wine. Benadryl. Meditation. Sliced cucumbers on eyelids.
Sometimes I embrace the wakefulness. I get up, go to the office at 3 a.m., churn out stories by the handfuls, so that by 10 a.m., I feel like I’ve put in a full day. By noon, I will be foggy and nonfunctional.
I can doze at my desk. I can go to sleep while driving. I can drift while folding laundry, boiling eggs, or even mowing grass. But not in bed. Why not in bed?
But then there is this: were it not for lying awake in the middle of the night, I would never have time to think. It is in insomnia that I have my wildest daydreams and stir up the ingredients for making them real. Not that I recommend life planning at 2:30 a.m. anymore than I recommend baking a pie. It’s easy to get the recipe all mixed up when one is hopelessly tired, throwing in three cups of flour instead of three tablespoons.
Therein perhaps lies the beauty though—a fully awake and rational person would never do some of the things I’ve done. And how much of the experience of living might I have missed if clearheaded and cautious thinking always ruled my actions?
So I try to appreciate the butter coconut pie with three cups (instead of three tablespoons) of flour, even if it is a bit dense. Better that life be too full than too empty….