I’ve suffered from insomnia for years. And the truth is, now I’m terrified of bedtime. Unless I’m so drowsy that I know sleep is imminent (a rare occurrence) I dread powering down and entering those small black hours. That’s when my defenses fail: there is no sun to burn off the gloom, no internet and media and television to distract, no urban din and clatter, no friendly faces or voices to accompany and uplift. I’m left alone–completely, hopelessly, cosmically alone–with a ceaseless onslaught of terrible hurts and regrets and self-doubts and anxieties.
Second by second, it’s an avalanche of wide-awake nightmares:
There’s an active shooter at C’s school, and she’s hurt but can’t call for help. M has died in a car crash, and besides my own devastation, I have to break the news to L, and somehow parent her through this. What does it feel like to have your legs blown off in an IED blast–what a goddamn waste of youth and health. It should have been me, and not those soldiers. I should never have failed in the Army. I’m a weakling, always have been. What if I’m not strong enough to survive this bipolar disorder, and wind up killing myself. Helium is the way to go. Displaces oxygen, not messy, and it’s euphoric rather than suffocating and panicky like carbon monoxide is. The whole side fence needs replacing; we have the cash, but it would wipe out our savings. Savings. We have none for L’s college. What’s going to become of her. Please god don’t go into student loan debt. I’m doing my best as a father…I’m really doing my best. I love her SO MUCH. She’s 13 now, is that strong enough to be OK if something happened to me. What’s my cholesterol level. I wonder how much longer I can keep my job. They’ll either fire me for screwing up somehow, or lay me off when circulating print books becomes obsolete. Then what will I do. I have no hard skills. I bet you could buy two or three party-balloon helium tanks from Party City, and open the valves on them while sitting in your car… Would never do that. What a fucked-up thing to do to your loved ones. But there might be circumstances where you’d have to, like being about to be sent to prison for something you didn’t do. I haven’t done anything, and I don’t want to be anally raped. Can you imagine what that feels like. What would happen to our family if one of us lost our jobs, though. Would we be homeless. Where would we go. What about everyone back in Tennessee: I can’t help them, I simply can’t. Shit, stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it. I have to be up in 4 hours. If I go to sleep right now, I can get 3 ½ hours of sleep. OK, 3. Two hours sleep will be OK. Maybe if I cry it’ll exhaust me…
I’ve lived with this longer than I can remember. Fifteen years, at least. For at least 7 of those years, drugs diluted and clouded everything. I think that’s partly what drove me to abuse them in the first place. They make all these loud hateful monkeys in your head lie down and take a nap. But in a terrible irony, the addiction exacerbated everything, of course. So many cycles of highs and lows and withdrawals and horrible sleepless nights of restless legs and aches and nausea and cravings and cold sweats made me deeply averse to a quiet nighttime in a textbook case of classical conditioning. (I won’t even bother trying to describe the psychology of opioid withdrawal, let alone benzodiazepine withdrawal. It is, without exaggeration, beyond description.)
When I recovered from addiction 6 years ago, life in general got SO much better. I’ve been stronger, happier, more functional, and more resilient. But the lifelong bipolar disorder and anxiety, together with the trauma of innumerable sleepless nights of torturous withdrawal, left its scar. So for years I have rushed home after work to collapse into a nap of sheer exhaustion. Which just triggers the whole cycle again. Wash, rinse, repeat.