I’m convinced that one day soon I will reach a point where I’m not coming home exhausted, and be able to spend lots of time and lucid thought on some kind of writing… I’m not sure what that will look like, but it must come someday.
Last night, I put on my Law & Order DVD after 1am and fell asleep on the couch – aiming to wake at 7:30am. It’s a good series, because it distracts my brain enough to help me fall asleep without hassle (never an easy thing), but it’s not so distracting that I end up dreaming about homicide detectives. It also loops itself. When the episodes are finished and it goes back to the home menu, after a minute on the menu it just ends up playing all the episodes again. This is great, since the 30-sec stab of theme music in most DVD home menus, when experienced in endless repeat, will most definitely wake me up. I know this because… well… DVDs and a few snatched hours on the couch has pretty much been the whole of January so far. I think I’ve only spent one night in an actual bed this whole year. Nobody knows this but Rob and I… and now you.
It’s not that we’re fighting or anything. It’s not that I don’t want to fall asleep with my husband. On nights when I get home a bit earlier, I actually tend to fall asleep on my husband. I just need sleep to be functional right now. I need my busy brain to shut up. And the peace and quiet of a darkened bedroom at 2am will just see my thoughts spiralling towards the ceiling while I lie awake too long. Every minute is too precious for that. Instead I sleep like a soldier: in short shifts and partially upright.
It’s never been easy for me to sleep – especially when it’s too quiet. Through summer camps and sleep-overs as a child, even when classmates claimed that they would toss and turn for hours, in fact everyone else would be locked in slumber long before I ever succumbed. I was always the last person asleep.
It’s not that I’m lacking in some level of fatigue – I can be bone-tired and yet, when I hit that cool, cotton pillowcase, I would still lie awake for an hour or two while my mind wound down.
Over the years, I developed many tricks to bring on sleep – the DVDs are just the latest. I would do crosswords or play solitaire on my phone. I used to read until my eyes would burn and water – there have been nights when I read until I fell unconscious on the page, mid-sentence, but the light will wake me up again in three or four hours. I have broken the backs of many books by catching them between the mattress and the headboard.
My best trick was to occupy my brain with something in order to slow it down. I have designed whole planets while lying there in the dark. I have invited historical figures to dinner and attempted to explain post-modernism to them (I once tried to discuss the rights of man with Jefferson, Kennedy and Clinton, but all they did was hit on me).
My quickest and most efficient way to fall asleep used to be thinking about sex. I suppose sex sent me to sleep because it is warm and comforting, and yet strenuous. It follows a certain pattern – it can be repetitive – and yet is interesting enough that my brain will not wander onto another subject. When I was tired, sex put me to sleep in the same way that coffee put me to sleep – it formed a temporary over-stimulation, followed by a crash of exhaustion. It worked like a charm.
Except then it stopped. He-who-should-not-be-named took that process away from me more than 10 years ago. When I tried to fantasize, the memory of him would come and sit on my chest like an incubus. He got in the way.
He would probably have liked that allusion – to be compared to an incubus. He was always into werewolf movies. I suppose that should’ve been a warning of a kind. The fundamental premise of the werewolf movie is one of change. While no one is looking, the man turns into the monster. Then, after wreaking havoc, he turns back into a man and wonders why everyone is suddenly so scared. It wasn’t his fault; he doesn’t remember any of it; you must be crazy…
Damn werewolves. Stealing my sleep. Leaving scars and terror and just loping away all bloody and free. Looking so innocent…
I genuinely don’t think of him anymore, but the tactic is still lost. That was actually how I ended up moving onto crosswords: to distract myself away from crying all the time.
The crosswords took too long though. So they moved into phone games. And then just TV. Screens at bedtime are meant to be so bad for you… but lack of sleep is surely worse. And the crying – the crying – it was always more chasm than catharsis. It made me feel endlessly imperiled.
So now I just don’t think of it anymore. And through the lack of thought I have found other paths to sleep… Like a soldier. Dreaming of anything but the pain.