You haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced insomnia. As in, really felt the darkest, loneliest, nothingness core of existence that really only strikes around 4am when sleep eludes and sunrise is an hour away.
As in, descended to such a pit of wall-punching, stomach-clawing despair, and then risen again as the currawongs emit their forlorn caw, thoroughly aware of every fibre of yourself, the person next to you, the neighbours, and, in fact, all of humanity. Honestly, I feel closer to insomniacs than good sleepers because of the shared experience of this particular despair.
I’ve been an insomniac since I was 21. Actually, I was eight when I first became scared of the night – not of the dark, but of the task of switching gears to sleep. When I was 21 insomnia sent me mad. I was living in Santa Cruz, California, and….oh, there were things going on…and I wound up spending five months grabbing no more than 3-4 hours a night. They were the good nights.
Most nights it was a 15 minute snatch of delirium around 5am. Fifteen minutes in which I was able to give in to the night. Or, rather, the dawn. It was anyone’s – God’s? – guess as to whether I even got that snatch. I was at the mercy of…God? Fate?
This kind of vulnerability is particular to insomnia. You’re imprisoned, defenceless. You can’t control your destiny. You’re denied the freedom to “turn on sleep”. And why? A reason doesn’t seem to exist. And so it all seems so unfair.
At 4am you oscillate between anger (“This is unfair”) and grief (“I must have done something terribly wrong to deserve this”) and loneliness (“What am I missing? What handbook to life didn’t I get???”).
The extent of the madness back when I was 21 is for another story. Suffice to say at the end of the five months I no longer functioned and George, a loved one, came to collect me and take me home. I got my first auto-immune disease off the back of this, actually.