I have always bragged about my sleeping habits. If I have any sleeping problems it was because I didn’t have enough time to sleep. I’m also a very, very deep sleeper. Nothing wakes me up. Beer makes me tired. I tried drugs for fun once, I just fell asleep. I don’t really watch movies because I fall asleep. I can sleep 12 hours straight, I wake up to pee and maybe eat, and go right back to sleep, I take daily naps in my noisy, sunny, San Francisco apartment. I often have a coffee, and then go back to sleep.
You get the point.
I “couldn’t sleep” twice ever, both were because I had to be up really early and tried to force myself to sleep. The next day, both times, I was fine, because I knew it was brain playing tricks on me and the next night would be fine, and it always was.
Last week, in bed, on my phone, I had a very mild disagreement with someone in the comments section of a Facebook post. I recognized how dumb that was, and put my phone away. I noticed my throat and jaw close up a little form this interaction, again this was all very mild. This happens to me in traffic or if someone starts talking about Star Wars. If you have been following me, you know that I have this weird tension thing I do that gives me pain in my throat when I am nervous. I found this particular throat tightening interesting, because I was becoming more and more acutely aware of where and how I am allowing stress in my body. It was a good thing; an awareness---a curiosity. But the thought popped up in my head, “That was dumb to do right before bed, it could keep me up!”
I rolled over and noticed I didn’t fall asleep instantly. My throat hurt more. I noticed it more. I felt annoyed at myself. I had to be up early, so I dismissed those thoughts. And about 4 seconds later noticed I STILL haven't fallen asleep! What the fuck!? It was only like 9pm, but I had to be up at 4:30 so I had to go to bed early. I was feeling pulled to look at my phone again, but I knew that was a bad idea. But I was bored laying in bed and thought I would just play on my phone for a few minutes until I felt tired. Two hours later, I still didn’t really feel tired, I was just mad at myself. And I noticed my throat getting tighter. I was thinking “Crap, now I only have like 5 hours left to sleep.”
I got more mad at myself. I rolled over and closed my eyes. I felt my throat clench. I tried to count my breathing. That usually works. I don’t remember anything about how shallow my breath was, coming in or out, I just remember counting quickly, knowing I should make it to sleep before 50. I did notice how comfy I felt. And I used that to shame myself for not having any reason to not fall asleep. I reached 50, and I looked at the clock. Fuck. Like 4 hours. I closed my eyes and fumed. I insisted on sleep, no more counting! I was pissed, but of course, I didn’t fall asleep right away. A watched pot never boils, huh? In about 30 seconds, I realized I have a real problem and I can’t sleep. I turned on guided meditation. And it ended. I turned on Audible with the sleep timer, and the 20 minutes ended. 3 hours until I have to wake up. I don’t know what to do! My brain was screaming “Danger, Danger! Fix this problem!”
My body was pumped with adrenaline. It felt a lot like a 5 hour meditation again. It felt like energy swirling and screaming, and demanding to get out, out of a body it was trapped in. But this time I wasn’t meditating, I was just existing. I went on a walk outside. I wanted to run but I was barefoot. I came in and knew I was just being dramatic, and stressing my body out. So I read a book to relax. It worked. I felt more relaxed and I got into the story and got to forget about this stupid body and brain I was trapped in for a moment. And I put the book down, and had a dream for about 20 minutes until my alarm went off and I got up for work.
Luckily, I didn’t have a lot to do that day. I had two classes early in the morning and then nothing until about 3pm. I had a few things planned during the day but cancelled them. I was planning to nap all day.
When I got home, like 9am I felt reassured that I was fine, and I knew I was just being dramatic, and needed to relax. I meditated, and then laid in bed and started reading. I once again, got lost in the book, but I didn’t really get tired. After about 3 hours of reading, I put the book down and tried to sleep and didn’t instantly fall asleep. I was sure to not count my breaths, as that didn’t work last time. “What’s wrong with me?!” I thought “I should be so tired!” But the fear of not being tired was not allowing me to be tired. And I started doing all my tricks again, books, TV, walks, smoked pot, ate more food, begrudgingly counted my breaths again. I was starting to get really worried, but it was time to go back to work. I was actually, very happy to be back to work, as it gave me something to do to distract me from my brain.
That night. Night 2. The same thing. Tactic after tactic after failed tactic. Full on crazy this time though. I was so mad, and scared, and desperate. But managed to pass out with a complete headache about 4 am and was able to sleep until 7am. I had slept about 4 hours and 20 minutes sleep in the last 48 hours.
Friday, after work, I meditated. I knew my fears of not being able to sleep were keeping me awake. I knew I had to extinguish the fears.
I didn’t nap all day intentionally, welcoming to break from trying, so I could be extra tired. I went to the store and got NyQuil and Benadryl. I made a half ass attempt to research how much is too much, so I didn’t overdose and die, because I wanted to stay only slightly under that number. I took my first Benadryl directly after work, as I was driving home, and a few more of both in the process. I ordered a huge dessert and hamburger from UberEats and it was at my door by the time I got home, because overeating always makes me sleepy. I took a bath and read my book, and felt relaxed and sleepy. I laid in bed, pretending I wasn’t terrified of what it might be like to be an insomniac. I kept dismissing the thoughts of how horrible this might be to have this problem every night. I imagined my friends who do. But I couldn’t think about them because I was trying to pretend I wasn’t scared, because I knew it was the “What if’s” that were keeping me up. Have you ever tried to not think about a purple elephant? Have you ever done it while a purple elephant is charging at you? I was really, really scared. And I still couldn’t sleep. Tactics. Tactics. Tactics. Anger. Fear. Hours. My brain hurt so much. I had taken so, so many sleeping medications.
You know when you start to fall asleep and you just kinda see pictures moving in your head, like the start of a dream? Every time I got there, my ego screamed in victory, but then the pictured disappeared. This happened for hours. It’s got to be one of the worst feelings; knowing you are stressing about nothing, and the stress is creating a problem, but you can’t stop stressing about the problem because you are so afraid of the problem.
Other people fight with their brain like this too right? I always wonder when “I” fight with my brain, which one is “me”?
I meditated. I decided to give myself a solid 40 min meditation. I hadn’t really meditated much as a tactic because it is time consuming. I previously did a few 5 min meditations, and breath awareness, but they were always an attempt to fix the problem. I decided to meditate on reality. What is really here?
About 20 min into my meditation, I realized nothing is wrong. Fear is trying to protect me. But I’m ok. And I don’t need to be afraid of fear, it’s well intended.
There is nothing wrong with me. I realized when my 40 min alarm went off. I haven’t really tried just laying in my bed and letting myself be afraid. It’s ok that I am afraid.
And I fell asleep.