Insomnia is one of the loneliest disorders. At 3 a.m., it’s just you and your head while the world seems peacefully sleeping, your sleeplessness an affront to the natural order. It might be nice if somewhere in my little berg there were a 3 a.m. insomniac support group, with low lighting and hot milky chai, water fountain, futon sofas, soft music, dark rooms down the hall with futons to lie down on should sleep seem possible.
One of my complaints about having insomnia is the ever-present sense of hope that sleep lies around the next bend of the clock. That hope prevents me from saying screw it, turning on lights, electronic entertainment devices, writing the next great American poem. Instead I hopefully practice “good sleep hygiene,” foregoing the blue computer screen, the blue television light, both known to stimulate the brain. The only light I turn on in desperation for the company at least of a rather boring book is the lamp by a chair.
I can’t take prescription drugs for sleep or the anxiety produced by not sleeping, because my body recognizes the drug and wants more of it, not a good situation for someone who cherishes her sobriety. For years I used tryptophan, a reliable friend until it was removed from the market early in the ’90s. Then it was Tylenol PM, until it stopped working. Then the psychiatrists introduced me to Seroquel, an anti-psychotic and powerful sleep-inducer. It added 50 pounds to my small frame and raised my cholesterol sky-high, and after five years, I severed my ties to it. From January to April this year, I hardly slept at night despite a pharmacopeia of herbs promising slumber. It was a very hard season.
Finally, after lots of research on the web and consultation with my psychiatrist, we changed my depression medication and I started taking mirtazapine, a tetracyclic anti-depressant with few health-threatening side effects. It’s taken almost three months to adjust to its soporific effects. I felt like sleeping all the time, and often simply did. At last, now I can stay awake all day and do the things that a normal person does, and usually I can sleep at night. In my gratitude journal, begun a few months ago at the suggestion of a new AA sponsor, there are lots of references to the joy of sleep, even for an abundance of it.
This week’s Poetry Jam has us humming the tune of insomnia (or, alternatively, odd modes of dress [hm]). Poets have produced lots of good work about insomnia, which is the companion of many people with fine minds. I have a number of poems referring to sleeplessness myself. But here’s a new one.
The moon is a white eye
in a broad blue face
and it peers over the humpbacked hill,
over the giant supine silhouette
of some black, some dozing beast.
I stare right back at it, fierce
as an itch that won’t be quelled.
My house is full of people
tucked in dark rooms.
No one knows
I crouch here on the couch
eyeballing the moon.
Everyone sleeps, safe, secure
like they were last summer
while our old mother and I
fought for her death,
three nights and days that bled
into each other. Tonight
I learn how much I gave her
awake. The moon must know.
Black and blue, the bruised sky
hours later cracks open
slowly for the sun, still
just a thought, or a memory below
that humpbacked hill, coming to heal