Sunday, July 17, 2011


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.

Night Sight

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
simply being
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
those bruises.


Brian Miller said...

ugh...that was me last night...great little verse on insomnia...the sky a bruise is a great descriptor too

The Bug said...

Insomnia isn't something I've faced very often - although I anticipate that will change in the next few years. I can't even imagine how absolutely frustrating & soul-draining it is. But this poem gives me a bit of an inkling. My favorite part is this:

Black and blue, the bruised sky
hours later cracks open
slowly for the sun

It makes me think of breakfast & the possibilities in a new day.

Helen said...

Chris, you fought the good fight and yes, the moon is well aware. Beautiful poem.

barbara said...

Fierce as an itch is mighty fierce. That's something that can't be slept through.

Heaven said...

Thank you for sharing your experience and your lovely poem. I can sympathize with your journey, and hope it gets better each day.

Love these words like you really know it well:
I stare right back at it, fierce
as an itch that won’t be quelled.

Black and blue, the bruised sky
hours later cracks open

Happy sunday to you~

Lou said...

My son has been on this for years. They gave it to him for depression, and he was never depressed..but, it knocked him out at night.
One caveat--don't try to quit this cold turkey. He did, and it was devastating. Put him in the hospital.

e said...

I've had many a sleepless night...usually from pain. Thanks to medication, I generally sleep better these days. Have a good week.

Anonymous said...

My heart aches for those that battle insomnia. It is physically painful for me to watch other people sleep when I can't.

I am happy that you have found a solution.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me (and you) ....but why do us insomniacs usually wake up around 3 AM?

Magpie said...

Not only does the moon know, but your mother knows. Lovely poem, Chris.

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

The poetry that comes with insomnia is beautiful.

I'm all the more grateful to not have to be in that constant cycle of research, doctors visits and chemical titration that still results in insomnia or restlessness.

Thank you for reminding me of the gift of my sobriety and the program that brought the freedom I recieved!

You are a gift

Lolamouse said...

What a strong poem! I love "the moon is a white eye" and "I stare right back at it, fierce
as an itch that won’t be quelled." Great lines! My husband has battled insomnia for years. Melatonin and benadryl seems to help.

Steve E said...

Chris, your words are so well-chosen, and beautifully descriptive--and bordering on my own 'favorite' topic,
the M O O N !!!! Yes, I believe the moon has messages for us who gaze wonderingly.

And since my body is no longer a 'chemistry set' I can appreciate.

NOTE: "chemistry set" was used by another blogger tonight...


Lucy Westenra said...

I do like the "people tucked into dark rooms" I enjoyed this poem.

Jinksy said...

You captured the lonely watches of the night, alright - very graphically!
But on another natter, could you prevail upon the main Blog Administrator of Poetry Jam, to put a contact email or link on their Blog sidebar? The lack of one was brought to my notice by a blogger who was thinking about asking to go on the list of contributors, but couldn't tell who to contact... It is confusing not to have one there, I think?

Bagman and Butler said...

This is great! I have spent a few nights sitting on the couch listening to people sleep and your poem touched home. And the healing bruises ending was terrific.

TechnoBabe said...

My hubby takes Seroquel every night. With his bipolar disorder it is the one thing that gets him to sleep. No sleep means a manic episode. The Seroquel has indeed caused weight gain and other side effects; however, these side effects are preferable to mania. What a life.

I used to have horrible insomnia. For most of my life. Felt like I was a walking zombie. Since I retired I have been sleeping better.

Your struggle with insomnia is horrible. I wish so much for you that you get rest when you need it.

Syd said...

I feel sad reading about you and your mother. Glad that you were there with her. It is great to get some sleep. The body needs it.