I don’t know if it is due to an undesirable hereditary trait or some kind of chemical change, but insomnia seems to have attacked my system — and upset my equilibrium — with the onset of middle age.
Instead of sleeping lately, in the middle of the night I have been doing everything from sampling esoteric foodstuffs, such as pickled vegetables straight from the jar, to pacing around the house, fretting about incomplete tasks and my kids. I have also been finishing novels (reading, not writing them), rearranging pictures on my daughter’s bookshelf while she sleeps, and scrolling through online images from Heart Home Magazine, dreaming of a room of my own.
Only occasionally, at this point, is my wakefulness still my children’s fault.
Recently, for instance, I was enjoying a rare sound slumber when our youngest daughter padded in to tell me that not only had she had a bad dream, but that she was also “starving.” In my misguided, midnight muddle, I led her downstairs to snack on some dried mangoes — way too chewy and sluggish a source of sustenance, I soon realized, my elbow propped on the counter, my head lolling uncomfortably in my hand. By the time she finished, I was wide awake.
Other times, I doze off shortly after putting my 6-year-old and twin 9-year-olds to bed. Those are delicious, deep, early hours that I end up paying for dearly when I awaken at 12:30 or 1 a.m., wondering what I will do with myself until dawn.
Sometimes reading wears me out. The other night, I digested the final pages of William Finnegan’s “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” before drifting back off. Another time, all it took was a midnight stroll through Crate and Barrel’s fall furniture catalogue to return me to the coveted dark land of dreams.
But more often than not, since I hit my mid-40s, I am up for hours worrying about the bills my husband and I haven’t yet paid, the doctor’s appointments I haven’t yet made, the years that are slipping by before I have a chance to grasp onto them and accomplish whatever it is that I am meant to do in this life.
Not knowing what my next step is is partly what’s keeping me up.
With my twins entering fourth grade and my youngest going into first — with all three of our kids finally in full-time school — I suddenly have stretched out before me whole days during which I know I should be earning money but haven’t quite figured out how to, the journalism landscape having drastically changed during the decade I was preoccupied with child-rearing.
I dream (but not while actually asleep) of converting our garage into a rustic retreat with a wood-burning stove, shelves cluttered with aged terra-cotta pots, and a window gazing at the main house where my husband is contending with our children. From this nest, I would churn out my memoirs or compose my first novel, the daydream goes, as if just by creating this space I would ignite the inspiration.
In the meantime, I am up at night in my regular house that usually needs cleaning, wondering how to jump-start my freelance career or find some intellectually stimulating part-time editing gig.
But rather than searching through foundering-writers-seeking-work websites, lately I have been prowling around insomniac chat rooms.
I had an interesting foray into InsomniaChat.com, which describes itself as a place to “join in forum debates and discussions about your experiences with insomnia and related issues.”
Though one visitor ranted, “Why get up early in the morning? Screw that! My Night is my morning!!! Insomniac and Proud!” — most of the rest of the content I read had nothing at all to do with sleep deprivation.
In addition to posting a YouTube link to Prince’s 2008 performance of Creep by Radiohead, a fellow night owl wondered: “Is segmentation leading to segregation based on race, politics, religion, gender and sexuality or personal views?”
While these were important questions, they were not ones I was going to answer at 3:18 a.m.
When I’m not cruising chat rooms, sometimes I’ll actually write — garbled gook that seemed eloquent at 2 a.m. but that upon daylight inspection appears totally objectionable.
Maybe someday, during my candlelight vigils, I will embark on a longer-term project that will sustain me for many midnights to come.
In the meantime, I hope that I can stop wrestling with my insomnia and start viewing it as the gift of personal time and space — as a quiet room all my own.