punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Lack of sleep... brain won't shut off.

I hate my brain sometimes. It's an engine that runs and runs and runs and I can't turn it off until my thoughts drop from sheer exhaustion. I have always had trouble falling asleep, even since I can remember being told I had a bedtime.

At first, I had no bedtime. My mother told me she had this "he'll fall asleep when he's ready," philosophy, which I was quite happy with. But I had this problem where I'd fall asleep with the light on. This wasn't so much a problem when the only light in my room was a 30 watt bulb on a dark red lamp with a brown shade. This was murder the read by, and my mother often found be asleep with a book, the lampshade tilted back to give me more light. Finally, I "graduated" to a 200 watt lamp when I was about 8. This was so much easier on my eyes, but my father was angry that it was "expensive" that I fell asleep with my light on. Thus, very early on, my punishment was to take away my lamp. Since I was living in a very dark room with little window light, once the sun set, my room was almost completely black with some shadows that would come on when a car would pass down our road (my windows were at ground level, but up very high in my room, and the windows were covered by bushes). Taking away my light was a very bad thing because I was petrified of the dark. Petrified. Yet, it took me a long time to remember to turn off my light when I fell asleep, so my lamp was quite often taken away from me for punishment. Most of the time, I managed to wake up before my parents did, and I turned off the light in the early morning when the sun had already risen. But sometimes, I forgot. The light was taken away for days, maybe a week, depending on how angry my father was at the time.

When I was about 11 or 12, some doctor or teacher or maybe just a woman's magazine told my mother that I should have a bedtime. So she kind of over-reacted. My bedtime was my grade, which meant in 6th grade, I was to be in bed by 6pm. This really sucked. Not only did it kill a lot of my already drying up social life, but if my light had been left on, I'd have to be in the dark. I swear to god, I was scared of the dark for so long, I still remember I'd hide, shaking under my blanket, hoping monsters would not eat me. No one ever told me there were no monsters growing up, and I had so many fears and neuroses by this point from my day life, I doubt if anyone was there to calm me down, it would have worked anyway. But there was one horrific side effect of being alone in the dark that haunts me to this day: my imagination.

Sure, it's great to be a creative writer and have imagination. But when I was 12, sitting alone in the dark, with nothing for my brain to do, it made up stuff. Bad stuff. It would replay everything I ever did wrong, like some sort of "If I could go back in time, this is what I should have done..." It was like being in a sensory depravation tank, tripping on bad acid. It literally drove me crazy. I could not escape anything. If I came up for fresh air outside of the blanket, a monster would get me. If I stayed under the blanket, my own thoughts tortured me. It was worse on those nights when my mother was drunk, saying what she felt, chasing my father around the house with her rhetoric. Sometimes he'd argue back, and that's when I knew he would come get me and I would somehow be to blame for whatever. My father, very early on, removed the lock from my door, and in doing so, made the doorknob latch stop working altogether, so I could not escape him. Some days when his temper was really bad, I'd take hide in my "nest," which was a space under the bed where I'd crawl like a bomb shelter, then stuff the blankets around me outside, pushing against my toys, so that a cursory look made it look like just a pile of toys I stuffed under the bed. It was quite effective, I never got caught there. When my father would burst into my room, angry, and rip off my blanket and not see me, he'd stop. I don't know if he was looking around, or trying to hear me breathe, but I'd hold my breath, and wait. And wait. I'd hear him breathe through his nose like some sort of angry gorilla, then stroll out of my room. I'd wait a loooong time until I heard him elsewhere in the house before I dared get out from under the bed (thinking he'd pretend to leave my room, then be there waiting to find me emerging from my hiding space), and most of the time, I'd just fall asleep under there. Only once did he check under the bed with a flashlight, and another time he poked at the pile around me with some stick or something, and while it jabbed me hard in the bladder, I didn't move or make a sound. As an adult, I can't believe that he didn't know, and I wonder if he knew and was satisfied I was hiding from him, or when he saw me gone, maybe thought I ran away or something. I'd ask him now, but he'd deny it or make up something. Hell, he's probably reading this now, laughing. But he can't get me anymore.

I think I grew out of being terrified of the dark during my brief punk days because I was out with friends at 2am, after seeing Rocky Horror or something. I recall someone telling me that she had been told as a little girl that "Don't be scared of the dark because of monsters, they can't see in the dark, either. You're safer in the dark than in the light." I think she was quoting a punk or new wave tune at the time. I recall thinking that the artist who wrote that was very wise, because my life was like that. The daylight was my hell, and at least in the dark of the night, I was safer: the people who made me miserable were asleep. I am glad I didn't make the next leap of logic, "and vulnerable," because I'd probably be doing some time now. I never get upset that I "just took the abuse without a fight" back then, because the person who resides in the body now would have done some serious damage, and I would have been either dead or in jail for killing somebody. That's one score for submissiveness.

When I was about 15, the whole structure of my father's rule totally fell apart. Fairfax County had determined I was being abused, and after some court-mandated social counseling and badly-needed psychotherapy, my father "became disgusted" with me, ignored my presence, and my life vastly improved. Some day, that whole story will be on here, but for now, you'll have to wait.

But fast forward a little. As a teen, my habits shifted from day person to night person. To this day, I still like the night, which is odd, because I have very poor night vision. I mean, even in dim light, I stumble around, and as my wife and friends can attest, in low light like a night in a parking lot, I can't see anything but lights. Now glow, to reflections, no... whatever anyone sees in the dark (I am totally mystified by all of your night vision powers, it seems almost illogical). I am almost totally blind. But, hey. Darkness is when the fun happens.

But sleep... never easy. My brain likes to work overtime. Right now, as I write this line, it's 2:58 am. In 4 hours, I am supposed to be at work. In 7, I am supposed to be in a very important meeting. I'd give anything to be able to sleep right now, but once I lay down, my brain just keeps going and going. Half the time, about stupid stuff, like some puzzle, or something I wrote, or want to write, or what I just saw in a movie or whatever. Random stuff. The other half, sad to say, is me, back at age 11, worrying about something like a very bad thing that happened to me, or whether my friends like me or not, or if the latest health problem will kill me, or... and this is the worst: past childhood traumas. I have flashbacks of the first 18 years of my life like a war veteran has about a battle that went wrong. I *hate* those. My brain just goes on and on and on about how I was treated by my parents, or my mother's death, or past suicide attempts, or my father abusing me, and so on and so on and so on. ARGH! Those make me so mad, because I keep going, "Why? It's in the past, it's over, and since my mother's dead an my father's in denial, I am the only one who remembers!" But then, when I have told my thoughts to shut up, I have stopped paying attention to my thoughts, like not more than ten minutes later, there I am again! Sometimes, if the memory is really bad, like memories of bullies beating me up, or a friend who double crossed me, or my parents fighting over me, about me, my adrenaline is pumping like I am really there. I get so mad at myself and my brain, because that brain will be so cranky in 7 hours, whining it needs rest and sleep... well, SORRY BRAIN! IF YOU'D SHUT OFF AT THE APPROPRIATE TIME.... well, of course, the irony is my brain is also writing this. What a self-critical organ! My stomach never... oh, wait, yes it does. Okay, my lungs never do that. They never go, "I don't wait air..." and then later, "Augh, wait, yes I do!" Well, they do if I am on Percocet, but that's not their fault.

Side note: My mother used to work at a bank, back in the mid 1960s. She lived in San Francisco at the time, putting my father through college. She rode the cable car back and forth from work, and told me that one of her coworker friends could sleep on command. She'd turn to my mother and say, "I will go to sleep now, wake me when we get to work," and in less than a minute, she'd be totally asleep. I. Envy. That. Woman. My mother told me that she even seemed to "know" when to wake up just before their stop, so my mother never had to actually rouse her most of the time. I would kill for that power. There are so many moments in my life where just falling asleep on command would make me a much more relaxed and rested person.

I don't know if I have a sleep disorder. I have a sort of "brain won't shut off" disorder. Brain will keep running and running and running until finally the body takes over, and the brain literally just stops from complete exhaustion. My body is also VERY picky about where and how it sleeps. I cannot fall asleep sitting up, so I never dozed off in class or at work, and sadly, stay awake on long intercontinental flights. My Swedish relatives will attest to how groggy I am when I get to Sweden. I also tend to wake up at the slightest noise, and even at age 34, I still have bad dreams that wake me up, then I can't get to sleep again for hours.

I have considered sleeping pills, but they'd have to be prescription. Over-the-counter pills have never worked for me. Dammit. I was later told by someone that they contain a trace of mustard seed in them, so someone who takes enough to kill them will also have enough mustard gas in them to make them throw up the pills. I don't know if that's true or not, but it does make you think about how potent the OTC pills are. I have even tried painkillers, but they seemed to keep me awake. Oh yeah. Tylenol has caffeine. Warm milk gives me cramps. The best thing is usually to do housework, but then it wakes up my wife, so that's no good. And the cats get mad when I am up, like I am interfering in their scheduling.

So... here I am. Awake. On the web. Hoping to get my brain to wear out so I can do what my body craves so badly... rest.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000004.html
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