It’s 6 am. I’m browsing a website that’s selling discounted winter coats. After forcing myself to lie down at 4, I can’t stand the tossing and turning anymore. I especially can’t stand the listening. It’s in the distance—a truck engine rumbling, on and off. It’s so faint—nearly imperceptible—but I can make it out over the steady whirring of my fan. As soon as I feel myself nodding off, the truck rumbles back to life.
“Not yet,” its engine says. “I have so much more to share with you.”
I’m doing the thing I always do when I know I need to fall asleep: I fixate. Usually on a noise, sometimes an idea. When I do this, the world drops out from under me. I land in a universe where only three things exist: the noise, myself, and the magnetic force that draws me towards it. Heightens my hearing and deafens my other senses. This force is all-powerful and selfish; it demands the noise be given full attention with no room for any other sense to play—a schoolyard bully and me, its victim. This force only becomes stronger when I know there is somewhere I need to be hours later. Somewhere I can’t be a bumbling, sleep-deprived fool. I’m already fighting the inevitable, because I need to be up in four hours, and it’s all thanks to some goddamn truck.
When I’m like this, I’m not an adult. I’m not twenty-five year-old me, teaching classes and paying rent and guzzling mixed drinks on the weekend to forget what a wreck I am on weekdays.
I am six-year old me, allowing myself to run out of my bed to “fix” three things in my room (e.g., turn a book on its side, reposition a toy, and slide my closet door all the way closed). With the three things fixed, my mind too would be fixed and I could fall asleep easily like a normal child.
Or I am eight-year old me, tossing and turning because some part of my window is making a tapping noise and it’s driving me insane. My dad is standing on the ledge yet again, inspecting every part of the window for the source of my insomnia. (Eventually, he was able to vanquish the “tippy tappy noise”—this is the creative name I gave it when I was eight—but I’m unable to remember how he did so. You’d think I’d be able to remember since I’m able to recall these other details of its existence. Memory is such a strange, selective thing.)
Or I am fourteen year-old me, unable to fall asleep due to bladder pain, sleeping on the opposite side of the bed because I nodded off quickly the other night when I gave it a try. (While the doctors diagnosed the issue as a cyst and I was good as new within a month, I’ve continued to sleep on the opposite side of the bed for over a decade. My line of reasoning? If it helped you get to sleep then it can help you get to sleep now. Why mess up a good thing, right? What’s more, whenever I wake up cranky—which is most days—I can ACTUALLY blame it on waking up on the wrong side of the bed!)
Or I am seventeen year-old me, sleeping on the floor in my room, my head practically touching my sound machine so its “RRRRRRRRRing” can drown out the birds chirping somewhere in my neighborhood. Even with the machine’s deep hum flooding my ears, I still find a way to hear the chirping, until the sound machine fades away and I’m left with nothing but birds shrieking with laughter at the human lying on her bedroom floor failing to sleep.
Over the years, I have done all of these things to ease my black hole mind that churns on and on while the rest of my body is on the verge of collapse. I sometimes wonder if my sleep is ever going to improve; if one day I’ll wake up when I’m thirty-eight feeling well rested after going to bed at a decent hour without checking the clock every ten minutes or focusing on a noise and cursing under my breath. I ponder this potential reality, but I know in my heart I’ll likely struggle to sleep like a “regular” person for the rest of my life. I realize there are worse problems to have besides a little OCD and insomnia, but it’s always felt like a cross to bear. However, because my sleep issues encompass so much of my black hole, I consider them a huge part of what makes me, me. By beginning to embrace the black hole, I make it shrink, remove its pull, and learn to live with its chaos.
For now, I’m signing off. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ramblings of my (sleepless) black hole mind.