I was diagnosed with insomnia back in high school. This isn’t necessarily true, but it’s what I still tell people. After all, it didn’t take a brain doctor to figure out that when it takes someone five hours to fall asleep, there might be something wrong. In college, I was awake so late into the night so often, my hallmates called me the “Resident Insomniac” and made me a sign for my door and everything. Then a friend called me out and said that it wasn’t insomnia if I stayed awake willingly, which was mostly the case at that point. I had harnessed the ability to exist on less than adequate sleep for the power of good. What started out as an affliction became a sort of superpower. This came in quite handy in college, whether it was an all-nighter in the editing lab or a Magic the Gathering marathon until the sun came up. I had transcended insomnia. I had become a nonsomniac.
Fast forward to today. It’s a Sunday afternoon and I haven’t slept in 36 hours and haven’t had three hours of consecutive sleep since Wednesday morning. Considering I now have an infant daughter, sleep deprivation isn’t unexpected, but for the fact that she’s been sleeping for six to eight hours at a time. I’ve had problems sleeping before, but usually only for a few hours or so. I’ve never been unable to sleep for days on end. And there was almost always an explanation. I had an extra nap, a big exam coming up or just downed a whole 2-liter bottle of Jolt. But I’ve completely cut out caffeine, alcohol and cocaine from my diet now to see if I could manufacture some sleep. Still nothing. So there doesn’t appear to be anything physically keeping me from sleeping. Unless of course you count the massive knot in my chest.
Sure, classes are starting up this week and I still have the duty of taking care of a baby human being every day, but I had that all last semester too and didn’t have anxiety this bad. I decided to take a walk around the block at 2am last night to try to reason this out (and maybe tire myself out a bit). I have my 20-year high school reunion coming up, which got piled on top of the mini panic attack I have every year around my birthday about getting older and having not accomplished my dreams. Added to those are the pressures to be a good dad and try to figure out how to become a real writer. Some days I wish that all I wanted to do was just come home from work and watch SportsCenter for five hours.
Around the third lap, I had the very irrational thought that I should get a job again. This way, my wife would be forced to help with the overnight shift during the rare occasion that Mabel wakes up for more than the time it takes to make a bottle and feed her. As it stands now, I wake up with Mabel all the time during the week because my wife has work and doesn’t get the luxury of napping for hours during the day with her CEO. That makes perfect sense to me when I’m not delirious. But the fact that I have been having problems sleeping so much makes me anxious about going to bed.
But more significantly, I would then get some sort of control over my life. Right now, I’m handcuffed to my daughter through an obligation to keep her alive and handcuffed to my wife financially. I have to ask another human being if I can have money to buy a Zagnut Bar. I understand, given a few days to reflect with a couple hours sleep under my belt, that this idea of getting a job would only inconvenience everyone, especially my wife and daughter. We’re in a very fortunate position where we can afford to have one parent stay home to raise our baby and I want to give that up just because I can’t sleep for days on end? Well…
Admittedly, something needs to be done. My wife has been very cavalier all weekend about taking care of Mabel so I can try to find sleep when I can, even offering to wake with her overnight (though I was up anyway, so why burden her too?). But still, no sleep. I started almost hoping for a mini-heart attack on my fifth lap. Then I’d at least be able to identify what was wrong and prove to myself that it is more than just my imagination. Or maybe I can tear a chunk of my hair out to prove this is more than just me being uncomfortable and I really need help. These are very unhealthy thoughts.
I’ve tried natural and unnatural sleep aids to no avail. I have bouts of exhaustion where I find myself getting pissed off and confused at my inability to sleep, but I also largely feel alert, considering I’ve been awake for a few days. It may be time to finally have that 24 marathon I’ve wanted to for a decade now. Time to try to tap into those special powers again. Only now, I’m 38 years old and 15 years removed from the all night spades tournaments and lack of time-sensitive obligations.
I know I’ve rambled a ton and the benefit of a few days reflection doesn’t seem to be helping me organize these thoughts anymore, but what I’m basically saying is that quitting my job to become a stay-at-home dad has caused me to lose control over certain parts of my life and that lack of control is causing me anxiety that has manifested itself in insomnia. I’m not looking for pity and I’m certainly not bragging. I’m not even really looking for advice. I just want you others to know that you’re not alone.