Desperately Seeking Sleep

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.


Last Monday, I asked my wife if I could take a rare shower during the evening. Yes, these are the kinds of things I now have to ask my wife to do. I used to ask if she could pick me up from DC because I was out drinking on a Tuesday and forgot the Metro stopped running before the taps did. Now I ask if I can shower.

Showering has become optional for me. Because I haven’t gotten completely comfortable leaving Mabel alone, I have to shower when Jenn is home. And if I don’t shower before she leaves for work, it usually just doesn’t happen that day. But knowing that I hadn’t showered in a while and may run into people that she knows, she allowed me to shower this one weeknight.

I soaked in the warmth of the water and breathed the throat-soothing steam for about 10 minutes before even getting the shampoo in my hair. That’s about when my wife knocked on the bathroom door with her knee because she had our baby, naked from the waist down, held out in front of her with her arms fully extended, the way a punter holds the ball shortly before he kicks it. Looks like I’ll have to condition next week.

As it turns out, our baby, filled up on pureed pears which had just been introduced into her diet, had pooped so explosively, it shot up the diaper and covered most of her back. I’m sure the hour in the jumper had a bit of a hand in the smearing of it too. My lovely wife, not wanting to back down from a challenge, tried to take care of the situation herself. In doing so with a very squirmy baby on our changing table now covered in poop, Mabel managed to get poop on her head.

That’s when my wife admitted defeat.

She needed me to get the door for her because our baby bathtub was in this bathroom and so hey, now that you’re out of the shower, can you please help me clean the poop off our daughter’s head? It was too funny a situation to be upset about. This was obviously an act of God. God did not want me to condition my hair that night.

I dried off enough to get boxers on because that’s as naked as I feel comfortable being around my daughter, and then we went to work. We first laid her down in the tub without her baby tub to get the bulk off. Her shirt was still on and there was a lot of poop still in there. Mabel was a little freaked out just lying in the adult tub. Or maybe it was because she was soaked in water, still had her onesie on and there was poop on her head. In an act of baby triage, I suggested we cut the onesie off. My wife didn’t want scissors anywhere near our squirming baby. Good point.

We got the onesie off without any further damage and after we were done bathing her, I’m pretty sure she was the cleanest she’s ever been. I also learned never to shut the door when I shower and if I do, never answer it. And best of all, our little poophead has a new nickname.

Highway Robbery

Last we left our hero, she just had her first ever front-facing car ride in the back of a stranger’s car on the way to Baltimore’s impound lot with Daddy the week before Christmas to try to get Mommy’s car back and pick her up at the New Carrollton Metro so he can have this uncomfortable conversation in the livingroom with a much different context. If you haven’t read that part (The Kindness of Strangers), I recommend it, but far be it for me to tell you how to spend your time.

..continued from before

Kelly had just dropped Mabel and I off at the impound lot and refused to give me her phone number or email address or twitter handle. I assumed at the time that it was because she wanted me to know that this was purely an act of kindness, not to be repaid in any way. But it’s also possible that despite my panicked sobbing on the streets of Baltimore and my daughter and wedding ring, that I still appear as that much of a creeper to women. Regardless, I didn’t have any of her info. Which would have been fine had I not left the baby bag in the car.

Now I’ve got problems. Up until this moment, I had the baby seat and enough food, diapers and pacifiers to last at least a long weekend if necessary. But now I had a starving baby who would likely soon run out of the patience she summoned from her mother’s genetic side. Upon noticing this, I ran back out of the dingy, dirty impound office to see if it had taken Kelly over seven minutes to navigate her way out of the lot somehow. It did not. She was gone.

I ran back inside to see if I had put it down and forgot. Nope. I ran back outside to see if Kelly was circling around back. Nope again. Still gone. My only hope was to wait for her to find the bag in her car and bring it back. Damn my creeper haircut.

The panic lasted at least 10 minutes as I was waiting for the impound jerkwads to enter my info into the computer. Oh yeah, I got there before my car. Then I finally noticed that I had the bag on my shoulder this entire freaking time.

I am truly surprised how horribly I panicked in this situation.

So I was able to feed Mabel while waiting for the jerkwads to do whatever they needed to do to get my $300 and allow me to get my car and leave. We were stuck in this tiny room that reminded me of the bathroom from Saw with between two and four other people. I was taking up both chairs; one for her baby seat because there was no floor space, and the other to sit on so I could feed her. Once again, people understood. And stood. Thank you, kind people of the Baltimore impound lot.

We were stuck in this position for about another 45 minutes and despite being exhausted, Mabel never fell asleep. But she also never cried. Again, she must get that from her mother. When I finally had to pay, I needed both my arms to sign the paper. The lady behind me offered to hold my baby. She seemed nice enough, as I have already indicated. But Mabel’s car seat was right behind her and didn’t have scary-looking fingernails that might poke, scratch or frighten my precious 5-month-old child. For some reason, I didn’t want to offend this stranger I didn’t know. And ultimately, I wanted her to feel that she helped me out. So I gave my baby over to a kind-looking stranger for 15 seconds. Why the hell not? I just rode in a car with another stranger for 15 minutes.

We got the car back and Mabel was asleep before we left the lot. We made it back 15 minutes late which was not too bad considering. In the comfort of our livingroom, with her favorite meal which I had just cooked for her, I broke the news to my wife. She was a lot more understanding than I remember her being. Maybe she could see I was shaken up. Maybe it was the tilapia, rice and steamed yellow pepper. Or maybe people just wanted to be nice to Mabel and me today. But this conversation was the perfect surprisingly positive nightcap to my evening. Thanks to all involved, especially my forgiving and patient daughter. This thanks, of course, is not extended to the jerkwad that wouldn’t unhook my car from the truck.