I was twenty years old and hadn’t slept for a year when my doctor spewed out the words psychophysiological insomnia. Though this is a common form of insomnia, it is also the most difficult to treat because it is entirely induced by anxiety. People with this disorder begin to panic before bed and literally have a fear of not sleeping. During my year prior to treatment, I dealt with two types of people: those who told me that I would fall asleep if I “just relax,” and those who claimed to have the same problem as me simply because they lost a couple hours the night before.
As someone who first faced insomnia when she nineteen, it hurts to see how romanticized it is across my generation. Like with any disorder, there is confusion about its symptoms and the suffering one has to go through in order to receive a diagnosis. I can tell you, though, that anyone who really has insomnia would never make it out to be something cute. A true insomniac isn’t boasting about their lack of sleep. They’re hiding behind it. They know what this disorder looks like. They know the ugly.
Insomnia is not staying up until 3 am to binge watch Netflix. Grey’s Anatomy is not the reason some people can’t turn their brain off to sleep, no matter how addicting its plot. Insomnia is not missing your self designated bedtime because you’re texting the person you like, or cramming for a final exam, only to take a nap right after the test.
Insomnia isn’t a pretty little thing. Insomnia is tears streaming down your face while you count the dots on your popcorn ceiling or the freckles on your arm. I already lost count. It’s the hollow feeling in your stomach when you smile to someone at work. I’m good, how are you? Or feeling like you’re going to pass out in the cereal aisle when food shopping with your mom. Yes, I want the Special K.
Insomniacs don’t just toss and turn; insomniacs drag through consecutive nights with no sleep. They make friends with things that go bump in the night, they learn how to live with the monsters in their closets. Insomnia is knowing what your college campus looks like at 5am, bare and cold like an apocalypse where you’re the only survivor. You’re basically a zombie, anyway.
Insomnia is heavy eyes and weak limbs. It’s seeing your friends asleep, with stuffy noses and restless legs and bad dreams. And praying you could have that too. Insomniacs will spend hours ’til dawn wondering why they said that thing to that person at that place six years ago. They remember all the people who let them down, all the mistakes they’ve made in turn.
Insomnia is using a white noise maker and finding it doesn’t work. It’s testing out every sleeping position you can think of, it’s turning your clock toward the wall so you can’t count the hours. Insomnia is trying every over-the-counter medication, every chamomile spray for your pillow, every goddamn breathing exercise you can possibly find. Yet still finding yourself awake before sunrise, already up when the first bird chirps.
It’s the little white pills from the orange prescription bottle. Popped and washed down with hope from here on out.
Insomnia is a disorder, one that is rarely cured and only treated. One that you’d never want as a friend if you were to really, truly meet its face. Insomnia is not beautiful or romantic or anything worthy of envy. I pray that you never have to battle with the gift of sleep. And if you do, I hope, like me, that you find the right treatment. Because the only thing better than being asleep is being awake – the good awake, the one that lets you walk and breathe and smile and eat. With your sleep, you see, you are more than just awake. You are alive.