Would you like to trade places with an insomniac? No? Okay, so it’s not such a great deal. I’ll admit that. But how about I give you a whole night’s experience, for free, and then you decide later. Okay? Here you go; dusk ‘til dawn, free of charge. Enjoy.
Dread the moment when everyone else peels off, one by one, to go to sleep. Pace around. Put some music on, turn the volume up, louder, louder, too loud – you’re waking them. Turn it off. Mess around on the internet: Facebook, Cracked, Stumbleupon. Decide you’re going to be intellectual. Turn the computer off, pick up a book. Read.
The letters start to swim before your eyes, your lids begin to droop. This is it! Quick, turn off the lights, lie in bed. Immediately, you’re awake again. But that’s just momentary, from moving, right? Stick it out. Lie there. Count the seconds, then the minutes. Turn the pillow over. Fluff the duvet. Too hot, too cold. Throw the duvet off the bed. Retrieve it. Turn over. Lie on your front, back, side. Turn round so that your feet are where your head used to be.
Give up. Turn the bedside lamp on, and pick up the book. It’s boring. Pick up another book, one of your favorites. Try to immerse yourself in the story. Fidget. Move to the kitchen, make some decaf tea. Play with the TV remote. Channel flick, but keep the sound low. Hate late-night TV, turn it off. Sit in your chair, clutching the mug. Don’t think, just sit.
Turn the radio on, settle on the sofa. Try to drop off as the disembodied voices lull you into a catatonic state. Realize that you really, really need to pee. But you can’t move now, you’ve just got comfortable, and you can’t open your eyes.
If you don’t move, you’re going to wet the sofa.
Now the soft, jovial voices on the radio are an irritating drone, so you turn it off and throw yourself, exasperated, back onto the sofa, sending it scraping across the floor. Wonder if there’s something wrong with you. Turn the computer back on. Google symptoms. Conclude you have a rare viral disease found only in the tropics, along with every mental condition you can find on Wikipedia. Spend ages conducting online personality tests, at first to see if there is something strange about you, then just to fill the hours. Find a friend in a different time zone. Skype them. Yawn. Get back in bed, keeping the lights on.
What did insomniacs do before the internet? Start to Google this question, then realize how ridiculous it is. Decide to go for a walk. Get dressed, put your shoes on. Check four times to make sure you’ve got your keys, because we all know what happened last time.
Breathe in the night air as the door slams behind you. Have no direction. Take the road you normally do, ending up somewhere you don’t want to be. Turn around. Go home. Let yourself in quietly, slowly. You wouldn’t want to wake anyone. Kick your shoes off, sit on the edge of the bed. Fall back into the duvet, legs dangling off the edge of the bed. Feel unable to move. Cry, silently. From this angle, the rivulets run strangely across your face. Stare at the ceiling until the tears dry. Open the curtains, notice the gentle light creeping in at the corners of the night.
Go to the kitchen, forget why you went in there. Hear birdsong. Decide you might as well stay awake now. Have a shower, get dressed, make breakfast. Think about getting some work done. Dismiss the idea.
This was the fourth waking night. Four nights since the alcohol-induced stupor, a desperate attempt to dupe your brain into shutting down. The novelty of waking up was dampened only by the pounding headache. Was it worth it?
Yes. Lips soundlessly form the answer that shouldn’t echo so resoundingly. Spending endless nights with your thoughts churning self-reflexively through a mind addled by fatigue does not engender self-love. That reprieve from the pretentious, repugnant, inevitable introspection was sweet, in spite of its brevity, in spite of your better judgement.
Wait impatiently for the rest of the world to wake up. People often tell you that you look tired. Of course I do, you think, but you’ve given up on saying that you couldn’t get to sleep. People make sympathetic noises, but they don’t really want to hear it. It’s not a real problem, is it? They assume that eventually, you will just drift off if you get tired enough. Obviously you’re drinking too much coffee, eating too late at night and worrying about things too much. So you have continued to stumble through work, school and life on the verge, not really awake, but unable to sleep. Spend the daylight hours willing your body to finally give in, break, and embrace oblivion.
As the greyness of dawn fades into morning, you promise yourself tonight. Tonight you will sleep.