Never Sleep Again

If I still had Facebook, my relationship status with sleep would be: it’s complicated.

 

It was in my mid-twenties that things started getting rough. I have always been a bit of a worrier – my fingernails are little more than gnawed nubs of calcium – but after a few years in London, my anxiety grew.

 

Get to bed at 10pm. That’s a respectable time, right? Roll around for an hour, during which time I have inflated even the tiniest problem into an unavoidable catastrophe for which I am solely responsible.

By midnight I’m so pumped up on all this anxiety, I can’t sleep. So I’ll turn on a film or a TV show or I’ll read. I try to trick my brain into shutdown, but by then it’s gone out on its own, like a rogue shopping trolley filled with boxes of bullshit, rattling down an infinite hill.

By 2am, I’ve decided that I’ll never watch porn ever again. This usually lasts 24 hours.

Somewhere between 2.30am and 4am, my body will have seized control of my brain and I will have reluctantly succumbed to sleep.

A few hours later, my alarm will go off and I’ll drag myself, zombie-like, into the shower.

A day of anxiety awaits and it all starts again.

 

Pills

 

Have I told you this before? I don’t think so…

 

In 2009, I was running on about 2 hours of sleep day. I was so out of it that I took the 38 bus to work from Hackney to Green Park every weekday morning – which took an hour, rather than the Tube, which took a mere 30 minutes – because I was scared of falling asleep standing up and stumbling onto the train tracks.

Anxiety breeds anxiety.

I worked in a very plush office space in Berkeley Square during that time, and the company paid for a private doctor on Dover Street to see their employees whenever they needed it. Perks, eh?

 

Anyway, half an hour later, I was sitting in the consultation room with a doctor. I told him my symptoms. He opened his drawer, handed me a packet of tablets and said, with a Russian accent, “Take one of these every night for a month and come back if you still can’t sleep.”

The packet contained 28 10mg Silnoct (Zolpidem) tablets. And that night, after washing one of those bad boys down with a few glasses of whatever budget Scotch I was drinking at the time, I slept like a fucking baby. I didn’t even have any nightmares. No dreams at all, in fact.

After a week on Silnocts, I met a friend of mine called Charlie. We sat in The Dove in Broadway Market, nursing pints of Kriek and he said, “Shit, Jack. You don’t look too good.”

“Yeah?” I stared into nothing.

Charlie was wearing fishnet stockings underneath ripped jeans, his mop of curly hair was matted with what looked like paint (everybody’s a fucking artist, right?) and he was shaking because he’d spent the last few days on mephedrone.

And he thought I looked like shit?

I called my mother, who used to be a nurse at a GP’s surgery, and told her about the pills. She said in her old practice, they used to prescribe one at a time everyday and then monitor the patient the following day.

This Mayfair motherfucker had just given me 28 and told me to go on my way.

I stopped taking the pills after that, saving them only for when I really needed them.

Six months later, the doctor got arrested due to the fact he wasn’t actually a doctor – his only formal qualification was a BA in French.

True fucking story.

 

Meditation vs Medication

 

A few years later, I embarked on a yoga course. It was held in a freezing warehouse in Haggerston by an angry lady called Janet (or was is Jeanette..?). I tried to kid myself that I was doing the course to get healthier both physically and mentally, but really, I as kind of lonely at the time and I thought it might be a booze-free way of meeting a nice girl.

During the ten-week course, I did indeed meet lots of nice girls, but I soon realised that a room full of sweating vegans on Monday night wasn’t really the ideal environment for romance to blossom. However, what I did find was that the yoga – and particularly meditation – worked wonders for me. I began sleeping like a normal person. The stresses of life shrunk into the insignificant little nothings they always had been and my mind was tranquil.

But the problem with meditation is this: It makes me feel like a cunt.

I whack on my headphones and listen to some asshole saying “breathe deeply” and “feel the warmth of your body”.

Urgh.

Shut up.

As my old friend Neil used to say (usually about Glastonbury Festival) “I didn’t fight the punk wars for that.”

 

When I moved away from East London, I had to quit Janet’s (Jeanette’s?) yoga classes. But life calmed down a little by then and I started sleeping better.

 

That lasted for about a year. And then something happened in my job: I started giving a shit. I remember when it happened – I was sitting in a meeting room with a guy and girl from the marketing team. The girl, let’s called her Eva Braun, was a school bully who never grew up.

I was in her crosshairs.

After one thinly veiled putdown too much, something flicked on in my head. I thought I’m not going to take this shit from you. You’re dumb and you’ve got bad teeth.

So I said, “Eva, let me make this perfectly clear. You do not tell me what to do. Your rationale is weak and if you want me to carry out this piece of work, put it in a fucking email and be specific about it. You’re wasting my time with this woolly bullshit. Meeting over.”

I was shaking as I did it, but I still did it.

The thing with bullies is, once you stand up to them, they tend to back right down.

Ava sat gawping. A few months later, she quit and moved to Poland and I got promoted.

With the promotion came stress. For example, whilst writing this piece, I am also engaged in a blazing row with the director of the Nordic office. (Edit – he has just apologised to me and backed down. Jesus, why do people make it so difficult?)

There’s some very interesting research about the intelligence of employees and how that relates to their various positions they hold within the companies they work for. Basically, people of a certain level of intelligence (smart dudes) question their competencies, whereas people who are less blessed in the brain cell area tend to assume they’re right.

And we all know that success had more to do with being brazen than it does with being smart. That’s probably why your new book sells far less than James Patterson’s next piece of crap.

Your boss is probably an idiot. And if that’s not the case, then his or her boss almost certainly is.

On the back of that, I started to question all people at work I thought were wrong about certain things. Trouble is, people don’t like being told they’re wrong, so it caused a lot of conflict. Rumour has it that in certain departments, I’m now known simply as The Bastard.

I’ll take that. I have enough friends. And sometimes being right is more important than being popular.

But it doesn’t make one sleep well at night, so the insomnia came back again.

I took to self-medicating. A shot of bourbon or vodka when I step through the front door at 7pm. Carry that on until midnight, when my body (hopefully) passes out.

But that was a pretty well signposted route to alcoholism, so I cut it out, too.

In certain parts of Asia, they’ll sell you most prescription drugs over the counter. At home, in the medicine cupboard, underneath the paracetamol and the plasters, I have a box of Valium I bought in Bali. I took to swallowing half a pill after a stressful day to calm myself down enough to sleep.

I discovered this was a bad idea, when I was standing in front of a large flat screen monitor in a meeting room on a Tuesday morning, battling against a vicious salesmen with a single-digit IQ and realising I was still whacked out on pills. Valium is strong.

I won the argument nonetheless.

 

So I guess I’m back to meditation for the time being.

 

You lot will understand – you’re all creative and the off-button for your brains will also be fucked.

Got any coping strategies? Right now I’m averaging about 4 hours sleep a night.

 

 

14 comments

  1. Amazing writing as usual but awful you have to deal with anxiety and insomnia. Additional things that helped me: Screen free days usually means there’s at least time every so often where I’m forced into being busy and disconnected. Running, especially in quiet areas around sundown which means you get the soft light/circadian rhythm stuff. And Yoga Nidra can be good if you’re not unable to sleep but need the sleepy brain waves. 15 minutes of that feels so good if you do it right. Basically a type of meditation though so might feel wankery. Personally, these have helped on the anxiety front, which is 60% of the reason I end up awake all night. It doesn’t do much to help switch off from creative things although it does anchor them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People don’t use the word “wankery” enough.
      Thanks for the advice. I usually go to the gym more – injured at the moment, sad emoticon – so hopefully that’ll sort my head out. I do find I get my best ideas around 2am, though.

      Like

  2. I don’t know how you feel about alternative medicine, but acupuncture might help. And if you have access to a holistic chiropractor… One who treats not just musculoskeletal problems but interruptions to the flow of neural signals via spinal misalignments. (This is a simplification obviously). I hope you get some relief, my friend.
    Love, the doctor!

    Like

  3. I relate to a lot of this, though haven’t yet resorted to sleeping pills, although I probably take more paracetamol and Lemsip than I should (I’m a teacher, so permanently diseased with children’s germs). I’m actually signed off work at the moment with anxiety and work-related stress. I can relate to what you say about work conflicts keeping you awake at 2am – although for me it’s been threatening behaviour from students. I sleep and then dream of teaching disastrous lessons and missing deadlines. I haven’t found a solution yet, but tend to listen to the gentle patter of a Radio 4 podcast when I can’t sleep – perhaps better than late night screen time.

    To be honest, the only thing that is really working for me is not being at work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to listen to Erik Satie late at night, but got out of the habit.
      I hope it gets better for you. I have a friend who is a teacher. Kid threw a chair at him the other day. They don’t pay you guys enough! Still, a good teacher can be life changing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I could write pages but won’t. I feel you. I am a female version of this grim descriptive without the supervisory burden. I refuse to add that to the mix ever again. The way I describe it is that when I lie down, often exhausted and fighting sleep, I will fall off qucikly and easily. But waking up at any point is like opening the cover of my iPad and the light comes on, the hum of its brain clcking in and before I even acknowledge I am awake, I have mulled iver a dozen problems. Then it is “holy carp, I have to be up in four hours to face more of this!”. I have valium ( yes, works and no hangovers but it has a rebound effect on my blood pressure)Meditation is terrific but I am often too tired to satay awake through it. In short, Melatonin only in the 10mg strength and a great little app I found several years ago called AmbIScience. Soundwaves coupked with or without your choice of natural lulling sounds. Oh and my new DO gave me some marvelous, magical, perfect little pill called Belsomra which is not currently covered by most insurances. And at $300 a bottle, I don’t see perfect sleep in my immediate future. Good luck my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AmbiScience. I’ll get on it! Thank you. National health here in the UK, although they don’t tend to prescribe sleeping pills if they can help it. Unless they are fake doctors, of course.

      Like

  5. I struggled with anxiety and sleep deprivation in college, after being an insomniac all my life, pretty much exactly like you describe. I had to figuratively throw my arms in the air and says “fuck it. if it happens it happens.” Doesn’t always work but it helped retrain my brain to stop attacking me. Now I also meditate daily but I don’t go with guided meditations. I read some books and designed my own with Tibetan singing bowls that were so cheesy or new agey. Works wonders.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Most relatable post I’ve read in quite some time. Yoga helped tremendously for me throughout the day, but like you as soon as it was time for lights out, my brain says “Eff you, Alli. There’s so much shit you could have done better today and we’re going to go through ALL of it. INCLUDING the catastrophe that you’re sure to encounter first thing tomorrow morning.” I was always scared of taking anything prescription for sleep so I went the natural route and tried melatonin once daily about 15-20 minutes before bed. I was up to 10 mg a night and if you can find dissolvable ones, they work much faster than the others. And there was never any kind of groggy feeling the next morning so that’s nice. Unfortunately being pregnant, I can’t take it anymore. So if I find anything else I will certainly let you know. Have you tried any essential oils? I know that sounds even more hippy than yoga but I’ve heard many good things about it. So that may be my next route. Best of luck to you, I know it gets incredibly rough.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reading this I feel the sort of advice I’m about to give may not be the sort of advice you need. partly because I hardly ever suffer from insomnia. But then I realise that your desperate need for sleep will probably have you listening to any old whackjob.

    The times I do suffer from sleeplessness, or have difficulty dropping off again after being abruptly awoken, I lie back and start to create a little world from scratch. Formerly, my favourite was being a lone castaway waking up on a beach on an island in a Robinson Crusoe sort of way. There would a overturned lifeboat or inflatable nearby with a few life-saving snacks and stuff. Then I’d see the wreck of the ship I’d been on, stranded on a reef. I’d get the lifeboat righted and row out to the reef to board the wreck to unload whatever I thought I might need. There’d be food preserved in bottles, tins, boxes and sacks. I’d find crates of wine and a few small barrels of whiskey, rum, brandy or all three. There could even some dope someone was trying to smuggle. I’d take that lot ashore and then go out for more. I’d find medical supplies, books and chairs, matresses and bedding. There’d be mountains of stuff. Then I’d find an accessible cave in a rocky outcrop, where I’d set up home. Boxes of candles would help me light it. There be a waterfall nearby for fresh, clean water, and a pool below to bathe in. I’d find the ship’s cat and dog for company. I’d come across a generator, wiring, tools, bulbs, a radio and even arms and ammunition for protection… if you’re not starting to drop off now, I can go on.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s