Hello and good day! It’s Thursday again, as you no doubt know, and time for me to write another weekly blog entry.
I’ve had a rather intense exacerbation of my chronic insomnia over the last several days, so I’m worried that my writing might be incoherent and disjointed. Of course, it’s possible that my writing is always that way, and I simply haven’t noticed. How would I know for sure? Still, I might be mistaken, but when I reread my writing, it doesn’t seem terribly incoherent to me. Until and unless I receive specific feedback from others, there’s no way to fact-check the matter except through my general agreement with other readers about the quality of other writers.
Such are the vagaries of epistemology.
Insomnia has been a longstanding problem for me, certainly ever since I’ve been an “adult.” One part of that problem is that, unlike what seems to be the case for most people, sleep is not in an especially pleasant experience for me. If anything, it’s rather dysphoric. I don’t tend to remember any dreams—which is disappointing, given legends of such writers as Coleridge, who are reputed to have been led to some of their greatest works by slumberous visions.
For me, sleep is at best a bland phenomenon; I have trouble getting to sleep and I have trouble staying asleep. I don’t resist sleep knowingly, and I certainly don’t fear it in the sense that inspired the apocryphal Edgar Allen Poe quip, “Sleep, those little slices of death, how I loathe them!” Though Poe never wrote those words, as far as I know, he does seem to have been afraid of and resistant to sleep as a harbinger or precursor of death; he clearly feared premature burial (that dread features prominently in more than one of his stories).
This is not the nature of my problem. I have no intellectual fear of death at all, though it’s hard to eliminate the purely biological drive to keep living. I simply find sleep, if not actively unpleasant, somewhere between uninteresting and dreary. The only time I’ve ever experienced real pleasure both at anticipating sleep and at experiencing it was when I was taking Paxil to treat depression. That was certainly remarkable, but the medicine had more than enough detriment to counter that one benefit*, and it never did a very good job on my depression.
There’s little doubt that my chronic insomnia and my dysthymia/depression are related, and that the tendency for sleep to be thoroughly anhedonic to me is part and parcel of my dysthymia, though it long predates the latter problem. I don’t remember any time in my life when sleep held real allure for me. This tendency has been useful in many situations; I’ve never had trouble being an early riser, and when on call—either in hospital during residency, or from home later on in my practice—I never had much trouble quickly coming awake and being able to focus on whatever problem might need my attention. And, of course, indifference to sleep was a very useful trait when my children were babies, allowing my then-wife to rest through the night far more often than many new mothers can.
Feeding and rocking my infant children in the silence of the night, now…that was a truly hedonic experience par excellence.
Nevertheless, like every organism with a nervous system, I do require sleep, though the nature of that need is far from fully understood by science. When I go without enough of it, for long enough, it wears me out, and I know that it affects my cognitive functions, as well as my moods (though there’s a real chicken and egg problem involved in this latter issue). So, I try—sometimes only halfheartedly, I’ll admit—to avoid succumbing to my insomnia. But it can be hard just to lay in bed doing nothing and waiting to see if sleep arrives…or if it returns, as the case may be, when I awaken far too early in the morning. I don’t tend to feel anxious or particularly stressed at such times, because again, I don’t particularly enjoy sleep, but I sometimes get angry at myself, knowing that I’m going to regret my sleeplessness later.
Oh well. Whataya gonna do?
I’ll tell you what I’m going to do: keep chugging along, I suppose. The editing of Unanimity continues to go well, despite a few computer issues; I’m still enjoying the story and the characters. And, of course, my footnote reminded me that I have a substantially begun novella waiting in the wings, which I may even complete someday. And, however much I tend to begin my blog posts with no clear idea where I’m going in any given week, it’s still a rewarding process. If nothing else, I amuse myself, and that’s got to be worth something.
Hopefully, at least occasionally, some of you enjoy it, too.
*When coming off it, I did have two experiences of sleep paralysis, which I’ve not experienced before or since, but which were astoundingly vivid and thoroughly terrifying. The first centered on the comparatively benign illusion of a lion resting on my body and holding me in place, and the second—far worse—involved an indescribable, extradimensional monstrosity pinning me to my bed. I’m somewhat proud to say that, on that second occasion, rather than try to scream or anything of the sort, I was able with great effort to force my head into motion—or to imagine that I did—and I bit the effing thing. This woke me up fully at last. I immediately recognized the well-described phenomenon for what it was, but that didn’t prevent me from feeling truly frightened for several long minutes afterward. A version of that second experience has appeared in a current work in progress, the novella tentatively titled Safety Valve. So, I guess I have used “dream” experiences to inspire my writing upon occasion.