Tag Archives: Overthinking

Insomnia Sucks

Looks like I’m doing this again. I’ve always been a night owl, but being a night owl is a bit different than having full-blown insomnia. Going to sleep late/waking up late is fine — at least you’re sleeping — while insomnia, the total inability to sleep, is hell. That’s been my existence for the past two days and it is not enjoyable. Anyone who has suffered through it knows exactly what that special hell is like.

I had a severe bout of insomnia years ago. I think I was awake for three or four days. Memory of this time is fuzzy, luckily. I watched a YouTube video about anesthesia a few days ago and it reminded me of insomnia. Apparently some anesthetics don’t stop you from feeling pain, they stop you from remembering the pain. Isn’t that a terrifying thought? In a way memories are all that your sense of self is; if you don’t remember something it’s almost like it never happened to you. Back to insomnia. Luckily I don’t remember the first episode very well. Nothing concrete sticks in my mind about it. All I remember is some fuzzy feeling that I was miserable, terribly miserable. I recall desperately trying to nap at work during one of my two-hour long breaks. I think I did nap for a bit and felt a little better. I suppose it’s nice that insomnia wreaks havoc on your ability to form memories. Once it’s over it almost seems like it never happened.

This time isn’t nearly as bad; I only suffered through one/two day(s) without sleep. I awoke at 1 p.m. on Monday and didn’t fall asleep until 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, more than 24 hours without sleep. I slept until 3, a whopping 1.5 hours of sleep, so I could drag myself to work. Work was awful and I tried sleeping on break to no avail. After work I was tired and felt like my body was physically falling apart, but somehow I ended up staying awake until 5:30 a.m. reading The Wheel of Time. 40 hours awake with 1.5 hours of sleep. It was bad.

I slept okay last night, but still have trouble falling asleep. I have severe anxiety about insomnia which only makes the problem worse. Those vague memories from years ago terrify me, and laying in bed hoping to sleep while being terrified of not being able to sleep only makes it harder to fall asleep. It makes you feel like a dysfunctional human, a total failure of an organism. Sleep is as natural as eating food or breathing; can you imagine the insomnia equivalent of those two? Desperately wanting to eat or breathe but unable to do so. I’m thinking asthma is a good analogy for the later, and maybe a stomach virus or eating disorder as an analogy for the former. Do any other species have insomnia? Is this just a problem with being human, a problem with higher consciousness itself? It seems being as aware as we are is a downside in many ways — we’re prone to overthinking and worrying, stuck in the past while living for a vague future — and maybe this is another example of it. Do other animals have brains that are so overactive and filled with fear that they cannot sleep? Maybe they do, but I doubt it.

Sleeping is easy: you just have to stop your brain from having thoughts. Easy right? You get to think about whatever you want. No, that’s not how it works. Anyone who has casually tried meditation knows that this is harder than it seems. Have you ever read a book only to find out you read a paragraph only to have no idea what you’ve actually read because your thoughts just wandered away to whatever random shit popped into your mind? The mind seems to hate being idle, to have absolutely nothing to think about, so it just makes shit up. Meditation, having no thoughts and perfectly clearing your mind, is nearly impossible. Here, try it now. Stop reading and think about nothing for a half-minute or so. I just tried it. I looked at the wall and noticed the reflection off a picture of the TV that the kids are playing Minecraft on. One of them just said, “Come back in Kitty Cat,” and this simple input kicked off a chain of thoughts in my brain. Nothing important enough to cause insomnia or trigger bad thoughts, but enough to have a thought. It’s like thousands of needles popping the void bubble of zero thoughts over and over again. Once you have perfectly zero thoughts, one just appears out of nowhere making you start all over again searching for that perfect zero-thought void.

Yesterday in bed I realized how shitty controlling your thoughts actually is. My brain would not shut up. I thought to myself, “Okay, I just need to not have any thoughts. I’ll lay here and think of nothing. If I start to think about something, I’ll shut it down.” It worked for about five seconds. It felt like I was batting thoughts down like a person swatting flies or mosquitoes away from them. The act of not thinking was a thought in itself. It keeps your brain working trying to not work. Even when I didn’t have a thought I started to notice the strange patters of color that you see sometimes with your eyes closed. Even without a thought my brain was making up shit visually. With my eyes closed I’d notice how the colors flowed and note the shapes they took, and this became a thought. I also noticed how Talking Head’s “Burning Down the House” was continually on loop on the border between conscious and subconscious. Even without having actual thoughts things were still happening that I was hopelessly paying attention to.

This is what millions of people suffer through every damn day, and how do you even fight against this? It’s literally your brain, the thing that is YOU, not letting itself sleep. It’s doing what it evolved to do — thinking in a higher fashion that any other known creature — yet it undermines itself and the body in the process. Sometimes I hate my brain. Most of the time I hate my brain. I wish I was a goose; they seem happy enough eating grass and shitting everywhere. I doubt a goose stays awake until the sun comes up thinking about not thinking and how hard it is to do. I doubt a goose is kept awake at night thinking about it’s inevitable death, or the size of the universe, or how strange it is to exist, or asking itself what the hell is consciousness anyways?

Not to be a total miserable person here, plus people seem to read blogs to find out useful information and not hear someone whine, but maybe meditation is a solution? It’s not as easy as popping a few Xanaxs, but maybe by training your mind, letting it Git Gud at not thinking, you’ll learn to have no thoughts. And with no thoughts comes sleep. It’s like any other skill; practicing it makes you better at it. You know, that’s what I’m going to do. Maybe I can report back on it in a week or two, but probably not knowing my blogging history. Thanks for reading!

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