Posted: December 27, 2010 in insomnia, Memory Lane
Tags: ,

It’s 2:30 in the ay-em, and I’ve been awake since 1:15. I don’t think anyone ever greets bouts of insomnia with enthusiasm. So, dammit.

I’ve suffered with insomnia off and on for my entire life. I distinctly recall weekends spent at my aunt and uncle’s home – they lived the next town over and took me for the weekend at least once a month, from the time I was about two or three, until my teenage years. My aunt would make up the living room couch for me, and everyone in the household went to bed at 9:00. The lights would switch off, goodnight’s would be called, and in very short order I’d hear my uncle’s distinct snore rumbling from down the hall. I’d try to settle my mind to sleeping, and was just never able to manage it. I’d listen to the clock tick, stare out the window at the streetlight, and wait and wait and wait. Sometimes I would cry in frustration – sleeplessness is, after all, an entirely lonely, solitary, frustrating occupation.

Sometimes I would get up and sit in the kitchen with a glass of water, and my aunt would find me just sitting there, blinking, in the dim light coming from the stove lamp. She’d fix me a cup of chamomile tea, sit at the counter while I sipped at it, then usher me back into the living room and tuck me back in. And there I’d lay, blinking at the lightening horizon, until I heard my uncle’s alarm go off and everyone would roll out to start the day. Every time I stayed with them, I walked into the visit with the knowledge that I would get exactly zero sleep – or, any sleep I managed to grab was during afternoon naps laying across the foot of my aunt’s bed, on her folded wedding ring quilt.

I never could explain – to them or to myself – why I could never sleep when I visited them. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that the worst news I’d ever received in my young life – that of my mother’s passing, and that of Brad’s passing – occurred at that house, while I was visiting them. That I was there at the time of my mother’s passing was intentional – I was left in my aunt and uncle’s safekeeping while the family dealt with my mother’s hospital stay, surgery, and eventual passing. That I was there when Brad died was just an unhappy coincidence – his accident just happened to occur on one of my weekends with them.

I was also never able to sleep at my friend Elizabeth’s house. As is often the case for kids living in the sticks, weekend sleepovers were common. I’d stay at her place on Friday night, right “off the bus” from school. Then her mom would drive us to Grandma’s in the early afternoon, and she’d stay at my house on Saturday night. Grandma would haul our butts to church on Sunday (this was before she became a Witness and we were attending a Baptist church), and Elizabeth would be dropped back off at home after the service. On the nights I stayed with Elizabeth, more often than not it was my asthma that kept me awake. Back in those days inhalers were little more effective than Primatine Mist, and since she had an abundance of pets AND her home was heated primarily with a wood stove, I was never really able to breathe well. I could handle it for the most part during the day, when our adventures took us outside, and when I was upright.

But at night, laying down, things quickly escalated to the point of near panic. So I would sit outside in the middle of the night, on their front steps in the weak light of their porch lamp, brace my arms behind me and shoulders climbing to my ears to help expand my lungs. I’d do the breathing exercises my doctor taught me, listen to the crickets if it was summer or shiver my ass off if it was winter, and wait and wait and wait. Many times Elizabeth’s mother caught me creeping in or out, and her cure for what ailed me was a hot cup of chamomile. She’d sit me down in the kitchen, or she’d bring it to me out on the steps, she’d pat my head and tell me not to wander around in the middle of the night, and she’d go back to sleep. Leaving me to sip, and stare, and breathe.

Sleeplessness happened less often at my own home, but when it did it wasn’t nearly the exercise in loneliness and frustration that it seemed to be elsewhere. I would simply switch on my bedside lamp, choose a book from my bookshelf, and wile away the hours. Or I’d quietly let myself out the back door and into the screen house in the back yard, where I would sit and breathe and listen to the night sounds. Occasionally my Grandmother, who was a light sleeper, would discover my awake state, and she’d fix me a mug of chamomile tea. We’d sit together in the screen house, or at the kitchen table, and she’d stay up and talk with me until I finished every drop. She’d ask me if I was sleepy, and if I was she’d tuck me back in, kiss my forehead, turn off my light, and leave my bedroom door open a crack. If I wasn’t sleepy she’d tell me to “keep my butt inside the house”, then tuck me in with my book and a glass of water, hunt up the cat and deposit him on the foot of my bed, kiss my forehead, and leave my bedroom door open a crack.

Tonight – this morning – I’m awake yet again. The routine hasn’t changed all that much, I just address my sleepless state with a great deal less frustration than I used to. It’s an opportunity for me to read, or surf the web, or watch something I DVR’ed. Tonight, I have a warm ball of purring cat at my side, an itch to write, and a hot mug of chamomile tea. Funny thing is, I don’t particularly like the taste of chamomile. Some things are just ingrained, I guess.

  1. crisi-tunity says:

    I was also a sleepless kid. It was always in my own house, though. I’d lie awake for hours and hours and hours and listen to the night sounds and wonder when the hell I’d get to sleep. I wore out the batteries of flashlights within a week, reading under the covers, and if my parents found out I’d been reading instead of sleeping I’d get in trouble, so I was always stuck (your grandmother was wonderful).

    My insomnia didn’t really go away until college, and I learned to sleep good and proper then. I still have the occasional sleepless night, but generally something specific has to be bothering me, or the timing of when I go to bed has to be off, or something. It’s rarely idiopathic anymore.

    It kind of frustrates me that childhood sleeplessness isn’t something I read about as a problem. It was a major problem for me, and it sounds like for you. I’m sure we’re not the only ones.

    Have you tried valerian tea? It’s a bit of a stronger sedative than chamomile.

    • Tiffany says:

      My granny WAS wonderful! She used to get a bit irritated that I wasn’t sleeping, but then just went with it when she realized it wasn’t like I was doing it on *purpose*.

      You know, I bet we aren’t the only ones that had childhood sleep issues. I bet it never even occurs to the child to mention it. I know I never did, it just got noticed by the grown-ups in my life every now and again.

      Never tried valerian. Is it available at the grocery store or do I need to go to a fancy store? 😀

  2. maleesha says:

    I get the insomnias about once a month. I haven’t found anything to do about it. I hate tea. I try to write or read when I am stuck awake. I had weird sleep things as a kid too, but mostly sleepwalking or lucid dreaming.

    • Tiffany says:

      My step-son used to sleepwalk when he was little – I don’t think he does it anymore but I haven’t asked him. He used to carry on whole conversations and not remember a thing in the morning.

  3. Jayne says:

    Prolonged bouts of insomnia are a problem but I find the odd disturbed night here and there isn’t too bad now that the internet exists. I think I used to hate that feeling that *everyone* was sleeping except me. It’s … well, *lonely*. Now I can get up and there is usually someone on my global internet radar whom I know will be awake. This is just as well. Fortunately, childhood insomnia was not a problem for me. However, middle-aged sleep disturbance coupled with worries has been more the norm in recent times.

    You probably know about lavender (in a bath, on bed linen etc) helping sleep …and certain foods (remember Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and the soporific effects of lettuce)! Yeah, I’m with you, chamomile may help but it’s not exactly the best taste in the world – I do find valerian more palatable.

    • Tiffany says:

      Exactly! It was so much more boring before the internet! And it is lonely to feel like you’re the only one “up” on the entire planet. So, yay for Google Chat!

      You know, I need to pick up some more lavender bubble bath. I just hate to run the tub in the middle of the night for fear of waking Bill. Maybe one before bed, if I’m feeling restless.

  4. Oregon Sunshine says:

    Chamomile has never worked for me. Usually a couple valarian capsules do the trick, but not recently. I keep waking up several times a night. A couple times I was scratching my vet wrap (thankfully it was there!)

    In fact, I meant to leave a comment here right after you posted this, but the valarian got the best of me for an hour or two.

  5. Taoist Biker says:

    Insomnia has rarely been a problem for me, but just reading your post made me never want to drink chamomile. If it was associated with all those sleepless nights, in all those different places, I’d learn to hate that crap, too!

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