Shut up! Dont talk to me! I didn’t sleep last night.

The title of this post was a barrage of stinging words I hurled at my daughter one morning. The people we insomniacs love the most often bear the brunt of our frustration from sleeplessness. Hiding insomnia is not easy to do.

Occasional insomnia might be concealable. But I think chronic insomnia is difficult to mask. Ive rarely been able to camouflage mine, especially to those who know me personally. We insomniacs know our condition is a bigger creature than we ourselves are. Its all-encompassing; no area of life goes untouched. Insomnia causes grouchiness and irritability, and then the three unite in a joint effort to wreak havoc in our lives.

In the mid- to late-1980s and into the early 1990s I worked as a service tech at a Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership in Marion, Illinois. Back then I took a dalmane capsule nearly every night but still didnt sleep as much as I needed. One morning my service manager, Roger, handed me a work order to change an engine in a front-wheel-drive Cadillac.

I didnt want the job and couldnt believe he assigned it to me. What I did next would have gotten me fired from any other dealership. But Roger was one of the most laid-back service managers for whom Ive ever worked, even when it concerned my appalling behavior peaked by insomnia and horrid prescription drugs.

I had what is known in the business as a refrigerator toolbox. Theyre a bottom box and a top box that when combined form the size of a refrigerator. I had both boxes bolted together to form one large tool box. I opened the top box, gripped the front of it with both hands, and shook it so hard from front to back that the wheels lifted off of the floor with each push and pull. I had so much pint-up energy from both the dalmane and the insomnia (and the fact that I hated the automotive repair business) that I guess I had strength beyond normal at that moment.

After my tool-rattling tirade I grabbed a chair, stormed out of the service department, leaned back against the outside wall, and sat there for thirty minuteson the clock. After Id cooled off some, I went back to the Cadillac and kicked the front license plate several times with my right foot, bending the plate out of shapebut I didnt care. After a while, I settled down and changed the engine. I guess if Id had an assault rifle with me that morning, I could have easily gone postal. Its good that Ive never had an interest in guns and have never owned one. Lack of sleep and vicious prescribed drugs cause you to say things and act in ways youd never do otherwise.

Later, as a graduate student in the mid-1990s, (I went to grad school at age 37 and with a family in-tow.) In 1994 I was getting, on average, maybe an hour of sleep per night. I was miserable, actually beyond miserable, but I tried my hardest to keep it from my fellow students and co-workers. I was no longer taking dalmane, so I didnt have that chemical in my system to cause additional problems.

I never tried to hide it from my family, though. One morning after little sleep the night before, I was walking my then nine-year-old daughter to school. She said something to me; I dont remember what, but I snapped and said, Shut up! Dont talk to me! I didnt sleep last night.

She didnt say another word. But I know I hurt her feelings that morning. I would never have said that if Id had a normal nights sleep of six to eight hours. I dont know if shes forgotten that morning, but I havent. Ill carry the burden of hurting her that day for the rest of my life. That was my sleep-deprived brain speaking through me, not the real me. This is proof of what insomnia does to the members of a family with one who suffers from chronic insomnia. Its a patently horrible condition that eats away at you and your familys members one bite at a time.

As a graduate student, I worked 36 hours per week for the schools landscaping department. We were a large department with every tool and machine needed to care for the school’s campus, family-housing units, and off-campus properties. As with most institutions of higher learning, the president received special treatment. The landscaping department stored the wood used in the presidents home fireplace and kept his wood rack stocked so hed have wood when he wanted it or needed it.

One day, with little sleep and after scoring poorly on a test, I went to work early, said not one word to anybody, grabbed an axe, walked out of the building and around to the woodpile, raised the tool over my head and with every ounce of strength I could muster, slammed it into a chunk of wood. Normally, Id never chop wood. If youve ever chopped it you know its hard, physical work, the kind of work I dont like. But that day I needed the energy relief that chopping offered.

Chronic insomnia is like a cancer that consumes ones emotional, physical, and mental arenas. And unless you have Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI), it wont kill you, but it sure has the power to make you wish you were dead.

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