What is it like to have insomnia?

By Tara Lim
As told to Helene Enriquez
Art by Gianna Encarnacion

Idon’t sleep, so I don’t dream, but when I do? It gets weird. One time I dreamt my friend and I were watching hardcore midget porn — not that I know what hardcore midget porn looks like. I just remember “Dream Me” saying, “Sh*t, this is hardcore midget porn!” Or something like that. So yeah, my friend and I were watching hardcore midget porn. In my dream.

It would be nice to dream more often, but sleep is a privilege in the clock-less world of my bedroom. I usually get one to two hours of sleep — three, if I’m lucky. Then I’ll cope with a nap or two during the day. The longest I’ve been awake is probably 50 hours straight. I’m afraid it’s all very boring. There may have been one disgustingly emotional text sent at 3 a.m. but everyone’s done that. No sleep-starved bursts of inspiration, or supernatural occurrences. Although years after my dad died I used to smell cigarette smoke in the middle of the night: my dad was a heavy smoker, and the ghost-smoke would help me sleep. But that probably has nothing to do with my insomnia.

There’s just a lot of me, lying in bed, staring into the void where my ceiling should’ve been, sometimes with Netflix anemically droning on in the background. A lot of waiting. They say the blue light from gadget screens tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime, making it harder to sleep and maybe that’s why millennials are soulless flesh bags in the mornings. But I’ve tried the opposite — no phones, no coffee, but still no good. I’ve tried warm milk, sheep-counting, boring podcasts, even breathing exercise things. I thought melatonin would finally do it, and then it knocked me out for 11 hours and I missed an important meeting.

There are times I’d be on something for a month, and it’d be good, but then I’d miss it for a day and my body clock would short-circuit. Which is kind of… fine? I’m a little afraid of becoming dependent on any sort of medication. Besides, I’ve been in this body a while. We’re friends-ish.

(Oh, and I had this other dream where I was at a bonfire at the beach and then Marilyn Manson showed up and made out with my mom. I wonder what my subconscious was trying to tell me with that one.)

The world holds its breath for an eternal second and everything stills. The world under sunshine is so boisterous that it seems that it’s only in the darkness that things make sense — if only for a moment.

I work as an audio engineer for a post-production house so the hours are pretty unpredictable. Sometimes I’m at work for two hours, sometimes 17. I try to walk home from work as much as I can because exercise is supposed to help you sleep, but I obviously wasn’t physically exerting myself enough. So I did yoga for a bit. I also haven’t touched my yoga mat in a year. I used to go out a lot, but even drinking wouldn’t get me to sleep. I mostly stay home now.

My long nights are spent on trash TV or Googling things or rearranging furniture. Last night, I deep-cleaned my refrigerator at 4 a.m. The other night, I pillaged empires playing Civilization 6 until my neighbor’s rooster went off. The night before that, I listened to Ang Bandang Shirley’s “Favorite” with all the lights turned off. Sometimes, I just think. Sometimes I just think, think REALLY LOUD, and it feels like the silence is listening to me.

(I have recurring dreams of my dad in our old house in Olongapo. It was the house I grew up in, but all that’s left of it now is a patch of scorched grass. My memories of him had been lost to the fire. They had turned into ash, indifferently kicked up by a jeepney that sped by. It almost feels too real, but I don’t mind.)

I think of everything. A friend once suggested I possessed a lucidity that most people don’t. But did she mean a lucidity like cool water or lucidity like a knife? Did it refresh or wound? While I’m still not sure if I believe her, I posed that maybe it was because, well, I think of everything. I spend nights without a wink drawing up to-do lists, mapping out trips still six months into the future, conjuring up witty comebacks I should have thrown at that rude dude at Route 196. And that’s when I really lose sleep. As if I had so much of it lose in the first place. But the depths of the night are a friend. The world holds its breath for an eternal second and everything stills. The world under sunshine is so boisterous that it seems that it’s only in the darkness that things make sense — if only for a moment.

Not having sleep around just gives me more time to observe where the gears have conked out, or how others are beyond repair. It’s grueling, fascinating, wounding, healing. If sleep won’t fix things, I’ve got to do the fixing myself.

Of course, I die at work the next day. A few years ago, when it was really bad, people altogether stopped expecting me to show up to anything. Exhaustion would get the better of me and I’d find myself consistently waking up at odd hours to send variations of my classic “I’m sorry I fell asleep” text. It was general knowledge that, in the mornings, I’d either be snapping at clients or asleep on a random piece of furniture. Apparently, I’d have this signature glazed-over look, with eyes far away that got people asking me if I was sick, or sad. The truth is I was mostly just flat-out tired. I didn’t feel crippled by my lack of sleep as much as you’d think — I chose to see it as having more time to do other things. But I did feel like it injured my relationships with the people I worked with.

(This one dream played out like a feature film, with opening credits and everything. It was about a girl so desperate for a job that she applied to be Satan’s assistant. It starred Ellen Page and Harvey Keitel.)

Sleep is nature’s mechanic, and without it I feel like a wrench helplessly lying on the hood of a broken car. Does that make sense? Not having sleep around just gives me more time to observe where the gears have conked out, or how others are beyond repair. It’s grueling, fascinating, wounding, healing. If sleep won’t fix things, I’ve got to do the fixing myself. I guess I could always watch more Jersey Shore instead, but I’ve always been too stubborn for my own good.

(My favorite dream is the one where we were living in a post-apocalyptic world and our biggest concern was dry skin. Basically everyone was flaking away like giant dandruff. It was magnificent. And really gross.)

Tags:
#self

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