On Nights Like This:

It’s 3:20 in the morning and I am not yet asleep. Or, to be precise, it is 3:19:46 and I am wide awake.

There isn’t a great deal, I have found, that I can do when it’s like this: tossing and turning in bed only makes me frustrated and angry. Music, however restful, stops working when it gets to the end of the track — much like the 2-headed dog in Harry Potter that only sleeps whilst the magic harp plays. The snarling temper isn’t too dissimilar either..

Yes, I’ve tried various breathing and meditative exercises (the meditation things are great for relaxing provided I don’t need to sleep). And yes, I have once or twice been provided with prescriptive assistance. In the short term, it’s fine, but long term..? No.

I found the only way to deal with it, is to embrace it: provided physical pain isn’t involved, it is a method that works for me. If, at some point, I doze off then okay. But if not — well, Saturdays at work (I work 3 out of 4 Saturdays) are reasonably quite, there’s a skeleton staff, the day is slightly shorter and if I can ride it out that long then a hot bath and some herbal assistance should mean at least some sleep somewhere in the not too distant future.

It is what it is; if I were honest, I would say that the periods of extreme wakefulness are easier to cope with than the periods of extreme desire for sleep. I can ride out my mind feeling like its full of fireworks far easier than feeling like its inching along like some primordial gloop.

And it has another advantage, one which, as an introvert, I quite enjoy: the feeling of having the house to myself.

I’ve been a single parent for 16 years, and whilst my sons are adults now, they aren’t yet in a position to leave home. We’re a good team, mostly — we muddle along one way or another, and whilst no parent should ever think their children beyond criticism, I love them hugely and am proud of the men they are becoming.

Sometimes, though, it is nice to have space and these sleepless nights (there have been a fair few down the years) have at least had the benefit of providing an unexpected space to.. explore; I’ve never really been in a position to travel, but even when a body and mind aren’t co-operating with each other, taking one’s thoughts away from the physical and mental barbs and thorns can become a sanctuary, of sorts.

As an introvert, the danger of course is that I would want to stay there, hidden away mentally, emotionally even, in that ethereal sanctuary it is possible to create. I have to remind myself that it would only become another form of prison if I never left it.

And this late at night, time becomes somewhat elastic too: when in the daylight hours, time seems to roll down like a driving, wild river, driven by currents and winds, and swelled by rain, smashing against rocks and throwing itself over the edge of a cacophonous waterfall — at night, maybe because it is so quite, because I feel as though I am standing in the middle of a place that is at once all of the futures that I dream and yet also that dark pulsating centre of some infinite universe; at night, time stretches like a cat, luxurious and slow against emerald grass.

Soon, maybe around 5, I will feel I can close my eyes and for an hour or so, I will have something approaching sleep, from which I will jerk out of suddenly at 6am, when I know it has to be a strong hot coffee and a hot shower — or I’m going to be late for work and with a headache to boot. I have never quite understood how my body and brain will tolerate an hour, but punish me for any more than that.

I can feel that part of myself that says, of course you want to sleep: and of course I do. I know my body does, but my mind simply refuses. Thoughts that are not ready for full cognition try to plump up their adolescent wings and hop around the branches to test the idea of flight; thoughts that arrive like a cuckoo — unwelcome and invasive and leaving its hidden stranger; thoughts that beat with the power and muscle of an eagle protecting its nest. Thoughts that speed past, tiny powerful motor engines whining past: insects, varied in colour and far too many that come with stings in their tail.

Sometimes all I can do is lay down beside that rush of water, feel the emerald grass beneath me and watch those thoughts and the patterns they make, smell both the nectar and the rot of dying plants and let it be what it is for a while.

There will be sleep; soon, very soon I hope, there will be sleep. Until then, my brain will try to learn to fly.

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