WEGO Award

The Rambling Thoughts of a Professional Insomniac


Shirley J. Davis

I have spent almost my entire life unable to sleep unaided. Only if I take some type of medication will my thoughts and body slow down enough for me to sleep. Even as a very young child, I can remember lying awake at night listening to my family sleeping. Such is the plight of a child, and later the adult, who is a survivor of severe and repeated childhood trauma.

I wrote the following essay while living in an inpatient psychiatric ward. I can’t begin to explain the horrendous despair I felt back then, but I think it is evident in this peace.

To all you other professional insomniacs out there, I hope you read this and realize that you are not alone. There are many, many of us who find bedtime a terrible ordeal.


The Rambling Thoughts of a Professional Insomniac

Shirley J. Davis

It’s two o’clock in the morning and I’m still awake. The ghosts of the past as well as the stress of the present play hell with my mind, and so I don’t sleep. Sleep has always been illusive to me, always just out of my reach. Every day I tell myself, “I’ll sleep tonight because I’m really tired”, but I rarely do. Mr. Insomnia is my best friend. I’ve been a pal of his all my life. You see when you are a child of abuse, in bed is a precarious place to be. You are never more helpless than when you are asleep. It ranks right up there with being naked in the tub. I need to relieve the tremendous emotional energy that is building up and spilling over robbing me of sleep and carrying me to the edge. I’ve been taking notes on every piece of paper I can find to get the feelings and thoughts out in some semblance of order. It’s my way of downloading, if you will, all the thoughts in my head.

I’ve lived in this psychiatric ward for over six years of my life now. I was forty-four when I entered and now I am fifty. I never intended to live this long anywhere, but just like everyone else I’m being led by the nose through life until death. There are only two things that keep me on this planet. One is my mother who is very ill and needs me; the other is my fear of hell. I cling precariously to life knowing that at any moment my resolve might dissolve like a cold remedy in a glass of water. It has happened to me before it will happen again. Some day or night in the future I will once again become so despondent that I will despair of ever being happy and will try to destroy me.

Just a few days ago I would have thought that everything was going along pretty well, but once again the proverbial rug has been pulled out from under me. I know I am a hassle to people because of my wheelchair but I didn’t know I was such a liability.  I’ve been trapped in this appliance for over ten years now. I always held out the hope that I would get out of it someday, perhaps by some magical surgery they could do to fix my legs. Now I’ve been told that will never happen. It depresses me to think of the things I can no longer do nor will I ever do. One takes for granted the ability to walk across the room or to stand up. My legs are not paralyzed but they may as well be. They are stuck in a permanently bent state since I had a stroke and I became reliant on my wheelchair for transportation. Yesterday I was told I cannot go on outings with the day program away from this inpatient facility anymore because they do not wish to load and unload my chair. I’m sure what they are doing is illegal, but I live on an inpatient psych ward so who is going to listen to my protests. It makes me feel very lonely.

Loneliness eats at my heart like a dread disease I caught from life. I don’t think I’ll survive my mother’s death when I will become all alone in the world. My heart is too heavy to pick up now, let alone when it is further burdened by permanent absence.

How I envy her. I have an image in my mind of what it would be like to know you are going to die soon. It would be so freeing. I wouldn’t need to fret over the inability to make future plans, and I wouldn’t have to worry about being alone. My regrets over what I wanted to happen in my life that didn’t, well they will be all forgotten for there will be no one to remember them. I know what it feels like to let go and to allow oneself to die. I did it once. I swallowed a bunch of pills one night and went to bed to die letting go of life as I knew it. I remember well the huge feeling of relief I experienced knowing that life for me was finally all over and that I wouldn’t have to struggle anymore.

It’s now three thirty in the morning. The night is progressing. Perhaps during the day today I’ll sleep. I hope so because if I don’t sleep soon I’ll become even more physically and emotionally unstable than I already am. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with a gun, you may sleep but then again maybe not. I don’t know how I remain sane, but then again maybe I’m not. It’s some sort of cruel game fate is play using my intelligence against me. Somehow life feels like a carnival ride going around and around and spiraling out of control and I can’t get off. I never know what a new day will hold. Maybe something, maybe nothing. Maybe tragedy, maybe joy. I feel very old some days.

My youth. What can I say? I’ve spent all my emotional currency in one place loving people who did not love me back. When I was a child my caregivers put me in a deep hole of emotional bankruptcy. In my twenties, I gained on some of that debt, but slowly I have sunk up to my ass in it again. I hope someday to look God in the face and have Him pay off my emotional boon-doggle in full so I can go about my business in eternity with my sanity credit intact.

A smiling depressant. That is what she called me. By she I mean my first therapist. She was the beginning of a twenty-year trek that I have yet to finish. Smiling Depressants are a danger to themselves because they cannot be read. We smile and laugh outside while rotting away on the inside.  Every day, at least once, I rue the day I was born. After all, what have I accomplished? I guess I have learned some things if you count psycho-babble. You know what I mean, all those sayings and shit that you pick up along the way such as “nothing changes if nothing changes” or “choose life”. God how I hate psycho-babble. The worse and most over used word in psycho-babble is the word ‘share’. Can you ‘share’ that with me. Hell no. You can’t ‘share’ what something feels like. Either you feel it or you don’t but that understanding has to be empathetic not given.

I feel haunted all the time. Haunted by the life I had and by the life I could have had. I always wanted a big family with a loving husband, ten kids, and a large house in the country. I have gained none of these things because I am emotionally bankrupt. Another psycho-babble phrase, “the best revenge is to live well” fits well here. I don’t know, I hope that is right. I have outlived my abusers, but it is a hollow victory because I want to be dead too. When I began therapy I felt great hope and I was making progress, digging my way out of the prison that I had been buried in my childhood. Then tragedy struck that changed everything. I lost my therapist whom I had grown very close to and dependent upon to financial problems. The clinic she worked for wouldn’t even let me say goodbye to her. I became a motherless orphan and was bleeding to death from an umbilical cord that was severed too soon and was not properly clamped off. The pain I feel every day of my existence since losing that opportunity to get well is horrendous. I hope the people who saw me only as a profit margin and not as a person desperately in need of help can sleep well at night because I can’t. I doubt if they have even told her why I abruptly stopped going to see her. I am homesick for her every day.

A small child should never be caught between two adults who hate each other. Two of my caregivers hated each other with a passion. He told me things about her, which turned out to be false, and she was always trying to get me to tell her what he had said. I learned very early to walk on glass. One of them used to tell me the same stories over and over and over. They were about my Dad’s childhood, and myself as a baby. I had to always pretend I had never heard those stories before because he could be dangerous when crossed. I won’t go into the specifics here but I will say I was victim to many of his rages. Even so I hope he escaped going to hell when he died.

Anger is like an open sore that no one can see; pussy and infected. Psycho-babble says that depression is anger turned inward. Is that true? If so what is mania? Anger turned outward? Perhaps. The sore of anger can be patched. Yes, you can put a bandage on it but underneath it remains putrid. The only cure is to remove the bandage allow the puss to drain and then leave the sore open to the air. An open sore is a terrible thing but once you know it is there and it is treated properly it will eventually, get well.

Love, what a hard concept for me to understand. There are thousands of songs and poems written about it. People say and do things they would normally never would when they are in love. I was in love once but the love of my life is dead. His name is not important. We worked together for a several years, ironically in a long-term care facility. He tried to express his feelings toward me but I was too damaged to see how he felt until it was too late. Once I realized what had happened, I was angry with myself. The day I read his obituary was one of the worse of my life. Had I not been so damaged by my caregiver’s inappropriate behavior, I would have been able to have recognized his growing love for me. He finally gave up on me and married a woman who worked with the two of us as a nurse. I attended the wedding for the happy couple to be able to share the event with the residents of the home where we were like family. I cried at that wedding and the only people who knew the true source of my tears were the bride and groom. During the ceremony the bride, who I found out later had felt a great triumph over ‘winning’ the groom from me, turned and gave me the most wicked smile I have ever seen. A few years later, shortly before his death, I encountered her working in the ER department of our local hospital. I unknowingly and innocently asked how she and this man were getting along. She became irate and told me they were divorced and that I was the reason. She went on to say that he had always loved me not her, and showed it even in their most intimate moments. I was deeply embarrassed and tried to keep a low profile the rest of time I had to spend there with my friend who was sick. Apparently, I had not been the only heartbroken person at that wedding.

Shame is yet another buddy of mine. We walk hand in hand a lot. If my father were still alive he would have his foot kicked so far up my ass I’d never be able to poop again. Oh God, the stupid, stupid things I have done. Some of them were even illegal. God help me let go of the things of the past because I can’t change them. Help me drop my baggage and move on.

When I got married I wasn’t in love, I was in lust. The only sex I had ever had with men was with an abuser and his cronies. Consensual sex was new and exciting to me at first, but it soon became a burden I felt obligated to do. I faked orgasms for almost eight years. Oh well, who needs sex anyway. It never always has a price. I’ve been divorced now for many years and no longer have to play at that game. I feel some measure of guilt over my marriage. I shouldn’t have married him, I put him and myself through hell. Sigh.

I’m the owner of a lonely heart. No one is aware of how lonely I feel. Sure, I’ve got an emotionally dead roommate but it goes deeper than that. I don’t have anyone who is on the same functioning level as myself. Even the ones who are highly intelligent cannot seem to hold a descent thought or conversation.

I’ve tried to be religious. Hell, I’ve belonged to four churches and been baptized three times. If baptism is a ticket to heaven, I’ve already got my bags packed to go anytime. I’m not a very good Christian. I crave an ice-cold beer, and I do questionable stuff every day. Lately I’ve come to the realization that religion is a manmade thing and all the faith in the world won’t change the past and sure as hell won’t make the present any safer. It truly is the opiate of humanity.

I am my greatest enemy. I judge myself too harshly and therefore loathe myself. My hair is turning gray at fifty because of worry. I worry about what it will be like after my mother dies. I worry about my brothers and my nieces. Most of all I worry that I’ll live long enough to grow old alone. There’s that word again, alone.

I’m happy now that I have spoken out. The tempest seems to have quieted and I now feel I can get some sleep. Shhh! I can hear the silence where my tormented thoughts used to spin. So, take or leave the rambling thoughts of a professional insomniac because as is said in psycho-babble, life goes on.

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