three toys in a dark room, a robot and an elephant fast asleep and a teddy bear with insomnia awake with droopy eyes

The Slow Creep of Childhood Insomnia

I cannot pinpoint the exact time insomnia started slowly creeping into my life. Sleep has always been elusive for me.

As a small child, my grandfather would stay with us for extended visits and often slept on the couch. I would sneak out of my bedroom and quietly make my way into an area of the living room where I was invisible to him, but the television was visible to me. I loved the shows he used to watch.

Inevitably, he caught me when he decided to turn the television off mid-show one night. From my hiding spot, he heard my normally quiet and meek voice from my hiding spot exclaim “HEY!” The gig was up.

Losing my grandfather

Fast forward to my pre-teen years, my home life had become chaotic and toxic. My grandfather had passed away a few years earlier, the glue that held my family together was gone, and life changed. My parents no longer had a reason to feign happiness or civility in front of my sisters and me.

We unknowingly lost our protector the night he passed away. We were simultaneously dealing with the grief and pain of his loss and the realization our lives were no longer going to be what they once were.

Full-blown insomnia by middle school

Insomnia went from a mild irritant, something I occasionally dealt with, while in bed waiting for my father to get home from work at night to see if he would start an intense all-night argument with my mother, to full-blown insomnia when I entered middle school.

I was no longer in the nurturing environment of my loving elementary school teachers who tried to gently nudge me out of my painfully shy bubble. I was in a much larger school where teachers had bigger problems to deal with. Separated from many of my elementary school friends, I struggled to make new ones. The next 2 years in middle school didn’t get much better.

Internalizing my pain

When I would go to bed at night, I couldn’t turn my brain off. I internalized a lot of the typical middle school stuff girls usually talk to their mothers about. Opening up to my mother was just as painful as what I endured at school. I was internalizing the pain and toxicity of my home life.

My mom filed for divorce from my dad, and inevitably, my sisters and I were pulled into a world of adult issues we had no understanding of or business entering. I became invisible to my parents in a world in which I was already invisible.

I was told my insomnia would pass

At my yearly physical with my pediatrician that year, I told her I was struggling to sleep and some nights I wasn’t sleeping at all. Her conclusion was not only was I going through a lot of hormonal changes, but a major change at home as well. I was still managing straight A’s in school and my physical health was perfectly fine, so she reassured me in time the insomnia would pass.

Life just needed to calm down for me. As life moved on and I grew older, the insomnia continued. In high school I used it to my advantage for better grades and higher ACT scores, still hoping one day, as my doctor assured me, it would pass. It hasn't.

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