Insomnia: Loneliness and Vulnerability
As someone who has struggled with insomnia for most of my life, there's been one constant in my sleep challenges – the loneliness in the middle of the night.
Insomnia in my younger years
I honestly don't remember feeling anything but vulnerable and frustrated when I was younger and failing to fall asleep or awake during the night. At that age, I didn't have a TV in my bedroom, so I turned to books and flashlights to keep me company when I couldn't sleep. It felt much less quiet when I was reading about someone else's adventure.
In high school and then in college, my awake-filled nights were stuffed with studying and paper writing, socializing, and adventuring. Then, it was "cool" to not need sleep, and I told myself that my insomnia could be my superpower.
I slept when I could, but when I couldn't, I took my consciousness to my advantage. I fit in a bunch of extra to-do's during the night when sleep was distant, and doing prevented me from feeling, so I kept right on my way.
Insomnia in my first apartment
A few months after college graduation, I found myself living in a brand new apartment in the city, with a brand new job. I was so pumped at the life change I'd worked so hard for, and I wasn't going to let my insomnia derail a single detail of it. That was the season that I found Benson and Stabler.
Law and Order SVU is a show where old episodes are constantly played around the clock on certain channels. Whether it was 1 AM or 3 AM or 5 AM or noon, I could find an episode of SVU to watch. The main characters - Olivia Benson and Elliott Stabler - they became my middle-of-the-night company. I watched so many episodes so many times that when they showed up on my screen, they felt like distant friends. I felt comforted by their presence, even when I was drifting in and out of sleep. They made me feel less alone. They made insomnia feel less agonizing.
Discovering a new normal
Over the years, as technology transitioned from cable TV to streaming devices and services, I could find Benson and Stabler wherever and whenever I wanted. Insomnia was suddenly more tolerable. Eventually, I found a few other shows that felt like friends in the middle of the night, and in them, I discovered a new normal. My sleep hygiene and my sleep environment hadn't been enough to cure my insomnia, but now they were enough to make me feel less alone when the world was dark and silent.
Living with my partner
When I transitioned from my own place to living with my then-boyfriend (now husband), I wondered how my insomnia routine would change. What would the middle of the night be like? Would I wake him up or keep him awake when I couldn't sleep? Would I still be able to watch TV in bed?
While this is mostly an article for another time, moving in with my partner didn't change a whole lot for my routine. My husband sleeps like a log, and unless I am in distress during the night, I don't usually choose to wake him up. I can watch TV in our room when I'm struggling to sleep, but I don't often choose to anymore.
Less lonely during the nights
The middle of the night feels less vulnerable and lonely and more just matter of fact. Maybe it's that there's someone sleeping beside me. Maybe it's that I'm 35 years old now, and insomnia and I have been together for a really, really long time. Maybe, it's just the season I'm in right now.
If you've struggled with vulnerability and loneliness as a result of being awake and sleep-deprived during odd hours, please know you're not alone. If you've found friends – in person, virtual, or on TV, to keep you company, please do share them below!
Do you have any other health conditions besides insomnia?