a woman standing at the gate of a mansion, looking toward one lit window with a woman's silhouette in it

The Haunting: How I Found My Sister in Insomnia

As a teacher, I try hard to find books featuring characters with whom my third graders can easily relate. I know the importance of helping them recognize and appreciate differences and similarities. It’s not every day they get to see themselves depicted in print or on the big screen.

After all, it’s fun seeing someone with qualities or characteristics like their own--and it is, in many ways, validating. Who am I kidding? Even as adults, it’s a big deal to see a character who reminds us of ourselves.

Relating to a movie character

Recently, I recognized myself in a character in one of my favorite movies, The Haunting. This version, made in 1999, is one of several movie adaptations of Shirley Jackson’s novel by the same name. Three unsuspecting and rather desperate people are lured into staying in a foreboding old mansion as part of a sleep study. (Sounds legit, right?)

I have seen it over a dozen times over the years but hadn’t watched it in a few years. Apparently, during that time, I morphed into one of the movie’s main characters. I’ve always loved the movie but never related to Eleanor “Nell” Vance until insomnia entered my life.

Shared fear of what the night may bring

Don’t get me wrong, poor Nell has issues far beyond not being able to sleep, but she and I are alike in more ways than I care to admit. Her reluctance to sleep for fear of what the night may or may not bring is right up there on the top of my list, too.

Finding other things to occupy my time is preferable to facing the bed. I stay up chasing down the perfect lesson plan while Nell fills her nights chasing down ghosts. I feel ya, girl.

The desperation is real

There’s a quiet desperation written into Nell’s storyline. Lili Taylor is kind of phenomenal at the grasping-at-straws type of character. It’s one of the things that draws me into the movie no matter how many times I have seen it. That despair is something I can feel deep in my soul.

Insomnia in its purest form is no joke and will bring you to your knees. Praying for rest and pleading for a little shut-eye, I can feel as lost as Nell as she roams from room to room all night long.

It's difficult to explain how insomnia feels

Something else happened as I began to see myself in Nell. It wasn’t just the lack of sleep, the fear, and the anxiety that drew me closer to her character. I began to recognize in her the feeling of being completely misunderstood.

If you have ever seen the movie, then you know how difficult she finds it to explain herself to those around her. Life as an insomniac is fun like that. It’s almost impossible to clearly define the way your body feels morning after morning when sleep is no longer your friend. It’s even more challenging to explain why you sometimes simply avoid going to bed. Only those who live it know it. Nell’s anguish hit me hard.

We're basically soul sisters

I can’t say I am delighted to relate to a character as troubled as Nell, but I will take empathy in any form at this point--movie or not. I get it. I totally do. There is nothing like facing hours of wide-eyed waiting knowing the only thing in store for you is a night filled with random thoughts and worries.

Nell and I? Well, we are basically soul sisters at this point. Until I come across someone less plagued with ghosts and mayhem, she’ll do, you know?

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