My relationship with sleep is troubled. I always want more, but there are periods in my life where the insomnia returns and even though I am very tired and would like nothing more than to be asleep, my body is awake in the middle of the
night for an hour or two. Of late, there have been a string of these nights which is “fun” not just for me, but the people around me.
When I am tired, I feel it in my eyes the most. There’s tension in them that expands across my nose. It is a tight feeling—uncomfortable. Also, my brain is
lethargic and my thoughts turn often to sleep. My hunger signals are harder to interpret. I feel hungry all the time, though experience tells me I am not really and eating constantly will not help the problem.
I mostly associate these physical sensations with the misery that is insomnia. However, last night I was thinking about times I feel overtired, but with a sense of elation. It happens. Here are some examples.
I am in college, and writing my first long paper for anything and I am a bit out of my element. The paper is for Western Civ. and must be eight to ten pages. I have researched my topic, found four sources—one more than required!—in the college’s tiny library. I have made quote cards to avoid plagiarism and have a bibliography done already. The problem is that the paper is due tomorrow and I have not yet written it. I have made some attempts, but they have trailed off into a few tepid paragraphs. It is nine pm, my other work is finished and the clock is ticking.
I write my first draft in longhand on paper I have grabbed from the recycling bin and I type it into my word processor as I edit. As the hours pass, I revise and polish, catching mistakes here and there, adding details and clarifying points. At two in the morning I set my word processor to print while I walk down to the basement of the dorm for a soda to keep me awake awhile longer. I take the printed copies and begin the arduous task of reading each sentence individually from the last to the first, to catch my many spelling and grammar errors.*
At four o’clock I have finished, printed my final copy and stapled it with the stapler my mother sent me to college with. I collapse into bed for three hours of sleep and arise with that exhausted feeling. Still, I am pretty pumped. I wrote the paper, it exceeded the proscribed eight to ten page minimum by a few pages and I am pleased with my work. Even as a college student, a good night’s sleep was important to me and I swore I would never do that again, a vow I mostly kept for my remaining years of college. The paper got an A and went on to win a writing prize, forever associating that exhausted feeling with a worthy payoff.
I like a boy. This situation could be any number of examples as I like boys a lot and the process of liking one was a familiar one from elementary school. However, beginning in high school, they started to like me back, which changed the game entirely and was much more rewarding. So I like a boy. We’ve been hanging out more and I am pretty sure he likes me, but I do not want jinx anything by admitting it aloud. I can read the signs, which range from the
hand casually resting on my shoulder or arm to the out-of-nowhere, “what’s up
with you” phone call, to the group gatherings that are suddenly being organized
by mutual friends that always include the two of us.
It is late and I have to get home. I have a curfew, or work early in the morning or just need to end the evening. The two of us have circled closer together: maybe the group gathering has dissipated leaving only us; maybe we have gone for a walk and our bodies bump into each other more regularly; maybe we are talking intently on a couch and in our excited conversation have inched closer together. There is a tension in the air, and euphoria. Everything has grown brighter as the potential for something grows before us.
We part. Maybe with something to seal the deal like a kiss, maybe with firm plans for the next day, maybe with a hug that lasts longer than one between friends usually does. But I come home, giddy that the signs that have been pointing in a direction have not been false. Something is happening.
Home, I go through my nightly ritual, maybe running through the whole thing if it is not too late, maybe just crawling into my pajamas and flopping into bed if it is. But I don’t fall asleep. I am high on the possibilities, giddy with like and thrilled that my feelings are reciprocated. Sleep comes eventually and I wake in the morning exhausted and amped and full of possibility.
I am a junior in high school. Junior year is the sweet spot when you have the
high school thing down and do not have the many pressures of senior year
hanging over you, or at least it was for me. I have been hanging out with a girl who is not yet a friend. Our boyfriends—who have broken up with both of
us over the summer—are friends and our social circles overlap a bit, but we
have not quite advanced to the “official friend” stage. It is a Saturday night in early September, a few hours before my curfew and we are chatting.
I can’t remember why it was just the two of us, other people might have had earlier curfews or wandered off to their own potential romance or just gone
home to bed.
It is one of those conversations where you are meant to be going, but the conversation is so delightful that it kept going, despite the fact we were standing out on the sidewalk in the dark. We talked into the warm September night, first standing, then leaning against the car, finally giving into the inevitable and sitting on the sidewalk, our feet in sandals resting in the gutter, our arms crossed against the promise of autumn chill.
Sitting there, I can remember thinking, “I really want us to be friends.” New friendships have always been trickier for me than new romance. In a romance, when push comes to shove, I can always just kiss the boy and find out if things are going to go in the direction I think signs are heading. There is no similar marker for a friend.
Our conversation did have to end eventually, but I really did not want it to. Curfew called, though, and we reluctantly parted. At home, I was tired as only teenagers can be—that potent cocktail of hormones and growth and figuring out who I really am combined with an urge to stay up late and not the best eating habits with a bit of schoolwork and part-time jobs thrown in is incredibly exhausting. But through my exhaustion, I felt the happy connection to a new friend that bolstered me the next day.
So it is not always a bad feeling, this tired feeling. Sometimes there is energy behind it, from accomplishment, new love or new friends. Maybe when I am tired just because of boring old middle-of-the-night insomnia I can tap into some of that good energy and boost my day.
*Something, it should be noted, I do not do for these essays.