insomnia

Exit 227. Taking my own advice.

Two unrelated things happened this week that, when juxtaposed, say something interesting about me.  

The first was a conversation I had on Tuesday with a former student who is now in high school.  I’ll call her “Lambda-2 Fornacis.” Lambda was in my class three years ago, the same class as Protractor Girl, The Boy I Have No Memory Of, and The Kid Who Sat Behind Me At A Basketball Game Once.  She was the kind of student that most teachers love to have in their class. She did her homework, it was neatly written, and she always was one of the top students in my class.  I think she had straight As all through middle school. I normally tell students that they can add me on social media after they finish middle school and go on to high school, but somehow (probably because these kids have older friends who talk) she found my Instagram (which doesn’t have my real name anywhere on it) and started following me the year after she had my class, when she was still in middle school.  I didn’t do anything about it, though, because I figured she wasn’t the type to cause trouble, although I didn’t follow her back until the day after she finished middle school.

Anyway, Lambda asked me something about a recent post on Instagram, I replied, and then I asked her how she was doing.  She mentioned that she had dropped precalculus. This year has been the first time she had ever struggled in math, she didn’t like the teacher she had this year, and she had been rethinking her career plans.  I have to admit, that was a little disappointing to hear at first, because she was such a great student for me, and I’m always disappointed to hear when people don’t love math as much as me. However, I completely understand where she is coming from, and I told her so.  I told her about hitting the same proverbial wall with physics my freshman year at UC Davis, how I struggled so much with that class at first, and while I still did well, it just didn’t feel as natural for me as math did. It was during that first physics class when when I decided for sure to major in mathematics and not physics, and I didn’t take any more physics after I was done with the minimum that would be required for the math major.  I told her that there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind about your future plans, especially since she’s only 15. I told her that as late as age 19, I was telling people that there was no way I would ever be a teacher. And I told her that I took all the most challenging classes in high school, to the point that I had some very long days senior year, but I wasn’t doing it because I had a career plan. For me, it was because I felt like school was the one thing I was good at, and I would be a failure if I didn’t.  This is not a mentally healthy outlook. I know that Lambda is going to be successful no matter what direction she takes her education.

That was Tuesday.  On Wednesday night, I got very little sleep.  I discovered another important thing here at the house that needed to be fixed.  I started to panic under the pressure of everything that needed to be done. I was behind on grading papers.  I had errands and chores that were piling up, and the kitchen sink was full of dirty dishes. I had now four important home repairs that needed to be dealt with as soon as possible, one of which was already making life more inconvenient in very tangible ways, and another of which had the potential to do so if left unchecked.  I couldn’t sleep, and I wasn’t sure if it was related to stress, recent changes in medication, other health problems I didn’t know about, lack of exercise, or what. It’s very hard for me to get these home repairs and chores done sometimes, because I’m rarely home during business hours and my schedule isn’t very flexible. I don’t get a lot of exercise this time of year, because I’m only home when it’s cold and dark.  And I couldn’t call in sick and take a day to recover from the lack of sleep and deal with these problems, because the classroom is such a mess that a substitute wouldn’t be able to find what they needed, and the kids would get behind anyway because my curriculum doesn’t work well for people who haven’t been trained and aren’t well-prepared.

I went to work on one hour of sleep (and I had gotten three hours the previous night).  I made an important decision while I was tossing and turning: long story, but basically I sent an email to the administrators saying that I needed to back out of one of my weekly commitments.  This would give me one more day of the week that I could get home a little earlier when needed, if I needed to deal with something before it got dark and places closed. Thankfully, they were very understanding.  But, I told the principal, I still feel like I do so much less than so many other teachers. Some of them are working on graduate degrees. Many of them attend more professional development workshops than I do. Some of them are department chairs, or serve on committees.  And many of them have young children of their own. I feel like there is something wrong with me, that I have such a hard time handling my own job, let alone all that extra stuff.

And then it hit me.

Why do I have such a hard time taking my own advice?

Just a day and a half earlier, I was messaging Lambda telling her that it was okay not to burden herself with hard classes that she didn’t need.  So why can’t I tell myself that it is okay not to burden myself with stressful commitments that I don’t need?

Everyone’s brain works differently.  I get more easily stressed and overwhelmed, and I’m fighting demons from the past that many of my coworkers don’t have.  If I really believe what I told Lambda, then it’s hypocritical to insist upon myself that I take on extra commitments that I don’t get anything out of.

It’s now Saturday, and I feel so much better.  Getting out of that extra commitment allowed me to leave earlier than usual on Thursday, which gave me time to make some phone calls to start the process of dealing with the two most pressing home repairs.  I didn’t get completely caught up on grading, but it’s now a three-day weekend, so I’ll have time to catch up.

I’m going to be fine.  :)&[4].

Exit 214. Insomnia is infuriating.

Nothing seems unusual for the first hour.  For all my life, it has never been unheard of for me to take a while to fall asleep.  But if I am still awake after an hour, a feeling of dread starts to settle in.  Usually by then, a feeling of having to go to the bathroom has settled in as well, so I get up and deal with that.  I go back to bed and try to relax.

The end of the second hour is when I really start to feel doomed.  I can often tell by then that I’m just not going to be falling asleep.  Usually by then I have to go to the bathroom again, and I’m desperate to get rid of as many distractions as possible that might keep me awake all night, so I get up again and go to the bathroom.  It is at this point that I try doing something else for a bit to get my mind off of whatever is keeping me awake.  If I work the next day, I’ll make my lunch now; that’ll give me an extra few minutes in the morning just in case I do happen to fall asleep.  Sometimes I’ll read for a while.  Eventually I’ll try going back to bed.  I’ll set my alarm for about 45 minutes later than the time it usually goes off, so that I will wake up with the absolute bare minimum amount of time to get ready and dressed in the morning and not be too terribly late to work.  Every minute of potential sleep counts.

If I don’t fall asleep at this point, I start questioning why I am being punished with this inability to sleep.  Am I just subconsciously, or consciously, worrying about something?  Was it because of something I ate?  Did I just eat too much too late at night?  Did I drink too many caffeinated beverages?  Was I looking at too many screens too late at night?  I start to get angry and frustrated over the lack of consistency.  I remember other nights when I did whatever it might have been that is keeping me awake, but had no trouble falling asleep.  Why do there seem to be absolutely no rules here?  Insomnia is infuriating.

Sometimes, between the third and fourth hour, I get desperate.  I start lamenting whatever it is that is wrong with me that causes me to experience this hell.  If I have any in the medicine cabinet, I’ll take some medication for colds or allergies that causes drowsiness, even though I don’t have a cold and am not bothered by allergies.  That also gets me to the bathroom to take another bathroom break.  And this is when I start to notice the headache setting in.  A sense of dread begins to overwhelm me as I realize that I’m going to have to go to work tomorrow with this headache.   I contemplate taking a sick day, but then I realize that no one else can do my job, not being there just gets everyone behind, and preparing not to be there is often quite a bit of work in and of itself.  Most of the time, I just decide to ride it out and go to work anyway, and try to survive until lunch when I might get in a 20-minute nap with my head down on the desk.

Eventually, after a few more hours of helplessly tossing and turning, I realize that my alarm would have gone off by now had I not changed it earlier in the night.  I give up and get dressed and go about my day, simply hoping to survive until I get home, and hoping that it will be a long time before I experience this misery again.  Unfortunately, the nights of insomnia have become more frequent lately.  Every time, when I finally get to sleep after being awake for 30-40 hours in a row, I hope that these days are behind me.  We’ll see.

Exit 73. Read your Bible.

I’ve been having some strange dreams lately.  I’ve been having trouble sleeping in general, and at least twice in the last week, I’ve had already short nights of sleep cut even shorter by waking up from some really bad dreams.  Last night’s was particularly creepy.

I was at some sort of church gathering, but I wasn’t at any church that looks familiar to me in real life.  And it wasn’t a regular service, because we were outside.  I don’t remember if there was a band playing, or a guest speaker, or just a church picnic type event, but we were definitely outside.  During this event, there were these two children walking around, probably around 10 years old.  I couldn’t tell if they were boys or girls; I thought they looked more like girls, but if so, they hadn’t been through puberty yet and they weren’t wearing shirts.  They definitely looked out of place, like they had been raised in a cabin deep in the mountains and hadn’t had much contact with contemporary urban or suburban life. They kept walking around telling people why the Bible is wrong and all this stuff about contradictions within the Bible and inconsistencies between the Bible and other historical records.  They spoke in an expressionless, monotone manner, as if they were reciting words that they had memorized and recited many times before.  It seemed like whoever they were, they weren’t really sharing opinions they had; instead, someone had probably trained them to go around to church events and do this just for the purpose of trolling, to upset Christians just for the fun of it.  Maybe they had parents who were militant atheists who enjoyed doing this, for example.  I even wondered if they were demons sent by Satan to sow doubt and discord among the Christians in the crowd.  Every time they spoke, they would finish by regaining expression in their mannerisms and saying “Read your Bible!” in the sense that if you read the Bible, these contradictions would be obvious.

The behavior of these girls in the dream (I’ll call them girls, even though as I said I’m really not sure) reminded me of two other things.  Back when I used to do chat rooms, sometimes there would be these trolls who would come to Christian chat rooms and copy and paste statements about apparent contradictions in the Bible specifically for the purpose of trolling, much like the behavior of the children in my dream.  Also, I saw a video once of people who were driving around groups of people lined up to buy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and shouting spoilers to the crowd solely for the purpose, again, of being jerks.  In at least one instance, the trolls mispronounced a name that appears prominently in all seven books, proving that these people knew absolutely nothing of the Harry Potter universe.  I got the same sense from the little girls in the dream, that they didn’t really know what they were saying.

At one point, the girls were running around on the roof of the building, doing their usual thing.  All of a sudden, I felt myself levitate above the crowd, and the next thing I knew, I was on the roof too.  It was as if God had placed me up there specifically to preach.  I spoke to the girls.  I told them, “Jesus is the Son of God!  Jesus is my Lord and Savior!  And Jesus loves you!”  That last one finally broke the expressionless face on one of them.  She seemed to be struggling to comprehend this concept that Jesus loved her.  I told her that Jesus wanted her to come to him, that he brings life in a way that no one else can.  She looked like she was about to cry joyfully at this news, but then suddenly the lack of expression came back to her face and she continued her thing of reciting who Jesus really was in history and how this contradicts the Bible.  I took a step toward her, and at that point she fell off the roof.  I didn’t know if she survived the fall, but I kept feeling that I had a chance to save her eternal soul, and if she didn’t survive that fall, she was going to live all of eternity without Jesus.  I woke up with chills at that point, without knowing if she survived the fall.

It was 3:30am.  I had only been asleep for two hours, and I didn’t know if I was going to get back to sleep after that.  I had to pee, but I was too afraid to venture out of bed for a few minutes, in case there were half-naked demon children in the hallway waiting to tell me everything supposedly untrue about Christianity.  I did eventually summon up the courage to go to the bathroom, after praying for a few minutes.  The first thing I did once I got back to bed was download the YouVersion Bible app on the new phone I wrote about last week, and I read about a chapter and a half from where I left off the last time I had read the Bible (which I’m sad to admit was about a week ago) before I started falling asleep and decided to give sleep another try.  I got about three more hours of sleep.

This whole experience got me thinking a lot, though, about how I haven’t been reading the Bible as much as I should be, and I’m not always good at explaining what I believe, and why.  So I’m going to go read the Bible now before I do anything else today.  And as for explaining what I believe: Human beings are inherently sinful, and this separates us from eternal life with God, our Creator.  Jesus came to Earth to live with us and die for our sins so that all who proclaim him as Lord and Savior can live eternally with Him.  It is the work of Jesus on the cross that saves us, not our own good works, but our works can reveal whether or not we are true believers, whether Jesus is truly our Lord.  And it is not our place to act judgmental or hateful to those who don’t share our beliefs, but it is our place to make sure that as many people as possible know this truth so that they know how to find eternal life.

Exit 31. One of the most torturous experiences.

This is officially the most sleepless night I’ve ever had.

I have been awake right now for between 20 and 21 hours.  That isn’t unusual.  But what is unusual about all this is that I work tomorrow.  My alarm for work is going to go off in less than an hour, and I don’t feel myself getting any more tired.  Usually when I have nights like this, I toss and turn for a few hours, but I end up still getting around three hours of good sleep.  Not tonight.  I went to bed a little late, but still early enough to get a solid five hours of sleep.  After that, I proceeded to toss and turn for three and a half hours, then I gave up on trying to sleep and eventually, after going to the bathroom and fiddling with the laptop, which isn’t connecting to the wifi for some reason, started writing this.  It was a rather arbitrary decision to choose 90 minutes before the time my alarm was set for as the cutoff for when to give up, mostly because of one particularly memorable sleepless night a few years ago in which I got approximately 90 minutes of sleep.  But even before then, with about two hours left to go before the alarm would go off, I knew I wasn’t going to be getting any sleep, because I could feel myself getting more awake, my mind feeling more anxious and restless.

To me, being unable to sleep feels like one of the most torturous experiences.  I feel so helpless.  There is nothing I can do about it.  I can’t command my body to be more tired.  All I can do is ride it out, lie there in bed as I toss and turn trying in vain to get comfortable, while my mind races with thoughts of the day that just happened and the same two songs run through my head, playing over and over again but never finishing, yet switching abruptly from one song to the other.  In case you were curious, this time it was Voices Carry by Til Tuesday, and The Longest Time by Billy Joel.  And in between all of that, I am haunted by thoughts of the decisions I made during the day that might have somehow caused me to be unable to fall asleep.  Tonight, the issues in question are how I’ve been eating like crap for the last several days, and that I had a rather large quantity of Dr Pepper about 10 hours ago.  Caffeine seems to have an unpredictable effect on my body.  When I drink Dr Pepper or Coca-Cola with the hope that the caffeine will keep me awake, it doesn’t, but it has been known to keep me awake on nights when I don’t want to stay awake.  Go figure.

Right now, in general, it feels like my life has been spiraling out of control, and this goes back a lot farther than having had Dr Pepper earlier, or last night, or whatever you call it in this situation.  My house still needs cleaning after having hosted a friend’s birthday party Saturday night.  I had a really fun weekend and time off, but I haven’t had enough me time lately.  I’ve been spending very little time reading the Bible and in prayer, and this has been a general trend for several months now.  I haven’t been eating well, as I pointed out earlier.  I really need to take time to get those things under control.  And with a busy week ahead, and a conference I’m going to this coming weekend, all weekend, the only way I’m going to get any of that time is to remove all distractions and everything unnecessary from my schedule this week.  But I’m going to have to do all that while getting all my work done this week, and I won’t get home from work until 3:30pm at the earliest, at which time I will have been awake for over 31 hours.  (This will approximately tie my personal record for hours without sleep, set on the day of the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.)

But I have no choice but to go through with it.  I’m going to feel awful today.  But sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.  Hopefully this will motivate me to eat better and not waste so much time.