Monday, October 18, 2010

Insomnia's a killer

A good friend of mine works at night. I emailed him last week in the aftermath of the medical crisis, and he responded with news of his own.

It seems extended sleep deprivation can cause hypertension and diabetes. My insomnia exacerbates the mental stress of writing a dissertation, but he tells me that it may also lead to high blood pressure and blood sugar problems.

But the mind races, often about deadlines and unfinished work. I'm haunted by the fact that, last week, I didn't finish reading and annotating Communications to the Board of Agriculture, Volume VI. But what if I shouldn't have finished it? Maybe there's nothing relevant in its 800 pages? What if it has nothing to do with Wordsworth? What if I'm not smart enough to see the connections or too lazy to articulate them well in writing? What if I write the best dissertation I can, and there are no jobs anyway? That's the kind of crap that keeps me awake sometimes. One of the reasons I ride and train on the bike is because the physical effort helps anneal the psychic strain. It clears my head, so to speak--or it exhausts my body so much that I collapse into bed and pass out before my brain can start somersaulting.

But parenthood also wakes me in the middle of the night. In the last few months before Abbey was born, people always told me that I should "sleep NOW." I thought they were talking about the nighttime feedings that would subside after a few months. I experienced a few years of those; Katie's never been a great sleeper. But being woken up to feed your kid or help shush her back to sleep after a nightmare is a pleasure. It's a helluva lot easier than being woken by neurosis. At least when the bottle's empty, you can go back to bed.

But parenthood involves a lot more than feeding and storytelling. Kids hang a sword of Damocles
over their parents. Every choice affects other, helpless people. That power is terrifying at 5:30 AM. The threat of my failure looms large over their lives, too.

But what wakes me most often are synaesthetic vestiges of what's gone: mountain clarity, sage and lavender, camphor and old lady, calves glistening with embrocation, the disappointed expectation of crows, green winters, empathic "uh-huh's", oily magnolia leaves, sand in the shoes, emerald cities.

And the wind.

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