One of the more perplexing aspects of my advanced age is that a lot of stuff to which I was exposed as a youth turns out to be disturbingly relevant to my present existence.

Bobby Lewis cut this track for the first time in 1961, when he was either 28 or 36 and I was just about to turn eight. He still sings it today.

Lewis says he had a lover, or perhaps former lover, on his mind. That's the only aspect of this song, though, that doesn't resonate with me. I have been fighting insomnia on and off for the worse — as distinguished from "better" — part of a decade, and more than once it's driven me close to despair.

Saturday night, just before midnight, I was working on one of the niche sites I maintain, and it had gone from dead-ass slow the night before to positively inert. Unable to rouse it using the usual techniques — if there's one thing I have in abundance, it's usual techniques — I turned in a trouble ticket at the host. Shortly thereafter, everything crashed. This was, I assumed, the inevitable consequence of trying to correct the problem. By about 4:30, I figured it was a lost cause for the night. At 5:30, I went out to fetch the newspaper and crawled back into bed, staring blindly off in the general direction of space. Just before sunrise, I gave it up, signed into the control panel, and summoned a live tech. Took the guy all of 18 minutes to diagnose the issue and repair it, including one server reboot. Finally, about 6:45, I crashed, and didn't stir (much) until half past eleven.

The lesson, of course, is that if there's anything on my mind when I hit the sack, I'm simply not going to get any sleep: it's going to bother me, and keep on bothering me, until I throw up my hands in despair and retreat to the kitchen, or to the bathroom, whichever might have the best chance of offering something that will knock me on my ass for the next few hours. Given my already ragged circadian rhythms — if there's a "normal" time to get sleepy, I haven't heard of it — whatever the glowing digits on the alarm clock might be, I'm guaranteed to hate them.

As vicious circles go, this is one of the snarliest: losing sleep over not being able to get any sleep is the epitome of the lose/lose situation. Getting horizontal will instantly turn minor aches and pains into major ones. All kinds of things that had gone unnoticed all day are now at the top of the list. The bedroom fan sounds like it's playing old radio dramas. Things I'd managed not to think about for weeks, even years, suddenly present themselves for inspection. At one level, I suppose, I should be delighted: the brain goes to a lot of trouble to prevent itself from shutting down, a skill that I suspect will prove useful in my declining years. But if it doesn't get any rest, won't it burn itself out?

Yeah, I know: drugs. There are lots of them. I've tried quite a few. Whatever effect they may have, it goes away in a month or so. I don't think I'm exhibiting the classic symptoms of narcolepsy — yet. But I do know this: there are times when the brain willingly will shut down, and these are seldom the times when I want it to. I blame this partially on the enormous white-noise generator in my office, far more effective at overwhelming the brain than the little bedroom fan is ever going to be. But mostly I blame this on a childhood fear: "What if I don't wake up?"

What, indeed?

The Vent

  7 July 2014

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 Copyright © 2014 by Charles G. Hill