by Damien Schofield
University of Nottingham
CN: insomnia, stress, depression
I don’t know about anybody else who has Insomnia, but I for one do not enjoy spending my nights staring blankly at my ceiling, trying to recall how or when I last fell asleep.
January is a time filled with stress for most University students; there is revision to be done, and coursework to be written. This leads to the last minute cramming that so many students (including myself) are guilty of. Then comes that inevitable post-deadline conversation; “man I’m so tired, I hardly slept at all last night”, to which I’ll casually reply that I didn’t sleep either. It’s just light conversation.
“Then comes that inevitable post-deadline conversation; ‘man I’m so tired, I hardly slept at all last night'”
But what tends to follow has never ceased to amaze me; “Yeah, but it’s different for you, you’re used to it”, and “but how can you be tired? You never sleep anyway”, or the all too common “I wish I was an insomniac, I would get so much done”.
Some of these comments I can understand, as they are simply born from a lack of understanding about the illness. So to quickly clarify: even though I cannot sleep, this does not mean I am not tired. In fact, most days I lack the energy to get out of bed, walk to the shops, or sit at my desk and type something. Despite this lack of energy however, I will still lie in bed for hours, unable to fall asleep at night.
Some pop culture actually does a good job of portraying this; in the film Fight Club the narrator states “when you have Insomnia, you’re never really asleep… and you’re never really awake”. This one line captures it perfectly for me; everything feels hazy, not quite real, and out of focus. Time feels sort of skewed, like all of my days blend into one. Which of course makes it even harder to recall what happened on a daily basis, which then adds to the dreamlike sensation that constantly lingers over me.
“Everything feels hazy, not quite real, and out of focus. Time feels sort of skewed, like all of my days blend into one”
Now, it is one thing to not understand a condition, and quite another to say you wish you had it. This is a mental affliction that I, and many others have to live with; a condition which can make regular daily life extremely difficult. If you think going to a 9am lecture is difficult, imagine trying to do it after only falling asleep at 7am. But now also imagine being perpetually tired, and lacking the motivation/energy to do anything no matter how exciting. Now imagine that is your everyday life. So even though you are awake for longer than most people, you have no energy to do anything with this extra time, other than try to fall asleep. It is not something I would wish for anyone.
“When my depression was at its worst, I never had a friend say ‘but you’re always depressed, you must be used to it'”
The most troubling phrase however, is one I hear too often; “but you never sleep anyway, you’re used to it”. If you’re trying to say that after 10 years I have developed methods of coping with daily life, then yes. But this phrase is usually only brought up in the context of somebody saying how little sleep they got the previous night. In this way, it feels like they are trying to say that my Insomnia, is somehow less real, less meaningful, than the late night they had, simply because I’ve had to deal with it longer. A pretty damaging, and strange thought.
When my depression was at its worst, I never had a friend say “but you’re always depressed, you must be used to it”, and I should think it would take a fairly bad friend to say that. But for some reason, most of the people I know think it’s fine to say this in the context of Insomnia. I cannot stress how much this needs to stop; my coping with Insomnia for years does not change the fact that it is still affecting my life. Telling somebody that they should be used to not sleeping, is about as constructive and helpful as telling them that they need to get some sleep.
“Insomnia is not a joke, and it is not some superpower I use to get more done”
This has been my experience of Insomnia for the last 10+ years. I am in no way trying to generalise and say that everyone will have had the same experience; for the most part, mental disorders are highly personal, and manifest very differently. What I am saying, is that Insomnia is not a joke, and it is not some superpower I use to get more done. I hope that in reading this, people might start taking Insomnia sufferers more seriously, and realise that falling asleep at the ever-so-late time of 3am would be a blessing for many of us.
So to sum up, no you don’t wish you had Insomnia too.
Header image by Ben Seidelman