Thursday, January 2, 2020


I spend a lot of time in my head these days. I always have, because I am an insomniac. There is nowhere else to go when you are lying flat on your back, waiting for sleep to honor you with a visit. I could spend time in my toes or my elbows, but there is really not much going on at those locations, except the occasional itch or involuntary twitching.

My head at least, is a place where things happen, most of them beyond my control. I am always a bit apprehensive before I enter because it’s such a mess. There is a big sign hanging over the entrance that says ‘organizing strictly prohibited beyond this point’.

As I walk about in that chaotic place, I stub my toes against remnants of my day scattered on the floor. Did I turn the stove off? Did I put the left-over food in the fridge? Did I close my car windows? Usually, those nasty little buggers cross my mental path when I am almost asleep and with a jolt I am wide awake again, heart pounding. I am back to square one.

Us insomniacs are advised to establish what is called sleep hygiene. You couldn’t come up with a more distasteful term if you tried. No, it doesn’t mean washing the mud off your feet before going to bed, it is more on par with mental hygiene.

To develop sleep hygiene, experts give you a long list of do’s and don’ts and there is the risk of investing half your evening preparing for something that might never materialize. It is recommended that you exercise for half an hour, then take a warm bath or shower and top that off with relaxation exercises for another 30 minutes to an hour. Unfortunately, the don’ts list includes all of the things that I really like: drinking alcohol, watching a whodunit movie that gets my heart rate up, texting about not being able to sleep, napping and drinking coffee.

To make up for that, I rely on a bag full of paraphernalia that includes earplugs, face mask, soft music, soft pillow, scented candles, etc. I watch psychedelic movies that are supposed to put me in a trance and if you promise not to laugh, I will divulge my secret ingredient: I knit entire sweaters in my head, before I am able to fall asleep. If you knew how many sweaters I knitted, you would be proud of me. Some with rainbow stripes, some dull grey, others with a star shape. On good nights I fall asleep on the 4th or 5th row. Other nights, my sweater looks more like a 10 foot long scarf before I give up and throw the whole scarf in my mental trash.

But deep down, I know why I cannot sleep. I am a perfectionist, you see, and I want to be the perfect sleeper. I am lying there, teeth clenched, rigid as a board, counting the minutes. Every second that passes, my self-image is taken down a notch. Shouldn’t I be capable of sleeping? Don’t healthy, normal functioning people sleep when they want to? Why cannot I?! What’s wrong with me? Am I abnormal? Neurotic? Dysfunctional?

It’s exhausting to have to order your body to fall asleep. My body doesn’t react kindly to bullying. Why cannot I be more like my husband who can sleep anywhere, anytime? We are lying in bed together and before I can count to ten he is snoring away, leaving me hanging out to dry. It’s very rude, you know. No sympathy for his life partner. We have gone through so much together, but when it comes to sleeping, he just goes off, on his own, as if I didn’t exist. Sheesh.

Those are the nights when I have nothing else to do but open one of the many closet doors in my head, where forgotten thoughts are stashed. I never know what is stored behind those doors. I open one, and memories of my teaching days come crashing on the floor, the air filled with old feelings of stress and inadequacy. Of being judged and reprimanded.

As you might have guessed already, my head is a nasty place, most of the time. It is rare that I open a closet where good memories are stashed. A walk on a beautiful Hawaiian beach, a whiff of a spring afternoon lying in the grass on a Dutch dyke during my school days... But even those wonderful memories don’t get me to fall asleep. Why?

I wish I could fill my head with cotton wool. Something so boring, so monotonous, that no thinking would be involved in diving into it, like a large, unmoving body of water. Left or right, up or down, it would be the same everywhere! What bliss.

But for now, I will have to rely on my knitting strategy. In fact, the knitting has started to invade my waking hours. Right now, as I sit here typing, I am looking forward to continue that one special sweater I started last night in my head. I am already contemplating what colors I should incorporate in my design.

Do you suppose I need to work on my mental hygiene next? leave comment here