Sunday, June 15, 2008

"Desire-Make It Happen"

The first five minutes are the hardest. The rest of the day is downhill, but getting there is far from easy. I'd like to say that the willpower required is like finishing a marathon when you've stumbled and fallen with a mile to go. Its a good image - having to finish a marathon every morning, just to get out of bed. But it doesn't ring quite true. It takes a very different strength to push actively than to resist passively. Not that the latter is as easy as it sounds. Passive resistance: just don't close your eyes, just don't pull the covers over your head, just don't grab your alarm clock and throw it through the window to fall three stories and shatter on the street, never again to disturb your priceless slumber. If you held an art festival where every exhibit was an alarm clock destroyed in a different way, insomniacs would come in droves, milling quietly, looking at the remains with hatred in their red-rimmed eyes.

One of the things which makes the first five minutes so difficult is the constant whispering of the Temptress. "Just another couple hours. You don't have anywhere to be. You don't need to go to class. Be good to yourself. You need the rest. Sleep is important. 
What is the point of getting up if you are too tired to deal with the day?" The words are filled with half-truths, short-term plusses that lead to long-term misery. Listening to those words got me to where I am today.

I slept all right as a teenager, I guess. I remember always being tired in the mornings, but I had a routine that was inflicted upon me by external forces, so I stuck to it, which made getting through those first five a lot easier. College was another matter. Staying up late means sleeping in late means staying up later. Schedule was a polymorphous beast, constantly changing as social and academic demands stretched it in contrary directions. For awhile, my body managed. Then one night, my sophomore year, I couldn't sleep. And the next, and the next, and the next. On the fifth night, things were better, but from then on, I could never take sleep for granted. Every now and then it would desert me, and as my sleep debt grew, my habits got worse. I was more tired in the morning, so I stayed in bed longer, and that cycle, eventually, produced the first five minutes.

There is one way, perhaps, to find out. Get better. Which brings us back to that five-minute slice of hell. When insomnia is caused by schedule irregularities, circadian rhythm offsets, and poor sleep habits, the long-term, non-drug cure is pretty simple. Pick a time. Get up every morning at that time. No sleeping in. No naps. No rolling over. Get up. Every morning. Or you won't get better. Getting up every morning is hard enough for normal sleepers. Now imagine being on the ragged edge of exhaustion, suffering from months or years of chronic sleep deprivation. You spend 11 hours in bed, most days, to get those precious 6 hours of sleep. And thats on the good nights. On the bad, those 11 hours are tossing and turning, and you get maybe 2 or 3, all of it light.

Then they tell you that for the next few months, you are going to get even less sleep. That's right, less. You don't get to spend 11 hours in bed any more. The cure, as is often the case in life, will at first be worse than the disease. For months, while you've been miserable, you have at least allowed yourself the sweet luxury of devoting a great deal of time towards trying to get sleep. After all, thats the problem, right? Not enough sleep? So that time in bed is your time, its good for you, or at least that's what you have been telling yourself. Then they take that last comfort away, leaving you with nothing but the first five minutes.

I'm not a marathon runner. I can't push my body towards its limits with my willpower, climbing walls of pain and weariness. But I can, I hope, endure. I can sit, and hang on, trying not to fall into the seductive trap below. Its a different kind of strength. Strength to remain, not to attain. But its what is needed, and perhaps, if I have enough of it, if I get past those first five minutes enough times, they will become the first three minutes and then the first minute and then the first ten seconds and then nothing at all, and I will be well again.

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