24 February 2011

Nostalgia, Insomnia, And Why I Do What I Do

Picture from here. It made me chuckle.
I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately for my high school years, particularly my senior year. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m in my last semester—barring anything unforeseen—of college, and it’s beginning to hit me how deeply I’m going to miss my friends. We’ll be scattered all over the country and parts of the world this time next year, and many of us may even be deployed within a year of graduation. However, I also think it has something to do with a little flare up of an old problem that I thought I had taken care of back in my late teens. This isn’t the first time it’s flared up, but it’s the worst so far since then. Anyway, I’m feeling like reminiscing, so here it goes:

Once upon a time, I used to have a lot of trouble sleeping. I don’t think I was technically an insomniac, but when I laid down for bed at night, my mind would keep me awake. I would be physically tired, with eyelids like lead and dead-weight limbs, but my mind refused to slow. I’d be spinning round and round at full speed, looping and backtracking and wondering always what the future held. It did not help that I have been something of an academic masochist from the moment my schooling started, and the implications of that became significantly more severe by the time I was in high school and taking five Advanced Placement courses any given semester in Latin, German, Physics, English, History, Calculus, et cetera. I took a total of twelve AP tests before I graduated, but I won’t make you vomit by recounting all my scores on them, which sadly, I still remember. Let’s just say I got to validate more than a few classes when I got to college.

Talk about nerd…but I think we’ve covered my nerd-dom ad nauseum already. For crying out loud, my tattoo is in Latin, and I translated the phrase myself and can explain how the grammatical ambiguity of the cases used provides multiple layers of meaning. Who does that!? More importantly, who the hell cares!?

Anyway, all those classes added up to a LOT of homework, which I wouldn’t be able to get started until I got home from practice every evening around 1900 (or, for you non-military types, 7:00 PM). Because I was OCD about leaving anything unfinished, I’d have to do all of it. I didn’t learn to prioritize and discern between what assignments were necessary and what I could get away with not doing until much later…like, last year, later. Thus, back in high school, I’d drive home, shower off the sweat from running, shovel dinner my throat, and then hit the books. Usually I’d finish by midnight, but if I had a paper or problem set due the next day, I’d be up until much later. I never intended to procrastinate—much like I still never intend to procrastinate—I would just have so many short-term pressures that the larger, long-term targets tended to be forgotten until they became “oh shit, that’s due tomorrow” moments. What was especially delightful about my daily schedule was getting up the next morning at ungodly early hours to go to AP Physics. And by delightful, of course, I mean horrendous. The class met an extra hour before classes normally started to account for being a double-blocked course, but luckily I only had to deal with Physics my senior year.

Even then, after I would finally finish all my homework, I’d have to begin the long process of trying to sleep. I developed a fairly effective mental system for it by the time I was 18, but even that took about half an hour. Half an hour of lying awake was a huge improvement upon the two hours it used to (and sometimes still did) take, and without learning how to consciously slow my breathing (in hindsight, limiting my oxygen flow was probably not the healthiest way to fall asleep, but it worked and it sure beat lying awake), who knows how long the mild-insomnia might have continued.

To summarize, my day usually went something like this:
0600/0700 – Wake up, shower, eat
0620/0720 – Running out the door to my car
0630/0730 – Roll in without a minute to spare for AP Physics/Home Room
1500 – Classes end, Cross Country/Track practice starts
1830 – Practice ends, cool down, stretch, chit chat, etc
1900 – Get home, eat dinner, shower
1930 – Start homework
2400 – Lay down in bed
0200 – Actually fall asleep.

Wash, rinse, repeat. Five days a week.

Weekends were awesome, at least. I had to get up usually around 0500 to make it to the bus in time to leave for a meet or invitational (we had one almost every Saturday), but then I could at least sleep on the bus and then beneath the tent until it was time to warm up for my specific race. Sunday was my favorite, however. I got to sleep in until around 0800 before my überCatholic parents drug me to mass.

However, it went away by the time I got to college. I think all the years of sleeplessness finally caught up with me, and furthermore, that by then…I had nothing left to mull over at night. I knew where my life was going and what I’d be studying, doing, and where I was ultimately headed. I’d be so exhausted by the time I’d be done with my academic and military assignments, that I’d lay down and fall asleep. Just like that. I’d close my eyes, and BOOM. I was out. Dead to the world until my alarm started screaming the next morning at 0500 or 0600 depending on the day and whether or not we had a morning workout. Most days now I’m usually asleep by midnight or shortly thereafter, but every once in a while, something triggers the insomnia again, and I’m awake until the wee hours of the morning. I just lie there, not really thinking about anything in particular, just pissed that I’m not sleeping yet. It’s such a waste of time to be in bed and not actually sleeping, because that’s time that could be spent accomplishing something important.

Either way, I hope it’s not permanently back to the days of “Well, I guess I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I’m too old for that now. My twenty-something (ah, to be just barely allowed to legally drink again) body can’t handle it. I know, I know. I’m still young. I don’t feel that way, however. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way.

Looking back, I wonder if my lack of sleeping contributed to my finding my way to Paganism. I started practicing in high school, secretly, in my room at the full moon. I didn’t have any nosy roommates back then, and so I could lock my door and open the windows to let in the cool night air with the scent of the oaks and maples and hickories and pines and cedars outside, all colored by the bright moonlight. I had no idea what I was doing; I made up my own little rituals, pieced together from what I had read in historical fantasy novels by Juliet Marillier or the lovely, myth-drenched tales of Patricia McKillip, and of course what I had studied of history. My study of Latin was a huge influence there, and I drew a lot of what I whispered to the Goddess from Roman ritual words…at least, what I knew of them.

Since I did not stumble out of the broom closet until my junior year of college, I remained a guarded practitioner, performing my little works only in the dark long after my roommates had started snoring. It was harder for me to stay awake then, since I only really stayed up past midnight for the rituals and then on the occasional night an important paper was due (excluding, of course, two semesters ago, when I averaged about two hours of sleep a night due to a 25-page thesis paper in Russian about Baba Yaga as a symbol of initiation). However, this is getting really freaking long, and so I’ll save the rest of my nostalgic musings for another day. Or several days. Until then, blessed be.


  1. Your high school days sound extremely similar to mine. I would wake up at about 0630, get to school at 0700 to do some official ROTC business for the day (I was BC my senior yr, 1SGT my sophmore yr, and a CO my junior year....contrary to my West Point career, I was sought for leadership positions in high school =__=) or go to meetings (I was also school president) or print off some work (I was poor with no printer at home haha) then I would go to class from 0730-1505 (I did take AP but my school only offered 4 :3) then JROTC practice everyday until about 1630 then work at one of my 3 jobs from 1700 until 2300...then come home (after visiting my boyfriend(s) ;)) at about midnight and work on my school work until 3 or 4am...and then start all over again. I got to sleep in until 0900 on weekends cause I didnt have to be at work until 1000, but Id work until closing and get off at about 2300 then go clubbing until 2 or 3...looking back now, I have NO IDEA how i never napped yet still functioned every single day AND have jobs and a rather active social life...i think thats why Im so tired every single day...4 yrs of no sleep has finally caught up with me! But I still suffer insomnia...ever since I was a little kid, staying up until 3 or 4 was normal for me. My parents both worked in a bar and my brother and I would stay awake until they got home (cause we wanted good night hugs and kisses :)) or they would take us to the hotel the bar was in and we would stay in a room, watch movies and play video games until they got off and took us home (I think thats why I love hotel rooms too). Anyhoo, Ive always always been a night owl and it still continues to this day...but I have a free hour off here and there to nap during the day, unlike high school :) but even when I finish work early (which is very rare since i dont usually start until the very last minute) I still stay awake doing absolutely nothing and thinking about everything :( *sigh* never ending cycle I suppose? Its nice to see Im not the only one with the same problem or who had the problem before :)

  2. I struggled a lot with insomnia in high school too... It only hits sometimes now, and it's when I can't stop my mind from reeling because too much is going on around me. It's hard to slow down sometimes.