Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
On the first day of September in 2012, I stopped sleeping. My body gave me no warning for this abrupt and rude physiological change. I went to bed exhausted from a day of moving with my best friend Charlie across Vancouver, from our basement suite off Cambie Street to a renovated apartment above my favourite bookstore on Commercial Drive. When Charlie and some friends went out for the night, I crawled into bed early, anticipating a deep and restful sleep.
It never came.
I laid all night waiting. The next day, punchy and bleary-eyed, I muscled through unpacking, visiting with family and hiking the Grouse Grind. That evening, I thought, I surely deserved a long rest for my efforts.
Instead, Night 2 saddled me with panic. If I didn't sleep at all tonight, what would happen to me tomorrow? The terror of what could come hurled my body into a state of flight-or-fight. With my heart throbbing fast and terrible adrenaline zipping through my veins, everything was on fire. Sleep was beyond grasp.
By the fourth morning, with less than an hour of shut-eye banked on either side, I was a brittle leaf in the wind; unhinged beyond measure and chipped on all corners. I didn't recognize myself.
But I had resources. Charlie was in medical school and he bore witness to my disintegration. By day five, I was in the walk-in clinic with him and a doctor, crying wildly like a distressed animal. Between the three of us, we came up with some options for tackling the beast.
Over the next six months, I waded through solutions. Some came from the doctor, while other came from my faulty, exhausted logic. They almost all cost me money, but at the end of the day, what saved me was the most simple – and free – change in thinking.
On my path to rest, I learned more about myself than any other life event has provided. It altered me in a pointed and meaningful way. If you are struggling with insomnia, read this story. Save yourself some bucks.
Passing out drunk works until it doesn't. Once I was home from the bar, the night's five whisky drinks would direct me into sudden and blank sleep. The mean tang of the next day would remind me why it wasn't worth it.
Meditation app: $2.99
I bought the app based on user reviews and desperation. Both times I tried using it were during the day (nap time?) with the sounds of the Number 20 bus hissing to a stop outside my building.
Yoga pass: $45
When the doctor rambled off a list of possible solutions, yoga and meditation was at the top of her list. This I could do. Yoga is cool and good for you. My hamstring strength improved somewhat, but my sleep did not.
Sleeping pills: $13
The most concrete result of my dramatic doctor's appointment with Charlie was my first prescription for sleeping pills. The quality of sleep on this stuff is brutal. You wake up feeling as if your head is a fishbowl. But it did permit me sleep. And that wretched, drug-induced sleep fortified the bridge of strength I needed to cross over to recovery.
Near the beginning of my bout of insomnia, I clung to hypnotherapy with a spiritual fervour. But at $150 a session, I had no choice but to urge my chosen healer to please expedite the miracle. He believed somewhere in my old memories lay the trauma that had suddenly kept me from sleeping. So we searched in visions of my childhood self for more than two hours. I went back to a couple of times in my life where I was small and felt abandoned. I held her in my mind and told her it was going to be okay. After two sessions, I left feeling alive. But I never got to sleep.
Luxury leggings: $180
My first hypnotherapy session was exhilarating and motivating. I wanted to grasp the world by the face and kiss it all over. So I skipped right into Club Monaco on Robson Street and dropped some cash on cashmere blend leggings. Two pairs, in black and blue.
Cognitive therapy: $0
My medical plan covered four sessions. It took several failures in sleep remedy before I finally picked up the phone on my lunch break one day in December to make an appointment with a therapist. Within our time together, my therapist had me face a terrifying suggestion: What if I never slept?
I confronted it on paper, writing out a long and melodramatic worst-case scenario which ended in me being committed to a mental institution, gone insane from not sleeping. I would read it out to myself night after night, looking at it and letting the shudders of fear turn into mild tension in my bones. Then, one day, I looked at it and didn't care. So what if that happened? I would make it through, if I had to. I would live.
My therapist and I only met for four sessions, but she taught me how to abandon the desire to sleep. She made me question why it mattered so much and reminded me how young mothers and leaders of great countries function remarkably on limited amounts of sleep.
Copy of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett: $22.95
Oddly and so beautifully, it was a book my mother recommended that ultimately rocked me back to sleep. With its sweetness, The Help became the book I didn't want to put down to go to bed. I would read through the night, nodding off naturally around two or three in the morning, book on my chest. Bless that book. Bless all books for the worlds they allows us to sink into when we need them.
Sarah Bauer lives in Kelowna, B.C.