As I’ve probably said many times in this blog, sleep has been a colossal problem for all of my conscious life. Throughout middle and high school I could never seem to fall asleep, despite cumulative tiredness. It was as if, at 8pm, some switch went on in my brain that signaled the morning rather than night. I would be lying in bed for hours, twisting and turning, worrying and often agonizing about how painful it would be to wake up by 7:30, as late as possible in order to make the 8:15 starting bell. My clock would say 11, then 12, then 1, then 2, then 3. I learned to not look at it so much, but it remained the sole red light in my darkening room of brooding concern. When I finally did fall into my own natural slumberland, it would always be past one, so I would be waking up for ten years or so on a “generous” estimate of 6 hours per night. Apparently the ideal is 9 hours per night in adolescence. I would of course sleep till 10-11-12 on weekends, as well as nap for maybe 30 minutes once in a while after watching the back-to-back syndicated Simpsons reruns on Fox – which I would watch every weekday, religiously, for my entire 7th-12th grade stint. But it was fast becoming a lifelong problem. At present and consistently for the last decade, I still cannot fall asleep until everyone else around me is, and it’s impossible to sleep in any sort of exposed place. The only times I ever seem to be able to sleep ‘on command’ are when I’m on car trips with one person I trust. Otherwise, I have no control over when I will sleep – I can only estimate a range of hours in which it’s probable. About once every two weeks I stay up all night and all the next day, purposefully, so as to reset the tenuous schedule a bit.
In school, it would never, ever add up. The moment I knew it wasn’t a normal thing to have gone through was when, as a freshman in college, a friend brought up the topic of waking up in the morning and how sometimes it was nice to greet the new day – “you can’t deny it, once in a while…” I think he said. But I was being utterly serious when I said I never once enjoyed waking up in the morning. “Oh… really? Weird.” That summer or the next, I would see a sleep specialist doctor. By the stereotypical standards the meeting was exceptionally swift and unequivocal, even with me wearing my typical grim, clay-like morning expression and similarly formless, directionless state of mind. He simply had my mother and I explain it for a matter of minutes, then quietly, confidently scribbled something on a yellow post-it note and handed it to me: “delayed sleep phase syndrome”. It was a ‘textbook case’ as he put it. ‘It works fine if you’re a musician or an artist’ was the next thing he said. At that point I’d long known music and art to be my best talents, but I was still in limbo as to how to… do… anything… for a career, or to even make money at all. We were briefed on the two limited options for treating it. At that point it was just starting to be understood; as of 2013 it is officially recognized as a disorder, DSPD, and a disability.)
Within ten minutes of entering the building we were out the door. Both of us were very nearly silent for the 15-minute ride back home. I had a distinct-but-muffled feeling of closure, amidst the confusion of everything else. I could not blame my parents because they could not have known about it, but sometimes I am haunted by the mornings when I would be very cold (in sleep the body temperature drops) and huddled next to the space heater, praying that some day it would all work out, or at least resolve in some way. I’ll never know how much it affected me permanently, but I know it was significant. In school I was like a ghost – invisible, cold, mellow-serious, sarcastic-apathetic – “cool.” But quiet, always very, very quiet. Others would be talking; engaged in the class, animated. I lost all love for school very quickly as my peers seemed to rapidly outpace me socially. I was outside the sphere. A ‘social reject’ as a friend in 7th grade bluntly (but aptly) described it. I was numb to that kind of thing… I was cool. I could always be cool. But I could never be much more because my identity was very unclear. At college commencement, I was a bitter man, never having had a girlfriend, nor any chummy friends past freshman and sophomore year. I did okay early on in college because of the novelties I could avail myself of; some would help create social bonds. Life is better with people in it. Life is way better with a significant other to share a close relationship. But, it’s not too bad to live alone – as with most things, you get used to it.