There is another world between midnight and five am. It’s filled with shadows and silence. It lives for the anxious and the fearful. My mind takes me there most nights. I close my eyes and open them a few hours later. Too early to get up, too late to stay awake. The fight is on. The only victory is sleep, so I always lose.
It’s a world without purpose. There is no gain, only loss. Turning over, kicking blankets, agitation. Feeling hot, then cold. My bedside fan is turned on, then off.
I keep trying to right myself, to find that peaceful place to settle into sleep. Instead it feels like I’m stumbling down a rocky path. Thrashing, grasping at branches on my way down, snapping them, each one weaker than the last. Time- marking.
A few months ago, I started keeping track. Maybe if I keep track, I’ll understand what’s happening. I’ll be able to stop it. I’d wake up two or three times. Then four. Now it’s up to five times a night. Five broken branches. Twigs scattered everywhere.
Sometimes I get up and go to the bathroom, occasionally I take a bath, hoping the change in body temperature will help. But mostly I look at the clock. The orange numbers announce my defeat: 11:15, 12:48… 2:00… 3:27. The world is sleeping but I’m awake.
The other night after a few false starts, I finally fell asleep. My cell phone rang, jarring me awake. I grabbed it and looked at the display: 2:30am, “Sunrise.” Not good. That’s my dad’s place. I felt my heart pounding as I answered, prepared for the worst.
“My George is ok, but he fell,” the woman said. “He tried to get up to go to the bathroom without help again. He’s all right but he has three skin tears.”
I’m glad she began the way she did. They probably train them to do that. Relief washed over me, so much that I don’t ask many questions. “Thank you for letting me know. I’ll come see him in the morning,” I said before hanging up.
“Is everything ok? What happened?” my husband asked.
“Dad fell again,” I said. “He’s ok. You can go back to sleep.”
I closed my eyes and tried to shut off my brain but now the questions were rapidly firing. They are supposed to lower his bed to floor level every night. So how did he fall? Did they forget to lower it? What about the call button? How long was he there before they found him? This was his second fall in two weeks. What is going on? I need to call the hospice nurse. I need to put a camera with WIFI in the room. I wonder if I should bring him another urinal—if he’ll understand how to use it?
I never got back to sleep.
Some nights are on a different scale. It’s not how often I awake but whether I ever go to sleep. Last night was one. It was endless and frustrating. It felt like I was on one of those automated airport sidewalks, standing immobile on the right while everyone sailed past me on the left. They had no problem getting to their destination, but I was stuck. The whole world was asleep while I lay there wide-eyed.
This morning as I was shaking off my stupor I remembered today is my anniversary. Five years ago, the Lord freed me from another, much worse prison: bondage to alcohol. Most of the time, I don’t miss drinking at all. I feel so much closer to Jesus without the barrier of alcohol. But there are moments when I’m stressed or exhausted and long for the relief I once got from a glass of wine. The slight numbing or tamping down of my brain. There’s nothing for that now, nothing to take me away from where I am at the moment.
Perhaps this is why I can’t sleep. My mind is always running.
Every night before I turn out the light, I check my phone’s battery and volume. I worry about missing a call from my dad’s place, so I check it a few times. I click the mute button on and off just to make sure. I know it’s ok but I can’t stop myself. It’s like checking the alarm three times when it was set the first time.
Every night, this prelude leads me to the other world, the one I dread. The feeling starts before I even get to the bedroom, because I know I’ll soon be trapped. The only option is to mark time: minutes and hours must pass. But there isn’t real relief at the end. Just a brief respite.
For me, it’s a wasted, futile chunk of my life, while for others it’s enjoyable. Necessary, peaceful, restorative. The power of a good night’s sleep. It refreshes and prepares us for the next day. Just plug in and awake fully charged!
But I can’t get there, because I remain on the edge. Mentally, I’m not reclining. I’m half standing, half leaning on the mattress. When I close my eyes, I want to sleep like my beagle, my sweet little hound who snuggles into the covers, sighs and starts snoring. But instead I’m like my yorkipoo: perched, head up, alert. Ready… waiting.