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i’ve reached the point where the pressure between my lower and upper jaws feels tangible, like a constant ache that feels like a piece of matter exists firmly above my tongue and my head feels like i’ve been wearing a ten pound hat for about twelve hours. but i know these numbers are arbitrary and this thing i’m trying to describe exists only as an expression of the insomnia that’s defined my existence for the last decade.

actually, it seems like such a small problem to have. not that insomnia isn’t a serious problem and doesn’t have potentially devastating effects on one’s quality of life (hell, i can attest to that,) but it’s such a common occurrence and such an everyday, miniscule thing, that it feels like this shouldn’t be the camel that breaks the feather’s back. but the bone is brittle and the camel is, after all, much larger and heavier than a feather, so where does that leave me exactly? searching madly for some kind of peace as my mind refuses to shut down and relax? taking up some kind of writing exercise to ascertain precisely how insane i sound when writing on two to three hours of sleep per night for the last week or so? grappling with trying to find the justify button on ipad google docs?

let me tell you a little story. we’ll call it insomniac gothic or something like that.

it’s 1:47pm in the dead heat of a texan spring, and i’ve been awake since 6pm the day before, having on and off interrupted bouts of dreaming punctuated by sweating, turning on my fans, laying in more silence as i try to fight the urge to check my phone out of boredom (i know it’s a bad habit, sorry,) tossing, turning, more of the same, a few blissful hours of being unconscious, and come 6pm, i force myself into some kind of normalcy. i call my boyfriend who i love dearly (who has been watching me struggle with this pattern for a few months now,) i play games, i clean and take the trash out and do chores, and all the while i feel like complete shit. emotionally, i feel fine. it’s the dissonance that gets me— the fact that no matter how happy i am, there will always been the pounding headache, the aching pressure somewhere pressing against my skull like a paperweight.

of course, i ignore it, as i’m very good at doing. i couldn’t even sleep if i wanted to. all i can do is manage the symptoms, drink some water, take some ibuprofen, whatever a person can do without resorting to sleeping medication— sleeping medication i do not have, that i was just recently prescribed, but hadn’t picked up from the pharmacy because, get this, i’m too tired to do anything but move a couple yards across my house (plantar fasciitis aside) and press buttons on a device. but back to the point— the point of ignoring.

when you grow up in the kind of environment that i did, you get very, very good at ignoring things, wherein ignoring could be synonymous with repressing, but in this family we’re not emotionally developed enough to tackle that can of worms. you see, in this household, we ignore the signs of obvious problems, letting them fester into larger problems until those problems cannot be ignored any longer— and then, you keep ignoring them anyway. it’s all part of the plot, a hand-me-down heirloom of generational trauma that led me to ignoring my insomnia issue for over ten years now, because instead of addressing the issue, i was told it was my fault.

my fault.

about now is where i interrupt this train of thought with an image. it’s 1:40pm, approximately fifteen minutes before i sit down to write this thing, and i’m opening the medicine cabinet in a wild, frantic search for something that will put me to sleep. last night, i used up the last of my nyquil, which was in of itself a replacement for the zzzquil i ran out of about a month or two ago— the timeline’s fuzzy. i open this cabinet up, and i expect the usual stuff— years old untouched medication that’s been collecting dust, likely expired, but still better than nothing. i open this cabinet up and i see nothing, absolutely nothing, but bottles upon bottles upon bottles of hand sanitizer. which, given the day and age, is a perfectly normal thing to expect, even a good thing.

but there is never anything for when i need it.

the massive stockpile of hand sanitizer, all of it is in the spirit of prevention, which is a very smart and sensible thing to do living in the age of covid. we wear our masks to keep ourselves from infecting others, and we wash our hands meticulously in order to banish the virus from our skin. it can’t account for every possibility and sometimes cracks in the shield do form, but that’s why we get vaccinated, no? all in the name of prevention— protection from a threat we know exists. my mother, being a nurse, takes the utmost care into making sure she doesn’t potentially spread the virus to anyone else in the family, considering that she comes into close contact with many people on a day-to-day basis.

and in the face of this meticulous detail, i can’t help but think: what happened to all those years i lost?

i’ve recently begun asking my doctor about a potential adhd diagnosis and navigating my own health has been an absolute nightmare. honestly, at 27, i have no fucking idea how the healthcare system works. i have no job. i don’t have an insurance plan attached to my job because it doesn’t exist, so to remedy this, my mother woke me up one morning sternly telling me to speak into the phone she was holding, saying i had to confirm something, state my name and my date of birth or whatever, so that she could act legally on my behalf.

i only recently found out that this is not normal behavior, and that it could potentially put me in legal peril, because i, frankly, had no idea what i agreed to. all i knew was that i was tired, had just woken up from my precious few hours of sleep, and i was mildly annoyed about it all— and, most importantly, i couldn’t say no. i felt the pressure of the operator on the other line waiting for me, and my mother standing there as they listened through the receiver. i had two choices: i could stand there, waste everyone’s time by making my mother explain what was going on and very potentially getting into a pointless fight about it, or just concede and go back to sleep.

i should have fought it, right? that’s probably the rational thought.
but every bone in my body has been shaped in the image of least resistance.

i do not fight. even when i try to, the echoes of my mother openly mocking me (her own child) would make any sound in my throat shrivel up and die there. a pile of corpses stuck where my adam’s apple should be. a graveyard of unspoken resentment that kept building up over the years, because i was supposed to be the ‘good’ kid. the ‘eldest,’ the one who ‘knew better.’

once, when i was seven, i slipped on the bathroom rug while my grandmother was babysitting me. this did not hurt me in of itself, but the resulting collision apparently sent me head-first into the corner of the bathtub. i didn’t feel any pain at all when i recovered, only mildly confused about the speed at which i had slipped, until i rose from the ground and looked into the mirror. there, directly next to (and narrowly missing) my right eye, was a gaping hole. the details of it are more or less lost to time, but in my seven year old mind’s eye, it looked deep. it was bleeding. i never had any kind of serious injury before.

my first thought was this: if my grandmother sees me like this, she will have a heart attack and die.

obviously i could not have this happen, so seven-year-old me devises a plan: wet a wash cloth, hold it to my wound, sneak into my room, and pretend i had a stomach ache so my grandmother would not barge in. i honestly don’t know how it worked, but it did. i sat there, bleeding, calm as a light breeze, feeling a little awkward for maybe three, four, five hours— until my parents finally got home. it was then when i told them what happened, and i was taken to the hospital to get stitches. i joked with the surgeon, making light of the situation as best as a seven year old could.

honestly, the wound wasn’t serious. it was just a superficial thing that was easily dealt with by the power of a couple threads sewn into my skin. i would get called frankenstein once or twice at school, but nothing really happened outside of me getting a cool scar.

but i remember distinctly, my father telling me this: good job.

he must’ve been proud of me for being so tough at my age. i was proud of me too, for a really long time. i continued to pride myself on this very thing, the ability to take punishment and endure, year after year after year. even through the worst of it, when my father threatened us with suicide, when i stole his gun as a death-wise promise to myself, when my mother told me across many years that i was a failure, that i wasn’t trying, that it was all my fault .

it took me until i was 26 to realize that my father said the wrong thing.

that a seven year old should not have to be tough.

that i should have been scolded for not telling my grandmother, who was supposed to be taking care of me.

that i should have been able to cry, to be scared, to care about myself enough to put me first and not some hypothetical fear.

that i was a child, and i should have been a child.

i have been suffering from insomnia for over ten years, failed classes, quit jobs, ignored health problems, and all this time i thought all these things were happening because they were all my fault.

it has taken me until my late twenties to realize it isn’t.

it has taken me so, so many years to learn the basics of self care, to pay attention to the rhythm of my body, because for so long, no one ever taught me to value myself. no one talks about the physical tolls of emotional neglect, even as insomnia degrades my body and i spend every night staring up at my ceiling praying for this night to be the night i finally get more than five hours of sleep.

the pressure is still there now. i feel the ache somewhere between the plates of my skull, in a space between my brain and my eyes, which are just made up regions i’ve named in an attempt to place exactly where the pain lies. it’s difficult to describe it, to ascertain where it hurts, and i don’t think it’ll go away any time soon. it’s 2:50pm now, and i’m still very, very awake.

but i think, with time, it’ll get easier. i just have to listen to myself.