“Sleep Deprived” by Mathias B. Freese

In the past 90 days or so I have had difficulties getting a good night’s sleep. For me that means at least about five to six hours uninterrupted by bathroom visits. As time went on the amount of sleep was gradually reduced to about one or two hours, and then 45 minutes of restlessness: watching TV, reading, feeling anxious and unsettled emotionally. Eventually I was feeling sleep deprived during the day. I greeted too many dawns fully awake.

One particular night was an insomniac’s fare: sleeplessness punctuated by tossing
and turning, walking about the house as if a nomad, worrying about what this experience was and what it meant. I surveyed what had happened or what was happening to me, and the following factors loomed large. Of course, I was the last to know.

I had been sitting in on a course on grief which I felt was creeping into my mind in a way that, apparently, was not healthy for me. When the instructor’s child had died at the age of six, she chose to wash down her daughter’s body before the coroner got to her. Unnerving, odd, peculiar, if not creepy in this day and age – or is there such a thing as this day and age when it comes to human beings and their behaviors? I was also struggling with a second reading of Becker’s The Denial of Death, whose implications were unnerving intellectually and psychologically, essentially that we are all caught between a fear of living and a fear of dying, often more obsessed by the latter than the former. I don’t deny death, for each day is adieu to who I am. I know that and more so at 73 as I near my end. All death and dying is imminent if we give it a moment’s consideration.

I had recently returned to psychotherapy after four decades with the express self-purpose of attaining support for all kinds of issues, one of which was to find solace or “comfort” as I stumbled into oblivion. Consciously I was seeking a friend, a companion, to keep me company as I teeter on the fathomless abyss. Apparently I was obsessing over the years left to me and how was I to use them without resorting to a panicked-filled bucket list, Americana at its most strident. In this Duck Dynasty nation we don’t relate to one another. What we do is sell off parts of ourselves like so many dry goods each moment of the day. I was living in fear, drenched in it.

All of these concerns combined, I believe, served to keep me up through the night at subliminal levels, barely conscious to myself until I began to ask questions. One day I expressed all this to my wife, Jane, and I felt some relief later on as if something had lifted or eased, but not too much so. Nevertheless, after checking with a pharmacist I settled upon an over-the-counter supplement, Melatonin, as something that might ease my nightly sleeplessness. It didn’t work. Thinking about all this, I called my physician’s assistant, made it clear to her that my sleeplessness had an undercurrent to it of anxiety and asked if she could ask the doctor for a non-addictive medication. I am glad I fully expressed the anxiety part of it and did not hold back.

He prescribed Trazodone, “an antidepressant used to treat depression [that] may also be used for relief of an anxiety disorder (e.g. sleeplessness, tension), chronic pain  and other conditions…” (It is the first time in my life I have ever had to take such a drug for such a condition.) So the medication seemed on target. I’ve been on it for fewer than three days, and some relief has been given – but not a full night’s sleep. The prescription information says “it may take 1 to 4 weeks to work.” Well, it hasn’t kicked in as yet, but I hope it does. I must wait.

As I think over and reconsider the cumulative weight of worry all these past weeks, wreaked upon me by myself, I observe how fog creeping into me like Sandburg’s cat  paws gnawed at my inner self, shrouding me, making me unclear to my own self. I was self-depressing myself. I was making myself anxious. Somewhere, unconsciously, I chose to somatize these mental tensions through sleeplessness. And latent stresses were telling my unknowledgeable self that I was not awake, not aware of what was occurring in me. So sleeplessness was a telegram to myself, a symptom. What is keeping me awake? If you stay awake, you might defer and delay dying, at least for this one night. Perhaps. I am morbidly amused.

About a year ago in a different medical situation, a nurse practitioner asked me if I was generally an anxious person. I quickly said no defensively, as if it implied an imperfection in myself. I lied to her. I am an anxious person, and a worrier. The fear is that the personal idiosyncracies of my very own special death and dying will not be controlled in any way — that high anxiety will win out and flood me, as I lie dying, serving doubly to compound the process itself making it even harder on myself, a constituent of my personality, in any case.

To die is the final loss of control, as if we have ever controlled anything in life. I imagine my fear is that I will be blown apart, disparate selves, atomically unglued and unhinged when I “allow” death to have its way with me. That is the great fear in me, the loss of control. And that, I think, creates whirlpools of anxiety in me. I don’t want to lose my grip on things. I have been that way all my life. Something had happened to me so very young that control was the lifeboat, the charade I clung on to for all of my life.

For me it is a great fear to die explosively, to become particulates, to burst asunder and to be no more. I suffer from dread.

I cannot say more. I experience dread, the all-consuming, all-devouring primal anxiety. I don’t want to hear an observation, be asked a question, be given an answer or proffered a therapeutically astute interpretation. Primally, I want to be held by my mother, in her arms, like a young child, as I pass through. Motherly attachment might ease my cowardice. 
There, there, child, just hold me.

© Mathias B. Freese

Matt is a writer who lives in Nevada.  He’s the author of The i Tetralogy, Down to a Sunless Sea and This Mobius Strip of Ifs.  Visit his blog. His major works are now available in Kindle format.