Kage Baker always viewed my insomnia with both sympathy and suspicion.
She could see that going sleepless sometimes quite drained me, and she was sorry for me about it. But she could also see that just as often, I enjoyed being awake for days at a time: I’d get a second wind, and just keep going like an infernal wind-up toy. She always harboured a slight suspicion, therefore, that I was sometimes faking it.
She herself suffered from insomnia maybe a dozen times in her entire life. I remember them very well, as I was usually happily reading in the living room when she would come staggering out, owl-eyed but relentlessly awake at 3 AM, and put The Wrong Box on the video player. I’d still be there reading when she finally teetered back to bed, complaining that I would be obnoxiously bright-eyed in the morning while she was auditioning for the undead …
Ah, so much for the careless pride of our youth! Once a charter member of the Sleep Is For Sissies Club at Faire; able to stay awake for days at a time, the only member of the party who could leave Novato at 7 PM and drive the entire distance to Los Angeles – I am now a victim of a deranged sort of narcolepsy. Can you have narcolepsy combined with insomnia? Because that’s what I’ve got. I either cannot sleep at all or I cannot stay awake for love, life nor money.
At least, I don’t think so. No one’s offered me money, but I will go on record as being willing to try it if someone does. I should see if the MacArthur Foundation gives grants to bats.
My doctors are concerned with a side effect of my manic-depressive sleep cycle: sleep apnea. That is, I stop breathing at intervals while I sleep. Not only is this just generally contra-indicated for the living, it turns out to leave one perpetually exhausted. One’s body wakes up already pre-stressed, as it were. Once you run through whatever reserves you have, you are left in a condition where you simply alternate between being twitchingly wide-awake and soddenly unconscious. You take unwilling naps all day, but cannot close your eyes at night …
What this does to creative work is disastrous. If I just slept all day and worked all night, I could do it. (I know I can – I’ve done it for years.) It’s the fragmented, 24-hour cycle of NEVER getting enough sleep that is eating my brain. I’ve seen poor Kage bent over her keyboard trying to write through a fog of fatigue many times; argued her to bed, and listened to her wails of horror at the drivel she found she’d written the next day. But her sleep would always kindly return and fold her in sweetly crepuscular arms, and normality would resume.
Not me, man. I’ve taken to staying awake until the paragraph I am writing (or reading) no longer makes sense; then, as my Boca’s area goes flat line, I know I might be able to sleep. But it’s never enough, and when I sit down a few hours later to try and write, I find I’d do better using a Ouija board in Sanskrit.
Last night, though, I took a decisive step in solving this problem: I reported to a nice cozy surrogate bedroom in Encino, for an all night Sleep Test. The room was lovely – big, soft bed, diverse relaxing aids like salt lights and perfumed candles. I’ve spent entire conventions in worse rooms.
Mind you, I was wired head to toe like an astronaut headed for the moon – they skipped the thermometer up the bum, but made up for it by gluing a dozen electrodes to my scalp with Silly Putty. Wires snaked up my pajama sleeves and down my pajama legs, and the whole kit and caboodle met at the nape of my neck in a braid of thickly twined cables held together with a pink hair scrunchie. I looked like the Predator guest-starring in Good Night, Moon.
Nonetheless, I managed to fall asleep (I had prepared by not giving in to the urge all the day and night before). Halfway through, the nice technician woke me up to spend the rest of the night on a CPAP nasal mask: not too bad, as they are smaller now, but if I had to wear one every night, I would be forced to decorate it like Bane’s Mask – maybe with a crocheted cover, like this one: I discovered, while wearing this, that if you open your mouth and relax your epiglottis, the pressured air from the mask rushes out of your mouth like a dragon’s breath. You can make very weird noises like this. It’s clearly not helpful for the test, as the tech politely asked me stop it; but it was amusing for a while.
Despite all the fun and discomfort of being in a strange bed wired up like the Space Shuttle, I managed to sleep enough to serve the purposes of the routine. At 5:30 they woke me up and sent me on my way, driving through the pearly dawn down the 101 to home. My doctor will contact me with the results, eventually. What will they be? Will I have to take Remedial Sleeping? Will I have to be re-classified as nocturnal? Will I spend the rest of my nights in a steam punk burka, breathing like a soprano Darth Vader?
Stay tuned, Dear Readers, for the ongoing absurdities. It feels a little like I’m caught in one of those goofy stories Kage wrote so well … but you know what? If I get some sleep out of this, I just won’t care.