IX: The Dreamland of my Dreams
How are you? No, how are you really? I feel like it’s been such a long time since we’ve connected and I just want to check-in. This year, like the past few, has not been easy. There have been convoys, trials and so much needless death. So, tell me, how are you? I’m tired and moreover, I’m tired of being tired. It’s like there’s this perpetual leech sucking out my lifeforce and draining all that I am. Some days I feel like an empty husk of the person I once was and others even less. While I’m not yet ready to delve into the complexities and nuanced layers of my ever worsening depression and the permanent hat of anxiety that I wear, today I want to talk about one of the largest stressors, the biggest contributors to my wildly out of sync demeanor. Her name is sleep, and despite what I sometimes wish, I unfortunately can’t live without her, trust me I’ve tried. We didn’t always have a love/hate relationship, but somewhere along my journey into adulthood sleep became my most familiar frenemy.
Growing up I barely slept. Like most Black kids my parents loved to wake my siblings and I up early on the weekends. Sometimes it was for chores, as if the vacuum would turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of noon. Other times it was needless and simply because “we shouldn’t be sleeping at this hour.” I don’t know who determined what hours are allegedly appropriate for sleeping, but I hate that guy. Unbeknownst to my parents, or sometimes knowst when I accidentally dropped something in the middle of the night or was caught with my bedroom light on at an ungodly hour, I am a night owl. I love staying up obscenely late, gazing into the moon as my third, fourth and fifth winds hit. Like a cat at around 3am the urge to run around and knock shit over overcomes my better senses and next thing I know the sun is on the cusp of rising.
Despite the recommended 9-9.5 hours of sleep, throughout most of my teens I was asleep anywhere between 5-7 hours (the latter if I was lucky). Throughout high school I was overly involved in extracurriculars, overly committed to long forgotten friendships and overly committed to religiously watching the CW Network. Say what you will, but it is unlikely that I would be the human I am today if I did not commit to watching Vampire Diaries (and spinoffs), Teen Wolf and the god awful Secret Circle from start to finish. I digress, much like my life now, at that time I was skint on money and time. By about 16 I began to master the ways of short sleeps by becoming active (mentally or physically) during frequent bouts of exhaustion. Rather than go to bed an extra hour early, I’d stay up late to finish that paper, cram for a test or squeeze in the latest teen drama. Instead, I’d takes pre-school nap when my dad dropped me off at 6:30am on his way to work, right after the custodians turned on the lights and before morning choir practice begun. Then I’d proceed to be talkative, fidget, throw myself into school commitments and anything short of bounce off the walls to maintain that high. Eventually my delayed first wind would kick in and I was usually set for the day.
This lasted until I graduated and things just went downhill as I entered university. FACT: Post-secondary institutions give a ridiculous amount of unachievable work to students and expect you to suffer in part while you secure your degree. Throughout my six years of architecture school I don’t think I ever got a full night's rest. Sure I was busy and had a lot on the go, but the outrageous deadlines were a completely new insurmountable monster. I think part of the reason professors make us suffer is because their professors made them suffer, and theirs before that and so on and so forth all the way back to the original racist misogynistic clowns who built our schools to be inaccessible and hard just so they could circle jerk and congratulate their fellow whities on keeping the Blacks, the women, the queers and every other marginalized person out of academia. This has now translated to post-secondary more often than not being hell, or a cold sister city of hell where it’s never hot because they turn off the heat after 5pm so that you leave and stop using up their electricity and Wi-Fi. A scientist friend of mine once told me that for every required hour of sleep that you miss your body requires two more to catch up. I don’t know if that’s true, but my body sure as hell feels that and all now, is still attempting to catch up.
Basically, it was normalized to have a “nuit blanche” or two or three, or in my case five in a row when you were in school. When I finally graduated (youpie!) I slept all the time. I think it was a combination of depression, stress and overall exhaustion. Unable to find a job amidst the early days of the pandemic, I would wake up at 10ish, be ready for my first nap around 1pm, second nap was usually 5 or 6 and somehow when bedtime rolled around I could barely keep my eyes open. Nearly three years into the pandemic and I still haven’t managed to stabilize my sleeping schedule. You see, despite having a MUCH more flexible school schedule and no job (wah wah), I am now riddled with insomnia and what I like to call violently lucid dreams, a combination which prevents me from getting restful sleep more often than not.
My body cycles through weeks of oversleeping and weeks of not being able to sleep, what remains consistent however are the vibrancy and vivacity of my dreams. I’m not sure what came first, the insomnia chicken or the violently lucid dreams egg, but together they're a doozy. Apparently we forget about 95% of our dreams and I once heard somewhere that cis-men dream significantly less than cis-women. I don’t know if any of this is scientifically true, but what I do know is that 95% of my dreams are bat shit crazy and I dream intensely every night. Alan Eiser, a psychologist at the University of Michigan allegedly claims that dreams can be ‘“highly meaningful,” because they “deal with the sort of personal conflicts and emotional struggles that people are experiencing in their daily lives.”’ Riddle me this Alan, what does it mean when I threaten Gordon Ramsay, relapse after a stint in juvie and slap a baby in a restaurant, all without leaving my bed?
Now folks have said there are a multitude of sleep ease remedies that may help, my body begs to differ. Melatonin just dries out my mouth, sleeping capsules are more hard to swallow than useful, pre-bed meditation makes me drowsy out of boredom and as soon as I stop trying to sleep my body shakes me awake. As I continue to fight my sleepless and freaky deek sleep demons, I can’t help but enjoy to some extent the fantasy that my wild dreams afford me. When I’m feeling at my worst I often think back to when I could fly just by willing it or when I confront high school bullies telling them to fuck off, or even just the simple pleasures of building architectural marvels with my mind. Sometimes they’re scary, sometimes they’re odd but mostly they’re a vision through rose coloured glasses of the spectacular reality I yearn for, the dreamland of my dreams.