Why I Can’t Sleep

bedsheets-dark-night-taken-by-krista-mangulsone Image : Unsplash

When I was a kid, I used to hit snooze 5 times and sleep in before throwing on my school uniform and chasing down the bus. Back then, going to school, seeing friends and an after school snack was enough.

But for the past few years, I just haven’t been able to sleep. 

Not even on weekends. Not even when I’m hungover. I’ll wake up at 6, make some eggs, and take a shower to massage my head with shampoo. I like to think this is what makes headaches disappear. Or whatever drunk philosophies I came up with the night before.

I can’t sleep.

As I write this, it’s 3:30 am. Last night, I ran a 5k and my girlfriend, her roommate and I made a point to fully take advantage of the post-race open bar. She’ll sleep until noon. But I’m up right now going through a bag of bagels and energy bars. 

I can’t sleep.

So, I scroll through my phone. I message my friend in Amsterdam because she’s the only one up. It reminds me of how in college, I’d be up early on a Saturday, waiting for the cafeteria to open. In fact, I like to think the “U up?” text originated here. In my dorm room…at 6:55 am…waiting for someone to eat pancakes with.

I can’t sleep. 

But I want to. I go back to bed and try to cuddle my girlfriend. Her back is facing me, so I just kiss it. Like 37 times. If I’m going to be up, I want a purpose. To be doing something. So right now I can love her without waking her up. But she does wake up. 

I can’t sleep.

It’s like my body’s programmed with an automatic alarm. The need to wake up before the rest of the world does. To accomplish something, anything. To do more.

I still can’t sleep.

I remember when I was 24, I quit my job to travel the world. 2 weeks in Thailand and 4 months in South Africa via couch surfing and work exchanges. I had never left the country before and thought I’d die alone in a cubicle with a lasting question of, “What if? What if I could have done more?”

I can’t sleep.

Not even on this 19-hour flight to Thailand. Flight attendants come through every 30 minutes with free wine or food and that alone, fascinates my economy-class Spirit Airlines mind. 

The first night there, I get a message from my mom. “It’s bad, Vanessa. She’s going into hospice.” While my friends were out exploring Bangkok, I cried alone on the balcony of our Airbnb. 

That was the first night that I really couldn’t even fall asleep. So I went on my laptop to do some freelance work instead.

After Thailand, I came home and went to see Mae, my aunt who helped raise me. The person who woke me up and helped get me dressed for class throughout elementary school. She sat on the couch at her brother’s house while we watched reruns of This Is Us.  It was quiet and I didn’t know what to say. I mean, how do you start to say goodbye to someone who only disappears a little bit each day?

I can’t sleep.

I wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares of her calling out, as her body slowly shrinks into just bare bones.

I can’t sleep.

The doctors tell us maybe a month. Maybe three. My flight leaves in a week to South Africa, so I email Swiss Air to cancel and they give me half a refund. It’s not a funeral, it’s just hospice. 

I’m at her house painting her nails, and she asks me, “Vanessa, when will this all be over? When will it stop hurting?”

I can’t sleep. 

And I wake up with sheets soaked in cold sweats and a pillowcase soaked with tears. I should be with her now. And I should have been with her more before.

And then, I finally sleep.

It’s the morning of her funeral and I don’t want to go. My pores reek of alcohol from the night before and I’m wearing the same jeans I went out with. Today was my birthday and the day I’d officially, ceremoniously say goodbye to my best friend.

The coming months, I’d navigate finding housing in Chicago outside of my parents suburban home. I’d enter a relationship that offered me security, but not actual love. I’d also get bangs that made me look like Edna from the Incredibles. Note to self, always have your friends sign a permission slip before going to a salon you found on Groupon.

As I write this, I realize that I seek abundance when I feel holes in my life. Last November I was laid off from a job that sucked the very last bits of a creative soul I thought I had.

Instead of searching for more writing jobs, I sought a different path. I wanted something that I felt had more meaning to me. So I went and got certified as a nurse assistant and started taking classes to prep for nursing school. I couldn’t take care of Mae before her hospice began, but maybe, just maybe, I could take care of someone now.

I can’t sleep.

I toss and turn stressing about a test in the morning. Or stressing about how I’ll pay my mortgage and tuition for the upcoming semester. 

Turns out, I start to realize, that maybe nursing isn’t for me. To be honest, maybe it was just something I sought to give me meaning in a time when life felt void of it.

I can’t sleep, 

so now I’m up searching for jobs. Again. Trying to find that one opportunity that will make me feel whole. Going to interviews in hopes to find a bow that’ll tie up this giftbox of a million dreams I might never fulfill.

I try to sleep, 

but there’s an overflow of thoughts. Trying to search for meaning or purpose in all of this. Overwhelmed with ideas of what I can do and what I should do. It’s kind of like asking a bartender to refill a pint of beer that’s already full. It overflows and some of the old beer and new beer just pours out. It’s a waste.

I can’t sleep.

And I wonder, can you still be a greedy person without having a desire for things? Can greed stem from the desire to have abundance in experiences? All the while, ignoring the areas of life where you are full, where you are whole. 

I can’t sleep.

The other day I went to work, and my baggy scrubs hung loosely from my shoulders. My manager asked, “Have you lost weight?”

No, I’m just tired. I’m just really, really tired.

Vanessa Righeimer