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Sleepless Soliloquy - my relationship with insomnia

20 Mar 2023 3 min read
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Ruby Liu MY

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“Tonight's heavy moonlight doth me bewitch,

And slumber's embrace remains out of reach.

Each hair upon my head has a restless twitch.”

“No Sleep” by Sodagreen

Sleeplessness is a genuine albeit unreal feeling. Having been an insomniac since childhood, I used to enjoy the silence and peace of the deep night, which gives me a nudge to delicately unveil my emotions - like a gentle guardian observing her slumbering children without interrupting their rest. 

As a child, sleeplessness was something that allowed me to romanticize about life. When I woke up at 5am in the summer, I always leaned on the window in the living room, serenely observing the city that was about to wake up. The railway track was not yet in operation and some older people were already having a morning walk in the park nearby. Further away was Langham Place, with its semi-circular neon lights on the top, like a glowing pineapple bun. 

Ships scattered on the Victoria Harbour, leaving shallow tracks on the surface of the sea, appearing like the sliding trails on an ice rink. In the distance, a solitary figure graced the deck with its presence, as if summoned forth by the gentle whispers of the sea. Amidst the darkness, my mind conjured an image of a modest mariner bidding adieu to the night, eagerly awaiting the serene splendor of the morning's scenery.

As I grew up, the mystique of the nocturnal world continued to captivate my senses and spark a curious fascination within. I love visiting the Night Owl coffee shop that operated until 3 a.m., watching "Nocturne 13", a documentary which recorded people who started working late at night, and I even made a date with friends to bike over to the canals at 4 a.m. to watch the sunrise on a sleepless night in the Netherlands.

As time marched on, my relationship with sleep shifted - from a reluctance to rest, to a struggle to find respite in the land of dreams.

sunrise in Amsterdam(Sunrise after a sleepless night)

When did insomnia become my weighty burden? Looking back at my sleepless diary, there was a quote from the movie "Lady Bird": “We're afraid that we will never escape our past. We're afraid of what the future will bring. We're afraid we won't be loved, we won't be liked.”

At the time, I had just resigned without another job lined up, and was in the process of slowly disengaging from a significant bond in my life. Despite the apparent decisive actions, my thoughts could not catch up and were conflicting with each other. My mind was full of conflicts. Insomnia whispered the truth - the never ending waves in my mind had never found stillness, despite the countless restless nights that had passed me by.

As the mind raced, the body followed suit, drenched in sweat with a quickening heartbeat. Upon opening my eyes, the walls around me seemed to recede into the distance, and I was left adrift in a swirling maelstrom.

At that time, I did not know much about psychology, so I didn't know that I was ruminating in my insomnia nights - recalling and reliving memories, only to revisit them once more. Through repeated rumination, memories became like stale food, their taste long since soured.

It's just that every cell in my brain was stirring, like a long-brewing undercurrent finally becoming a stormy wave, and the thoughts buried under the carpet were like an overturned Pandora's box. Despite my days being occupied with a bustling schedule, I fell into a puddle of memories when I lay in bed, and my obsessions were magnified.

Later on, I returned to work full-time and still had insomnia. Thankfully, my boss understood my insomnia-prone body and let me work from home after sleepless nights several times. I tried taking melatonin, doing yoga, and scenting my room... but insomnia would still strike.

Lying in the bed, I used to habitually zoom in on my own insignificance and powerlessness, and at this moment, breathing would be the best way to get back to myself. There was once when I was tossing and turning on bed, my heart suddenly pounded like it was about to jump out of my chest. I sat up slowly in panic and tried the "4-7-8 breathing method" (inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds). Repeating twice, the heart's fluttering eased up.

Insomnia mirrors emotions, both the shadows and the light, laid bare in the restless nights. It is like an old friend who knows all about you, informing you frankly of the most authentic, if not unconscious, states of mind and body, presenting unresolved internal chaos. It never turns a corner, but it does so with good will.

In between the days of good sleep and restless nights, the knots of past relationships, insecurities about humanity, and living habits are slowly unraveling, reconstructing, and getting more firmly anchored than ever before. Even though I really enjoy sleeping, I understand that insomnia serves as a euphemism for a specific emotion or bodily condition, concealed within a part of myself that yearns for recognition.

I am still learning to live with insomnia, with the aspiration of bidding it a gentle farewell someday. One step at a time, in due time.

Boon and Insomnia

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Ruby Liu MY

Well-being Promotion Officer of Jockey Club TourHeart+ Project

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