I used to love nights. I thrived on nights. People say you screw up your system working nights because it’s not natural to be awake at such “ungodly” hours but I used to counter that no hour is ever “ungodly” simply because, if you’re Christian, god put those hours there for your use.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, circadian rhythms and all that crap, I get it. I know our bodies aren’t specifically designed to operate properly through those dark hours, we have to counter the natural inclination to sleep and try as we may, it catches up to ya each and every night. I mean, there were nights when a hot coffee served no other purpose than to warm my body, make it comfy and try to close my eyes for me. Hell, I’d be dizzy dragging my ass and a patient’s ass to the hospital….and yeah, I’ll admit, some nights, hell people, I didn’t remember your names let alone what was precisely wrong with your “had-a-nightmare-I-was-dying” ass. I didn’t give a crap, I was beyond humanly tired.
That being said, there was just something that struck awe in me, driving those streets in the pitch black, looking at your dark homes, seeing who was still up and wondering why in God’s name you’d chose to be awake when you didn’t have to be. Me, I had to be. I had to watch over you guys as you’d sleep. I had to be there when one of you woke up and realized the person next to you wasn’t breathing, or maybe it was you who woke up because you realized that you couldn’t breathe. I was there for you. I smiled through my sleep yearning brain waves and concentrated on you, held your hand, made you tea while we waited for the coroner, gave you comfort until the front door opened and family members relieved me of that duty. I felt sad for you. I felt scared for you. I felt all those things but all the while, that smile was on my face and my brain was still yearning to sleep. I had a job to do.
As I gaze out the window, blackness still blanketing the neighborhood, I realize now that I’m one of those lonely lights that I used to see and wonder who was awake and why. I used to imagine and old man, quite like my father, sitting at a table, sipping coffee, unable to sleep and working on the daily crossword puzzle. I’m definitely not my old man but I wonder just how many like me are up right now. No one in my neighborhood that’s for sure.
What woke me up this time? Hell, did I even sleep at all? I don’t remember a nightmare, I just remember opening my eyes and my brain telling me that I’d had enough. Y’know, you try to fight it. You lie there, you stretch, shake the bed, cause your spouse to grumble or sigh in their sleep and you just know, there will be no winning this battle. So you drag your tired body out of bed, you make your way down the stairs to the kitchen, turning on that single light and you avoid all coffee in the hope that sleep will do what it’s supposed to do and take you once again….but it doesn’t, yet still, you hold out hope, night after sleepless night.
I think my restful nights, well, I have digits enough to count those on a yearly basis, hell, they’re so rare that you celebrate them. “I got eight full hours of sleep last night!” You’ll tell everyone who has an ear simply because for you this is a huge accomplishment, a rarity, and people will give you the look, the one that says, “So what, everyone sleeps eight hours every night.” Well, not you. If it isn’t nightmares, its the insomnia, like your damned brain is too afraid to sleep but your body feels like a lead weight. You know, sometimes I wake up because I swear I hear her screaming and crying somewhere in my house! In my house! My sanctuary from the world! I hear her plain as day, screaming that same scream she screamed that moment I told her the kid was dead and there was nothing I could do. THERE WAS NOTHING I COULD DO!!! Dead is dead but Long Dead is Really Dead, condition stable.
Been ten years since that day and yet, some nights, if it’s not the kid I see in my dreams, it’s her I’ll hear waking me up. And you know what? You wake up and you’re so fucking afraid, your ears are straining searching the dark recesses of your own home knowing that it’s an impossibility, yet, because part of your mind is still half asleep, you get out of bed and YOU CHECK!! You willingly walk toward the sounds of your fucking nightmare because you want to MAKE SURE that it really is just a nightmare! Like in what world does that make any sense?
Those long nights, you do The Walk. The PTSD-addled Insomniac Walk. You rise from the bed, now suddenly stealthy like a cat, trying not to shake the bed and bring forth another loud sigh from your bed partner. You feel the door, you slowly turn the handle because by now you know every creak and click in this house. Oh and don’t forget your flashlight because your spouse felt it was better than you getting up and turning on the overhead lights while they were sleeping. Anyway, you creep out there into the dark armed only with a flashlight, each step bringing you closer to a nightmare sound that you MUST prove is not real. Each door is opened, each person examined to make sure they’re breathing, each lock is checked, each window is examined and (on the first floor so as not to wake anyone else) every single light is lit. Top to bottom, you make damned sure that the sound your brain heard isn’t an actual sound in your house.
I wonder what would happen if that one night I woke up and the sound was actually real. Would I just completely lose my shit or is that the night I die?
Of course, once you’ve “cleared” the house, then comes the decision, back to toss and turn for another four hours or just start the day quietly? Most times you start the day quietly, you read, you play games, you fill that time when your brain should be asleep because you have to – and you justify it too, “Hell, I used to do this at work, this is nothing.” Well, I used to sleep on my days off too, so no, this isn’t exactly the same, most nights now there isn’t “time off”. PTSD doesn’t give you any time off, it’s always in there screwing with you in some way even if you don’t notice anymore.
They say that when you are “stressed out” you should look for the little miracles in every day and “live” in those moments. Well, I’ll tell ya, each day I function without having had a restful sleep; each day I greet you with a big smile and an “I’m okay”, well, those are the everyday miracles in my book. You don’t see how the lack of sleep affects me because I won’t show you that. I’ll smile and tell ya my life is good, it’s okay, it’s smile-worthy. You don’t see how easily frustrated I am when I can’t remember simple words, how I can be brought to tears over a simple “I don’t wanna!” from my kid, or how angry I can get when my spouse says, “You woke me up again last night.” You don’t see how quickly I can turn that all inward and suddenly I’m wanting to die to make their lives easier. That’s the shit you don’t see, so you dismiss my celebrations when I have a full night of sleep and you never see me for who I really am now. I spare you that grief. I wear that face behind closed doors. Besides, it makes you happier to think that I’m okay, you wouldn’t know how to take me otherwise.
Most importantly, you don’t hear the screams. You don’t see that kid over and over. You don’t wake up in a cold sweat because you’ve convinced yourself that you’re at work again behind the wheel, sirens wailing and heading toward that scene again and again. You’re never going away from it, always toward it. You don’t see that. It’s been ten years, I’ve gotten really good at hiding it. You’re not with me on Those Long Nights.
***Many chronic sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will suffer from insomnia. Chronic insomnia can have devastating impacts on both health and daily function, often increasing the risk of things such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and depression. Depression can be a killer in people with PTSD. Apart from this, a person’s ability to concentrate will be affected; focus, memory and the ability to reason or solve problems can be greatly impacted. Sufferers can often be fatigued, lack libido and lose interest in daily activities. Although PTSD can impact emotional regulation in and of itself, chronic sleeplessness can exacerbate this symptom resulting in a person whose moods can be volatile and unpredictable. As a PTSD sufferer it is important to institute a healthy sleep routine and do your best to target your insomnia to give your brain the rest that is so necessary for it to heal. Never stop trying to get that rest.***