The thought of sharing a bed now is absolutely abhorrent. I shudder to remember nights lying beside someone who sleeps, oblivious, and snores great rumbling, rasping snores. I used to wake in the night with some worry or other and then be driven insane by the racket and unable to get back to sleep. It’s like they say: at the end of a marriage, you can’t even bear the way they BREATHE.
(Anyway, I daresay I snore, too.)
I was never a great sleeper. Never wanted to go to bed as a child, then as I grew up, hated to get up in the morning also. I guess I felt I never had enough sleep, and quite likely I never did: there was generally something I wanted to do at midnight before turning in, whether it was a chore, or another few pages of my book.
Until about 50, I could never understand people falling asleep in front of the telly. Then we got into a pattern of sitting, one sofa each, when the kids were in bed, him with a laptop on each knee and a phone in his hand: an arsenal of Apple products. Working hard, I thought, but perhaps not. I now know he was operating secret bank accounts, siphoning our savings away; maybe he was doing that every evening, right in front of me. And I would watch the News at Ten, see people blowing each other to bits, or shouting at each other in Parliament, and if I hadn’t nodded off by the weather, I’d definitely be fast asleep before the end of Newsnight.
Not what you might call good sleep hygiene.
Then one day almost four years ago, I came home to find a note on the mat and he’d skipped off. That night I did not sleep at all, not one wink. I was expecting his key in the door. And the second night.
And since then, I don’t sleep.
Honestly, I don’t think, in all that time, I have slept more than about two hours at a stretch, except for twice. I can hardly believe it myself. At first I was so anxious, and my mind was like a washing machine, round and round with worries. Not any more. Is it just habit, now?
In the early days I tried everything. Hot baths, milky drinks, herbal tea, lavender, meditation, amino acids, magnesium, potassium, white noise, radio, dark, light, melatonin, acupuncture, massage, you name it. My GP gave me various sleeping pills. The packs said you shouldn’t take them for more than a few days. She continued to give them to me for months. But they didn’t stop me from waking. Panic stricken. There were night sweats as well, so I was waking drenched and boiling hot and terrified. Depression, trauma and menopause. I stopped asking for more pills.
But in those days I was going through divorce, and selling the house, worrying about the children, and the future. I had to sell jewellery and furniture to pay the bills, and had strangers sleeping in my home for money. (Were they psychopaths? People said I should trust my instinct, but if I can’t recognise a nutter in someone I was married to for 20 years, what hope of spotting one in the ads on Spareroom.com?) I didn’t think I could cope. I was scared.
This is different.
And still I don’t sleep. I feel tired all the time. Lethargic. Slow. Can’t wait to get to bed. I usually fall asleep well enough. And wake an hour later. Doesn’t seem to make much difference what time I hit the sack: I wake an hour later. And then an hour or two after that. And so on through the night. I don’t seem to be able to get back to sleep without some noise to distract me. From my thoughts, things left over from my to do list, things that are going to happen tomorrow, worries about money, or the sound of the rats scurrying around sticking two fingers up to the soi-disant pest controllers who have taken £300 off me.
The best night’s sleep was summer about three years ago (I know it was that long, because I had all three children with me). I was desperately short of cash, but had the use of a flat in Cornwall for a few days’ break, and on the way down I booked one night in a family room in a B&B on the Jurassic Coast, to go fossil hunting. The four of us all piled onto the big bed and watched a DVD we had borrowed from reception. The kids wanted to show me The Matrix. I slept all the way through it, and when I woke in the morning, they were all asleep in their bunks.
And then, recently, I’d been worried about sharing a room with a stranger, and because I was so anxious not to inconvenience her in that tiny room, where the door of the loo banged against the bed, and the light was bright and could not be directed, when I woke in the night, I did not check the time, or my emails, or go pee.
But I don’t learn. Back home and alone in my garret, I wake every hour, and, rather than lie there listening to rats who have the run of the place, or fretting over the fact that my x has stopped paying child maintenance, and I don’t have a job, and the roof is leaking, I turn to the new solution to getting back to sleep: Live at the Moth. I love it. I listen to the same few minutes and drop off. An hour later I try again. So much less annoying than the World Service. And if it takes me longer to nod off again, I enjoy wonderful bedtime stories.
(Re-reading this before I hit ‘publish’ I realise that the obvious solution to my insomnia might appear to be to have a permanent roommate. God though, what a thought. I realise I prefer The Moth and insomnia.)
Photo: I took this recently in the National Portrait Gallery of Lucian Freud’s ‘Girl in Bed’ 1952. Maybe I shouldn’t have used a shot of a middle of the night clock for an earlier post…