LOUISE O'NEILL: And I lie awake, praying for sleep....

Most of my childhood photos are of me lying unconscious in the most unlikely of places, mouth agape, drooling unattractively, writes Louise O’Neill.

Every morning was a trial, my mother pleading, cajoling, and then threatening me in order to get me out of bed in time for school.

This continued well into my teenage years, when my best friend Aine would call to our house to hang out and was invariably greeted by me still in my pyjamas, a scowl on my face:

Me: How dare you disturb me so early on a Saturday morning?

Aine: It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, Louise.

I was in Leaving Cert when things began to change; I would turn the light off and the thoughts (oh, the thoughts) would swarm.

What that girl said to me in class today ... and what did she mean by that? ... and I have to work harder in German; I need to get a B1 at least ... and maybe it’ll be better tomorrow; maybe tomorrow she’ll look at me and I won’t feel as if I don’t exist, like I am dissolving when her eyes skim over me, unseeing.

One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, more...

3am, 4am, 5am, and I have to get up for school in two hours. My father’s slow steps on the stairs at 5.30am and daylight creeping under the curtains and I may as well get up now, I suppose.

The insomnia persisted during my 20s. I would lie on the couch in our falling-down house at university, watching Family Guy until the sun rose, waiting until my body went limp and I could find some respite from the gnawing, ever present wakefulness.

When my weight fell and then fell some more, sleep became more elusive. Before I was admitted as an inpatient on an eating disorder ward, I would lie on the bed, unable to find a comfortable position to settle into because my bones were so exposed that the sheets feel like a cheese grater against them.

They prescribed sleeping tablets in the hospital (although personally I would have prescribed stopping the nurses from coming in and shining a torch in my face multiple times a night) and I looked forward to taking those pills.

The silence they promised, the black-out relief from having to deal with life and myself and the burden of having to pretend that everything was OK.

Sometimes, that moment of stillness as the tablets took hold was the best part of my day. But when I woke up, pushing through my heavy dreams, I never felt rested. Not really.

These days, I am that annoying person who refuses to take a painkiller if I have as much as a headache.

‘My body is a temple,’ I opine piously. ‘And knows how to heal itself.’ (Much to the great amusement of everyone who knew me in my early 20s.)

I trained myself to go to bed at 10.30pm and to awaken at 5.30am, I took a 40-minute nap every afternoon.

I was a much lighter sleeper than I had been, a body shifting position on the mattress enough to jerk me awake, scanning the room for signs of an impending attack, but I began to believe that I had cured my insomnia for good.

Until recently. Falling asleep easily, too easily almost, diving into oblivion as cleanly as if it was water. Eyes flickering open, it must be time to wake up, I think. Checking my alarm clock and seeing 11.35pm.

Lying back down, telling myself to go back to sleep. Waking an hour later, an hour later, and then it is 3.15am.

I wonder if there is a divine message in the number 315 because for the last six weeks that it is the time of night at which sleep finally eludes me. I stare at the ceiling until dawn, wishing I could turn my brain off.

I think of all the work I have to get done the following day if I want to make my deadline (and what if it’s terrible and everyone hates it and I am a failure) and there never seems to be enough time to get everything completed, but there has to be. I will have to make time, magic it out of thin air and hope; I will have to spend my days working, working, working until it’s right. Perfect.

Then I tell myself that I am being ridiculous, that it’s typical White Woman privilege to be fretting over work when millions of people across the world are being displaced, discriminated against, having their human rights stripped away from them.

Then I picture Donald Trump and the looming nuclear apocalypse and let’s face it, it is game over at that stage.

I drag myself out the bed at 5am to get to my desk, my eyes feeling burned out of my head, ash circles under my eyes. (You lack the season of all natures, sleep.)

I am less patient when I am this exhausted, more likely to tear up at inconsequential incidents, to take offence at invisible slights. The shadows in the periphery of my vision seem to form edges, pledging terror if I turn to look at them straight in the eye.

I take the advice people are kind enough to give me — I turn my phone off two hours before bedtime, I recharge it in a different room over night, I remove my radio alarm clock from my room, I eat two kiwis a night, I take magnesium and melatonin, I avoid caffeine and sugar, and then I pray for seven hours sleep, uninterrupted. Why didn’t I appreciate it when I had it?

‘Are you stressed?’ people ask me, and I feel like laughing. Isn’t everyone? When I meet friends, it’s all we seem to be able to talk about. ‘I am so stressed,’ we tell each other, ‘I am so tired.’

The world is falling apart, is what we don’t say. The world is falling apart and I am scared. I don’t know what I am doing with my life and I feel ashamed. I am a bad friend/partner/son/daughter and I feel guilty.

So we say we are tired. We are so very tired. And we lie in bed and we think, and we wait for sleep to come to us — sweet, easy; the way it did when we were children. The way it did when we felt entitled to its consolation.


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