In which The Author is dead on his feet

(This is actually my third attempt at posting this. The first time was lunchtime, in Aberdare Library. When the wifi there went down at about 2pm, I decamped to Thereisnospoon. I’d put a fairly decent second draft together and without any warning the Cloud broke (again!) If this one him go buggerup, as they say in Papua New Guinea, it’s not my fault.)
I think I could probably count the total hours of sleep I’ve had since Xmas on my fingers and toes.
Yes, that’s right – not nights but hours!
Having read numerous books, articles, websites and self-help leaflets from my GP and pharmacist over the past two decades, I know perfectly well that depression and insomnia go hand in hand. In fact, they do a strange little dance together: one leads the other, which in turn leads the first… Round and round they go, and where they stop nobody knows.
I’m no stranger to this particular problem. I really can’t remember the last time I had an uninterrupted night’s sleep. I doubt whether it was any time in my adult life. The problem is (or so they say) that once you get into this pattern, it’s very difficult to break it. Tell me about it!
I think the last time I had any proper sleep wasn’t actually proper sleep – it was my general anaesthetic at Llandough Hospital, in the spring of 2008. I’d give anything to have another blast of that now. Even a few hours of total unconsciousness would be a step in the right direction, to be honest. I’ve tried every suggestion in the book (and the newspaper article, and the website, and the leaflet) and nothing works.
The cold and damp weather has aggravated my back trouble as usual; that, in turn, makes it impossible for me to get comfortable at night. Add to that the now-traditional dive into Seasonally-Adjusted Disorder (thanks, Maria B.!), and it’s a recipe for disaster. I lie awake, worrying about money, and how I’ll be able to manage in the future. Songs from my past keep coming into my head and refusing to go away. And thus it proceeds…
In the odd spells where I do close my eyes, my weird dreams begin almost immediately, and go on sporadically through what remains of the night. They’re not even proper dreams, in my opinion. If they were, I’d have to go through the normal pattern of shallow sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep, and so forth. Instead, as soon as I close my eyes I’m off into a strange parallel universe. If I open my eyes, normal service is resumed; if I close my eyes again, I’m straight back into the ‘dream.’
I’ve read a lot about lucid dreaming, but this isn’t the same thing – although I do that from time to time, too. Is it any wonder that I found the Xmas episode of Doctor Who so amazing? When the Doctor asked the Arctic explorers if they’d ever woken up from a dream and found they were still dreaming, I shouted, ‘I do it all the time!’ (see A Very Strange Dream.)
This is why I wouldn’t have been any use in Josie’s research into dreams and their relationship to wakeful events. Imagine me trying to keep a dream diary, for fuck’s sake! (Incidentally, Josie was awarded her Ph.D a couple of days ago, which is good news.)
By about 7am the neighbours are setting off for work, and the daily round of slammed doors and revved car engines destroys any chance of getting back to sleep. Factor in the yappy dog in the yard opposite my house, the gates to the yard which constantly bang in the wind, and the hypersensitive car alarm that goes off when it rains too heavily (I’m completely serious – it happened this morning!), and you can probably see why I’m getting to my wits’ end.
I think I’ve reached the stage where I’ll soon be unable to function normally. I don’t want to talk to anyone; I can’t be bothered to listen to music, or enjoy a book, or do the crossword. I haven’t got the patience. My two writing projects (codenamed Don’t Tell Olga and More Than Just Choirs are parked in a disused siding where my train of thought no longer runs. As for listening to the radio: after the Shipping Forecast, the World Service becomes the sound-only equivalent of the News Channel, with the same items on a thirty-minute loop. Furthermore, I’m thinking of referring 4Extra to the Advertising Standards Authority, for the misleading description of their nightly ‘Comedy’ Club.
(My current choice of bedtime reading isn’t helping. Profs Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw’s book on quantum theory probably isn’t the ideal ‘winding down’ material. At about 1.30 this morning I was throwing around terms from various equations I haven’t seen since I scraped through A Level Pure Maths, over three decades ago. Quantum theory may not the best soporific in the world, but I’ve still got the moves.)
Even typing this blog is incredibly hard work, because the words on the screen aren’t making any sense. My fingers aren’t going where they should go. I’m not going to ascribe this to the fact I’m halfway through my second pint. Nothing’s making any sense at the moment. There’s no way I could do any proofreading, because I simply can’t focus for any length of time. I’m starting to see why the CIA and their allies use sleep deprivation as a form of torture. They also say that Thatcher got by on only a few hours’ sleep every night. Is it any wonder that she was batshit crazy by the time she was slung out of office?
I can’t even blame this on caffeine, the one substance (apart from alcohol) to which I came close to addiction, back when I was working in Dillons. It was hardly surprising, when you consider my daily intake: one mug of coffee first thing in the morning; another on arriving at Cardiff; one in my morning break; another one or two lunchtime; one in my afternoon break, and then another couple when I got home.
That was five days a week. More at weekends, probably.
I kicked coffee into touch when Sam and I got back from Ireland. Having survived a week on Mellow Bird’s, which makes Camp seem like a double-shot espresso, I decided I could do without it entirely. It made no difference whatsoever to my lack-of-sleep pattern. Nothing changed during my fifteen-month alcohol-free spell, either, except that I met a girl who very quickly drove me to drink. I’ve had tablets from the GP, I’ve had OTC stuff, and I’ve tried a herbal remedy which looked like a horse tablet and smelt like something from a stable. Nothing worked then, and nothing works now.
Even if I could afford to get absolutely hammered drunk tonight (which I can’t), I’d have to get up at least three times for a piss. That’s really no help.
I’ve also got a new physical symptom which has been annoying me for months. It started as an itch on the sole of my left foot. It would flare up every night, and continue for hours. It was in exactly the same spot, and nothing would alleviate it. A couple of months ago it moved, and it’s now located at the outer edge of my foot. Dr Jordan had a look at it last week, but there was no obvious skin irritation. As I told him, it isn’t even a proper itch. It’s more like the very faint nerve-end tingling you feel before pins and needles kick in. No matter how hard I scratch it, or rub at it, it doesn’t go away. It’s niggling away at me now, in fact, but I won’t take my shoe and sock off in the pub. I’ll just have to live with it for now.
Dr Jordan agreed that it was probably related to my spinal problem, and prescribed me 10mg of Amitryptiline to try and deaden the nerve signals. That’s on top of the 45mg of Mirtazapine and occasional 500/30 Co-codamol I’m already taking. Who needs a late-night coffee when you’ve got that lot inside you before bedtime, eh? It’s no wonder my fragmentary dreams are getting more bizarre as time goes by.
[A digression: While I was in the surgery last week, I asked Dr Jordan about the possible side-effects of Amitryptiline. I know a few people who take it, and they’ve complained about the ‘hangover’ afterwards. Dr Jordan replied that the worst I could expect from such a low dose was ‘a bit of a dry mouth.’ That sounds like a hangover to me.
It reminded me of Douglas Adams’ great exchange in the first episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
FORD PREFECT: It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.
ARTHUR DENT: What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?
FORD PREFECT: You ask a glass of water.]
Anyway, in the absence of any constructive suggestions about dealing with my insomnia, I’m going to have another pint here. Or maybe two. In fact, I might default to Emergency Protocol One (‘Fuck it!’) and have a shedful. I’ll need to get up for a piss at some point, so I might as well have something to show for it.
Meanwhile, here’s some music…


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