A Conversation With Sleep

To my utter disbelief, Sleep decided to pay me a visit a couple of days ago. When the doorbell rang I figured it would be UPS dude delivering all the stuff I bought on Cyber Monday but, lo and behold, there stood Sleep, grinning like he hadn’t disappeared ages ago without leaving a forwarding address. Although I wanted to slug him (for some reason he appeared to me in male form), I had a lot of questions for the cad; so I smiled like I meant it and invited him in for a drink. When I offered him a vodka martini, he demurred, saying he prefers warm milk instead. What a nerd!

“What’s your problem with alcohol?” I said.

“As you know, I’m a mellow kind of guy, and since alcohol is a depressant, it makes me feel even more mellow, but only for awhile. As soon as it wears off, I get all wound up and jittery. Same way it acts on you.

“What do you mean?” I snapped. “Alcohol doesn’t make me jittery.”

“Really? Why do you think you keep waking up in the middle of the night without being able to fall back into my arms? I’ll tell you why, because I don’t like Wound Up and Jittery, so I stay away.

“Oh, so having a glass of wine or two with dinner is a sin?”

“I didn’t say it was a sin. I just said I don’t like it, so I don’t hang around Alcohol.

“Great, so if I want you to visit me at night, I have to stop drinking?”

“I didn’t say that, either, but if you want me around, you might want to take that into consideration.”

“Why me? What did I do to you?” I said. “My husband has wine with dinner and you hang with him just fine.”

“Alcohol doesn’t affect his system the same way it does yours. Go talk to Alcohol about it.”

“Well, several times I’ve gone a month without booze—for a cleanse or something like that—and you still didn’t come back!”

“That’s because it isn’t only Alcohol that’s at issue. You’re also keeping time with Stress, and I don’t like him, either. In fact, Stress and Depression are the two reasons I most often stay away from people. Those guys are bad news; I can’t stand being around them.

“Fussy, aren’t you?”

“My prerogative,” he said.

I wanted to smack him.

“Everybody has Stress!” I said. “And I have less stress than most. Plus, I manage him pretty well. It’s not like I go around screaming at people and being nervous or high-strung. Ask anyone who knows me. I’m a fairly mellow person, meditate on a regular basis, do yoga. Insomnia is the only place Stress manifests in my life. It’s easy for you to say, just get rid of him. I’ve tried every last living thing to get you to come back. Ambien and ZzzQuil seemed to work, but only for awhile; you can’t trust them.”

“Yes, guys like them are Stress and Depression’s enablers.”

“But I need a break! I’m a human being, I’m supposed to sleep! I deserve to sleep! What gives you the right to be so self-centered? Tell me, Mr. Egotist, what is your advice for getting rid of Stress?”

“I know you’re mad at me, but you don’t need to call me names, especially if you want me to come around.”

“But you don’t, in any case, whether I sweet-talk you or curse you out.”

“Let me give you a tip,” Sleep said. “Don’t forget that Stress often wears a cloak of invisibility. You don’t realize it but you get into bed with him every night. Because he’s there, you fear I won’t show up, which makes him more powerful and obnoxious, so I really run away. Let me say it again: If you stress about whether or not I’ll show, I won’t.

I recommend you figure out a way to relax. Do it as an exercise. Think about relaxing things, like a nature scene, or a restful vacation you had, or a wonderful instance in your life. Inhabit that experience as if you were there all over again. If you’re thinking about those things, you’re not stressing. It’s that simple. You can also try simple breathing exercises. Breathe in and slowly exhale through your mouth. Do it 20 times, 50 times, as many as it takes to get your body to relax. That’s when I show up, when you’re relaxed.”

“Why can’t you just push the bastard out of the way and take your rightful place?” I said, holding back from calling him a pushover.

“Because it’s my nature. I don’t know how to change it. If Stress is there, it’s like my hand disappears and I can’t turn the doorknob to get into your space. I’m stuck outside unless you create an environment that is friendly to me. I’m kind of like a hummingbird. The only way to get a hummingbird to come near you is if you vibrate at his energetic wavelength. Otherwise your energy is disturbing to him, he’d rather watch you from a distance.”

When he said that, a little part of me melted. I kind of felt sorry for him—that he couldn’t do his job unless I did mine. But I resisted nonetheless.

“Well, you make it sound so easy,” I said. “Just relax and I’ll come. Oh, sure. Like waving a magic wand.”

“Have you ever tried it?” he said.

“Yeah, I have. I’ve practiced different relaxation exercises.”

“Didn’t I come?”

“Yes, but not every time. You’re so unreliable.”

“Did you do them on a regular basis?” He said. “Like every night?”

“Um, no. I got discouraged.”

“You give up too easily. Everything worth having takes work and dedication to keep it,” Sleep said. “Stress loves you and will not easily give you up. You have to keep up the good fight if you want him gone for good.”

“For how long?” I said suspiciously.

“How long have you been an insomniac?” He said.

“About seven years,” I said.

“Well, not only has Stress made himself at home, like he’s handcuffed himself to you and thrown away the key, you’ve gotten used to him.”

“No, I haven’t! I hate him for keeping you away from me. I love you! No, I adore you! My only dream is to have you back in my life.”

“I promise you that if you persevere with your relaxation exercises every single night for awhile—let’s say a month—you will prepare the way for us to become friends again. Through repetition your body will naturally learn to relax. You just need to commit to a program and do it. Find a simple relaxation technique that appeals to you and do it every day. There is no magic bullet. If there was, you would have ordered it from Amazon a long time ago.”

“To hell with Amazon,” I said. “I waited until Cyber Monday to buy all the stuff I needed, but nothing I needed was discounted!”

“You’re changing the subject,” Sleep said.

“Maybe it’s because I don’t really believe it can be that simple. It’s been a long, punishing time since you showed me any love.”

“Yes, it has. I’ve missed you too. I love getting in bed with you. You’ve deprived me all these years.”

“Sleepa, please. If I kicked you out of my bed, I must have been sleepwalking!”

“Something like that,” he said, smugly, I thought.

“Well then, what took you so long to come back and tell me what to do?”

“I could tell you were ready to hear what I had to say,” Sleep said.

“That sounds very New Age.”

“Yet, it’s true. You know it is.”

“Maybe. Maybe it’s true. We’ll see.”

“I have to go now—”

“Of course, you do.”

“But I’ll be back soon. I can feel it.”

“Really? Okay, then. I’ll be waiting. Until then, just call me a relaxing fool.”

“Sweet dreams!” Sleep said before walking out the door.

I hated watching him go, but for the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful.

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CONVERSATIONS