Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Insomnia, part III - this is getting to be a habit

There was one semester of college where I couldn't sleep.  I had recently moved to Chicago, I lived in a studio apartment with the best cat ever and about eight hundred roaches, and I really didn't know anybody.  I had transferred schools halfway through college and everybody seemed to already know each other.  I went to Columbia College when it was still a commuter school, there were no dorms or campus housing of any kind, so it was hard to break into the social scene.  I couldn't sleep at night, and instead I stayed up late watching reruns of St. Elsewhere on my giant, 1984 color TV that had no remote, so if I wanted to change the channel I had to get up from a reclining position on my futon and change it my damn self.  They aired St. Elsewhere at 2 or 3 in the morning, and ran 2 or 3 episodes in a row, in sequence, so I'd follow along and feel nostalgic for Boston, where the series is set, and isn't that far from the school I had transferred from.  Sometimes even that didn't work, so after the last episode of St. Elsewhere had wrapped up I would go for walks along Broadway, Clark Street, Halsted.  My husband tells me that his first clear memory of me is when he and his roommate were walking home from a late night out and ran into me at 4am.  I was friends with his roommate, who asked me what I was doing out.  "I can't sleep," I explained.  I remember that my husband - well, the man who would many years later become my husband, leaned in and hugged me when I said that.  I didn't expect it, and was uncomfortable.

At some point in the early morning it would seem ridiculous to try to go to sleep, so I'd plan on staying up all day, going downtown for class, and sleeping when I got home.  Invariably, I would fall asleep at around 6am, sleep right through class, and wake up at some point in the afternoon.  It was a cycle I couldn't snap out of, and I got terrible grades as a result.  I even failed a class for not handing in my final report.

In retrospect, I know what was keeping me up at night - I was trying to run away from myself, but it wasn't working.   At around that time I read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and there's a line in it that I'll paraphrase, or maybe the Internet will find it for me (bless you Internet - first web site that popped up in a Google search had it!):

[W]herever I sat - on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok - I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.  ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 15

I'd left Boston thinking that I would be happier somewhere else, but the truth was I was simply unhappy, Chicago wasn't going to change that.  I'd been running from my own head, reinventing my life in an attempt to change who I was.  

The week my husband and I got back from Montreal, I couldn't sleep 3 nights out of the first 4 that we were back.  I know why I'm not sleeping, I'm just not sure what to do about it.  

As it turns out, it shows that I'm not really invested in my job.  My boss had a talk with me my first day back - a kind of pre-annual review (dear God, have I really been there for a year?!) and told me that concerns had been raised about my performance.  I couldn't lie to her - it has been hard for me.  I never thought I'd be working there, would never have even applied for the job if it weren't for my circumstances, and throughout my unemployed year I was able to distract myself from my job loss by immersing myself in other things - travel, volunteering, writing.  It wasn't until I accepted a job that was not just a step backwards but a whole staircase of steps backwards that I felt the enormity of what I had lost.  I'd done the best I could with the situation at hand - got to know my colleagues, lost 20 pounds, grew triceps where no triceps were before; but the truth is, I never meant to be there, certainly not this long.

I actually really appreciated my boss calling me out on my performance, for a long time it felt like I could do a great job or a crappy job and nobody would know the difference.  It feels like we've crossed a divide, and become more honest with each other; it feels better to go to work... sort of.  Sort of.  

What kept me up at night in 1992 and 1993 was my brain working in overdrive, trying to figure out my life, and I guess it's not that different from what's keeping me up now.  For some reason I'm unable to follow through on my own instincts - search out new opportunities, pursue them, find more meaningful work.  I'm just so tired of looking, and so tired of interviewing, and so tired of rejection, but the alternative is insomnia, and it's really not doing much for me. 

1 comment:

j.cro said...

Dearest JP,
Please email me? I have a story to tell you that is too personal and long for a comment on your blog.
It's so funny/ironic how you can find a connection with someone but have never met them. I feel we are kindred spirits.
I hope to hear from you.
Take care and try to get some sleep.