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It's 2 AM and I'm Tired, but Painsomnia Won't Let Me Sleep


It’s 2 a.m. and I’m tired. No, I’m not tired, I’m exhausted. Bone-weary exhausted but I can’t turn off my brain and the painsomnia isn’t being kind tonight. It’s mid-October and the weather is turning colder. My joints hurt. The simple act of brushing my hair, reaching for a cup, even moving the wrong way sends waves of pain shooting through my system.

I have a full bottle of pain meds prescribed by my pain management doctor I can take but I’ve seen the headlines, read every warning. I’ve even gotten letters of admonishment from my insurance company about the fact that I’ve been prescribed these pills, so while I have them at my disposal, I only take them as a last resort. I joke about not wanting to become an “After School Special” but I know how dangerous the risks are as one only need watch the news or pass a newsstand to see the headlines scream of the “opioid crisis.” So I dole out the pills sparingly and make rules for their use. I must tell my husband when I take them so I’m accountable to someone else. Tonight I took one but it’s not helping to break the pain cycle. I have directions from the doctor to take two if needed but that’s scary. Two means the danger of building a tolerance and perhaps an addiction. These are not options I can entertain so I lie awake in pain, burdened by the day’s events that replay like a bad movie as I continue my nightly quest to find a comfortable position and not wake my sleeping husband. I’m jealous of how easily he falls asleep every night. His head hits the pillow and he’s out. It’s never like that for me. It never has been.

Lately when I do fall asleep I’m haunted by dreams of the career I was forced to give up early due to severe lupus and fibromyalgia. For 23 years I was an elementary general music teacher and I loved it. It was my calling. I truly believed I would be in my classroom until well into my golden years, the little old grey-haired teacher going off into retirement after a long and distinguished career. Instead, at 45, after the 39th hospitalization in eight years, after I’d once again been carried out of my classroom by paramedics and given a one-way trip to a five-day stay in the hospital (do not pass go, do not collect $200) my doctors determined that the time for me to leave the classroom for good had come.

And when I do sleep I’m haunted by that interrupted career. My dreams are filled with students. More than 20 years worth of names and faces mixed in no particular order or sense but together. An amalgam of “my kids” together in classrooms, learning together, making music. Sometimes we sing and my husband tells me I sing in my sleep. Sometimes I’m teaching full lessons. Out loud. This is pretty impressive considering I wear a CPAP mask for my sleep apnea. Some dreams are nightmares. Lessons gone bad. All teachers have those but these have taken truly dark turns. The lack of control I have in my life now, fighting the insurance company, waiting for my disability paperwork to go through, dealing with reams of red tape, is translating to feeling powerless in the classroom. Students not listening, lack of respect, major classroom management issues I haven’t dealt with in years. I understand the underlying psychology of it but it doesn’t help when you wake up in a cold sweat.

Perhaps the strangest was the night I hit my poor husband because I was conducting in my sleep. Yes, you read that right. I was full out conducting in my sleep. Part of my role as a music teacher was directing the chorus – a role I cherished. This time of year was always the beginning of chorus rehearsals and my favorite time. There is something about the joining of voices together, singing full and strong, full of emotion and with purpose. When I planned my final concert I did not know it was my final concert. When I conducted it I did not know it was my final concert. There is usually great pomp and circumstance involved in a conductor’s “final concert” and I never had that. Because of the circumstances of the timing of my retirement I never even had that moment of “she’s retiring, she was here and now she’s leaving.”

My dear friends threw me a lovely breakfast and my colleague gave me a generous gift. I am very blessed. But there is something about that moment of closure that I guess I never got. So I wrestle with it in my dreams. When I can sleep.

So now it’s 2:40 a.m. I’m still awake. I’m still in pain. I go through all of the “fall asleep and turn off your overworked and stressed brain” exercises but the stress of dealing with disability paperwork and insurance and the miles and miles of red tape is exhausting. So shouldn’t I be sleeping? I adjust my pile of pillows trying to find yet another position that might take some pressure off my aching joints in my hips. I see my sleeping husband and once again envy his ability to sleep soundly, so peacefully. And I want to shake him. I know. That’s not fair. It’s not his fault. I’m glad one of us sleeps. I just wish, for one night – just one night – I could feel what that feels like.