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To Sleep, From a Gal With a Chronic Illness

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Dear Sleep,

It’s not you, it’s me. Well, actually it’s mostly you. But I know it’s not your fault. You’ve been trying the best you can, and really, what more could I ask for?

My friends used to laugh at me when you and I would spend so much time together. Sleepovers were always an anxious event. “Will they let me sleep enough? Will they wake me when their mom makes us pancakes?” I’d usually sleep until lunchtime, and wake up to stunned friends and parents who couldn’t believe this child, who was supposed to be full of energy, had slept thirteen hours. “How do you sleep so long?” they’d ask. “I don’t know,” I’d say. “But I’m still so tired.” I didn’t think much of it as a kid. I guess I thought you and I just had some sort of special relationship, a secret bond the other kids didn’t have.

You’re the first thing I think of every morning. Even after we’ve spent the whole night together, I wake up with an overwhelming exhaustion that begs me to spend just a few more minutes in bed. But we both know a few more minutes, or even hours, wouldn’t change a thing. My joints crack and ache as I try to break away. You usually win the fight, so I rationalize skipping my shower, meditation, or breakfast that morning. I must say, you owe me a lot of breakfasts.

You make classes really difficult. I love to learn, but I have a hard time focusing on anything but you. I try to keep up, commenting here and there, and asking questions to seem more engaged. But I sit there in a dizzy haze, the pain radiating from knees to hips. My body feels like a pile of dense bricks. “Are you OK?” my peers ask. “I’m just so tired,” I confess. “I know right!” they all agree enthusiastically. “So much work to do. I need a nap!” I never know how to reply. I’ll admit, I get sensitive when other people talk about you in front of me. Maybe it’s because I know they’ll never have what we have. Maybe it’s because deep down, I know they don’t need you the way I do at two in the afternoon.

As I got older, I started to see the unhealthy patterns in the ways I treated you. I was dependent on you. I attempted to control and manipulate you. The list goes on. And as the list grew, so did my resentment toward you. Slowly, I started to resent the one thing I needed to respect most: rest.

We went through a rough patch in college, didn’t we? I wanted to get to know myself outside of our relationship. There was so much work to be done in so little time. There were so many people to meet. I abused our relationship, taking more than I could give. I wanted to feel awake while still being able to get my work done, without missing out on free beer, flip-cup Tuesdays. Prescription stimulants became my friend, and I started to avoid you. If I was going to be tired regardless, why not steal back the countless hours I had missed over the years, and stay awake as long as I could? It made sense at the time. But I quickly learned fighting against you was never going to be a long term solution. We need each other. More importantly, we take care of each other.

Our relationship is complicated. I can’t get enough of you, no matter how much I try. I still end up resenting you for all the nights you betray me and I’m left staring up at the ceiling, wondering if you’ll ever come around. But I do feel that we’ve gotten stronger. I’ve come to appreciate your constant fight to keep me from getting sick, and I’ve found a whole other world within the wild vivid dreams you let me escape into on days that are just too hard. I acknowledge the work you put in and accept that it’s no one’s fault. I plan my time around you more carefully, making sure we have at least eight hours a night. I value you and I trust that we’re in this fight together, not against each other. What more could I ask for?

See you later tonight.

Getty image by Tinatin1.

Originally published: February 27, 2020
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