For as long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble falling asleep. No matter how tired I am, I can lay in bed for hours before I finally drift off. When I was in 11th grade, I started to realize how much of a time waster this was. That hour that I spent every night lying in bed and staring at the ceiling could have been used for something more productive.
So I started staying up later. I would stare at my computer until I could feel myself falling asleep. Usually this didn’t happen until two or three in the morning. At that point, I would lift myself out of my chair and lie down in bed. Somehow, it still took my an unreasonable amount of time to fall asleep. The second that my head hit the pillow, I would feel more awake.
And then I was only getting four hours of sleep. So I would be exhausted all day, only to lie down in bed just before the sun rose and still be unable to fall asleep. I had no idea how this was possible. No matter how tired I was, the mere thought of lying in bed made me feel awake.
I soon realized that I couldn’t continue using this method. I was constantly tired. So instead of staying up until I was tired, I resorted to staring at the ceiling again. No luck. I still couldn’t fall asleep, and now that I had been staying up so late, my body’s clock had changed and I found myself staring at the ceiling for even longer.
I tried to pull an all-nighter. If I stayed up all night, then I would be so tired all day that I could easily fall asleep at eleven, or at least midnight. This worked for one day, but the next night I was staring at the ceiling again. The only way that I could fall asleep properly was if I pulled all-nighters every other day. I couldn’t deal with being that tired for so much of my life.
Around February of that year, things got worse. I was sleeping for only two or three hours a night, and I felt awful every morning. I would drag myself to school, my body feeling heavy and my mind dulled, only to find myself unable to fall asleep even during the most boring of lectures.
After about a week of such awful sleeping patterns, things started to get kind of weird.
My first class was math. One of my best friends always sat next to me, and each day he looked more and more concerned about how tired I looked. I remember staring bleary-eyed into my textbook, flipping through the pages to the proper section. I landed on the page starting the section that we were going to cover that day. In the bottom left corner was a graph of a parabola. I narrowed my eyes at it and sniffed.
Then I leaned over to my friend. I said, “Hey. This parabola smells like cherries.”
He gave me a confused, “What?”
I squinted at the textbook again. “Never mind,” I mumbled.
Every once in awhile, I could smell or taste certain things, but they never seemed to smell the way that they should. And it was never consistent. One day the color blue smelled like chalk, and then the next week it would taste like plastic. But the strangeness didn’t stop there as time went on.
I remember on a particularly citrusy day, I thought that I heard somebody say my name twice. But they had said nothing of the sort. Throughout my classes, whenever I started to zone out, I would think that I heard my name. After school, I was walking to the bus stop through rain that smelled like Green Day, and I heard a car honking its horn. But somehow, even the dull tone of the car horn sounded like my name.
It was around this point that I think I became a little bit schizophrenic.
There was a pizza place just a few blocks away from my school, and one day at lunch I decided that I should go there. I had originally intended to go to the grocery store nearby and just buy a cheap bagel, but there was something important about the pizza place. That was where I was supposed to go. When I went there, important things would happen. I wasn’t sure what. Maybe I was going to see somebody I knew and have an important conversation, or maybe I would have some sort of life-changing experience.
So I went to the pizza place. I stayed there until my lunch break was over and nothing happened. Of course not, I told myself. Where did you even get that idea?
A few days later I needed to go to Subway. This time I knew that something strange was happening, so I decided to get Wendy’s instead. But I couldn’t get the nagging thought out of my head that I should have gone to Subway. Maybe I had missed some important opportunity. What if things would have gone better for me if I had followed my instincts?
By my instincts were on the fritz. I couldn’t trust myself anymore. Sometimes I would give in. It’s not like bad things would happen if I ate lunch at one place or another. Every once in awhile, I would still have to repress these thoughts. If I needed to read a specific book instead of doing my homework, that couldn’t be allowed. Usually it was an awful book, anyway.
How did I end up this way? For all of my life, I’d been falling asleep within an hour. Now it took five hours to fall asleep. This wasn’t fair. I must have been doing something differently. I needed to come up with a strategy to start sleeping again, but none of the ideas would work. My mind was getting furious with me, and I was already furious with it.
And then after a couple of months, it stopped. No reason. No dramatic revelation. One night I managed to fall asleep in two hours, and I was thrilled. The strange ideas started to go away, and the weird smells became less and less frequent. Then I would fall asleep in an hour and a half. Soon I was back at just one hour, the duration that I had dealt with for my entire life.
For once, staring at the ceiling for an hour didn’t matter.