One of the more exciting symptoms of having the bipolars is the inability to get anything out of your head. I often refer to my brain as a Mobius Strip because no matter how far I follow a thought, how much I think I turn it over, I always end up back at the beginning. Then I repeat. They can be profound, or they can be mundane. What they all have in common is presence:
- Why didn’t [insert friend here] return that text? Is [insert friend here] mad at me? What did I do to piss off [insert friend here]? Why do I even have friends? I certainly don’t deserve them.
- How am I ever going to find a job? How will I explain all the holes in my resume because of the bipolars? You’ve made a mess of your finances? You’re gonna end up homeless or made into Soylent Green. If there’s ever medical rationing, I definitely won’t qualify for
- Why don’t people ever play Elton John’s “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll)” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” off of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road together when it’s obvious from the album that they are meant to be played together? There’s no space between them on the album. What’s wrong with people? Is this why people never let you DJ? Your taste in music sucks, and people are just being nice when they don’t point that out.
- Is the cat mad at me?
- They’re really gonna screw up that X-Files reboot, aren’t they.
- Did I talk to my stepmom enough before she died? I know I could’ve done more.
The upshot is that I more often than not I just lay in bed, upsetting the cat by not slumbering. Yes, the cat is mad at me. The cat is always mad at me; she bites my toes to punish me for not sleeping. My brain punishes me for not thinking.
I lay looking up at the ceiling, the patterns in the spackle forming islands and cows and mocking popes. And the tiny ambient noises – traffic, the house settling, some animal scurrying in the woods –organize themselves into whispers that offer rebuttals to the thoughts running thru my head. “When have you ever heard those two songs played together except on the album? No one likes it when you DJ.”
Ambien and NyQuil lose their effectiveness after a few days, plus you don’t ever want NyQuil to lose its effectiveness. I’ve tried white noise machines and such, but I begin to hear patterns forming which keep me awake. And, of course, there’s music, but music makes me think. “Seriously, they’re one song! They should be played as such!”
But a couple years ago, I discovered the one thing that did the trick: WORLD WAR II
Thanks to the advent of YouTube and an iPad I keep propped next to my bed, I can be serenaded to sleep every night by the dulcet tones of World War II documentaries. Yes, that World War II, the one with the Nazis, the atom bombs, the Dresdens, the millions dead. How can you fall asleep amidst all that human suffering? What kind of monster are you?
I am not able to fall asleep because I’m getting off on the misery then falling back in some refractory slumber. It has much more to do with the narration. I never watch American documentaries. First of all, the rah-rah jingoism is a little hard to take. There’s only so many times you can hear the term “Greatest Generation” before it starts becoming grating. Then you’re awake thinking all the things the “Greatest Generation” did that weren’t as cool as winning WWII, like segregation or the wholesale rape of the environment in the name of suburbia.
Also, have you ever heard an American accent? We sound like Australians with sinus infections. How’s a person supposed to sleep to that? No, give me a nice, standard BBC’d British accent. Nothing lowers the blood pressure and brings me to my happy place like that tone. In school, I had a friend who sounded like she could give the time on the BBC World Service. I would save her phone messages and replay them whenever I needed to calm down. There’s even one series, the 26-part The World at War, that features a voiceover by Sir Laurence Olivier, who makes all that death and destruction sound downright Shakespearean. And who can stay awake for Shakespeare?
Falling asleep to a soothing voice isn’t all that unusual. After all, I have a relaxation/meditation app on my phone that my therapist suggested. The woman’s voice –“Emotions come, aaaand we let them go” –puts me under in about seven minutes. However, it won’t work at night. I think I associate it too much with naps. Also, when one is embarking on a dark night of the soul, a voice, no matter how sonorous, telling you to NOT THINK ABOUT THINGS is the quickest way to think about things.
Then people wonder how I can possibly sleep with all that human misery going on in my earholes. The question behind that question is “How can you be lulled asleep by Adolf Hitler?” Good point. While he was an effective speaker, his voice was quite grating –even for German. And in my defense, British documentaries tend not to dwell on the speeches; they always supply a somewhat cutting counter-argument to whatever über-drivel the Fuhrer’s barking.
Then there’s this: Hitler. Always. Loses.
No matter how many times you play out World War II, the Nazis screw the pooch. Yes, there was unimaginable suffering for years, and things looked bleak for everyone not named Eva Braun. But then all the bad people go down into a bunker, never to be seen again.
It’s this aspect of the WWII docs that helps me fall asleep. None of my problems –be it the cat, my finances, or the proper way to play an Elton John song –pale in comparison to the suffering those millions of people in headscarves and uniforms and horrid striped pajamas went through. I am being kept awake at night by the problem equivalent of Pluto while those folks’ problems were the blue giant star Sirius.
But Hitler lost. I can sleep.
I will figure out my problems.
Except maybe the cat.