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MY WORD

CHASING THE SAND AN


LUCINDA STRAHAN HAS TO WORK HARDER THAN MOST TO CATCH FORTY WINKS.
I REGULARLYWAKEin the dark

sometime between 3 and 4am. I bob


up from the depths of slumber and
there are a few minutes when I'm either
going to go back under or stay awake,
treading water- my body still wrapped
in the comforts of bed but my mind
refusing to participate. It skips around
ente1taining every slip of a thought: I
consider the ins and outs of a dispute
at work. I revisit every sensual detail of
a swim in a waterhole in the dese1t. I
tell myself funny stories. I wonder why
Ford Transit vans are such a popular
commercial vehicle.
Most of us rouse at this time of night.
Researchers say that sleep occurs in
go-minute cycles, so anyone who retires
around upm will reach the end of one
of these cycles between 3am and 4am,
but normally won't notice. It's a physical
thing - most people just wriggle
around a bit, turn over and settle back
under. But some of us, it seems, are
constitutionally bound to break the
surface of sleep.
I come from a long line of bad
sleepers. My dad was a night~waker
and his mother- who I never really
knew- reputedly had three kinds of
pills on her bedside table: Strong, Really
Strong and Total Knockout. Like her, I
have a mini-pharmacy of sleep inducers
ranging from homeopathies to antipsychotics, with the terrible skippingsong of benzodiazepines and hypnotics
in betvveen: temazepam, diazepam,

lorazepam, alprazolam, zopiclone,


zolpidem, SLEEP!
Sleeping pills can be a relief when
insomnia is at its worst, but they really
are awful. It's that desperate snap in
the night as you fumble around in the
bathroom; the bleary-eyed and bittertasting wake-ups with the chemicals still
running through your veins. It might
get you through the morning, but by the
afternoon you're strung-out, ratty and
hvitchy. Which only makes you more
worried about sleeping again. That's
what you call addiction, isn't it?
Recently a friend in Berlin posted an
insomniac distress call on Facebook:
"Longest night of tlte year and here's me
witl1 insomnia". The remedies flooded
in, from tl1e traditional (chamomile tea
before bed, 10 drops oflavender oil in a
bath) to the alternative: half a tablet of
Quetiapine Fum or a tablet of melatonin
and a glass of lettuce juice. Someone
suggested the more gentle pharmaceutical
option of two paracetamol before bed to
soothe physical tension.
"Make sure you walk for at least two
hours during the day," I posted.
During excruciating periods of
insomnia I learned the benefits of
forcing myself to walk until I almost fell
over. The rhythm of my stride seemed
to synchronise my body and my racing
mind. When I returned to the dreaded
place that my bed had become, I could
remind myself how exhausted I felt after
walking and what a relief it was to rest.

It is a special brand of torture to be


afraid of your own bed. To know the
heartbreaking feeling of the sheets
going from fresh and cool to clammy
and fetid as you toss and tum, getting
further and further away from where
you desperately want to be. To win
the battle, the insomniac absolutely
must get up and leave those sheets in a
welcoming condition for when they are
ready to try again.
I've learned to roll with insomnia.
Now I always get out of bed. I often
wrap myself in a blanket and sit
cross-legged on a cushion for an hour,
watching the in-and-out of my breath
and the particular weird fluidity of my
mind in these dark waking hours.
Anything rhythmic and repetitive is
good for getting back to sleep. Recently,
I have discovered one of those audio
tracks tltat use soporific sound waves,
kind of a drone that takes me back to
daytime naps when I was a kid and I
would listen to the sound of the dryer
going through the laundry wall.
I don't ever tum on the TV or go on
the internet, although sometimes I do
get up and take notes about things. Like
now, it's right on 4.38am. If I'm lucky
I might catch one last spell tonight but
if not, you know what? I'm not going to
die. Tomorrow I'll just be tired.
Lucinda Strahan is a Melbourne writer
and a lecturer in professional and
creative writing at RMIT UniversitlJ.
THE BIG ISSUE 19JUN-2JUL2012

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