“A disruption of the circadian cycle—the metabolic and glandular rhythms that are central to our workaday life—seems to be involved in many, if not most, cases of depression; this is why brutal insomnia so often occurs and is most likely why each day’s pattern of distress exhibits fairly predictable alternating periods of intensity and relief.”
― William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness
I’m writing this at 9:00 a.m.! That probably doesn’t seem worthy of an exclamation point to you, but then, you probably enjoy being alive. William Styron is right about depression disrupting workaday rhythms, but he’s wrong about everything else. He’s wrong in the same way that society was wrong to diagnose people who were convinced that the government was spying on them as paranoid, and then not apologize and give them back their credibility when it turned out they were right. Discovering that the government is actually spying on us should have raised the question of whether what is called paranoia is actually a disorder—- or just superior bullshit detection, for public debate, but it hasn’t. I submit that insomnia isn’t a real disorder, either. It’s a normal human response to not being allowed to have a natural circadian rhythm, but having to follow orders as to what time to go to sleep and what time to wake up.
I think humans, if we were allowed our own circadian rhythms, would be more like bears. We’d store enough food for the winter, and not leave our caves except to visit each other, until spring. Instead, we label people whose bodies begin rebelling at getting up every morning to scrape ice off their windshields and drive on dangerous roads to get to an office to sell insurance or high interest loans to their fellow humans as suffering from the disorder of insomnia. People naturally need more sleep at some times than at others, like when they’re under stress.
Like paranoia, the “disorder” of insomnia seems to have been invented specifically to keep the profit-making machine in working order. Humans have been designated as parts of that machine, so maybe “malfunction” would be a more apt description than “disorder”. On the other hand, the word “disorder” implies a challenge to the existing order, or status quo. Mental health professionals are charged with ensuring that order is maintained. That ALL orders are maintained—pecking orders, marching orders, religious orders, market orders, fast-food orders, gag orders, restraining orders, and standing orders.
Maybe you’re wondering what any of this has to do with my being excited about writing this at 9:00 a.m., so I’ll tell you. Last night, I ordered myself to be out of bed before 9:00 a.m. That means I followed my own order! I didn’t have to be at work, or meet anybody for breakfast. In short, I was accountable to no-one but myself. Yet instead of shutting off the alarm, curling into a fetal position and sleeping until I had to be somewhere to survive, I got up. It might be the Zoloft, or it could be some of the compassion training I had last year kicking in. Usually, my orders are like my sadistic Marine drill sergeant father’s. “Get your lazy ass out of bed and get to work”. That sort of thing. But this one was more like “It’s hard to get up when you’re sad and discouraged and feel like you really have no good reason to, but you can do it. For now, you can make your environment more pleasant while you prepare yourself for getting up for work at a job you like even if you might not ever get one.” I was able to follow some other orders I gave myself yesterday, too, like to clean the bathroom and wash the dishes.
Another symptom of PTSD is not feeling safe enough to feel things while they’re happening. Living in sustained trauma permanently throws your timing off, because you have to learn to feel everything later to survive. You don’t get to schedule an appropriate time to feel them, either. Sometimes, they just overflow. That’s probably why society starting referring to people damaged by trauma as “off” in the head. You can’t relate to other people easily because by the time you’re able to feel the feelings from an interaction, they’ve already moved on to something else and wonder why you haven’t. It’s a little like living in another dimension, or staying on daylight savings time when everybody else switches back to regular time as soon as they’re ordered to. Loneliness is the hardest part of staying alive.
The book that helped me feel less lonely today is One More Thing by B.J. Novak. He’s incredibly smart and funny. This book lets me imagine that I was able to achieve my dream job of writing for TV and now get to hang out with smart funny people like him at work, which would make it not like work.