Sleeping Wide Awake


The close of work for the year dovetailed into some heavy Christmas rains and a bout of overdue laziness, which meant I didn’t take a daily walk, and I didn’t exercise in any way. My one recourse in trying to address my sleep difficulties has been to tire myself physically, but now I was lazing around in my first week of holidays.

Come the night, I would lie in bed, restless and hyperalert, the furthest thing from tired although I should’ve been due to the collective lack of sleep. Images flashed through my head – landscapes, and stars, and other things which, in retrospect, makes me think I must’ve been hypnagogic.

But I was also able to think about things, to obsess, and contemplate how in the morning I would get out of bed and there would be a sameness about everything, an unfillable emptiness, and the same drains would remain the same drains, while the things I thought I would have by this age, by this stage of my life, remain nonexistent.

What I do have (and which I also didn’t expect) is grief. My dad is palliative, but at 94, that’s a good life. My uncle passed last year; he was only a few years younger. His was one of six funerals I had in the first six months of 2022. With the people who’d lived long lives, I was sad but also thought about how that’s the natural order of things. That’s disrupted when somebody dies prematurely.

I think about grief a lot, or wallow in it, and think about how it becomes this unprocessable glitch in reality, this thing that can never be navigated, can never be digested, can never be addressed in a meaningful way because it can never be reversed, and that there are occasions when it becomes unreal, when you think surely the person you’re grieving just can’t have died, and you’ll see them in the morning, but come the morning there it still is and there’s no escaping it, or the pain, guilt, and regret associated with it.

It’s the unfixable thing.

Like (to some extent) the damage to my leg and, particularly, my foot. I won’t think about it at times through the day. It’s the new normal, and has been for over twelve years. Even its limitations aren’t consciously lodged anymore. They just are.

But, sometimes, and especially when it hurts, I will stop to think about it, about the numbness in the top half of the foot, about the way the nerve damage has clawed the toes, about the way it feels like somebody has taped my ankle up so I can’t flex it, about the maddening clenching that I can never unclench, about the weird burning sensations and raw tenderness and other issues associated with it, and there’s this instant of reflection, of facing the truth of it that is so overwhelmingly distressing – more so than any of the physical complications – that all I can do is recoil and think, Is this it?

Every New Year, BEST FRIEND used to say that this would be a big year, and I’d hope that reality would be redefined as I knew it. Funnily, she first said this in 2009, and I had massive digestive issues that year; in 2010, I had back and neck problems; and then in 2011, the car struck me. She joked she was going to stop saying it, although I imagine she still did and thought 2022 would be a big year, and yet she was gone just ten weeks into the year.

Sometimes, I think if somebody had to go then I wish it’d been me, and she was still here running her business and pursuing the things she wanted to pursue, stuff she thought she wouldn’t fit in another twenty-five years of life, and her brightness and energy remained in a world that’s dark and fucked up a lot of the time.

But here we are, a new year, but all that’s happened is a number’s ticked over on a calendar that’s cyclic, and it’s been doing that for millennia, so it’s not that new at all, but just a conceit, and while most will make plans, most will think that this is the year that’ll be their year (or whatever), all we really have is our normal, and the attempt to shape it into something better.