Sleepless, Restless, Anxious, Creative

Bear asks, “What’s insomnia?”

Bear asks, “What’s insomnia?”

I don’t like to talk about my insomnia. I don’t like to even say the word. It’s more than superstition. If I’m in a bad patch of it, I don’t want anyone to know. If I’m in the tender recovery stage after many sleepless nights, I don’t want the word insomnia to be an incantation, an invitation back to the land of staring at the ceiling and listening to the clanging of my heart in my chest. If I’ve been sleeping peacefully for more nights than I can count, then the mere suggestion of insomnia is a sucker punch to my gut. Oh, no. I cannot go back there.

By my usual standards, then, I shouldn’t be talking about insomnia now. These past few weeks have been tough. Anyone who has struggled with falling or staying asleep knows that insomnia is a terrible cycle, harder to break each night it continues. When you want to sleep but can’t, you feel wired, exhausted, isolated, and trapped.

When I’m in that frantic, sleep-deprived state, though, I also feel like I am able to tap into the ticker tape of creativity in my head. There’s a lot of noise up there, but, sometimes, all that chatter leads somewhere. It’s a long and circuitous route, for sure, but when I’m stretched thin and in survival mode, I have no filters. My brain is more porous than usual, and everything becomes a telescope, a magnifying glass, a funhouse mirror. I can’t stop thinking. So many ways to see the world. To distill and reshape and consider again. Isn’t that what writers do? Isn’t that how editors work all day, turning over and over in their minds the endless permutations of language and meaning?

In the throes of sleeplessness, I operate at a frenetic pace, making lists filled with the tiniest of details and firing off e-mails to friends and colleagues with grand schemes. I also write a lot. Not just circular rants that have no end (though there are certainly some of those on record). I haven’t done a statistical analysis, but I’d guess that something like 85 percent of my blog posts were written in some state of insomnia. When I’m not sleeping, I become compelled to write, about my creative drive, Luddite tendencies, or fear of parties.

The theory is that anxiety fuels creativity, but for me, filling up at that weigh station always becomes a question of quantity. Sure, a little bit of stress can be the catalyst to a very productive day. Too much, though, leads to overdrive. And since when has anyone known anxiety to be a balanced trait? In the long and dark stretch before the sun rises, when my mind is simultaneously counting the hours I won’t be sleeping, plotting a short story, making a list of errands three days long, and wishing for a vacation, the creative drive is fractured, reduced to worried splinters.

If my brain cannot rest when my head hits the pillow, then I find other lily pads in the insomnia swamp: on the yoga mat, in the acupuncture chair, on the couch, and even inside my rapid-fire thoughts—scrawled with a pen and bleeding onto the page.

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5 Responses to “Sleepless, Restless, Anxious, Creative”

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  2. […] dialed up to 10. I couldn’t find my focus because my focus was split everywhere. I was probably sleep-deprived. The telltale heart of those paint jars became too much. I had maybe five minutes before I needed […]

  3. […] I’m not the first person to have this epiphany and make the connection between water and creativity. I mean, I didn’t say the ideas I got while washing dishes were necessarily original, right? Right. The lesson here for me, though, is that while I continue to work, work, work on ideas for my career, my creative writing, and the social media that I write for myself and others (my own big three, if you will), I need to step back. Let my brain slow down to a light jog in its incessant sprint-marathon-sprint race that keeps me humming but also wears me out. […]

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