Insomnia and Anxiety

For two months or so, I’ve been suffering from insomnia. I haven’t really kept it secret, but haven’t elaborated on the reasons behind it either.

I do feel tired and want so badly to go to sleep at bedtime. By the time I finish all the things a busy mom has to do and my kids are in bed, I am wide awake. I have tried healthy habits, like tea, warm baths, reading, no television, keeping the lights low, and avoiding the “blue screen glow” of electronic devices to get myself in the right mindset to sleep.

I have tried melatonin supplements too, but I worry about taking those for too long. I wear earplugs to drown out the noise of household sounds like my dear husband’s snoring, my son talking in his sleep, or my dog barking at the aliens that must be invading our backyard based on the ferociousness of his barking. I have resorted to drugging myself with Benadryl when I can’t take the sleeplessness anymore. I have tried drinking a small amount of alcohol to relax me, but I can’t do that often because of my ulcerative colitis.

So what is my problem? My mind. I can’t shut it off. I do sleep some, just not well. I have been sleeping in our guest room a lot so I won’t disturb my husband. Don’t worry, our marriage is not in trouble. I read or write until I finally feel so tired I think I can go to sleep. Then I sleep, but only for a little while, a few hours at most, before I wake up wide awake before my 5:45 a.m. alarm. I lie there in bed, thinking, worrying, trying desperately to fall asleep again.

I’ve always been a worrier. It runs in my family, passed down from my Meema to my dad to me. You give me any scenario and I can think of hundreds of ways it might go wrong. I don’t set out to be pessimistic. Believe it or not, I try really hard to be optimistic, but at the same time I have to be realistic. It’s a vicious cycle.

The true root of all of this: Anxiety. Panic Attacks. For me, a panic attack starts as a feeling of uneasiness, followed by an overwhelming sense of dread, then a faster heart rate and ends with lightheadness until I can breathe deeply or cry to calm myself down. Now is the anxiety causing the insomnia or is the insomnia causing the anxiety? The hell if I know. Either way, I think if I deal with both problems, I will feel better.

When I first took medication for anxiety, I was worried that it would change ME. The ME that was writing through the pain that I felt had triggered the anxiety in the first place. I didn’t want to lose myself. Well, I didn’t. The medicine helped. I was able to sleep again and leave my apartment again without panicking. I was still able to write the entire six months I was on the medication.

I try not to stigmatize mental health issues. If you have diabetes, you take insulin. If you have ulcerative colitis, you take anti-inflammatory medication, immunosuppressants if necessary and occasionally steroids. Why should it be a bad thing to seek help for mental health issues? It shouldn’t be. So, I am going to get help again. I want to feel better. I know I will still be ME and still be able to write and love my family. Everything’s going to be okay.

-Brandi Easterling Collins

Scars

“Scars” Free Verse, New Poetry, 8-4-16

Some nights when I can’t sleep
My mind wanders back to another time
Where the heartache must have happened
To someone else, someone I never knew.

I want to go back sometimes
Maybe to right the wrongs
Or do things differently.
The memories still have power over me.

I hate that I’m still reminded of you
After so many years and wasted tears.
I wish I could take them all back.
It was my youth I allowed stolen.

I gave you myself because I loved you.
I managed to survive the pain of loss,
But then you came back
And almost destroyed what was left of me.

When I let you break my heart again
It was my fault, and yours too.
Do I regret loving you? No.
Do I wish things had ended differently?

Maybe. No. Not really.
I locked away the hurt, pushed it down.
The scars from you are healing,
But still bleed sometimes.

I want to see a shooting star,
Without thinking of our first kiss.
I want back the passion I had then
To share with someone who loves me.

Late at night when I can’t sleep
And words come flowing out of me
I want back that piece of my soul,
The one I gave to you.

I’m a fraud who’s lost part of herself
Along the way. I have to get it back.
I can’t take back my youth
Or the time and tears spent.

I try to hide my scars
But they resurface.
I can’t erase the memories
So I must write over them.

-Brandi Easterling Collins

Daddy’s Guitar

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Daddy’s Guitar, Descriptive Essay for Comp. I, 9-17-99

One of the fondest memories from my childhood happened at my Meema’s house. My cousin Clint and I would crawl under Meema’s bed to pull out the treasures she had beneath it. The best treasure belonged to me, but was not really in my possession until I got older. Out of all the dust-covered items under her bed, my favorite was my late father’s guitar.

Me and Clint.
Me and Clint.

The hard plastic handle of the torn, faded black guitar case felt grainy in my hands. As I pulled the case to where I could open it, the dust stirred, causing me to sneeze and cough. Smells of cedar and stale cigarettes filled the room as Clint and I opened the warped case. The odors quickly blended with the muskiness of Meema’s house.

Royal blue velvet lined the inside of the case and felt rough to my fingers. The second I touched the guitar strap, which had a red, orange, yellow and brown flowered texture, I imagined a time of love beads and music with meaning. I was told to never take the guitar out of the case, but the temptation was strong as I ran my tiny hands over the smooth, shiny, red wood. Tapping my fingers against the guitar produced the hollow sound of a drum, which delighted my cousin, for he was not allowed to touch the guitar at all.

Giving in to my curiosity, I did take the guitar out of the case for a moment before guiltily returning it. I had prepared to lift with all of my strength, so the lightness of the instrument surprised me. Although Daddy’s guitar was larger than I was, I could lift it easily. It was then, holding a key part of my father’s childhood, that I knew the reason for the rule. The guitar was very old and would have shattered had I dropped it.

As a teenager, Daddy could play music after only hearing it once, known by most as “playing by ear.” Even as a child of six, I knew that the sounds the guitar produced when I strummed the rippled strings were sour notes to my ears. Despite the unpleasant sounds, I loved hearing the “music” because it reminded me of Daddy, even though I had been too young to remember when he had played and sung for me. His voice seemed trapped inside the guitar and inside the flat notes I played.

The treasure ritual always ended as my cousin and I used our strong, short legs to push the guitar case back under the bed. We knew that a week later the dust would seem as though we had never moved anything. Being so confident in our rule-breaking, Clint and I never knew until years later that Meema had stood in the doorway many times watching us.

Now Daddy’s guitar is under my own bed, where it has been for five years. The case and guitar have aged another decade, but both appear the same to me as when I was six. Every time I pull the guitar from under my bed and play the untuned instrument, I remember Meema’s rule. The stale cigarette smell has faded and been replaced by the smell of the used paperbacks which share the space under my bed. I could have Daddy’s guitar repaired so it will sound as it must have when he bought it, but I doubt I will. No one could love the old guitar, the way it is now, more than I do. It will never sound like it did when my father played, but I will treasure it forever.