Thursday, February 24, 2011

It’s Three in the Morning and He Has Returned

Luminescent green and blue eyes peer at me from the dark corners of the room. I am surrounded by the silent denizens of the night. I move cautiously, watching for shadowed shapes in my path. The eyes, gleaming stares, seem to follow every stiff, shuffling move I make. The bedside digital alarm clock noiselessly announces that it is 3 a.m. My night stalker has returned.

I will not turn on the light despite knowing that flicking the switch would send the eyes soundlessly scurrying from sight. These nighttime observers are my friends, silent sentries that keep the vigil with me, doing their duties in the dark. I am comforted by knowing they are there.

It is an oft-repeated ritual. Some hours before I had plodded upstairs to bed with barely enough energy to engage in the pre-sleep necessities that pay homage to losses that attend my age. I begin by setting out clothes for the morning, deciding whether I should start with the tie that I want to wear and then match the rest of my meagre wardrobe from there. After I glance at the confusing choices of colour, pattern and width, I usually give up. I should weed through those ties someday, but I cannot seem to shake the notion that one should never throw any out that are currently too wide, too narrow, too dramatic or too plain as the styles always seem to cycle back. Most often I default to first picking the next pair of pants in the closet "line up", then shuffling through my shirts to find a match. Belt and shoes are next, followed by the inevitable search for socks that share some shade of colour with my pants. All this decision-making so I don’t make too much noise struggling in the half-light of the next day’s dawning.

Next, I usually remember to take my meds. Only three pills to take at bedtime, always wondering if they actually are needed given the absence of any PD tremour or stiffness at night. I set out the five small tablets for the morning in silent acknowledgement that I am often in such a preoccupied state that I would forget them if they were not directly in my line of vision in their Sunday through Saturday AM and PM pill box on the counter the sink.

That done, I slip between the sheets and settle into my habitual starting position, only to be reminded of more aspects of aging. My hearing aids squeal their displeasure and my glasses press uncomfortably into my face at being crushed into the pillow. With those removed I feel vulnerable to the blurred and silent darkness as I turn off my bedside lamp. Oh…one more device reminding me of disability; my night guard. Without it my nocturnal grinding would soon erode my teeth to stubs.

Sleep follows immediately. But it is inevitably temporary, as if some old angry enemy awakes me at the stroke of 3 AM. Rarely is it nature calling, as bladder control is not a part of the list of symptoms on my personal list of Parkinson’s problems. Maybe it is timed to the intensity of my dreams, often vivid but rarely disturbing enough to be remembered or retold the next morning?

What to do then? Lie there in frustration staring into the darkness? Or do I traipse downstairs in defeat, resigned to the time-tested truth that sleep will not return for at least another hour? After a short self-assessment, and trying to recall whether there are appointments early in the morning restricting my freedom to sleep in a little, the decision is made.

Insomnia is a tyrant that tortures body and soul. Perhaps it was the earliest sign of my Parkinson’s disease when, years ago, it first stood uninvited at the foot of my bed. Regardless, I soon learned that its favourite strategy was to frustrate me to the point of anger at the unproductive hours I spent staring at the ceiling, mind churning. My counter-attack was to act. If it was a panicky thought about something I needed to remember I made a note on the glowing screen of my Blackberry that was also “sleeping” within reach on my bedside table. I have learned to quit chastising myself with thoughts like, “Just forget it and go back to sleep!” That, I knew from experience, was the very effective reverse psychology implanted in my thoughts by the enemy.

Getting up, reading, making lists of what is on my mind, responding to emails, texting a far away friend or family member or drafting a blog entry are some of the ways I fight back. I deal with the scourge of sleepless hours by making them useful. In doing so I find my initial resentment turns to the ability to return to rest, knowing that my nightly visitor cannot claim victory.

It is now 530 a.m. This post is finished. It may not offer a solution for many, but it has worked for me once again. Time to head back to bed.  Now, if I only had night-vision glasses to avoid walking into the door I had closed.


  1. Bob,

    Even by your standards this is one of your best blogs! Insomnia seems to stalk all of us to greater or lesser degree. And like you, when I'm awake I like to use my time productively.

    Like you, my silent sentries watch over me. They come in every shape and form. It's like the famous book "where the wild things are"!


  2. With you brother, should give me a call sometime. Jim