Sleep, Perchance to Zzzzzzzzz

We measure the quality of our day by the number of achievements we have. Number of documents published versus quality of work, or the number of times this week we beat personal commuting records to and from the office, or numbers of reps at the gym, or, worse, for those dieting, number of days without “cheating,” which represents even more harsh ways to harshly self-judge.
We live in a culture of Other Peoples’ Success and thus exist in a competition with others for more successes than them and yet better ones. This is because, as Brené Brown, a famous sociologist, points out, we live in a “culture of scarcity. We wake up in the morning and we say, ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ And we hit the pillow saying, ‘I didn’t get enough done.’ We’re never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough—until we decide that we are. The opposite of ‘scarcity’ is not ‘abundance.’ It’s ‘enough.’ I’m enough.”
I’m enough. Not “I’m good enough.” I’m enough. How hard that is to say, and to mean it to be about me, myself, and not you. It is even harder to embrace.— “Get Some Sleep Already,” October 24, 2014

I only remember my nightmares. Which means that either I do not have pleasant dreams at all (not the case) or that I have them all the time but they are unremarkable to me because I live my life under the self-centered guiding philosophy that the only life worth experiencing always feels like a victorious night at an awards ceremony, so I spend my waking life continuously happy and flinging thumbs-up signs at the world (not the case, either).

For those with a chronic condition that includes physical pain as a part of its menu of offerings, sleep is a brand-new experience each night. Just as I have to relearn some aspects of how to walk each morning, I seem to require a lesson in how to fall asleep each night. The punchline to this is I was an insomniac long before my spinal muscular atrophy symptoms began to affect me. So now I simply have something to point at.

For a week in January, I lost my ability to think. (No one is accusing me of having had it restored yet, either.) My legs cramp during the night, a few times a week, something that happens to everyone, I believe, but seems especially common for those with neuromuscular diseases like mine. The pain is not incredible, but because it shocks me awake there is no scale to apply to it. It is probably a two on a scale of one to ten, but because it startles me awake, it feels like a twelve on a scale of one to two. Because being awakened by pain a couple nights in a row sucks, my unconscious mind’s solution was to not fall asleep. For several nights. I got exhausted cat-naps instead of anything else.

Everything that I quoted in the box at the top? Last week, they were just nice quotes.

Part of the problem rests in a deep discomfort to do what I am doing right now and simply sometimes say things like “I hurt.” My non-Brené Brown inner critic tells me that “I am enough,” so thus I should suck it up. “You know,” it says unhelpfully at around four a.m., “Some people can’t even feel their legs.” My inner critic is a bully.

My inner critic tells me that I am thin-skinned and co-dependent and sensitive to insult. If and when someone expresses hurt or confusion or simply does not like something I have said or written, my inner critic tells me my legs hurt as an penance for offending others, which is an emotional equation that in the light of day reminds me that I flunked algebra in school but makes complete sense, if not very peaceful sense, by night.

Hooray for the thin-skinned among us. It just means we care. Hooray for the too-sensitive. Let us all join forces and insensitively, but not rudely, proclaim our thin-skinnedness.

At its best, my life has moments that make sense like this, instead: My hands are losing dexterity, either from normal aging (I am 46) or the process of spinal muscular atrophy. One night, I reached to pick up a paper napkin from the top of a pile and found myself watching my thumb stroke and re-stroke the pile, pointlessly, as if I had grown affectionate for this stack of napkins. I could not extend my fingers to anchor the pile so the top one would pop up into my grip. I stared at my hand as it did not move under my command.

My girlfriend did not attempt to fix everything by grabbing a napkin for me, nor did she add to my breathless moment of wondering “is this a new symptom?” by saying anything at all like that. Instead, she cheered me on in the battle, yelled at the napkins for teasing me, and cheered when I won (by using two hands to retrieve one napkin). “Those napkins were rude,” she said after. She’s cool like that.

But I did not sleep that night. My inner critic waited to tell me at four a.m. that she deserves better, someone who walks better, does not hurt, sleeps soundly, never complains. Can pick up a napkin.

You know, no one deserves my inner critic. Not even my inner critic.

* * * *
(This column first appeared in February. I’ve had a night’s sleep since.)

* * * *
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The WordPress Daily Prompt for May 18 asks, “Sleep is one-third of our lives: write a post about it. Do you love naps? Have trouble falling asleep? Wish you could remember your dreams? Remember something especially vivid? Snuggle under a blanket, or throw the windows wide open? Meditate on sleep.”


  1. Martha Kennedy · May 18, 2015

    Your situation sucks, absolutely and factually which is not to say that your life as a whole sucks or you suck or anything like that. I watched my dad with MS and HE was awesome; IT was “rude.” Your girlfriend hit that one right on the head. Rude, intrusive, thoughtless. Tell your inner critic to get a life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mark Aldrich · May 19, 2015

      My inner critic has been slowly sounding less like me and more like a cartoon.

      Thank you, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Relax · May 18, 2015

    “ if I had grown affectionate for this stack of napkins” — that made me LOL! I don’t know what my own non-grasp on some items of late is about (I put everything down to aging), but I identified with trying to grasp something with alleged finger and thumb besides air. Rude, indeed! Anyway, you are enough. So am I. So is anyone, and tomorrow is a new day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · May 19, 2015

      “Unto myself, I am sufficient.”

      I’m happy readers liked that napkins line; it took a lot of attempts to pace it right.


  3. thunderwhenitrains · May 18, 2015

    Your inner critic must be a terrible roommate. 😐 This was so well written though. Especially the part about the napkins. Have a great day! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · May 19, 2015

      Terrible roommate indeed. Pays no rent, either. Thank you for the comment-Mark


  4. Olga Brajnović · May 18, 2015

    Hurra for the thin skinned and for the sensitive! We care. We suffer, but we care. I wish you the best. Take care. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. sheenmeem · May 18, 2015

    You are too hard on yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. rogershipp · May 18, 2015

    Humor allows the intensely uncomfortable parts of life a little more bearable. These moments of :attack” are not allowed to “master us”. Thanks for your sharing. Always insightful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · May 19, 2015

      Thank you, Roger. There’s a good cliche out there: I have a condition; it does not have me.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream | My Kaleidoscope
  8. lifelessons · May 19, 2015

    Mark–I have had those terrific cramps…sometimes 9 times a night and sometimes in both legs and both arms at the same time. I have found that taking a swig of straight cider vinegar rids me of them at once. Tastes horrible, but well worth it. I know it sounds like an old wives tale, but try it. I can only say that as horrible as your symptoms may be at times, you continue to make something positive of them in your writing. I think this is why we keep coming back to art or writing–that ability to make something positive of the most negative experiences. I admire your pluck, my dear. Judy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · May 19, 2015

      Oy! I would never sleep with those cramps. The cramps are ferocious, but writing definitely helps everything, I find. My problem rests in my fantasy factory; everyone has charley (charlie? capital C like it’s someone’s name?) horses at night, but I turn them into a deeper, newer symptom of a real reality. Thank you, dear friend.


      • lifelessons · May 19, 2015

        Do try the cider vinegar, Mark..and let me know if it helps. Judy


  9. abodyofhope · May 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on aBodyofHope and commented:
    My friend and one of my favorite writer/bloggers, Mark Aldrich at writes courageously on his journey with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and his insomniac inner critic.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. loisajay · May 20, 2015

    Your inner critic so needs to put a lid on it.

    Liked by 1 person

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