Dreams of Slumber

//Dreams of Slumber

Dreams of Slumber

When I was young, I’d say my claim to fame was being a superior sleeper. From birth until I had my first child at 24, I could sleep anywhere, anytime, for an inordinate amount of time. In a coolish waterbed, on a hard floor, as a passenger in a car with no head rest zipping 120 km/hr down a gravel road. Zero anxiety or guilt, deep sleep.

Perhaps this was a response to the reality of existence: constant wants and needs sprinkled with random pinches of suffering. Did I subliminally long to return to the safety and ignorant bliss of the unborn?

I recall a writing project in high school. My protagonist was an older woman, say 65-ish. Me, now. Haha. The woman wakes in the morning, looks out her window onto another grey Southwestern Ontario day. She listens. There is no sound in the house. The children are grown, gone. The husband is gone. What’s the point? she thinks. No one needs me. There is no reason to rise. She rolls over and returns with ease to dreamland.

Now that I could be the fictional woman I once imagined? I find several flaws with this scene. First off, what person, at 65, has NO thing to do? Even – especially – without a job to go to? No news to catch up on, walk or bike or workout to enjoy, breakfast/coffee luring them down the stairs or hallway, no project to start or finish? “What’s the point?”! Where is your gumption woman?!

What comes to mind is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The old man is up early, thirsting for the sea, the day. The teenager, with so much future available, lolls in bed, late and lazy.

That’s where the what’s-the-point-ness came from back then: a sullen hard rock 70s teenager with raging hormones when raging hormones weren’t understood or discussed. Now that I am that aging woman AND know more about hormones? I know that woman is not drifting back into sweet slumber anytime soon.

Aging and sleep do not good bedfellows make.

Why? We have an internal clock in the hypothalamus comprised of 20,000 cells that form the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. As we age, it ages right along with us. The SCN controls our circadian rhythm, releasing certain hormones, telling us when we’re hungry, alert, sleepy. The SCN is now damaged goods, disrupting circadian rhythm, secreting less melatonin. 

Despite doing all the things – exercising, eating healthy, having a regular bedtime, doing quiet things like reading before bed – merely drifting off can feel as futile a task as Sisyphus rolling that damn boulder up the hill, over and over and over. Hmmm. Maybe picturing that boulder rolling back down, over and over and over, would secure a visit by the Sandman?

The faulty SCN has me waking up more often. Says medlineplus.gov, “The transition between sleep and waking up is often abrupt, which makes older people feel like they are a lighter sleeper than when they were younger.” I woke up, with a hard jolt, the other night at 4 am, awash in dread. Would you not say dread is one of the most dreadful emotions?

Dread can have mental origins, or physical ones – I experienced it when my thyroid malfunctioned – but you have to have a pretty convincing debate with your inside voice(s) to a) tamp it down and b) acknowledge that perhaps you didn’t put it there yourself. 

All the decades I’ve lived line up in the dark, like a row of evil geniuses, reminding me of every mistake I ever made. Is this really conducive to going back to sleep?

My husband B and I recently went to see an incredible musical, The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare. A main character, Evelyn Ash, modelled after real-life Vera Atkins who trained women to work undercover behind enemy lines in France during WWII, has a fantastic dialogue about aging toward the end of the play. It’s about how as you get older, the years pile up and up, all of those memories polished by time, the could haves and should haves, until your brain is flooded. You get drowned by your personal history.

The experts say that after 20 minutes? If sleep does not return. Get up, do something quiet, like read a book, listen to soft music. I got up, sat on the couch with Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco. When B gave it to me he said, “Here. You should read about a good presidency.” Mastromonaco worked for Obama and she has a great sense of humour. And she’s open and honest too, sharing her issues with travel and IBS, and also how she got feminine hygiene products into the White House restrooms. While the book did not calm me back into slumber, it did disrupt my negative thought patterns and put a smile on my face.

It makes me wonder, though. Do I feel my past can roar back somehow? Hurt me? Why? Is it because I’ve been keeping journals for 24 years and there’s physical evidence of transgressions? Should I burn them? Or, perhaps, just review and revise history where necessary?

And then, there’s also death looming on the horizon. A nearer horizon than when I was that sullen teenager imagining a future fictional self.

I guess, at 65, I’ve really gotten into the hang of life, so being unborn has lost its appeal. I often recall a shocking observation one of the Sisters-Sisters (nuns and also sisters) who were friends of my mom made after her death. I thought she’d console me, with scripture perhaps, talk of an after life. Hell no! She was older than my mom, in her 80s I believe, and she said something like, “I don’t want to die. I’ve got this great life. And all of these wonderful friends. And family. I’d miss them too much.”

I try to remind myself, in the dark night of the soul, that yes, death will come. Eventually. Hopefully, if there is pain, it is minimal and fleeting. Until then? May I continue to reside, in peace and comfort, in this beautiful country, in this great life. With all of these wonderful friends. And family.

2024-02-20T14:30:26-05:00

12 Comments

  1. TracyEdgar February 20, 2024 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    Great blog, You should read my year of rest and relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. very interesting read that I finished a least a year and half and I still think about it…

    • Rita Hartley February 20, 2024 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      Thx for the reco Tracy! I have one of her story collections and I have to admit – it’s pretty challenging stuff. I will check this out!

  2. Julia February 20, 2024 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    Ong Rita. This is exactly me!! Nice to have company. Hope you and family are all loving life. Love Julia

    • Rita Hartley February 20, 2024 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      Aging has its challenges huh? We are all great thx!

  3. Glenda February 20, 2024 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    Ahmed

  4. Lyn February 20, 2024 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    Great read Rita…I identify 🤪

    • Rita Hartley February 20, 2024 at 7:18 pm - Reply

      Thx for reading Lyn! Nights can be tough as the years go by!!

  5. Heather Heathcote February 20, 2024 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Thank you Rita. I found myself saying “I hope I have enough time to do everything I want to do!”. Retirement has come with an extremely rich and interesting life.

    • Rita Hartley February 20, 2024 at 8:01 pm - Reply

      Thx Heather. You’re a mighty fine example of living “an extremely rich and interesting” retirement! Way to go!!

  6. Denise Capitano February 21, 2024 at 7:34 am - Reply

    I absolutely LOVE reading your blog!!! So many times I can relate!!!! Keep them coming❤️

    • Rita Hartley February 21, 2024 at 7:37 am - Reply

      Thx so much Denise 💚. Hopefully we can all figure out this aging thing together 🤪

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