This is part of Yuri’s ongoing series, Notes To A Friend in which she shares her reflections on living with stage IV breast cancer. Learn more about the "Notes" in an interview we did with her on her experience with breast cancer.
There are some nights when
sleep plays coy,
aloof and disdainful.
And all the wiles
that I employ to win
its service to my side
are useless as wounded pride,
and much more painful
- Maya Angelou, Insomniac
I’m learning that there is no concrete remedy for insomnia. I’ve struggled with sleep since my mid-20s; ironically, when I was younger my friends gave me the nickname ‘Bear’ because I loved sleep so much and was notorious for my naps. I mean, I literally slept my way through high school. So you can imagine how unpleasant and painful insomnia is to me. For the past two months, I’ve been taking steroids, called Dexamethasone, to minimize inflammation in my brain. The biggest side effect is sleeplessness—but not just your normal, “oh my god, I can’t fall asleep,” kind of insomnia,—it’s like wired insomnia; I’m super productive, and can stay up all night, doing random things, like clean and organize all my kitchen drawers. I actually prefer this wired sleeplessness to regular insomnia. I would rather clean and organize than toss and turn all night in bed.
In the beginning, on those sleepless nights, I would lay in my bed for hours: praying, counting sheep, counting backwards, listening to ‘Sleep Music’ on Spotify, stretch and do sit-ups—agonizing over every passing minute and trying everything I could, to end my misery. It was much easier after I accepted this newfound state. I’ve done a lot of productive tasks that in the past, I would’ve avoided and procrastinated on: I built an ergonomic chair, organized my workspace and closet, repotted my plants, set up my cereal station, read old magazines that I couldn’t throw out because I never had time to read them, and so much more. This horrible insomnia has been both a blessing and a curse.
Right now, it is 2:21 AM on a Friday night, and I have two friends sleeping in my guest room. Since they’ve gone to bed at midnight, I’ve done a batch of laundry, folded my laundry, caught up on a million emails, washed my dishes, washed my face and brushed my teeth, wrapped my sister’s birthday present, wrote out my to-do list for the next week and still managed to catch up on my Facebook comments and also post on my Instagram. Not bad, right?
I recently came across an article that emphasizes the importance of sleep and how there has been scientific evidence to why sleep is necessary for a healthy body and a healthy brain. This worries me. Although I’m loving all the nighttime productivity, my number one priority is always health. I’m not a normal, healthy person. I need to sleep at least 6 hours a night to function and stay afloat. And I’m not 19-years-old anymore. I’m 33. What? How did that happen? Point is, I ain’t getting any younger and I shouldn’t be staying up all night. Period.
At this age, naps are hard to come by. There is no time in the day to nap. A nap is a luxury to anyone over 25. And you know better. It’s like the ‘No coffee after 12pm’ rule—you know not to drink anything caffeinated after a certain time if you plan on sleeping at a decent hour that night. Falling asleep is one thing, staying asleep is a whole other struggle that I have to tackle. Even before this insomnia began, I would frequently wake up at random hours of the night for no reason at all. Fifty percent of the time, I would wake up to go to the loo; but the other fifty had no good reason. One time I woke up at 4:44 AM and looked at my phone: the news alert said, “Jay-Z Releases His Personal and Political Album ‘4:44’ on Tidal.” I swear, no joke. Was it a coincidence? I think not. I have an odd rapport with numbers: I tend to look at the clock at specific times. 12:11, my birthday. 9:11, freaks me out. 11:11, I make a wish. And 4:44, is a bad premonition. In Korean culture, the number four is equivalent to the number 13 in American culture. Four has been deemed unlucky in Korea because it sounds like the Chinese word for “death.” (This refers to four in Sino-Korean numbers, which is 사 and is pronounced “sah.”) Four is considered so unlucky in Korea that certain buildings in Korea don’t have a fourth floor and people avoid planning any big or important events on the fourth day of the month. Yeah, you want to avoid the number 4 if you’re Korean,—like me.
Guess what? It’s 2:55 AM now. I can keep going and tell you all kinds of stories. But I won’t put you through that. This note is already way longer than I anticipated it to be. A word of advice for all my fellow insomniacs out there: Embrace it, don’t fight it. And then one day, when you’re least expecting it, you will wake up after 8 hours—feeling grateful and appreciating your dreams again.
“A man who falls straight into bed night after night, and ceases to live until the moment when he wakes and rises, will surely never dream of making, I don't say great discoveries, but even minor observations about sleep. He scarcely knows that he is asleep. A little insomnia is not without its value in making us appreciate sleep, in throwing a ray of light upon that darkness.” - Marcel Proust, Sodom & Gomorrah (In Search of Lost Time, #4)