I had an insomniac throwback the other night, time passing awake and in pain just like it did over 20 years ago. My legs hurt from time to time in ways that can only be treated by a combination of heating pad, ibuprofen, time, and suffering. I was awake until one o’clock, and much like when I was a child I spent that time overthinking the unimportant.
When I was a kid I had fewer problems, on account of the precious naivete that makes things in compartmentalized colours (children don’t think in black and white because that gets beaten out of them in adolescence). Red was distinct from orange and orange was distinct from yellow, even though I knew colour theory since preschool art class. The digital clock in my room was an endless source of entertainment as I played with the digits in my head and waited to hit the buttons that made the ticking seconds appear so I would be awake to see 12:34:56. Now I’m not so amused by that. Now I have bigger problems to worry about. These bigger problems make the time kept up more stressful, but what hasn’t changed is the pain.
My legs hurt more often back then, in fact, and insomnia was more frequent with or without that pain. I couldn’t just lie still and fall asleep, especially not when there was a throbbing sensation with no rhyme or reason migrating from thigh to knee to shin on predominantly, though not always, my left leg. Sometimes I would have to scoot further down the twin bed to let my knee hang over the cold metal bar on the frame and have my leg autonomously kick out of general twitchiness and, I was told at one point, a very mild form of Tourette’s. Sometimes I would have to sleep on the floor. Sometimes I would have to sleep on the floor outside my bedroom with my face nearly shoved up against a vent. I tried sleeping in the bathtub a few times, or even more strangely on the bathmat or a combination of the two. I frequently tried lifting up the offending leg and propping it up against the cold wall. I don’t think I knew at the time the logic behind doing that, but now I understand the anti-inflammatory benefits of temperature and improved circulation. Every attempt like this to find a way to fall asleep, both in positioning and in counting minutes and seconds like sheep, didn’t actually help aside from brief soothing of the pain. I always had to go back into bed and sleep in a conventional position, for however much of the night was left.
Why this inflammation was happening at that age and why it’s simmered down since has never been a health issue I’ve explored. (There are just so many ahead of it in the queue of all that is wrong with me.) When I do get it now, I wish all that mentally came with extended consciousness into the wee hours was playing with integer numbers and compartmentalized colours (and the synesthesia that mixes it all). But those years built up the understanding of decimals, including the never-ending stream of 142857 in fractions of seven that blew my mind when I figured out why it’s ongoing. The categorical colour coding had to open up to ambiguous shades and the miniscule bothers of how the clothes hanging in my closet can never perfectly be arranged in a full spectrum gradient system. Not being comfortable in conventional sleeping positions has migrated to not being comfortable in conventional living positions. Perhaps these nights have become sparser out of necessity, shutting down conscious mental processes to not overwhelm.
Shutting down conscious mental processes is exactly what sleep is supposed to be. How I survived childhood with relatively little of it and yet still have a functioning adult brain is a curiousity. Was there lost potential in my cognitive growth because of it? What kind of groundbreaking discoveries or revolutionary ideas have been lost by recurring pain in one girl’s left leg?