Patricia Morrisroe on Wide Awake
When I told my sleep doctor that I’d decided to write a book about insomnia, he informed me that it was a "terrible, terrible idea" and begged me to reconsider. Except for downing a double espresso before bedtime, obsessing about sleep is the worst thing you can do if you’ve got insomnia. And writing a book is the ultimate obsession. The doctor had a good point, but there was one little problem: I already had a book contract. Wanting to please the sleep doctor but not wanting to alienate my editor, I began cataloguing my other health problems. Perhaps I could substitute thinning bones for insomnia? But I wasn’t particularly interested in bones. Bones aren’t mysterious. Bones don’t dream. You can see bones, even when they’re thinning, but sleep is everywhere and nowhere. It’s the great unsolved puzzle, the black hole in the scientific universe.
So I kept my book and left my sleep doctor, and then I struck out on my own, attending conferences, interviewing experts, trying every conceivable pill and therapy. One sleep psychologist described my journey as "Me-Search." It wasn’t meant as a compliment. He’d spent years studying the field and acquiring multiple degrees, while I was merely an insomniac in search of a good night’s sleep. But I wasn’t attempting to solve the mystery of sleep, merely the mystery of my sleep. And guess what?--I cracked the case. While I probably won’t win the Nobel Prize, I can honestly say that nobody knows my sleep better than I do. And that is totally empowering.
Sleep, I learned, doesn’t come from the outside; it doesn’t fly through the window like a lunar moth or Dracula. Your sleeping self is often a mirror image of your waking self. You are your own sleep. Once I grasped this hard-won insight, I started to sleep much better. Not perfectly, mind you. But what is that? My mother-in-law gets up in the middle of the night to read novels. My agent routinely rises at 2:30 a.m. to catch up on the Daily Show. My dental hygienist is using the time to re-paint her bathroom. Sometimes we sleep through the night, sometimes we don’t. It’s not always perfect. Like life, or love, or--bones.
From Publishers Weekly
Biographer and former magazine editor Morrisroe (Mapplethorpe: A Biography) considered herself a high-functioning, if acutely suffering, insomniac until she walked in front of a taxi one morning and was almost run down. Her subsequent, serious efforts to confront her sleep problems (which she envisions as a malevolent French aristrocrat played by John Malkovitch) included checking into a sleep laboratory (results: inconclusive) and trying antidepressants (she gets "weird psychedelic dreams"), but her condition seemed intractable. In her struggle, she traces the history of sleeplessness from Hippocrates to modern pharmaceuticals, including the infamous Halcion (known to cause "memory loss and violent behavior") and flavor-of-the-moment Ativan. Morrisroe makes the expected stops, including a convention (attendees introduce themselves with lists of sleep disorders: "Hi... I have narcolepsy, sleep apnea and rheumatoid arthritis. ...and spend two years in a psychiatric hospital because I was misdiagnosed. What are your sleep issues?") and the increasingly profitable sleep industry (featuring $60,000 luxury mattresses and urban napping franchises); fortunately, Morrisroe's sparkling writing carries her through. That her journey ends happily, with her discovery of Qigong, means readers will be as encouraged as well as informed, with as much on overcoming insomnia as avoiding snake-oil salesmen.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.