We’re forbidden to get up until 6.30, at Ascot House, but for weeks, when I first arrived here, I was waking before 4a.m., clambering out of dark and ruined wells of sleep, my heart drumming. I don’t know why this was happening. It seemed to proceed from a nasty, dreamless somnolence that felt like black and stagnant water, but wasn’t.
I share a room with the only other male patient, and don’t want to wake him, especially as I get up to pee five times a night. This presumably disturbs him, although he never says anything. (He’s incredibly long suffering.) I’d stare into the dark while the panic receded, trying to breathe quietly. When I couldn’t control my fidgeting (or bladder) any longer, I’d creep into the bathroom and read.
We don’t sleep very well, do we? Often, we barely dip below the surface in short, shallow glides, before resurfacing abruptly. Our alarmed and starving bodies are constantly jolting us awake, I think, to drive us to find food. I’ve discovered from the nutritionist, here, that adults use around 1200 – 1500 calories simply running their bodies’ basic functions. We could starve to death in our sleep, like unsuccessful, hibernating bears.
At home, I used to wake up at some god-awful hour and hold myself in wakefulness. I’d convince myself that, as I was wide awake, it was a pity to waste the time. I could go for my run now, and free up the rest of the day. In winter, I’d jog into the parkland behind our house, navigating by faint suggestions of contours, almost imaginary lines of lighter murk in the pitch blackness. I’d immerse myself, disappearing into a liminal, felt landscape, where the veil between the worlds was thin, Hades’ dark halls revealing themselves through dissolving meadows.
Later in the day, I’d use the time I’d freed up to… go for a run! I medicated myself with tiredness. I sought out the wonderful, awful sense of almost nauseating exhaustion and hunger that excused me from any real engagement or attempts to achieve anything or challenge myself, triumphant that I’d simply survived, given the obstacles I had placed in my own way. I could dawdle through my day feeling half-asleep and bilious and looking for opportunities to stumble-jog up to 4000 calories, thus further fuelling the exhaustion and hunger, too befuddled to acknowledge that I’d fucked everything up: marriage, children, work, my own internal organs. There is a perfect incentive not to sleep long and wake refreshed.
Now I am denied this blind, nocturnal existence. I am confined to the rigid interiors of this house, and I am no longer touched; the feverish, shamanistic visions have left me. It is a loss. Instead, I’m plagued by night-sweats. I wake around 5.30, still with a pang of relief, as if I was leaving a stressful situation, perspiration pooling in the hollows at the back of my knees, the sheets damp and supple. Apparently, it’s my body’s metabolism rebooting and rebuilding the organs and muscles I’ve been feeding off. This takes energy, and a product of respiration, the process of releasing energy, is heat.
I get up straight away and closet myself in the bathroom until, on the dot of 6.30a.m., I’m out the door. All moments of the day, at Ascot House, are spent communally. Even in sleep, I’m not alone. I wake eagerly. early mornings are the only times when I can experience solitude: the true balm of hurt minds.