I thought I made up that word; I didn’t, as a quick internet check revealed. It’s the first word that appears under “dyss,” for whatever that’s worth.

The entire universe of “somnia,” “insomnia,” and “dyssomnia” meant absolutely nothing to me, until 2:30 AM, one night toward the end of June – when I sat bolt upright in bed, wide awake, in a state of total panic, for no reason, whatsoever, that I could discern. My heart was pounding; the brain hamsters were full-tilt-boogie on their wheel in my head, and I had no idea what was going on.

I am usually fairly skilled at determining what’s happening with me, having spent decades working on honing my ability to do that, but not this time. We were in the middle of a quick holiday, staying at a place I love in New Hampshire, and I could think of no reason why I should be awake at that hour, and near-hysterical. I calmed down somewhat, after not too long, but I couldn’t go back to sleep. I sat in the dark, looking at the clock, watching the digital numbers change, one by one. Dawn eventually came. I was exhausted.

The next night was the same. The third day, we came home, as planned. And nothing changed. I dug into the internet, the perfect thing to do around 3:30 am. There is an unbelievable amount of information on “sleep disorders” out there, as some of you may already know. I tried all kinds of things; I lay in bed, wide awake, thinking if I just lay there long enough, and didn’t move, eventually I’d fall asleep. Didn’t happen. Our bedroom was already the recommended “cool and dark,” with no TV… And that didn’t seem to matter, either. The nights wore on. I felt worse and worse. The weeks began to add up – stuporous days and sleepless nights. I dreaded getting into bed, convinced that I wasn’t going to sleep. I began to worry that I’d forgotten “how” to sleep, knowing that thought was ridiculous. Several times I found myself in a state I’d never experienced before: I really could not tell whether I was awake or asleep.

One very early morning (and they all were, by then), something, from the Great Somewhere Else, came to me: For the first time in decades, I was afraid of the dark – in dreadful fear of abandoning myself to that darkness by yielding to the relative oblivion of sleep. I wasn’t afraid of childhood monsters, or of losing my way, or of being jumped from the shadows… I was afraid of the darkness itself, of entering the Valley of the Shadow of Death… Then it all began to be interesting. This meant something to me; I felt I was being shown something very important.

These past few years, I have become more and more aware that Mr. Death has been sitting on my spiritual porch all along – not pushing to come in just yet, but there, nevertheless. Just a presence, neither malevolent nor benevolent. Just there. I think the dyssomnia has been the Universe insisting that I need to take very conscious note of this fact, whether I like it or not. Oddly, I don’t particularly dislike being aware of this. I very much don’t like not sleeping, but that presence on my porch doesn’t bother me much. Trying to ignore it, with all my most willful and determined efforts, was taking far more energy than just acknowledging it. Besides, there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.

This was no “cram course” in reality. After more than two months, things began to gradually return to what had always been “normal” for me, and that I had so taken for granted. I almost wept the first morning I realized I’d slept for almost six hours. During those months, not being able to sleep was an absolute obsession. The only time I wasn’t thinking about it, and what to “do” about it, was when I was so exhausted I couldn’t think about anything, period. I had “done” a lot of things: I started working with a naturopath; had all kids of lab testing done; started taking a lot of herbal supplements; and changed my diet drastically. Some of these things – or all of them – probably had an effect, but I have no idea how to connect any of those things specifically with the gradual withdrawal of my sleepless nights. I don’t know why those nights came when they did, and I don’t know why they stopped. I don’t know if they will come again. I suspect not, because I think I may have gotten the lesson… And, if they do, I will be at least in familiar territory, if not a comfortable one.

We believe we live only in the light, should love only the light. We do all we can to dispel darkness wherever we find it. We work “night shifts;” commerce and travel go on twenty-four-seven; we start “holiday shopping” at midnight on Thanksgiving night, or earlier; clubs don’t even begin to start “happening” until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. We push ourselves into the night to study, to party, or to work. We have constructed all kinds of “night life,” all of which have absolutely nothing to do with accepting the darkness, and what that darkness has to offer us. I did all of these things for years, without a single thought about “defying the darkness.” I think we have forgotten what darkness is about, how essential it is to our lives and well-being, and how to be in it, and of it – at least, evidently, I had.

All of life begins in darkness. We come from the darkness of the womb; we return to the darkness of death. Darkness is the great incubator, the great healer. Without darkness, we would not know the light we so embrace. We would not even see the stars were they not cast against the great darkness of space.

The author China Galland has written, in her book Longing for Darkness/Tara and the Black Madonna, “This is a multivalent darkness. This is the darkness of ancient wisdom… of space, of the womb, of the earth, of the unknown, of sorrow, of the imagination, the darkness of death, of the human heart, of the unconscious, of the darkness beyond light…”

This the darkness I’ve met and, difficult as the introduction has been, I am grateful for it.


Leave a comment


  1. James

     /  September 15, 2013

    Gato, I love your comment about the darkness I felt I was almost there with you.
    One time, I woke with a start because a shadowy figure stood by our bedroom window. Suddenly the figure’s head turned 180 degrees and showed the face of my wife when she was 18. My heart tried to jump through my sternum, but then the figure was gone. It had been a dream.

    You are a good writer.

    I will return when I can.


  2. Into your new darkness beams some new light, and we are all the better for it. Thank you, Carol!

  3. That Jan

     /  September 16, 2013

    Having had this 2AM wakefulness I certainly relate and enjoy reading your insight and hearing what you’ve made of the experience. On another note: I’ve always wished that we could see all the stars that are out there during the day – what an amazing thing that would be, to see our sun and all the stars together!

  4. Terry W

     /  September 16, 2013

    I can’t say that I’ve had exactly what you describe but I do often have wakeful times during the night. If I get up to go to the bathroom I sometimes have trouble falling back asleep right away. Fortunately I don’t have to operate dangerous equipment during the day – other than driving my granddaughter to school in the morning – so I think I’m okay. I also take a power nap if needed. I’ve read that napping prolongs one’s life and I’ve been a napper for as long as I can remember back to jr. high even.

  5. dcg

     /  September 17, 2013

    Your absence was noticed. Next time you can’t sleep, put an earphone in one ear and listen to a.m. radio. It’s so bad it will put you back to sleep. Works almost every time. Particularly good if you can find a liberal call-in show like that of Bill Press. Or a conservative counterpart. Or a sports show. Good luck. Hope we’ll see you up here for Homecoming. dg

  6. James

     /  October 13, 2013

    I usually sleep soundly except for when it thunders, and now, when our grand daughter makes a noise. We try to take care of her so her parents can sleep a little longer.

    I have tininitis and keep a radio on at night . It works. Coast to Coast is a fine talk show to lull one to sleep.

    Our grand daughter usually wakes to be fed around 6AM. If she doesn’t fall asleep within a half hour, and misses the next couple of hours of sleep, she is out of sorts most of the day..


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