It’s what Jesus tells us to be: in this world, but not of it. It’s also how I feel each night, once the sun has set and the sky has turned to black, once my husband turns into a pumpkin. This is the time I feel like I’m floating through our home, half afraid I’m not completely substantial. All is quiet. I can hear the hum of my hard drive, the trickle of the cats’ water fountain, the rush of air when the air conditioning or the heat turns on. I might hear my husband’s deep, even breathing from down the hall.
I’m tired, but nowhere near sleepy. Often, I feel exhausted, enervated, my body’s resources down to a sliver. “I’ve only got one bar left, but I know it doesn’t have much time.” If I were a Blackberry, my power status would read 7%. Most people who will read this blog post have no idea what 7% of their energy and resources would feel like. When most people say they’re exhausted, they’re still at about 50% power.
It’s a strange state to be in, so profoundly tired and yet unable to sleep. My ears ring as the earth revolves beneath me. Somewhere in this world, it’s early morning, it’s lunchtime, the family is sitting down to supper. Somewhere in this world, a woman is giving birth to her first child, a family surrounds a beloved elder who is dying, millions of people are working in factories and offices and fields. Somewhere in this world, soldiers are killing each other, and some of those soldiers are children. Somewhere in this world, snow is falling; somewhere in this world, the high temperature will exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Somewhere in this world, the devout are gathered in prayer. And somewhere in this world, someone else is wondering when he or she will get to sleep tonight, whether he or she will get to sleep tonight.
I didn’t sleep last night. I tried one bed, tried another bed, tried a different pillow, tried different positions, tried kicking the cat off the bed, tried reading, tried deep breathing, tried prayer, tried visualizations. I finally gave up and put in some time at my job. It was 6:30 AM when I was finally sleepy. Oh yeah, and I take five different medications that cause drowsiness, one of them an actual sleeping medication. Every night, I swallow enough downers to halt a charging rhinoceros. And yet, every night, I sit alone with my tinnitus, still physically in this world, but feeling disconnected from it.
I float from book to computer to midnight snack to glass of water to book to breathing to prayer to meditation to heating pads for the aches to ice packs for the sharp pains to my neck-support pillow to a regular pillow to no pillow at all to my child’s bed to my bed again to sleep, finally. In the morning — which I say to myself, even though it’s technically already morning — I’ll have to work, and I’ll have to try to be alert so that I can think and reason. It’s only on the Saturdays when I feel caught up on rest, but then Sundays are filled with worship and teaching and singing and even the two-hour nap fails to stave off exhaustion.
I am in this world. I feel my feet on the ground, my bottom on the chair. I feel all the pains that remind me I exist. Descartes’s evil demon can tweak our thoughts — anyone who has ever experienced depression or another brain disorder, or even dehydration, has noticed this — but pain, yes, pain tells us we exist and that we have physical bodies. Pain holds me in this world. Fatigue and insomnia separate me from it.
Once the day begins, once the sun is up, once the children board school buses and the grown-ups leave for work, I remain in the world but not of it. I observe the world through my windows, too tired and hurting to participate in it. Truly, I’d love to have lunch with you, but I need a nap today. It would be great to get together and sing, but I need to take some pain meds and lie down with my heat pack. I know we’d made plans to get together this evening, but I have to cancel; I don’t even have enough energy to order supper by delivery. I float through my days, existing here among you, in your very midst, but invisible.
I work from home, telecommuting to my job. You never see me in the office, so I’ve become invisible to you. I’ve canceled so many get-togethers that you don’t even call me any more, so I sit alone with my cats and my books and I try to be sociable and social on the computer. I feel my feet on the ground, my bottom on the chair, but no hands to hold mine, no arms to embrace me, no voices to listen to. I’m not even forty years old yet, and I’m almost a shut-in. I laugh when I tell someone, I may not be old but I’m certainly decrepit! But this is only funny because it overlies the deep ache of being in the world but not of it.
I don’t know what tomorrow will be like. It’s 11pm now, and I am not yet in bed. I’m not sure right now what is real and what is imagined. Is anyone out there listening? Do I want anyone out there to listen? God, why do my husband and I have such opposite sleeping patterns? Why do I have these chronic conditions? How long, O God, will I suffer? Will there ever be relief for me? Will I ever know what it is like to experience a normal day again, a day without pain? I’m so tired, God. So tired. When will I find rest?
On another blog, I posted the prayer for sleep, from the healing office in the Book of Common Prayer. It’s a lovely prayer, and it touched deep places within me. For just a moment, I felt that connection with God that fully connects me with God’s creation. I felt like I belonged, like I really was part of the world and not just occupying space in it. Then the sense of connection faded, and I was left again, alone with the ringing in my ears, with the humming hard drive and the trickling water fountain and the rushing air from the heat pump.