Tag Archives: insomnia

Living with Overactive Imagination: the highs, the lows, and the completely off-the-wall

Where better to unleash your Overactive Imagination than at Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua?

I was born with an interesting condition known as Overactive Imagination. Even as I type the title of this blog post, I’m wandering off into the mystery mistiness of my imagination… Where did the idiom “off-the-wall” come from? And what kind of wall are we talking here? The bedroom wall? A prison wall? The Great Wall of China? And where is off-the-wall located exactly? Floating in the centre of the room? Hovering in the sky? Tumbling in outer space? Thankfully, Answers.com intervened and explained the origin of the expression: “In certain sports such as handball and racketball, a player hits a ball against the wall. When it comes off the wall, one has no idea where it is going. Therefore, this expression implied unpredictability.” Sometimes, Google is the only reliable medicine for this disorder. If I know I’m about to drift off, inventing my own weird and wonderful meanings for things, I whip open the laptop and hit that Search button.

My Overactive Imagination (or OI, not to be confused with Osteogenesis Imperfecta- a genetic bone disorder commonly referred to as brittle bone disease) was first diagnosed as a young child. I used to pretend to my little brother that our toys could talk. Each had his/her own personality, distinct voice, and best friend. After a number of years, when my brother was becoming slightly more street savvy, he asked me, “Why does your mouth move whenever the toys talk?” I had to think on my feet. I answered: “Their mouths are sewn shut so they have to speak telepathically through me. Duh!” That worked for about another year.

OI is perfect for when you’re interacting with children. When I was 11, a beautiful little sister arrived into our home. She thought I was magic. Seriously! If she got a splinter in her finger, I’d get her to close her eyes and I’d pretend that the needle I used to fish out the splinter was a fairy wand. I was the only one she let near her on those occasions.

OI is also an excellent tool for making you feel better about bad situations. More recently, I lost some of my eyelashes (read here for more details) and wondered if they were going to grow back at all. But, instead of feeling depressed and panicky, I developed a hypothesis. If we were to follow Darwin’s theory of evolution, that we were once fish and have evolved over the years until we’ve turned into good ol’ Homo sapiens, maybe it’s time for us to adapt further for life in the 21st century, and maybe, just maybe, we no longer need eyelashes…

However, like with any disorder, OI has many negative symptoms too, including sleeplessness, paranoia, and insanity. This condition has robbed me of many hours of sleep. I could be so caught up in my fantasies that I don’t even realise that I’ve been lying in bed, wide awake, for the last two and a half hours!

On that note, this past week, I haven’t been nodding off until three/four/even five in the morning. Although there is a perfectly legitimate reason for this (I’ve been busy blogging, drinking cups of tea, and watching episode after episode of Brothers & Sisters), I started to speculate on a more zany reason for my insomnia. According to recent news reports, I am no longer a Gemini. I’ve been this star-sign all my life but now, out of the blue, I’m told I’m a Taurus! This is because the Earth has “wobbled out of alignment with the moon” (you can read the full Daily Mail article here). If the world is changing so radically, maybe that’s why I’ve been unable to sleep, because, going back to Darwin’s theory, Homo sapiens have mutated once again and no longer require at least seven hours’ sleep a night. Or maybe our circadian rhythms are running on different cycles. The whole of society will then need to alter the times we sleep, work, eat, and wind down. Maybe we should be going to bed just before dawn and getting up for work at midday. In that case, the TV watershed should start no earlier than midnight. And midnight feasts will be held as the sun rises…

Unfortunately, OI can also get you into trouble. When I was 10 years old, I convinced my friend and our five-year-old brothers that heaven perched at the top of one of the hills in Glending Woods. When it wasn’t exactly paradisiacal at the top of that hill, we went from hill to hill in search of my promised land. Hours later, we were totally lost, and my poor eight-month-pregnant mother was desperately searching for us. I managed to convince a group of gun- and knife-wielding men (don’t worry, they were hunting) to drive us to Blessington police station where we were reunited with my frantic mother.

OI also fuels paranoia and negative thinking. If a group of teenagers snigger as you strut by, it’s easy to imagine that they’re mocking your tea-cosy hat or the way you walk. If a loved one is late home, you picture them perishing in freak accidents involving lightning, falling elevators, and other spooky scenarios that even the creators of Lost would deem unbelievable.

On the up side, OI has taken me on countless surprising journeys, far removed from the mundane trappings of every day life. I’ve spent many a boring bus trip, mentally penning romantic stories involving ruggedly handsome strangers, which culminate in declarations of love/lust (depending on my mood) by Mr Sexy (you’d think, with my condition, I’d come up with a more imaginative name), as we lock eyes over a cappuccino/stroll hand-in-hand on moonlit beaches/get jiggy with it.

OI has helped fill me with optimism about upcoming exams and interviews. Before my driving test, I’d already imagined myself whooping with delight as I received the news of my success. Lately, I’ve been imagining the moment the novel I haven’t started writing yet goes into print. I can clearly envisage it beaming out of an Eason’s shop window. I can even see the font used to brandish my name. There are entire self-help books on the subject of the power of visualisation but I’ve already “got it” with my OI.

Living with OI is like residing in a roller coaster car, with constant ups, downs, and moments so wild you’ll have to close your eyes to bear them. Here’s how to make the most of your condition:

1) Drugs are bad, mkay?!

You’re already wired to the moon so you don’t need cans of Red Bull or shots of coffee to get you there. If I were you, I would also avoid alcohol, marijuana, and other hallucinogens.

2) Sleep

There’s no safer place to let your OI run wild than in your dreams. Also, the less tired you are, the better you’ll be able to distinguish between reality and the OI-inspired delusions.

3) Don’t dwell on conspiracy theories

If you’re prone to seizures of OI, stay away from all those conspiracy theories circulating on the net. On that vein, have you seen what happened to Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory? He had his eyelids taped open by a very scary Patrick Stewart. The thought of that alone should put a screeching halt to your crazy musings.

4) Human contact

OI thrives in lonely conditions. So, get out in the real world and connect with those afore-mentioned Homo sapiens. Chatting to real, live people will get you out of your head for a while and you’ll soon feel normal again.

5) Rationalise

As a frightened child, your parents did the rationalising for you. I don’t see any alligators under your bed, love. And the boogeyman definitely isn’t in your wardrobe. Now that you’re an adult, I’m afraid you’re going to have to do it yourself. But don’t worry if you can’t make sense of it on your own, that’s what friends are for. And if you’re still freaking out about glimpsing thieves and aliens in every dark corner of your house, it might be time to consult a professional.

6) Make the most of it

Some people would sell off their spleens for a great imagination. So, hold on to it, polish it, and learn to control it. Think of it as a superpower. Once you master it, you’ll rule the world. You could come up with an original idea for the next best-selling Xbox game or create a wacky blog or start a comic (sci-fi nerds lap that shit up). You could even become the next J. K. Rowling, writing your own series of fantasy children’s books, transforming them into blockbuster movies starring Saoirse Ronan and Jaden Smith, acquiring your very own theme park, being introduced to Ryan Gosling, marrying him… Oops, there I go again…

If you don’t want to wind up like this, follow my tips…

Insomnia: all alone with a pitiless pillow

Every so often, a person will go through a phase of insomnia. Some are lucky enough to be great sleepers. Others have the misfortune of finding it hard to either go to sleep or they wake early and toss and turn, cursing the little sleep fairies that refuse to whisk them back to their blissful land of slumber.

When I was 15, I experienced a torturous month of insomnia. I got so wound up about it that I was scared of going to bed because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep. The trick is not to worry about it and recognise that this too will pass. It makes sense that the more you stress about it, the more tense you are going to bed, so the harder it is to doze off.

Here are some tips for surviving insomnia:

1. Relax

What does it really matter if you can’t sleep right now? Be thankful that you have a comfortable bed and a roof over your head. Nestle into the cosiest position and listen to the weather outside. There’s nothing like the sound of the wind and rain at the window to make you grateful for your duvet.

2. Listen to relaxing music or an audio book

At least then you’re not concentrating on the lack of shut-eye you’re getting. Soothing music or the sound of a calm reading voice should send you off to sleep.

3. Soak your feet in lukewarm water

Ideally add some oils or Epsom salts, sit back and relax for an hour. This will take heat out of your body and allow your mind to unwind. A bath would also have the same effect. Add bubbles, candles and relaxing music. Sure why not?!

4. Exercise

This is best done in daylight hours in the fresh air but if that’s not possible, any physical activity (yes that too, ya dirty feckers!) will suffice. You’ll have worn yourself out in a good way and this will aid your sleep. Yoga before the leaba is also wonderful for taking time to stretch the body and switch it into chill out mode.

5. Natural remedies

For me, a homeopathic remedy works a treat for sleeplessness. Acupuncture, reflexology, massage and acupressure also help. There’s an acupuncture point behind your ears, which is great for insomnia and calming the spirit, so rub there when you’re unable to sleep.

6. Have a cup of hot milk

Treat the tired child within you like yer granny would. Heat up some milk in a saucepan and melt in a spoon of honey. Wrap yourself in the softest blanket or dressing gown you can find and enjoy.

7. Get up!

If you simply cannot sleep, get up and do something constructive. Perhaps you’re lying there, thinking about what you’re going to do when you arise. If the matters are too pressing, just be done with them. Sometimes, recognising that you’re just excited or stressed about a particular issue is enough. This period will pass soon so it’s nothing to worry about.

For me, it’s new year’s eve today and I’m off to Kilkee for a fun-filled weekend. I’ve also just started this blog and I’m loving it so I’ve been writing in my head since 6am. By 7am, I decided to cut my losses, toss back the blankets and get typing before the road trip. I know why I wasn’t sleeping and that I will be able to sleep again so I’m not stressing about it. And I’ve got a new post out of it!

8. Do something to relax the mind

Don’t hit the sheets straight after work/studying/a fight/a nerve-racking situation. Watch one of your favourite programmes, take a bath, do some yoga, listen to your iPod, soak those feet, paint your nails, make a bowl of sweet rice… Whatever it takes to soothe your soul before slipping into slumber.

9. Stop thinking!

Easier said than done but if you keep going over things in that self-destructive brain of yours, you’ll never fall asleep! Realise that you’ve all the hours in the day to mull over these things and that bedtime is a period of relaxation and renewal. Say it aloud if you must: “I’ll think about this tomorrow.” The great thing is, by tomorrow, you’ll have had such a good sleep that the niggling issues will seem a lot easier and you may not even need to give them much thought after all.

10. Make the most of your time in bed

If you can’t sleep, you can at least use the time to listen to a meditation on CD. Or do one yourself. Imagine you’re somewhere perfectly beautiful, like on a beach with the sun warming your torso. Or by a river, in the mountains, in a forest. Listen to every sound, see every colour, feel every breath of air and ray of sunshine. Alternatively, tense then unclench every single part of your body. These are wonderful exercises and should leave you feeling totally at ease.

If you’re finding it difficult to snooze, just don’t make a big deal out of it. What you resist, persists. Let go and surrender to slumber.