I can’t sleep.

It’s about 1.30am. I’ve been tossing and turning for a couple of hours now – I don’t know what it is that’s keeping me awake. I’m yawning, feel tired, and desperate to sleep… but the more I try not to think about it, the more it becomes the only thing I can focus on.

It’s a bad habit nowadays. It started at the beginning of the year – I was overworked and trying to juggle what with a ridiculously full social life. I’d be awake at 6.30am, and not getting to sleep till after 1am – and that was on a good day. But now everything is different – my social life is far more normal (less of the “out drinking every night with mates”, now it’s more likely to be out on the weekends, but try to be good on ‘school nights’) I work reasonable hours. And yet I’m haunted by the inability to sleep.

I’v tried it all – warm milk, herbal teas to relax, a bath before bed, no caffeine after 5pm, no late night snacks, more exercise and a better diet. I’ve even given valerian a go (which apparently is the super anti-insomnia alternative drug). But inevitably 1am, 2am, 3am comes around, and I’m wandering around my house, or frustratedly tossing and turning in my bed.

I try to read, but then my brain engages and I can’t stop until I finish the book (it wasn’t a great day when I decided to reread Orlando, and ended up finally putting the book down just as my alarm to get out of bed went off – I thought only an hour had passed and suddenly the sun was rising. Boy, I was grumpy that day at work…) Movies are the same – I start watching and then I can’t bear to turn them off, and I find myself sitting in front of the TV sleeping in thirty minute bursts.

I guess for the most part I’m lucky – I can function pretty well for an insomniac. My sleep patterns vary from being able to fall asleep, but waking up after a few hours and not getting back to sleep (resulting in many early mornings at work after giving up after a couple of hours to get back asleep), to sleeping in short bursts, to just not being able to sleep in the first place. I’ve never needed more than 7 hours, and I’m an early riser by nature, no matter what time I go to bed. I don’t usually feel tired during the day – but I do seem to get a bit more edgy around 3pm if I haven’t had a good nights sleep.

But I like the night time (although I’d much prefer regular sleeping patterns). I like the way the night time feels – quieter, heavier, more mysterious.

A few weeks ago I got so bored I would go out walking at night. But I soon found that the streets didn’t feel so safe, alone at 3am. I did discover one thing though – London’s homeless problem is far more severe than I could ever have guessed, and that’s saying something.

When I first arrived in London I thought I’d never get used to the number of people begging on the streets – sitting on patched, torn and smeared blankets, holding out their worn hands, already anticipating the answer to their inevitable question to be “no”. I guess they hear that word a lot in one day. The ones that really break your heart are those that don’t even look up anymore, they are so lost in their dark world. Little torn cardboard signs propped against their knees with unsteady words barey revealing the horror of their lives.

I’ve watched Neverwhere. In fact I re-watched it just before coming to London as a joking London-orientation. I never thought I could pass a homeless person and not see them, not be struck by the sight of someone who has lost so much, not notice how desperate they are. But it’s true and it’s sad – you become far more oblivious to it. Oh – you notice most, but I think part of you stops actually seeing them for what they represent – a system that has let them down, or a family that has been lost, or an illness (mental or physical) that has been uncared for – and who they are as people. It becomes less of a horror, and more of a day-to-day experience, and the feelings and awareness is dulled.

This makes me sound like a terrible person, I know. I’m not sure if it’s normal, but it’s how I’ve experienced it.

Anyway – when I was walking the streets at night I became hyper aware of what was around me. Sounds travelling in the dark, shapes forming within the blackness. And without the distraction of day-to-day life, a picture reformed…

There are so many people in London who have no where to sleep at night. There are so many people huddling in flower beds, and in doorways, and against park railings, and on the sidewalks. And if these are the ones I can see, imagine how many there are that I can’t? It was like my early feelings when I’d just arrived in London came back to me three-fold. How could I have possibly shut this out? How did it become okay for me to normalise a situation that is so bad?

Strange how the night time – my time – can both hide and reveal these things.

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