Thenere’s only two reasons I find myself unable to sleep: anxiety or a good book.
I don’t mind staying up late to finish a good book. I have no regrets, except when I am unhappy about the ending.
Anxiety on the other hand is awful.
When I was 10 I had a teacher who didn’t like me. The feeling wasn’t exactly mutual, I never really loved any of my teachers (apart from my Prep teacher because she was a mamma duck, just like all good Prep teachers); I didn’t dislike him. I was just a weird kid and he couldn’t deal with it.
The year before I had some testing with a psychologist. I don’t remember any of this, but apparently I was all good — the consensus was that I was sad because we had moved towns. But I stayed sad and I didn’t really have anyone to play with at lunch or recess. Some days I’d join the other girls, but the year I was 10 I spent more and more time reading by myself in the shelter shed. That probably sounds sad, but most of the time I preferred books to people anyway.
I liked reading and English, but my spelling was terrible. My handwriting was awful. We did German twice a week and I always felt really behind everyone else who had started it way back in Prep. I hated Maths. Decimals made no sense to me, and I had to go to the special ed room to do something to do with Maths with some of the other kids. We had no counters or anything so we used pencils. I didn’t like sport and I was always so embarrassed whenever I didn’t catch whatever was being thrown at me. I loved performing, but for some reason our choir had opted out of the Festival of Music that year and we had two performances — school concert and a choir concert (which I had to miss because my family went on holiday).
I was convinced my teacher hated me — if I put up my hand he would almost always ignore it. For an entire year I was never chosen for Show and Tell. He was convinced I was knocking my pencil case off my desk on purpose to be annoying (it was annoying for me. I had to keep picking it up). He didn’t like that after I picked up my pencil case that I would crawl under my desk instead of walking the whole way around the classroom to get back to my seat. I was always too loud. He told my parents that some of the other kids and their families didn’t like me because I was a bad influence. He named names.
So, yeah. I was the shy introverted kid who read all lunch time who was loud in class and distracted people on purpose. I don’t think I was doing it to distract anyone — I was restless and bored and needed attention and I wasn’t getting it at school. And my behaviour contradicted who I was with my family. I could be annoying and loud and silly, but I was a kid who was always polite and still played with her Barbies.
As the school year dragged on I was getting in trouble more and more for silly things. I decided that I was the bad kid of the class. To be really honest our class didn’t really have any kids with behaviour issues (I was in the same group the whole way through), so if you were a little bit out there, it was likely that you would seem worse than necessary. Some days I wouldn’t talk to anyone all day — no one spoke to me and I wouldn’t speak to them.
I felt ashamed to be whoever I was — this walking contradiction who liked read, was so shy that I only had a handful of people I would speak to at all, who was loud, who didn’t care enough to do well in Maths but had read almost every good book in the school library, who had two best friends but both of them lived in Victoria.
Every night that year I would try to sleep. And I couldn’t. I’d listen to Mum and Dad talk about boring things for what seemed like hours. For a few months I was petrified about our house catching fire and would get up several times a night to check on the wood heater. If I needed to get up through the night I’d make my brother come with me. Just before dawn I would hear clicking noises under my bed. Sometimes it was my dog, but other times nothing was there.
I thought a lot about what I would be or do. I couldn’t think of anything. I wasn’t good at computers so being a librarian was out of the question. I wanted to be a writer but I couldn’t get started beyond a few ideas I had. My number one dream was that one day we would come home from school and my parents would announce we were moving back to Warrnambool. That didn’t happen.
Once school ended and summer started, I began to be able to sleep again.
The next year school was better. My new teacher had obviously been given a heads up that I was bad news and put me in the front row between two boys, probably under the assumption that I wouldn’t talk to them. Being put between boys seemed to be the ultimate behaviour management technique at my school. It kind of backfired though because I became friends with Sam. There was one time that I had divide up our desk with sticky tape, but it was a cheap price to pay.
For the first month or two of school I started waking up about 5am but eventually I became a little more settled and was up at 7.30 like a normal kid who lived in town and five minutes away from their school.
I never got any better at Maths. And I had a teacher who was nice and wasn’t unkind for no good reason. I was also under the impression that Year Six was much more serious and important than Year Five. We did a lot of projects and watched BTN and studied some good books.
It took six months, but eventually I stopped reading my way through break times. A few of the girls would always ask me to join them, but I didn’t think they really meant it — I thought they were just being polite. Then one day I hung out with them and it was okay. I’d alternate days between playing and reading, but by Term 4 I wasn’t reading at all unless there was a REALLY IMPORTANT book I just had to get through. Without having a teacher who was always telling me off I flourished. Girls started inviting me around to their places for the weekend. I stopped playing netball (which I hated) and played hockey which was cool because the opposition were a lot nicer and didn’t elbow you on the sly.
As a teacher I have considered some of my misdemeanors. I was annoying, but I was a kid and some of those expectations needed to be explained more thoroughly. I saw no point in taking a whole minute to walk around a horse shoe shaped classroom to pick up a pencil case. I still think that it’s fine to laugh at your book during Silent Reading. And not having a roster for Show and Tell is just asking for trouble.
Since then I have had maybe half a dozen times of my life when I have found sleep next to impossible. I have tried to spiritualise some of this or explain it away, but the real reason is that I have been anxious about so many things that I can’t even process them. I am happy to report that I am sleeping again without even having five minutes between awake time and dream land.