It took away my ability to sleep.
And so began my fight with insomnia.
It's difficult to define insomnia. Most people think that between six and eight hours denotes a healthy number of hours for sleep. Everybody needs different amounts. But I knew I was in trouble when I was down to an hour, at most, per night. Sometimes I even went a couple of days without a wink.
Being an insomniac is a surreal experience. When it was at its worst, there was this constant floating feeling. When I stood up to walk, it was as if my feet weren't wholly connected to the floor. My reactions slowed down to a crawl. The daylight always seemed too bright. My eyes watered a lot. It was hard to concentrate on anything for more than a couple of minutes. I walked into things more frequently — doors, corners of furniture — even though I was convinced I'd left enough room to walk round them. Once, I walked straight into the glass door of a restaurant; didn't give it a second glance — full stride, bang.
The less sleep I had, the more the world looked like a very foreign place. When people spoke, they sounded muffled. When I looked at them, they were blurry.
To divert me from the downsides, I tried to have fun with my insomnia. I became interested in lucid dreams. This is a technique whereby you concoct and direct your own dreams. It relies on being in a half-awake, half-asleep state. This is the state people are usually in just before they go to sleep. I seemed to be in it permanently. So I tried it. It helped alleviate the frustrations. I could dream up all sorts of strange places, have conversations with famous people, go on journeys. It didn't help me to sleep. I was awake but with my eyes closed.
The best thing to come out of my experience with insomnia was my novel, Café Insomniac. It takes the idea of somebody not getting any sleep and turns it into a fantastical mystery — twenty-five-year-old insomniac Justin Brooks opens an all-night café, but is soon on a quest to find out how his insomnia is connected to a murder.
Thankfully, the insomnia is now nothing like as bad as it was. But every now and then it pops its head up to remind me it's still lurking in the shadows.
I'm not sure I have any great advice for insomniacs other than what's commonly given. But I think the worst thing you can do is fight it. As Justin says in the novel, "My insomnia is like some mythical beast — a dragon that even St George would have trouble slaying."
At least my dragon is now on a leash.
Mark Capell is the author of the Amazon bestselling Run, Run, Run, and the newly released Café Insomniac. It's available from Amazon and Amazon UK.