The phenomenology of insomnia

I found this description of insomnia by Emil Mihai Cioran incredibly resonant. Mine has thankfully never been this extended but he captures the ordeal of being expected to be fully functional when you’ve barely slept for days at a time:

So, instead of starting a new life, at eight in the morning you’re like you were at eight the evening before. The nightmare continues uninterrupted in a way, and in the morning, start what? Since there’s no difference from the night before, that new life doesn’t exist. The whole day is a trial, it’s the continuity of the trial. While everyone rushes toward the future, you are outside. So, when that’s stretched out for months and years, it causes the sense of things, the conception of life, to be forcibly changed. You don’t see what future to look forward to, because you don’t have any future. And I really consider that the most terrible, most unsettling, in short the principal experience of my life.

I make an effort to talk about insomnia with a much wider range of people than I used to. In part this is because I want to convey a sense of why my demeanour can be extremely variable and why I no longer drink alcohol. It’s also because I increasingly recognise how much this tendency has shaped the person I’ve become. It’s something I know is widespread within the academy and I think we should talk about it more.

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