Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Exploding Head Syndrome

My night time existence has taken on a life of its own, it seems, and I think it's out for blood.

Day time remains the same as always: Office tedium interspersed with sheer terror and anxiety, followed by endlessly whoring out my writing to any one with a pulse and a pocket full of change. Sometimes, all of this is punctuated with my ten-year-old experimenting with surly teenagerhood, and more often than not, my only time alone is during my 45 minute commute to and from work, where my thoughts generally turn toward how we're going to afford to keep the lights on this month. There are moments of bliss throughout, of course. A moment of cuddling in a warm bed, right after I hit the snooze alarm. The taste of fresh, hot coffee hitting my tongue (although, coffee has become more medicinal than pleasurable these days, but it's still the finest beverage on earth). Savasana in low lighting after a long, sweaty, difficult yoga class. Hugs and kisses from my daughter, who is still as affectionate as always, even though she's a moody little beast at times. Michael's hand on the back of my neck while we wind down on the couch, a healing touch that never ceases to ease my tension.

And then darkness falls.

Passing out on the couch is never a problem for me. The television plus soft cushions plus comfortable lighting is better than a Valium; I'm out like a light the moment Madeline is tucked in and I'm finished for the day. It's fraught with guilt, though. I feel horrible for not managing to eke out just a few more minutes of alertness, like I should be able to muscle my way through it so I can spend some time with the love of my life, time that is more valuable than gold, more precious than a blank envelope stuffed with 100 dollar bills. Michael and I don't get a lot of time together, and I hate it, so what little time we have I should, at the very least, be awake for, right?

But I can't stay awake. It is physically impossible. A blanket of bone-deep exhaustion falls over me, and suddenly, I'm in the grips of what feels like narcolepsy, powerless to keep my eyelids from falling like heavy velvet theater curtains. That is, until we get up and go to bed. Then the circus of nighttime freaky weirdness begins, complete with loud noises and a creeping sense of dread, and I'm awake until the sun begins to come up.

It starts with banging.

As my mind finally quiets and my muscles relax into a pool of warm molasses, I hear the first bang. Sometimes it sounds like my bedroom door slamming, or another door slamming somewhere else in the house. I awake with a start and involuntarily ask, "What was that?" Michael will sleepily reply that there was no noise, but his assurances do nothing to stop the flood of adrenaline from pounding through my brain and heart. So I lie awake, letting the street lights turn the objects in my room into malevolent figures, watching and waiting for me to close my eyes again. Eventually, I do, and then BANG! Another door slams. Or a shot gun is discharged. I can almost hear the adrenaline woosh back into my bloodstream, which, inexplicably, makes me have to pee. I almost welcome the distraction of walking to the bathroom, because it allows me to return to the rational, sane world for 30 seconds.

Depending on my level of exhaustion, how long I've been sleep deprived, or the day of the week (this happens only during the week, never on weekends), the banging will go on all night. Every time I drift away, more banging. The banging is sometimes followed by quiet, nearly imperceptible music, or even more rarely, it's accompanied by voices. One night, the voices said the name "William" repeatedly while I was in that netherworld between awake and asleep.

A friend was able to give a name to these auditory hallucinations. Exploding Head Syndrome. Look it up, it's a real thing. And no, my head will not eventually explode, even though I feel like it will after multiple sleep-deprived nights in a row. It's so called because of the banging that goes on inside of your head. What causes Exploding Head Syndrome is kind of a mystery: Some believe it's caused by sudden shifts in inner ear components, and others believe it's caused by minor seizures affecting the temporal lobe. One nutjob on the Internet claims that EHS is caused by "electronic harassment", in which the sufferer is actually targeted by someone who is using a "microwave auditory effect". So, in other words, I have EHS because some jerk is leaving a flaming bag of poo on the front porch of my brain. Yeah. Thanks, Internet, for yet another morsel of useless yet amusing information.

 I don't know why we take comfort in being able to name what's afflicting us. Maybe that's just me, and nobody else cares what it's called. But it makes me feel a little less like I'm losing my mind, knowing that what's happening to me is common enough to warrant a name. It's a relief to know that, at night, when I feel like the bonds between my brain and sanity are tenuous at best, when the banging starts and stops for nothing, there are other people in the world whose heads are exploding in tandem with mine.

Maybe I'm not destined for sleep. Because EHS isn't the only thing keeping me awake at night. The banging sometimes brings a friend along, and that friend tells me that even though Michael is sleeping peacefully beside you now, any second, he'll be convulsing and turning blue, unable to breathe, chewing his tongue to bits. The friend wraps its frozen hand around the back of my spine and doesn't let go, whispering that danger is ever-present, never-resting, so neither will I, while the banging continues, acting as the twisted musical accompaniment to another sleepless night.

My home is filled with specters. None of them are ghosts.