Waiting to dream

Confession: I’m totally jealous of people who can fall asleep any time, anywhere.

Granted, I’m sure it’s a tad annoying when you fall asleep in the middle of a boring meeting, but you have no idea what a blessing it is to know that when you lie down, you will fall asleep.

It’s not that simple for me. See, it’s highly likely that I have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS). (It’s totally a real thing, I promise.) It basically means that I can’t fall asleep at a “normal time” so it’s hard to get up at a socially acceptable time. A lot of people don’t get that. They’re all, “Why don’t you just go to bed earlier?”

So cute, those people who think going to bed is equal to falling asleep. I’m happy that they clearly have never had trouble falling asleep. But that’s not how it works for me. I can be incredibly tired, but if it’s before midnight, it’s not happening. Not unless I’m completely “haven’t slept in 24 hours” type of exhausted. In most cases, I don’t fall asleep until after 2 am.

It’s not for lack of trying, I promise you. Just imagine if you had to fall asleep at 5 pm. That’s what it feels like when someone with DSPS tries to fall asleep before midnight.

I read once that for people with DSPS, maintaining socially-acceptable hours feels like functioning with constant jet lag. No joke. Been there. It’s exhausting. Unlike a lot of people with DSPS, I did manage to hold down a normal hours job for a while. How? Mostly by being tired and drinking lots of coffee. And then hibernating for 12 hours on Friday night.

I’ve been this way since I was a kid. It was a running joke in my family, about how I always slept until noon on Saturdays. They just thought I was lazy and slept a lot. What they didn’t see was that when they all went to sleep at 9 pm, I was lying in bed, wide awake until after midnight, and then I had to get up at 6 am for school. That’s not a lot of sleep for a high schooler.

But it wasn’t all bad. Because when I was just a little kid, lying there in the dark for hours, waiting for sleep to find me, I would imagine things. I would pretend I was lost at sea or living on a houseboat with my friends. I’d create other worlds and situations and adventures. It forced me to learn how to entertain myself even before I drifted into my dreams.

It’s easy to look at other people and wish I could be like them. But I’m not. I never have been. And more and more I realize, I don’t want to be.

Confession: I can entertain myself any time, anywhere. Who needs sleep when you can dream while you’re awake?

Big Bertha and back-floating

“Are we gonna see Big Bertha today?” Her excited face peered up at me.

The other campers were quick to join in. “Ooh, yeah, can we see Big Bertha? Please?”

I paused. “Um, I guess we’ll see . . . You just never know.”

It was a safe answer. Especially considering I had no idea who Big Bertha was. It certainly wasn’t another member of staff. There was a lot of wildlife around the camp (appropriate since it was an outdoor center). A raccoon maybe? A giant one? I knew it couldn’t be some sort of reptile because there was no way the girls would be that excited. I had no clue.

But I’d gotten good at pretending I knew what was going on. Mostly because I’d had a lot of practice.

I’m not normally clueless, I promise. It was just my first week as a counselor at a camp I’d never even attended before. The day campers I was supervising had been there longer than I had, some of them entering their third or fourth summers there. They knew every trail, every shortcut, every camp game.

I was still trying to figure out how to get to the dining hall. I’d been thrown in the deep end and expected to glide across the water.

The thing is, I’m not really a swimmer.

But I’m a darn good back-floater. So I improvised. I learned how to “let” the veteran campers lead the way through the trails, how to observe the other counselors so I could learn from them, how to exude an attitude of “I’ve got this.”

Sometimes I still feel like that first-time camp counselor, improvising my way through life and trying to pretend I’ve got things sorted out.

Confession: I don’t really know what I’m doing.

And for the first time in a long while, I have no concept of what my life will look like a year from now. The career plan I used to have was derailed when I was laid off a few months ago, and my back-up options failed to solidify with every application I submitted, catapulting me into the wilderness, struggling to find Big Bertha.

The positive thing is, I’m getting pretty good at this improvising thing. I don’t think a single year of my life in the past decade has gone how I expected. Don’t get me wrong–I definitely don’t want to have every second of my life planned out for the next five years. I’d lose my mind. I like the element of surprise, of change. But I failed to predict how much change would swirl through my life over the years, wreaking havoc every time I started to feel like I had things organized.

But I’m a darn good back-floater. It’s not what I expected, but if I’ve gotta back float my way through life in order to stay above water, I’m on it.

Oh, and eventually I discovered that Big Bertha wasn’t a raccoon but a tree. A giant, unmoving tree, just waiting for me to find her. And I did.