I have slept with the same man for three years. Without him, I do not sleep and not sleeping is the enemy.
Insomnia has been my enemy since high school. From that first sleepless night, when I laying sweating on my sheets, my teenage brain addled by the prospect of first love, and into college test-taking terrors.
Periods of insomnia continued to dog me through my 20s until three years ago. I tried many things. I reframed it as lost time, painting my toenails can only be done so many times before the nails turn yellow, brittle, and have this look of wanting to give up the toe. I tried baking muffins. Twenty minutes and poof, you have corn-studded or jam-stuffed goodness. These were especially helpful for bribing colleagues when late. Thinking this was the way out, muffins became my solution until the night I almost burned down the house. I slept through the time to wake up to the smell of smoke and some slight popping sounds as the oven caught on fire. No more muffins for me. I tried taking baths. Being very clean is one thing. Having your skin become so dry that it falls off in sheets is another bad thing.
The doctor was unhelpful. After nights of Ambien-induced slumber, I would wake up surrounded by empty containers to follow the trail of crumbs to the open fridge. One night, I walked to the top of the stairs to yell out, “Chopped liver,” frightening everyone in the household. I don’t remember. Goodness knows what else I did.
Three years, desperate for sleep, I downloaded a sleep CD. The voice on my phone sounded like a New York cabbie. He guided me through several relaxation inductions then I took the plunge and meet my inner sleep advisor. I let my mind go blank then swirl with a mist. From the mist my inner advisor would emerge to give me information about my insomnia. My inner advisor would be “both kind and wise.” Sure. First, I saw a mustache. Then a round form emerged in blue overalls and a red cap. Huh. Who can this be? He spoke with an Italian accent.
“My Princess Toadstool, you need to relax. Get a massage. Eat more protein. You need a good moisturizer. You need to stop reading that “Trauma and Recovery” book in your bed.”
His white-gloved hand patted my face before giving my cheek a little tweak. Okay dokey. That sounded like good advice and I liked his accent. But who was Princess Toadstool?
At my computer the next morning, I punched into my search engine, “Italian cartoon character with blue overalls and red cap.” Up came articles and images of Mario, an Italian plumber who resides in the Mushroom Kingdom. He was a hero in a video game on something called Nintendo.
Then I typed in “Princess Toadstool.” Yuck. Up came articles and images of a big-haired blonde in a Pepto-Bismol pink evening dress loaded with jewelry and red shoes. Okay I can get behind the red shoes. I haven’t had big hair since the 80s and I’m not going back.
So my inner advisor, kind and wise, is Mario the Italian plumber, savior to Princess Toadstool. I needed rescuing? And she has a tiara … eeoough. Do I need a tiara? Must I wear a pink evening gown? I had a parasol when I was an Azalea Trail Maid (don’t ask, I got a college scholarship out of it). Does that count? I have bigger problems than insomnia.
After my initial feminist outrage, I researched Princess Toadstool. Yes, she wears red high heels and an old style puffy dress (like my Azalea Trail Maid get-up). But she kicks ass sometimes, gets grumpy, and rides a motorcycle. I was beginning to like her. She’s rich, really rich, on Forbes wealthiest fictional people list. She perseveres through multiple kidnappings, reframed as stressors and life events, even if she has to pull her hair into a ponytail or in my case, chop it off. I could get behind this woman.
So maybe Mario’s advice, self-care, is not such a bad idea. Maybe when I have insomnia it’s because my self-care is not up to Princess Toadstool’s standards. Guess I’ll go buy some moisturizer and sign up for a self-defense class. Oh and buy a pair of red shoes to kick insomnia’s ass.

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