Transcript

361:

Fear of Sleep
Transcript

Originally aired 08.08.2008

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/361

Prologue.

Ira Glass

As early as I remember, I was afraid to go to sleep. This began when I was six. My uncle Lenny went off to Vietnam. And that opened up this chapter in my life where I was obsessed with death. I was scared that uncle Lenny was going to be killed. But more than that, his absence underscored the fact that some day, no matter what, I was going to be drafted and I'd have to go to Vietnam and I'd be killed. And there was nothing that I or anybody I knew could do to stop that.

I knew I was going to be killed because I was chubby and I was terrible at sports. I could barely run half a block. On TV, wars seemed to involve a lot of running. There was crouching, there was shooting, but there was a disturbing amount of running. So I was six and I knew I was going to die and my mom and dad couldn't help me. Nobody could help me. I'll be dead forever. Galaxies would spin. Humans would travel to other worlds. And I would miss all of that. Nobody would remember me or anybody that I had ever known forever.

And I would lie awake at night, scared to fall asleep, because sleep seemed no different than death. You know. You were gone, not moving, not talking, not thinking, not aware-- not aware. What could be more frightening? What could be bigger? And here was the weird part of it, I thought when I was a kid. Somehow every night all the adults, all my relatives, every teacher, everybody who I'd ever heard of headed off for bed like this was no big deal. Complete annihilation. No big deal.

For those of us who fear sleep, there is a lot to fear. And that's what we're going to talk about on today's radio show. It's a survey of this altered state-- this altered state where we're vulnerable and just gone. Having dreams where anything at all can happen. Not in control of our own bodies.

Listen to what happened to this woman. Denise.

Denise

It wasn't until I was maybe, I don't know, eight or nine years old that one day I woke up and it was like my eyes were open. I was looking around. I just couldn't move. I couldn't move my arms or my legs. I couldn't turn my head. And I felt this, like, weight on my chest. And the first thing I thought was, oh my god. What happened to me? Was I in a car accident?

It lasted for, I don't know, maybe 30 seconds to a minute. And then I just kind of snapped out of it. And I was really freaked out. And I went and told my mom, I think something is wrong with me. And my family's Mexican. And in Mexico they have this superstition that they say the devil is sitting on your chest when that happens to you. And she said, oh don't worry. That's just the devil sitting on your chest. Like that's supposed to make me feel better.

Ira Glass

As Denise got older, this paralysis has happened more and more. And sometimes when she's lying there paralyzed and awake, she hallucinates. She sees family members who aren't there or she hears them. And sometimes they're mad at her. Though the only time all this happens to Denise is when she takes a nap during the day.

Denise

I've definitely avoided taking naps, no matter how tired I was. I mean, I forced myself to survive on like five or six hours of sleep-- very little sleep.

Ira Glass

It's like that movie where what's his name appears as soon as you fall asleep.

Denise

Freddy Krueger.

Ira Glass

Yeah. Freddy Krueger. Right. Yeah.

Denise

In college it was happening to me so regularly that I basically survived on Red Bull and not much else.

Ira Glass

Then there's Ron Vagley. He'd wake up after an hour or two of sleep and find himself, for example, still in bed, there with his wife.

Ron Vagley

A couple times I had my hands around her neck,, choking her until I came out of it.

Ira Glass

She would just wake you up? Is that it?

Ron Vagley

Well, yeah. She'd start screaming. And then I would kind of come out of it.

Ira Glass

Was it hard for you to see this side of yourself? You know what I mean? Like you wake up and your hands are around the throat of the person who you love.

Ron Vagley

Well, yeah. It was hard. And I was worried that I was going to hurt somebody. Like hurt my kids or my wife. And I felt miserable in the day thinking about what I did.

Ira Glass

You must have dreaded going to bed?

Ron Vagley

Yep. I mean you're going to sleep, tired, knowing that this is going to happen. Yeah. It wasn't much fun.

Man

Aaaah! Aaaah!

Carlos Schenck

We have just witnessed a vivid example of a night terror of pavor nocturnus associated with violent behavior. This episode arose abruptly from slow wave or delta sleep. Nocturnal seizures--

Ira Glass

This from a DVD put together by Doctors Carlos Schenk and Mark Mahowald of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorder Center. The number of adults with troubled sleep, they say, is a lot higher than you probably think. 4% of all adults have sleepwalking episodes. That's 8 million Americans. Another 2% engage in sleep related violence. People eat when they're asleep. They have sex when they're asleep.

And one of the most affecting things to watch on this DVD that they assembled to educate people about various sleep disorders is a 51-year-old Japanese man who was videotaped while having a bad dream.

Man

Oooh! [SLEEP CRIES]

Ira Glass

The man later told researchers that in this dream he's fighting off snakes. And in this kind of grainy, nighttime footage you can see him swat away snakes with his arms. He kicks at one with his foot. The metal sound you're hearing is the bed frame. Finally he picks up a pillow like it's a rock and beats one away. There's something completely naked about this footage. It's very strange to watch another person at a moment when they are so totally vulnerable and alone and terrified.

From WBEZ Chicago it's This American Life distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our show, Fear of Sleep. We have five stories of people who either have a huge fear of sleep or, frankly, they should have a huge fear of sleep.

Act one, Stranger in the Night, act two, Sleep's Tiniest Enemies, act three, The Bitter Fruits of Wakefulness, act four, Hollywood Induced Nightmare, act five, A Small Taste of the Big Sleep. Stay with us.

Act One. Stranger In The Night.

Ira Glass

Act One. Stranger in the Night.

There's a poem by Raymond Carver that goes, "I woke up with a spot of blood over my eye. A scratch halfway across my forehead. But I'm sleeping alone these days. Why on earth would a man raise his hand against himself, even in sleep. It's this and similar questions I'm trying to answer this morning, as I study my face in the window."

Well, that is probably about as good an introduction as you could get for this first story from Mike Birbiglia. He told it in front of a live audience at The Moth in New York.

Mike Birbiglia

About seven years ago I started walking in my sleep. And I would have these recurring dreams that there was a hovering insect-like jackal in our bedroom. And I was living with my girlfriend at the time. And I would jump on the bed and I would strike a karate pose. I'd never taken karate, but I had the books from Book Fair. And I would say, Abby-- that was my girlfriend-- there's a jackal in the room. And she got so used to it, she could talk me down while remaining asleep. She said, "There's not a jackal in the room. Go to bed." And I would say, "Are you sure?" And she would say, "Yes, Michael. Go to bed. There's no jackal." And I would say, "OK." And I would go to bed knowing that there was a jackal. And that's trust.

It was around that time I had a dream that I was in the Olympics for some kind of arbitrary event like dust-bustering. And they told me I got third place. And I stood up on the third place podium. And I'm feeling good about myself. I'm new to the sport, you know. And they say, "You know, actually we reconsidered and you got first place." And I was like, oh, that's a marvelous promotion. I got first place.

And I move over to the first place podium and it starts wobbling. And it's wobbling and wobbling. And I wake up. And I'm falling off the top of our bookcase in our living room.

And I land on the floor, hard, on top of our Tivo. And it broke into pieces. And I'm disoriented on the floor. It's like one of these stories where people black out drinking. And they wake up in Idaho. And they don't know where they are. And they're like, oh no. Hardee's. Or whatever is there. But it was in my own living room. I was just like, oh no. Tivo pieces. And I went to bed. And Abby woke me up in the morning and she said, "Michael, what happened to the Tivo?" And I said, "I got first place. And it's a long story."

So at this point I thought, maybe I should see a doctor. And then I thought, maybe I'll eat dinner. Because that seems more convenient. But a lot of people would say this to me. My parents-- you know, my dad's a doctor. He'd say, "You know you should really see a doctor." And I remember saying, "I'm really busy." Ahhh. And thinking these people were crazy. Like, they don't know how busy I am. And so I never went to a doctor.

But I did purchase a book by a doctor named Dr. Dement, which is not the most calming name for a sleep doctor. But it's called The Promise of Sleep. And I learned-- and these are in Helpful Tips-- I learned turn off cable news or the news before bed, turn off your cell phone, turn off the internet, your computer. You know, don't have big meals, that kind of thing. And I came across in the sleep disorders, a disorder that resembled symptoms of mine. And it was called REM behavior disorder. And people who have this have a dopamine deficiency. And dopamine's the chemical that's released from your brain into your body that paralyzes your body when you fall asleep so that you don't do what's in your brain. So I thought, maybe I have this. And then I thought, maybe I'll eat dinner.

So I never went to see a doctor until about three years ago. I was performing in a college in Walla Walla, Washington. I'm a comedian by trade. And I was staying at a hotel called on La Quinta Inn. And some people correct me. No. No. No. It's La Kinta. That's not fair. You can't force me to speak Spanish. I'm at La Kinta Inn in Vwalla Vwalla Washington and I fell asleep watching the news. And it was sort of a story about war and something very chaotic. And I fell asleep. And I had a dream that there was a guided missile headed towards my room. And there's all these military personnel in the room with me. And I jumped out of bed and I'm like what's the plan? And they say, its come to our attention the missile coordinates are set specifically on you.

And I thought, that's very bad. Because I don't have a plan for that one. So I decided to jump out the window in my dream. And as it turns out, in my life. And there are two important details. One, I was on the second floor of La Quinta Inn and two, the window was closed. So I jumped through a window like the Hulk. And I say that because that's how I described it at the emergency room in Walla Walla, Washington. I was like you know the Hulk? He just kind of jumps through stuff. So I jump through the window and I scream, aaaaahh!

And what was remarkable is that people of this disorder are capable of doing things they couldn't do in their everyday life. It's like blacking out drinking where you don't feel any pain or inhibition. I jumped through a second story window and I landed on the front lawn of the hotel. I took a spill. I got back up and I kept running. And I'm running and I'm slowly realizing I'm on the front lawn of La Kinta Inn in Vwalla Vwalla, Washington in my underwear, bleeding. And I'm like, oh no.

And it was one of those rare moments in your life where in retrospect you're like, what the hell? And at the time you're like, I guess I'll walk to the front desk and explain what happened. Fortunately the person working at the front desk was mildly retarded. And I say fortunately because he was completely unfazed by what had just happened. It's 3:00 in the morning. The phones are ringing off the hook from people staying at the hotel who just saw the guy jump out the window, screaming.

I'm bleeding, in my underwear, and I say, "Hello." Because as it turns out, you have to start somewhere. I'm staying at the hotel-- credibility. I had an incident wherein I jumped out of my window. I am bleeding and I need to go to a hospital. And I'll never forget his reaction because he just goes, uh-unnn. And I thought, this is the best possible reaction i could receive at this juncture.

And so I drove myself to the hospital. I checked myself into the emergency room. I had to explain what happened three times-- the nurse and the doctor and the front desk. I'm the Hulk. I'm the Hulk. I'm the Hulk. And the doctor, God bless him, worked on me until about 5:30 in the morning. And he put 30 stitches in my arms and in my legs. And he is an emergency room doctor and even he is like, you should be dead. And I was like, no you should. I zinged him. And about 5:30 I drove back to the hotel and I checked out. And I actually paid for the window like any good window jumper would. And it was $300 for the window and about $49 for the room.

And I went back to New York. And I did what I should have done in the first place when I saw the jackal. I went to a doctor who specializes in sleepwalk disorders. And now when I go to bed at night, I take a very strong pill and I sleep in a sleeping bag up to my neck. And I wear mittens so I can't open the sleeping bag.

And so in closing, I think that if it weren't for denial, I wouldn't be a comedian because to be a comedian you have to go on stage those first few years and bomb. And then walk off stage and think, that went great. Because otherwise you'd never get on stage the next night. You would just think, human beings don't like me. But sometimes denial can kill you. Thank you very much.

Ira Glass

Mike Birbiglia, performing an excerpt from his one man show, "Sleepwalk With Me". He's about to embark on a national tour where he tells stories and does comedy, from Cape Cod to Los Angeles, starting in August. Catch him before he becomes too famous. He's all over to the ITunes store and the internet, Google any spelling of his name, or go to our show's website. He was recorded at The Moth, where people tell stories from their own lives on stage. They have a free podcast-- free. And a website with all kinds of stories like the one you just heard. They are at themoth.org.

And OK, one last part here and I'll swear I'll stop. If you have a sleep disorder of the sort we've been talking about so far today, there is very effective treatment. See a doctor. There's a little pill called Klonopin that helps most cases, as Birbiglia said. The DVD that Dr. Carlos Schenck made explaining sleep disorders that we heard an excerpt of at the top of the show is called Sleep Runners and it is on the web at sleeprunners.com. Dr. Schenck also has this beautifully put together book about all called Paradox Lost.

[MUSIC - "TO GET TO SLEEP" BY BRITISH SEA POWER]

Act Two. Sleep's Tiniest Enemies.

Nancy Updike

I talked to a woman in Baltimore with an unusual name. And she doesn't want that name linked in anyone's mind with a house full of pests. So I agreed to call her Miss M on the radio. Miss M has had some very bad nighttime experiences with roaches starting with her old place on Liberty Heights Avenue.

Miss M

It was about 2:00 o'clock in the morning. I was laying on the couch. And I was on the couch because all the rooms was full. And I just felt something in my ear. And so I knew exactly what it was when I felt it. And it was making this sshhusshhusshhu. And I jumped up and I started screaming. My, my [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. She came up to the room. We told everybody else in the house we were on our way to the hospital. He stuck this thing in my ear about this long. Pulled it out. It didn't take but a minute to get out.

Nancy Updike

And he showed to you. And it was a roach.

Miss M

He showed it to me.

Nancy Updike

How big was it?

Miss M

It was a big one. It was a big one. No little tiny one. It cost about $165 to get it out. That doctor gonna charge me.

Nancy Updike

Miss M doesn't live in that place anymore. She lives in a small house in O'Donnell Heights. The house is tidy, but it's public housing and it has serious multiple infestations. The mice in Miss M's apartment have abated temporarily this week for some reason, which has left the gluey mouse traps free for armies of roaches to get stuck on. Every sticky rectangle has dozens of roaches on it, waving their doomed antennae. And yet in spite of the glue traps, the Raid, the Boric acid, there are still roaches in every drawer she pulls open for me, every cabinet, the sink. They mill by the hinges of closet doors, they saunter down the walls, absolutely unafraid. Nighttime, of course, is the worst.

Miss M's daughter Brittany, without even hearing her mother's roach in ear story, told me she got a roach in her ear too, not just once.

Brittany

Twice. Got in my ear twice. And one had got in my boyfriend's ear. We had to go to the emergency room.

Nancy Updike

Was it hard to go to sleep after they got in your ear? Was it scary?

Brittany

I thought of putting tissue in my ear so they can't bother me as much. But yeah, it was hard to go to sleep. They crawled on the bed. I didn't like it. Yeah, it was hard. It was very hard. Because it was a lot.

Nancy Updike

A lot is exactly the problem, Miss M says.

Miss M

You got to have a lot of roaches in your house to get them in your ear. Because there's one or two they not going for your ear. They looking for some food.

Nancy Updike

They just end up in your ear by mistake.

Miss M

Yeah. Yeah. By mistake. And then they can't go backwards. So they can't come out. Roaches only crawl one way.

Nancy Updike

Miss M says she's not looking to move. The neighborhood's pretty safe. There's no gunfire at night. The kids can play outside. And she's not mad at the city, her landlord. She's lived with roaches for a long time. And her expectations for getting rid of them, pretty low. She's gracious letting me ask questions about how many bugs she and her family deal with every night. Is it 500? --5,000? But she also makes clear that for her the questions are beside the point.

Miss M

Do you have to say anything about roaches? I don't think about roaches. It's the normal thing around here. We just live with it. We just live with it.

Ira Glass

That story from Nancy Updike. And oh, we are not done. We are not done with the critters that make people scared to climb inside their own beds. These people that you're about to hear, they all live in the same apartment building.

Tenant 1

We didn't know exactly what it was, but something was biting us.

Tenant 2

But I always complained to my wife, look at this. You know what I mean. You know something biting me.

Tenant 3

We're pretty sure that they're coming from inside the walls and maybe up through the floorboards.

Tenant 4

And I told my husband, I said I seen bed bugs.

Ira Glass

This July at 349 Saint John's Place in Brooklyn, you would be able to tell that the bed bugs had returned by the amount of furniture being thrown out on the curb. If you walked down the block you'd see mattresses and bookcases spray painted with the words "Bed Bugs-- Do Not Use" in big letters to warn off neighbors who might think of taking the stuff home.

Robyn Semien, another one of our producers, stopped inside.

Robyn Semien

Though Stephanie agreed to talk to me, at first she didn't want to invite me inside her apartment. She and her husband and five-year-old daughter never have guests over and haven't for years because of the bed bugs. Like Miss M, she asked that we not give her real name. Her kids got to go to school and she's got to deal with moms who might hear this on the radio. So that's why I'm calling her Stephanie. Her sleep is interrupted all the time by bed bugs, by the full-grown ones that are brown and easy to spot and the babies, that are just little white specks.

Stephanie

Waking up in the middle of the night, sometimes you'll find them and they're white and then their belly is filled with your blood. And sort of their belly is all red. And you can see it. But once I realized that there are these little white things and I was sleeping on white sheets with little blue dots. And then that's when the sheets felt like they were crawling, which is really unmistakable and so hard to sleep in a bed where you feel like the sheets are crawling.

When I would wake up with bites, if I found them or didn't find them I knew more bites were coming. So the process of going back to sleep is filled with thoughts of more bugs coming.

Robyn Semien

The bed bugs didn't take over the building overnight. Like many of the residents, they have been there for years, locked in a tug of war where sometimes the residents are winning and sometimes it's the bugs.

When the bugs arrived, Stephanie's daughter was just two. And started waking up in the middle of the night scratching and crying. Stephanie and her husband moved her to a different room and pretty soon had to relocate themselves too, out of their own bedroom to sleep on an air mattress in the living room. This was a complete failure. The bugs followed. It turns out, Stephanie says, they'd simply moved the bugs' food source. The food source being them. And they drove her crazy.

Stephanie

Think about in the middle of the night, there's a lot of adrenaline in the middle of the night. These like middle of the night bites and trying to figure out where they were. I mean it's not just sort of you're waking up and scratching and you're sleepy. Like I would wake up in full combat mode: Rage, rage, rage, rage. And then back to bed. It sucks.

I definitely upped my coffee intake during that time. I mean I was needing to compensate for the fact that I wasn't getting a full night's sleep. I think it made me a little more twisted. I was feeling a little twisted-- dark. There's a feeling of, like, I am being assaulted and there's nothing I can do.

Robyn Semien

Stephanie and her husband exterminated. They bought their own pesticides. They put all of their clothes, sheets, towels, pillows, and all of their daughter's toys in clean plastic bags and lived out of the plastic bags. They threw out half the books they owned and then vacuumed the bugs out of each page of the books they kept. Put them in plastic bags. They coated the legs of their beds in Vaseline because Stephanie read somewhere that the bed bugs couldn't climb on Vaseline. They couldn't afford to move.

Lately it seems to be working. And when you visit their apartment you can't tell anything's wrong. It's clean. It's neat. And when I ask Stephanie if I might see a bed bug somewhere, she doesn't seem sure. But says we might find a stray in the couch she's sitting on. It has dark brown cushions and a dark wood frame. And it's sentimental to Stephanie and her husband, the first piece of furniture they bought when they moved in together. A few years ago to save it from the bed bugs, Stephanie's husband replaced the foam and reupholstered it himself.

Stephanie

You want to see one. I understand.

Robyn Semien

To be honest, I think I don't really want to know the full extent in the couch.

Stephanie

Let's take a look.

Robyn Semien

She squats by the couch and starts to pull at the corner of the seat cushion.

Stephanie

Oh. Oh, no. I may actually have a little freak-out.

Robyn Semien

What did you see in there?

Stephanie

So there's a little burgeoning bed bug colony. See these folds? This is where like to-- but it's on this side. So you can take a peek, if you like.

Robyn Semien

I see nothing.

Stephanie

You will.

Robyn Semien

To me it doesn't look like much, like brown dust or tobacco that's come out of a cigarette and some white powder mixed in.

Stephanie

Oh, my god.

Robyn Semien

But it hits Stephanie much harder, like here we go again.

Stephanie

Like actually it looks mostly like grown bed bugs, with a few white-- I haven't been getting that many bites on the couch. But the fact that it's in the upholstery makes it-- there's just nothing to be done. I'll probably go and get the pesticide that we have just so these guys don't get dinner tonight. And then tomorrow I'll ask my husband to take the couch downstairs.

Robyn Semien

I'm sorry.

Stephanie

Yeah.

Robyn Semien

A few years ago Stephanie decided to do an experiment to see how long the bed bugs could live without food, without feeding on her family. She found two baby bed bugs and kept them in a sealed plastic deli container on her window sill. Months passed and instead of dying, they bred. She'd grown a colony of bed bugs, in an apartment of bed bugs, in a building of bed bugs. She ended up tossing the whole thing out because she could and because she was scared they might find a way to escape.

Ira Glass

Robyn Simeon. A week or two after this story first aired on our show a year ago, the landlord of 349 Saint John's Place hired a new exterminator who now treats the building regularly. Stephanie says her apartment has been bug free since.

Coming up, somebody who consciously trains himself not to fall asleep and then must suffer the consequences. And more. That's in a minute. From Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Three. The Bitter Fruits Of Wakefulness.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program of course we choose the theme and bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today show, Fear of Sleep. We've arrived at Act Three of our show.

Act Three. The Bitter Fruits of Wakefulness.

We have this story from Joe Lovell. A warning before we start this story to sensitive listeners that this story acknowledges the existence of sex and sexual feelings.

Joe Lovell

I've been told that the insomnia I've struggled with on and off for most of my life comes from drinking too much caffeine or eating too much sugar or sleeping on a bed that's too soft or too hard or too flat. That I don't exercise enough or that I exercise too much. Or that I exercise the right amount, but at the wrong time of day. Or that it's the result of watching TV or using a computer right before I go to bed. Though isn't that when everyone pokes around on the computer or watches TV? I've also been told that I should have more sex, which was good to hear. But then I was told I should have less.

What my insomnia is really about is being afraid. I don't mean being afraid of something happening to my daughters or to my wife or to my job or whatever other adult fears. I mean it's about being afraid when I was a kid. Specifically when I was 11 years old, the year I trained myself not to sleep.

It wasn't that hard. I had all the normal childhood fears to draw on. Pops Ferrara, for instance. He was on my PeeWee football team, a fifth grader just like me. Though he was the kind of fifth grader who could get the nickname Pops. He was squat, and bowlegged, and crazily muscular. And he had a raspy voice that was indistinguishable from the voice of his father, who was also called Pops.

Once in practice, I reached out to slap hands with Pops, the younger. And he took hold of my wrist and turned my hand palm up. And hawked a huge loogie into the center of it. He scared the crap out of me.

It wasn't just Pops, though. I was afraid of the Pawnic twins, with their fantastic breasts and the way they sat on the jungle gym smoking their parents' cigarettes. I was afraid of not doing perfectly in school and then afraid of being the kid who did perfectly in school. I was afraid of hobos. This isn't a joke. We lived on a dead-end street, next to a railroad track. And one night my father woke up and chased two of them out of our house. I was afraid of my father having a heart attack because his father had died of a heart attack when he was a kid and had been buried in the cemetery across the street from his house.

And I was afraid that when my father died of his heart attack, it would be on a night when my older brother didn't come home until very late, which was happening more and more. He was 17 years old, a senior in high school, and something bad had come undone in him. He'd started going out each night and coming home at midnight and then sometimes at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Wild-eyed and belligerent, saying weird stuff that we attributed to his being drunk or high, but that much later we realized were the first signs of his schizophrenia.

My father would sit in the fake leather recliner in our living room, in his boxer shorts and t-shirt, waiting for my brother to come home. And the moment my brother opened the door, the questions and shouting and occasional furniture-toppling fistfight would erupt. I stayed up those nights and watched out my window, waiting for my brother to suddenly appear beneath the streetlamp on our block. One night he stopped there and did an impromptu martial arts kata, punching and kicking the air in front of him for nearly half an hour, in the middle of the circle of white light. As soon as I saw him I'd get out of bed and go into the living room, hoping that my presence there would keep things from escalating, which occasionally it did.

And so I taught myself not to go to sleep. It was mostly just a matter of queuing up the highlight reel of anxiety and letting the images flicker away inside my head. Pops Ferrara pinning me to the ground and spitting in my face. Or the hobos, who at that very moment were no doubt sitting on the tracks of above our house waiting for the lights to go out. Or my dad's weak heart and what his face would look like when it started to clinch inside his chest.

I dialed up all the imaginary drama inside my head, which kept me awake, which then allowed me to dial down the very real drama that existed each night inside our house. And it worked. It worked so well in fact that almost immediately there were consequences. By training myself to fear sleep, it became y default mode. I set myself up for a lifetime of late night distress, unproductive self-probing, and troubling discoveries I'd never have made if I hadn't been awake in the middle of the night.

The first and maybe the biggest came at the end of our PeeWee football season in the fall of 1977. We'd played all the local teams and won all our games. And so we were selected to play in a PeeWee sanctioned Turkey Bowl in Seaford, Long Island, seven hours away. When our coach gave us the news, all the kids on my team raised their helmets in the air and hooted like they'd seen real players do on TV. What I thought was, oh Jesus, another two weeks of dodging Pops Ferrara, great.

It was worse than that though. We weren't going to bunk together in motel rooms, which would have been bad enough. We were going to stay with the families of players on the opposing team. As you might imagine, I was a kid who dreaded sleeping over at anyone's house, much less a stranger's. In part because of garden variety anxiety, and in part because I worried about what might happen in my own house if I wasn't there. I tried every excuse to get out of it, but nothing worked.

And so when the time arrived, I ate breakfast in silence as my mother packed my lunch. Then rode with my father to the parking lot outside Perkins Pancake House, where I boarded our bus and sat as far away from Pops as possible. Three hundred or so miles later we arrived at another parking lot and car after car pulled up and took my teammates away. Eventually the family I'd be staying with arrived, a big square-headed man with his two sons, smaller versions of him. One a few years older than I was and the other my age. They sat silently on either side of me in the back seat of their station wagon as their father talked about football all the back to their home. Their mother greeted us on their front lawn. Her face was sweet and chubby and she wore a Fighting Irish baseball cap over her Brillo-y hair.

She put her arm around my shoulders as she led me into their house. It was dark in there, all heavy furniture and curtains and there was Notre Dame paraphernalia all over the place: A Notre Dame blanket and throw pillow on the sofa. A Notre Dame latch hook rug on the dark-paneled family room wall. Notre Dame posters all over the bedroom that the brothers shared.

The kid my age, the one I'd be playing the next day, he barely talked to me. And his older brother spoke only when he wanted to mock the two of us. We sat in their TV room and watched a college football game while the father, who was also an assistant coach of his son's team, unleashed an endless commentary about blocking and short pass routes and the wishbone offense. Before dinner, I stared into my plate as they said grace. We had pot roast and potatoes, which my mother cooked all the time. But this didn't taste like hers. Even their ice cubes had a weird smell to them. And after dessert and more endless football talk we played Atari, which the mother told the two brothers to include me in. She must have sensed my discomfort because before bed she looked into my eyes and said that if there was anything I wanted, they were just down the hall. That it was no bother to wake them if I needed to.

I slept on the floor in a sleeping bag between the two brothers' beds. They had NFL bedspreads and a Pittsburgh Steelers poster on the ceiling overhead. We talked for a few minutes about the game the next day. And the older brother went on about how my team was going to slaughter his brother's, which was kind of him. And then before long we stopped talking and they both drifted off to sleep.

I don't know how much time passed. In my memory it's hours, though that can't really be the case. I started thinking of home, wondering if my parents were awake and if my brother was still out. And then I started wondering if the mother here in this house would check on us. When it was clear she wasn't going to, I got up and went to the bathroom and hoped that she'd hear me in there. I turned on the bathroom light and looked in the mirror, flushed the toilet and let the water run for awhile. I didn't know what I'd say to her, but I just wanted her to come out and comfort me in some way. Maybe give me something to drink or some more pie. Or just talk to me for a while about my parents or school or the wishbone offense for all I cared.

I stepped back into the hallway and stood there in my pajamas, listening to the house. The parents were still awake in their room. A light was on. And so I walked to their door and knocked on it, thinking I'd apologize and then ask for a glass of water. I nudged the door open and there was the mother on her bed. And behind her the father, red-faced and naked. I had no idea what I was seeing, just that I shouldn't be. Her head was bent toward the sheets and she never lifted it. He looked right at me. He was pale and fat and there was a scar that ran vertically from his naval. Neither of us said a thing.

I closed the door and hurried back to the boys' bedroom and waited for something to happen, but nothing did. The next morning the mother would make pancakes and bacon. And the father would come in from outdoors and tussle my hair and say it was a cold day for a football game. Neither of them would hint at what happened in the bedroom. That was all hours away though. I lay there for a while, listening to the sound of the brothers' breathing on either side of me, simultaneously trying to block out and then bring into sharper focus what I had just seen, to make sense of what it all meant. I was 11 years old.

My brother, who I was closer to than anyone in the world, was turning into someone I no longer knew. I was lying on a floor in the house of complete strangers. And I'd just opened the door on a large, pale man having sex with his sweet matronly wife, the closest thing to my mother for 300 miles. You just have no idea what's going on at any moment in any family in any house. Pretty much everything in life is an absolute frigging mystery. There was still a lot of night ahead of me.

Ira Glass

Joel Lovell, he teaches in the graduate writing program at the University of Pittsburgh and is an editor at GQ Magazine.

Act Four. Hollywood-induced Nightmare.

Keith

Hello.

Seth Lind

Keith, it's Seth.

Ira Glass

This is the production manager of our radio show, Seth Lind, calling his uncle Keith about an incident that is actually the subject of this next act, Act Four, an incident that happened to Seth when he should have been sleeping, over 20 years ago.

Seth Lind

What I was calling about is I wanted to know if you remembered something, which was there was one night when you were staying over. And I woke up in the middle of the night and you were watching The Shining.

Keith

The movie?

Seth Lind

The movie, The Shining.

Keith

Uhuh.

Seth Lind

Do you remember me watching that with you?

Keith

I do not.

Seth Lind

Really.

Keith

I vaguely remember myself watching it.

Seth Lind

Yeah. I watched almost the whole thing with you. I was six.

Keith

You were six years old?

Seth Lind

I was six.

Keith

OK. I remember bits of the movie.

Seth Lind

Do you remember the elevator doors opening and blood rushing out?

Keith

That I do not.

Seth Lind

Really. Because I remember that was right when I sat down and that happened. And I didn't know what was going on. And you said, "Do you know what that is?" And I said, "Is it mud?" And you said, "No. It's blood."

Keith

Honestly I do not recollect.

Ira Glass

Well, that was totally unsatisfying.

Seth Lind

Yeah.

Ira Glass

I like how he wasn't sorry in the least.

Seth Lind

Yeah. Like oh, you want to watch a movie too? It's two dudes watching a movie.

Ira Glass

Seth had a very common childhood experience. He saw a film he shouldn't have seen. And it had exactly the effect you'd think. After seeing The Shining, he had trouble falling asleep and nightmares every night. And here's where it gets a little extreme, this lasted for most of two years.

It lasted so long probably because the film was The Shining. A film that is not only truly scary, it starred a six-year-old boy-- the same age as Seth at the time. And if you remember The Shining, the director Stanley Kubrick is constantly shooting from the six year old's perspective. There are all those amazing shots down from kid-level height, as the little boy speeds down the hallways of this huge hotel on his big wheel. This made everything in the film seem very, very real to Seth.

Seth Lind

It just made it plausible. I think it was just a really quick decision, like I'm that kid. As simple as that. It's like oh, hey look. I'm on the TV. And there's really, really, really terrible things happening to me and my family.

Danny Torrance

Mommy. I'm scared.

Seth Lind

And I think that's why it got so far under my skin.

Wendy Torrance

Stop it! Stop it!

Seth Lind

Over the course of a day, I would-- well, first of all I would feel this extreme pleasure in the morning when I woke up because I had gotten through the night. And it was like every day was this relief. But then as the day went on, I would start to feel this dread because I knew I was going to have to go to sleep. I knew it was going to get dark.

Ira Glass

It was like you were doomed.

Seth Lind

Yeah. It was like I knew exactly what was going to happen.

Ira Glass

And just describe, you would be lying there trying to fall asleep?

Seth Lind

I'd lie down and really quickly just one of these images would just pop in my mind. I mean the blood coming out of the elevator was huge. Also there are these twin girls who, in the movie, are sort of spectral characters that only Danny, the little kid, can see.

Ira Glass

And they are sort of shot like Diane Arbus twins, sort of spooky, standing side by side, kind of intoning straight to the camera.

Seth Lind

Exactly. And they're shot inter-cutting between them speaking and pictures of their chopped up corpses. That was the biggest one, the image that would pop into my head the most.

Ira Glass

It's interesting you talked to your parents about this on tape a couple weeks ago.

Seth Lind

Yeah.

Ira Glass

And it's clear. Like they knew that something was happening, but somehow they don't know how deep it goes.

Hold on. Let me just push a button here.

Seth Lind

The protagonist was like a little boy. And I was six. And he must have been around that age or so.

Mrs. Lind

Was there a little girl too?

Seth Lind

Well, there were two little girls.

Mrs. Lind

Oh. Oh, OK.

Seth Lind

Who were twin sisters, who were murdered.

Mrs. Lind

Who were murdered. OK.

Seth Lind

So they were ghosts.

Mrs. Lind

I guess I need to see it again.

Seth Lind

And they say--

Grady Twins

Come play with us Danny.

Seth Lind

Come play with us Danny. Come play with us forever.

Grady Twins

Forever. And ever. And ever.

Ira Glass

I love how your mom's take on this is it's so not deeply sinister, this film.

Seth Lind

There was a little girl. Didn't he have a friend? He had a playmate.

It's not fair for me to expect that someone had to have the same relationship to it as me, feeling like I kind of lived inside of it in a really terrible way.

Ira Glass

For two years.

Seth Lind

For two years.

Mrs. Lind

My most intense memory of the after effects of all that is that I'd wake up in the morning and you'd be sleeping on the floor on the rug beside the bed, all curled up in your quilt.

Seth Lind

I remember going to my room during the day. And I would look at our bedroom and sort of prove to myself that it wasn't scary. During the day.

Mrs. Lind

Oh.

Seth Lind

And because I'd say, OK it's light out. This is exactly what it looks like at night. It's just dark. There's nothing different about it. But I would get this sort of dread as the day went on.

Mrs. Lind

And I don't remember that you shared any of that at all.

Seth Lind

I don't think I shared any of it.

Mrs. Lind

I mean to everyone else and throughout your growing up, I mean you were to all outward appearances a really joyful, happy child, really loving. And yet it just really shows that children have very involved inner lives that their parents might not know much about.

Seth Lind

Yeah.

Ira Glass

And why didn't you ask for help?

Seth Lind

I didn't think that anyone could help. The message of the movie is no one's going to help you little kid.

Ira Glass

The parents in the film just aren't any help to the kid. Like your parents aren't going to help you.

Seth Lind

Right. The father in the movie is trying to kill you. The mother wants to save you, but can't. You have to save yourself.

Ira Glass

Do you think one of the reasons why you didn't ask for help was because it was-- it's like because it affected your dreams. Do you know what I mean?

Seth Lind

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Like in a way it had gotten to a part of you where nobody can go anyway but you.

Seth Lind

Right. There's a certain point where the person who is trying to help you is going to go to sleep. And I would be left alone. Everyone sleeps alone.

Ira Glass

Seth Lind. He's not just our program's production manager, he is also in the comedy troupe, Thank You, Robot.

[MUSIC - "SLEEPWALKER" BY BROTHER ALI]

Act Five. A Small Taste Of The Big Sleep.

Ira Glass

So I started today's show by talking about how fear of sleeping for me goes hand in hand with the fear of death. And I used to be surprised that everybody didn't feel that way or regularly have that experience, these moments in bed when they felt so aware that death is really going on happen to them. And I have found that it is comforting that there are other people who do feel that. Here are some.

Jane Feltes

I will be totally asleep. And it'll be about 3:00 or 4:00 o'clock in the morning. I'll just bolt upright. I'm like gasp!

Man 1

Then it's like a complete instant panic attack where I'm just like clutching the sheets and going oh god, oh god, oh no, oh god, oh no.

Jane Feltes

And I just like kind of hang onto the bed and be like no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. And I'm just wanting to scream.

Man 2

Your cornered. You're a trapped animal who's like sweating and waiting for its head to be chopped off.

Man 1

I can feel time whizzing by. And I'm trying to hold on to something generally. So I usually start grabbing the walls or like clinging to the pillow. And I'm like this isn't going to go away. I need to hold this. I need to hold on to time. I need to stand in this river and just not move.

Man 2

Like it's a kind of very primitive feeling. You have to just, like, flee from this totally horrible thing that's happening to you. But there is nowhere you can flee. And understanding at the same time that what you're fleeing and trying to run away from is the complete cessation of you.

Man 1

Like normally I think you go through the day and you don't really think you're going to die. Or it seems comforting. Like I'm in traffic this morning, I think, oh I might die someday. I'm like oh, what a relief. I don't have to do this anymore. But there's something about being half asleep specifically that causes the realization to actually take effect.

Jane Feltes

When this wakes me up in the middle of the night it's because I'm right. Like it's going to happen. That's why. Because that's reality. And just for some reason I can see it.

Man 2

It's not irrational fear. It's like you understand that you're mortal. Your life is going to be over at some point. You're fighting like the worst enemy in the world as you lie there in bed, rolling around in your sheet covers-- in your blankets. And you're rolling around there, trying to fight death. And there's no way you can win.

Jane Feltes

I cry. And I just get really sad. And I just think. I try to breath. I breath really deeply. And I just think like there's nothing I can do. Like the terror is overyaken by just sadness. I just want it to not be true.

Ira Glass

Jane Feltes, Lennard Davis, and DJ [? Ectencamp. ?]

I know that we almost never have poems on our show. And I already read one poem today, so whatever. But there's a Philip Larkin poem that is exactly about this subject that we're talking about it. It is in his Collected Poems, which is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux called "Aubade." And it begins and it's nighttime. And he writes at nighttime, you can see what's always been there, unresting death holding your now. And then I'm just going to pick up in the middle of this, where he describes what he sees.

--the total emptiness forever, the sure extinction that we travel to and shall be lost in always. Not to be here, not to be anywhere, and soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid no trick dispels. Religion used to try, that vast moth-eaten musical brocade created to pretend we never die, and specious stuff that says no rational being can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing that this is what we fear-- no sight, no sound, no touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, nothing to love or link with, the anesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision, a small unfocused blur, a standing chill that slows each impulse down to indecision. Most things may never happen: this one will, and realization of it rages out in furnace-fear when we are caught without people or drink. Courage is no good: It means not scaring others. Being brave lets no one off the grave. Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape. It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know, have always known, know that we can't escape, yet can't accept. One side will have to go. Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring in locked-up offices, and all the uncaring intricate rented world begins to rouse. The sky is white as clay, with no sun. Work has to be done. Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Credits.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.