Bedtime Reading (A Failed Tribute to David Foster Wallace)


I started really having trouble sleeping when I was on Adderall. You’d think that’s because I was hopped up on amphetamines, but that’s not how it works. As the psychiatric nurse specializing in ADHD explained it: You have ADHD. Your mind normally operates at 200 miles per hour. Adderall slows it down to about 60. But then the Adderall wears off and by the time you’re trying to fall asleep, you’re creeping back up to 200 and can’t sleep. Her suggestion was more Adderall, taken later in the day. Although for reasons I’ll tell you about one day that would’ve made me a much more pleasant person to be around, I knew it wasn’t good for me and didn’t take more Adderall. Eventually, I quit Adderall altogether. Like all medication I’ve ever taken in my life, Adderall started out really awesome and ended kind of badly, but that, too, is a story for another day.

Since Soren was born, I have more trouble falling asleep than I did while on Adderall. I’m not sure why this is — whether it’s something that just happens to some new parents or whether I’m just weird. I like to go to bed at the same time Ben does, and he falls asleep in, like, seconds. That leaves me the time between when he falls asleep and when I fall asleep, which is kind of lonely and weird to tell you the truth. To fill the void and to try to keep my mind from racing1 I engage in various activities including but not limited to listening to the police scanner. (I tried the White Noise app but that didn’t have very good results.)

I’ve been feeling a little anxious for the last few weeks2 and, as a result, have taken to reading in bed while a melatonin tablet dissolves under my tongue because books do a better job of filling up the weird spaces in my head than the police scanner, which, as awesome as it is, is not always what the psychiatric nurse specializing in whatever the hell mental disorders I have orders. The last book I picked up was Infinite Jest. This did not go well. If a reading experience could ever qualify as tragic, this one did.

old photo of me

I'm pensive.

I made it to page 72 of Infinite Jest. (I also read the accompanying endnotes.) When I got to page 72,3 I inserted my bookmark4 between pages 72 and 73, closed the book, and tossed helplessly on the choppy ocean of my mind until sleep finally came after spending what felt like endless hours wide-eyed waiting for something terrible to happen. The next day, I moved the book from my bedside table to one of the bookshelves in the living room.

The problem is I’m just too soft for Infinite Jest. It’s like this. When I was just out of college, I did what any reasonably intelligent adult who majored in English and psychology would do. I looked for jobs “helping people” and ended up at a nursing home where I spent time reading charts to get to know the people with whom I’d be working and because reading charts was less terrifying than anything else I could be doing and didn’t know how to do. One chart revealed something horrifying that I’d never heard of called “organic brain syndrome.” Let’s be honest here. I’m not a person who needs to know about organic brain syndrome.5 My problem (well, one of my problems) is that I don’t understand what separates me from someone with organic brain syndrome. I don’t mean that to be as stupid as it sounds. It’s like, why does this guy have organic brain syndrome and I don’t? What if I do have organic brain syndrome?

Basically, this is a long, annoying way of saying that I’m an anxious person with drastic hypochondriac tendencies.

So when we get to page 72 there’s a woman with bangs plastered to her forehead and a nice rack lying in bed wanting to die and I have a hard time not wondering why I’m not her. I mean, I don’t want to have bangs plastered to my forehead and I don’t want to die, but somehow this shit hits too close to home for me.

Reading Infinite Jest made me feel like I was in one of the following two situations.

1. David Foster Wallace and I are children playing in the family room of my parents’ house. We’re playing that game where you line furniture from one end of the room to the other and climb back and forth and you can’t touch the floor because it’s covered in lava. I’m holding onto one of my stuffed dogs and I hold onto that dog for so long the synthetic fur sticks to my hand sweat and the dog ends up with bald spots but I love him anyway. Suddenly instead of playing this game, we’re doing something that’s somewhere between the game Operation and the infant scull surgery I inexplicably watched on tv once. He’s sticking things into my head pretending he’s working in my best interest but in reality he’s trying to hit something in there that will result in a terrible “BZZZZZZ!” sound and make me feel the most exquisite, intense anxiety I’ve ever felt. I want to be his friend but I know he’s just fucking with me and I don’t like it.

2. I’m trapped in a bathroom. Scattered around the room are steamed-up upside down glasses containing giant roaches in various stages of death or dying. There’s an HD television on the wall playing scenes of individuals experiencing intense pain and/or being diagnosed with horrific illnesses and scenes of bees6 and scenes of close-up animated renditions of facial hair and/or meat.7 I can’t leave the room.8 I try to yell for help but fail. I have a computer and try to, like, tweet for help, but this is what comes out:

DFA JOAIGJ OAGIFJ AODGJF APER0GE-RGJAP’EGMAP’OGAERJP’EGMA’PDFM

Help never comes.

I think these feelings mean one of two things. The first option is that David Foster Wallace and I should’ve been BFFs. This option can’t be true because it makes me sound like a poseur wanna-be intellectual asshole who kills people at book club by smothering them with smug self-satisfaction. The second option is that I’m just too soft for Infinite Jest. I hate admitting that. I mean, the writing is fantastic. It really is. You should read this book. I just can’t handle it. It’s disturbing and when it comes down to it, I just don’t like being disturbed. I mean, I already am disturbed. I don’t really need more. I hope that one day, when I take myself and the world less seriously and maybe have a big stash of medical marijuana,9 I’ll be able to read this book.

For now, I’m reading Sports Illustrated in bed. That’s going quite well.
_______
Notes
1. While speaking to the psychiatric nurse specializing in ADHD, I described my experience with ADHD as follows: It’s like my mind is a radio and someone (not me) is controlling the dial (or buttons, whatever, I’m old school) and I hear little bits and pieces of random stations and sometimes the dial might stay on one station for a bit but then it moves on to something else. Sometimes I do these thought exercises when I’m lying in bed, where I’ll try to think something all the way through — like, I’ll try to go through every room of a place I used to live and remember as many details as I can, but I never even get through a whole room before I’ve thought of at least 27 other things even though I really try to stay in that room.
2. I’m also prone to anxiety, although I’ve never sought professional help for it outside the claustrophobia context.
3. There is nothing remarkable at page 72; that’s just where I stopped.
4. My bookmark is a card from Beaners, a now-defunct coffeehouse in Arlington Heights, Illinois, where Ben and I spent many hours drinking coffee and unsuccessfully trying to buy World Series tickets in 2007.
5. One of the worst times of my life was the time I took a neuroanatomy class in college. That’s the class where you learn about brain lesions and their symptoms and then spend many sleepless nights analyzing which symptoms you have and considering the likely course of action after it is revealed that you have a brain lesion.
6. I like bees but, while we’re at it, I might as well admit that I have an intense fear of honeycombs. Honeycombs freak me right out.
7. You would not believe how many times while you’re watching ESPN at the gym you’ll see commercials featuring close-up animated renditions of facial hair (these freak me right out) or meat.
8. I’m claustrophobic.
9. I don’t actually smoke weed all the time. I just think that sometimes it’s good for what ails you and if you want to know the truth, I trust weed a lot more than I trust pharmaceuticals.