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I’ve had insomnia my entire life. What is insomnia? Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep during the night; restlessness becomes a habit, and this difficulty, beyond the reaches of explanation no matter who you are, eats away at your sleep schedule and overall sanity like the lungs of a smoker. My diagnosis is psychological, deep inside my head full of thoughts is a switch that never feels like turning itself off. A switch that leaves my brain on as if a hamster on a treadmill keeps running and running. Thoughts that didn’t feel like showing up when the sun was high in the sky decide to bust a door open and say a friendly greeting to me once I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I get out of bed, and my world feels as if it collapses in front of me. Every sound is amplified like the volume just got turned up wherever I go. This isn’t a disorder, rather an indescribable ailment that affects my brain and how I experience life when the alarm goes off.

It’s three in the morning. I try counting sheep. Umma never believes in American ideas, but somehow she believes this one will do the trick. I imagine a gate. One sheep jumps over, floating in midair for a second before it disappears. Another. And another. This isn’t going anywhere. Literally speaking, the sheep weren’t going anywhere. They begin to dance in front of my droopy eyes. I’m loopy and nonsensical, and I begin to chuckle at myself. The clock keeps moving, but I ignore the light behind the curtains that slowly gets brighter as if it were telling me, “Hey, you’ve got to snap out of this.”

I’m now fourteen, and I still tell myself that exact thing every night. I sit by my window at dawn and watch the sky morph into different shades of midnight blue and violet as I close my eyes, the cool breeze whistling and brushing my tear-stained cheeks. Trembling with exhaustion and eyes stinging red, I think about what makes me happy.

I realize I’ve never tried that before. I imagine myself painting with my mother’s watercolor brush on a canvas as the colors blend to a visual of a person I love. I don’t realize I’m smiling until I wake up, hair in shambles and tangled like a jungle. Sunlight streams through my windows and caresses the room in a soft morning glow. I can’t believe I just slept that well.

Scientifically, there are dozens of methods to somewhat “cure” insomnia. Medicating, meditating, or going to therapy—all valid actions that are capable of improving the endless cycle of sleepless nights. What goes on inside my head during bedtime is like explaining the meaning of déjà vu.

All I have learned about myself is that thinking about those little things you love—they can also be big—calms my racing heart and deranged mind when those nights creep up on me. They beat counting those sheep when they dance for you instead. To them, I say farewell, and to the long nights ahead of me, at least they’ll be accompanied with my dreams of the people that bring joy into my life.

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