I work as a marketing writer for a financial firm that provides factoring services to small businesses. It doesn’t sound too interesting because it’s not; regardless, I keep convincing myself that my job equips me with a ton of skills that I’m sure will help me with whatever I end up doing in the future.
The nice thing about working a very right-brained position in a very left-brained industry is that my coworkers allow me certain liberties during my shifts, which they excuse as “artistic expression”, but really amount to me sitting in front of my computer for hours, watching TED talks, and googling things like “How does sound work?”
When I’m not working, I go to university, where I study English and Philosophy, which pretty much destines me to be a writer. I’ve learned that the best and worst things about being in this field are the same. As a writer, you are privileged (kind of) with the ability to be a deep thinker. At times, this ability is like a superpower. You are able to see things from different angles, or point out the irony in everyday circumstances, or realize the beauty in the ordinary. This is all well and good, but at the same time, being a deep thinker also means that your brain has an incredible and unfortunate ability to never shut up. This in turn, led to the discovery of my saving grace: melatonin.
Those of you who take melatonin know how much of a blessing it is. I never realized how loud my thoughts were, or how many thoughts I had, until I would lay in bed at night and every single one of them would rush to my attention. They would start off innocently, like did I lock the door? Is the light still on downstairs? But before I knew it, I was thinking about the time I accidentally called my teacher “Mom” in second grade. Or the time when I heard that the reason our brains remember stories so well is because they can’t tell the difference between me telling you a story about eating an apple and you actually eating an apple. And though it seems like only 20 minutes later, it’s now 4AM and I’m still awake, staring at the ceiling.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when I can hear my pulse through my pillow when I lay down. My pulse starts sounding a lot like a clock: tick, tock, tick, tock. I would spend every night just trying to collect my ticks before time ran out, and morning would come again.
But, even with all these thoughts, my choice to buy melatonin was centered on one specific instance. One night, my friend and I were watching a National Geographic documentary about the woolly bear caterpillar. Born in the Arctic, the woolly bear caterpillar does not have the luxury of crawling through the automated doors of Whole Foods to buy melatonin. Instead, he is born with a forward-thinking consciousness and one specific purpose: to fly.
Every spring, his only objective is to eat and eat and eat to fulfill his purpose. Yet spring in the Arctic is short-lived and, after just a couple of short months, winter comes again. Instead of just dying, however, he realizes that winter is quickly approaching, and crawls under a rock in preparation. There, permafrost rushes through his veins and he freezes completely, withstanding -100 degree temperatures—breathing stopped, heartbeat stopped, forward-thinking consciousness stopped.
Then, in the spring, when the ice thaws, so does he. He revives himself again and, as if he hadn’t just awoken from a nine-month sleep, starts to think, “I need to eat, so I can fly.”
If you don’t think that is amazing, then consider this: he repeats this cycle of eating, sleeping, freezing, thawing, living, dying for 14 years. Then, one particularly kind spring, he awakens from his frozen sleep and realizes that he is finally full.
He covers himself in a shell of his own making, sprouts his long-awaited wings, and emerges as a moth. Once he becomes a moth, his purpose is then assumed, and he lives for only two more weeks. After 14 years, he is granted two weeks in the sky. Two weeks in the sky to finally feel warm. Two weeks in the sky until he finally dies, and when he dies we are left to wonder if he is content because he believes he will wake up again in the spring ready to eat, dreaming of flight.
Basically, this caterpillar ruined my life. His story left me lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering what it means to truly be alive if this animal spent his entire life trying to fulfill its purpose, yet was only able to enjoy it for such a brief amount of time. When I would tell my friends the story of the caterpillar they would say things like, KC, relax, you’re overthinking it. And maybe I was, but I couldn’t help but wonder what I had been doing for the past 14 years. At least the caterpillar knew exactly what his purpose was and worked to fulfill it, whereas we are all clueless, just hoping that one day we will be able to feel warm.
As I reflected on the interactions with my friends, I couldn’t tell if I felt jealous of them for being able to sleep so soundly, ignoring such unwarranted, tortured thoughts, or if I pitied them because they would never be able to feel for something so deeply that was so removed from themselves, yet learn so much about their own lives in return.
After four months of insomnia, I finally succumbed to the automatic doors of Whole Foods, and spent $7 on a product my brain was supposed to make for free. When I finally went to the bed the first night I took melatonin I heard the sweetest sound: nothing.
Although melatonin served as my saving grace for awhile, I couldn’t help but shake the image of the caterpillar from my brain. The writer in me would stay awake and think, God, what an amazing accomplishment it would be if I could put his story into words. So, one night, I sat at my computer instead of lying in bed, and wrote all I could about the woolly bear. When I finished, something magical happened. I felt my brain relax, I felt my mind ease, and I realized that migrating all my thoughts onto paper was exactly the prescription I needed.
Nowadays, the caterpillar doesn’t keep me awake as often. However, I still honor him with being the cause of my first major existential crisis. I’ve learned that my insomnia is my own excuse for artistic expression, and that its purpose is to encourage me to write—to deeply examine what is on my mind and tackle it by putting it into words.
You may think I’m crazy, but that’s okay, because all “The Greats” were crazy. But compared to “The Greats”, who secluded themselves in the forest, cut off body parts, or turned to opiates, I think melatonin is a pretty good choice.
KC Esper is a senior at John Carroll University studying English. Follow her around at her Twitter (@kcesperfect) or her Instagram (@kcesper).