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For some time Antonieta lay in bed with her head bound, and my only tasks in the flat were to feed her and wash her body, as her husband instructed, with a wet cloth, a sponge and a soft-bristled brush. When she had recovered she told me that she wanted to bring the walks to an end. She would never leave her room again. As if to make up for her immobility Antonieta never stopped talking.

Adolfo, who listened to everything she said from behind the door, told me once that he was worried that Antonieta would go mad if he let her go on talking to herself. Adolfo insisted and offered to double my salary. His hands were cold, bones wrapped in leather. Ever since I was a boy, when we went to the countryside and my mother sat me on her knee, I have been terrified of dying alone, of dying alone talking to myself. And my fears are not unfounded. My parents died talking with no one to listen to them — my father in an insane asylum; my mother in the countryside, alone and, even worse, talking as though someone were listening to her.

What do you say? Or will you allow us to go.

Confessions of a Recovering Insomniac

Only then did I realize how large it was. There were several empty rooms, locked windows and shadowy corridors down which no one had been for years. It took me some time to get used to the solitude one feels in large rooms. I was forced to do so and, frankly, I never heard more than wailing. He was terribly intrigued and unsettled by this.

I heard him carefully place his ear against the door.

Short-term insomnia

Was I talking to myself as well? Or was I thinking out loud? Just as I thought this I froze and looked around the room, which, in the dark, looked like the plains that Adolfo was always talking about. The objects around me seemed utterly mysterious. The most oppressive aspect was the presence of books.

There were so many that sometimes I thought they were human and felt as though I was being watched. Once again I got the impression that I was talking to myself and ran to a mirror to look. Only when Adolfo went to bed at midnight was I able to calm down and get to sleep. This was also the hour that Antonieta would stop talking so loudly and subside into a sleepy murmur. Sometimes I did chores, paid bills or cleaned the house with a broom and duster. I soon reached the conclusion that her stories may have had an internal logic but that they contradicted each other.

Her different versions of the past were irreconcilable with one another. Every afternoon she claimed a different profession for herself, and after a while, after all that nonsense, I started to be intrigued by her true past: I was bitten by a need to discover the truth.


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Never before had I wondered who my employers really were, but from the moment I asked myself the question my ignorance began to seem very suggestive and worrisome. I had the feeling that their anonymity made them more dangerous. I had to be careful. I had no idea what Adolfo was capable of.

After all, it was because of him that Antonieta was living as an invalid. And just as he had got into the habit of spying on me as well as his wife, he could have a similar fate in mind. I imagined myself trapped in the library, crippled and talking to a young man hired by Adolfo, whom he would tell I was his poor demented son and who would, logically, be obliged to stay in the next room.

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Perhaps I bear some responsibility for what happened later. Certain events are irreparable. And when something is irreparable it becomes inevitable. Thinking this way eases my bewilderment and the horrific situation in which I find myself. At dinner time he always called me into his bedroom — a large, gloomy space with gleaming dark furniture — to talk to me about his wife. I had to tell him everything she had said that afternoon.

Insomnia - Oliverio Coelho | The Short Story Project

When I had finished my account he asked me for an opinion, which was always brief because he would interrupt me and start to talk about himself, telling me about his past on a ranch and other, less crude frivolities. Before I went to bed he asked his favourite question: Why did they avoid each other? From then on, every day when I left my room, I would ask him indiscreet or plainly malicious questions, and he, caught between shame and fury, told me that I was being impertinent, ordered me away, said that it was the last time that he would tolerate such a lack of respect.

But the fact that I lived in that gloomy house gave me the right to ask questions, to take liberties with my employer. My behaviour changed radically. Awareness of my position gave me an invincible power over my employers. At night, after Adolfo had finished with his machinations behind the doors, I would insolently come out into the corridor and, once he had shut himself in his bedroom, lean on his door to spy on him in turn.

The first few times it was enough just to listen to him. He walked from one end of the room to the other, his steps muffled by the carpet, coughing hoarsely every now and again. He knew that I was spying on him; ever since I had arrived, he had been waiting for me to take such an obvious liberty. What else could he want but to present me with an intimate vision of himself? What else was left to him at the end of his life but the pleasure of being spied on? If I sit next to his bed, reading or telling stories, he's fiddling, turning over and pulling at his clothes.

By day, he's busy and energetic, and gets utterly absorbed in whatever he's doing. But because he's short of sleep, he lacks emotional resilience. According to psychologist Linda Blair of Psychologies magazine, about half of all children around this age experience sleep problems. At the same time, there's a lot of neurological development.

Patrick has often told me he can't go to sleep because, if he does, the monsters under the bed will come out and get him. He has also said, more worryingly: Thanks to his sleep-training method for babies, Patrick was sleeping from 7 pm to 7 am at four months old. Ferber believes changing his schedule will help me find out whether his problem is anxiety or just bad habits. Ferber recommended putting back Patrick's bedtime to 10pm. It is impossible to sleep and the mind becomes very active. Having to lie in the dark then is difficult.

Ferber believes parents can manipulate children's sleep patterns to establish a good routine - indeed, he is convinced that "improper scheduling" is the root of most sleep problems. If children older than three are napping during the day, or waking up late, they will have problems getting to sleep. Even though Patrick's bedtime is at a sensible hour, he needs to be retrained to get his 10 hours when we want it, not when he's finished building the Eiffel Tower. Ferber suggested waking Patrick earlier in the morning, to make him more tired at night.

If he's falling asleep at 10pm and waking up at 8am, that's the normal 10 hours he needs. I previously had problems in a larger organisation, and ultimately had to leave. I can no longer consider working in certain environments.

'It completely destroyed my working life': your insomnia stories

Lack of sleep can cause erratic interpersonal behaviour and emotional imbalance, neither of which are appropriate in the workplace. In my previous job, some days I had to go to work without sleeping at all, or after no more than an hour of sleep.


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I had to learn to function with very little sleep. It was challenging to make the right decisions.

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If I was awake at night I used to work because then I could make use of the time, but that meant some days I worked 18 hours-plus in a day — and because I then got more work done, I was given more to do which just made me more stressed. When I could not sleep, I was normally preoccupied with thoughts of work: I had a very stressful job and it was hard to switch off. The stress of the role and the lack of support in the company was one of the causes of my insomnia.

I needed to leave before it became bad for my health. I am now in a new role in a great organisation and I no longer have such bad sleeping problems. Looking for a job? Browse Guardian Jobs or sign up to Guardian Careers for the latest job vacancies and career advice. Callie, 32, Southampton Looking for a job? Topics Guardian Careers Sleep and work week. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All.