Tired of insomnia

So here we are, in witching hour. Or, in my case, Brookes hour, that time of the night when my malevolent alter-ego, Paul Brookes, decides I should be wide awake.

I don’t agree with Brookes. I’m tired. I want to be asleep. But Brookes is not the sort you can have a rational argument with about such things, especially not at this time of night, when it’s just him against me. As of this evening he has a temporary new ally to help him in his nocturnal nuisance-making – Spike the sore throat.

Hideous and miserable it may have been, but the cold I’ve had for the last few days actually wiped out my feelings of depression for a short while. They do say every cloud has a silver lining. Brookes couldn’t compete with the torrent of mucus that this voracious lurgy unleashed. 

But Brookes is a crafty beast. He was just hibernating, waiting for the right moment to attack. That’s what depression can be like – you feel fine for a while, but then up it pops, like some kind of demonic mole. He’s also a wily operator. He knows just when to strike and he knows just how to strike. He’ll turn up fully armed with all his favourite weapons. Take tonight, for example. It’s vintage Brookes. Just look at his cold-hearted, calculating methods:

  1. Lull Paul into a false sense of security by allowing him to watch the X Factor – and indeed the Xtra Factor on ITV2 – free of troubles or worries.
  2. About 20 minutes before he goes to bed, plant a seed of self-doubt and inadequacy – a little something to ponder over when he tries to sleep.
  3. As soon as his head settles on his pillow, set his mind racing. Take that seed of self-doubt and inadequacy and blow it up into a tumultuous drama that has to be lived out in his brain there and then.
  4. Be relentless. One episode of this drama is not enough. Use that hyperactive brain to conjure up more and more destructive thoughts.

That’s the typical pattern of my insomnia. When I first suffered from depression, its main weapons were headaches and mood swings. This second phase – call it my double-dip depression if you like – is characterised by an over-active mind, which has introduced insomnia to my life. It is not a welcome addition.

Tonight, I’ve decided to play Brookes at his own game. I have put my restless brain to use and have written this blog. He won’t like that. He is a shadowy entity, skulking around in the dark, whispering in the night. Well, Brookes, I’m exposing you. I know you’re there. Now everybody else does too. So pack your bags and take Spike with you.

Hmm, not sure that fighting talk worked. I’m still wide awake…


Can brains explode?

My brain feels full, like it is going to burst. It is like an overflowing bucket, under seige from hundreds of cackling goblins pouring more water into it – or a super volcano lurking ominously below the surface, threatening to burst at any moment.

So I found myself wondering if brains can actually explode. If you keep pouring stuff into your brain, can it really accommodate it or will it just pop? Well, realistically, what is most likely to happen when your head is full and showing signs of leakage is that you will get stressed out, anxious, depressed, and find it impossible to sleep. In fact, insomnia is the equivalent of the leaking water from my bucket brain – what won’t sink in during the day seeps out at night.

But this is all a bit serious isn’t it? What you want to know is whether brains can explode. Alarmingly, it seems they can. Wikipedia says:

Exploding head syndrome is a parasomnia condition that causes the sufferer occasionally to experience a tremendously loud noise as originating from within his or her own head, usually described as the sound of an explosion, roar, gunshot, loud voices or screams, a ringing noise, or the sound of electrical arcing (buzzing).

Wow, that sounds truly disturbing. My own brain, while struggling to contain its wriggling, hyperactive contents, at least stops short of blasting me senseless with unexpected loud noises. 

Moving on from explosions, here is my second big question: do brains have a mind of their own?

Sounds like a riddle, but here’s why I ask – my brain does things I don’t want it to do. It is both my greatest attribute and my worst enemy. A day and night with my brain is like going on a wild ride on a magic bus driven by a chimpanzee. You just never know where you will end up. It could be somewhere sublime or hilarious, or dark and terrifying. It could be an alpine meadow with blue skies and singing larks, or it could be a freezing cave, swarming with unseen terrors.

My brain thinks of things that other people don’t think of. It thinks of things I’m not even sure I’ve thought of myself. And while this can be an exciting blessing when it’s on good form, it’s bad news when its evil twin comes to town. Let’s call this evil twin Paul Brookes – the twisted, misspelt alter-ego of the real me, Paul Brook.

Paul Brookes takes the vivid imagination of his almost-namesake and crafts big, fat lumps of worry from it. He finds a hint of self-doubt and gleefully magnifies it. He unearths unhelpful memories and plays them on repeat. Nasty Paul Brookes.

Brookes is a hungry boy. He always wants feeding. He is like the biggest bird with the most wide-open beak in the nest, guzzling twice his share of caterpillars while his sibling shivers behind him, squawking feebly.

But – and forgive me for going back to my Star Wars analogies – Brookes’s powers are weakening. A new hope, the mentally malnourished Brook, is slowly rising from the shadows. His time will come. Before then, there are mighty battles to be fought.

If there’s going to be an explosion, I fully intend Brookes to be first in the firing line. Especially as, reading this back, he has made me sound like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings books.

The day I nearly blew up the world

Two years ago, I was a power-crazed super-villain, a criminal mastermind hellbent on world domination. In my secret hideout, I ordered my henchman to detonate my super-destructive satellite weapon.

At least, that’s what I was pretending to do. What was actually happening was this: in a chilly farm shed in a rural East Yorkshire hamlet, I was dressed in my work suit, playing the part of the evil billionaire Dean Lomax in a short film. With me were two of the nicest henchmen you could ever meet – Tomasz and Krzysztof – and a film crew led by amateur film-maker Stuart Graham, the mastermind behind crime thriller The Doomsday Satellite.

Surrounded by a remarkable collection of old computers, we’d holed ourselves up in a small room, which served as Lomax’s lair. The set was simple – satellite controller Krzysztof sat at a computer while I prowled ‘menacingly’ behind him. Tomasz then came charging in with some news that upset Lomax, prompting him to unleash the power of the deadly weapon on an unwitting target.

It was all rather surreal, looking back on it. I’d seen Stuart’s advert for volunteer actors to appear in a short film, gone for an audition at The University of York’s biology department, and landed the part. A couple of rehearsals (in a classroom) later, we were ready to film on set. My scenes were about halfway through the filming schedule – somewhere between the assassination scenes shot earlier in the lab and the surprising Hawaiian footage that was to follow. Our location was an unlikely bolthole for an arch-villain, nestling as it did in the lovely Yorkshire Wolds, close to a church and down a bumpy farm track. The air of menace was diluted slightly when Tomasz returned from a stroll outside with dog poo on his shoe, which stank out the whole room.

So why am I writing about this film now? Because I have just watched it for the first time. Stuart has been a busy chap behind the scenes, creating and destroying satellite weapons and putting the film together, and now it’s ready.

Like any actor – professional or extremely amateur – I was, of course, most keen to see how I appeared and what my own performance was like. Well, now I know why proper actors can command such big fees. It is not easy to be genuinely nasty unless you have some kind of natural, in-built evil side. My attempt at villainy wasn’t helped by me using my own voice. On hindsight, something more intimidating would have been handy. Rather than losing my rag with my inept henchmen, it was like watching myself telling off my kids with a hint of a Yorkshire accent. I should have taken tips from Tomasz, whose chilling delivery of the line ‘You should not have interfered’ was vintage Bond villain.

But at around 18 minutes, the film is fast-paced and enjoyable (if not exactly suitable for family viewing due to swearing and violence), and I’m glad I was part of Stuart’s growing collection of mini movies. It was fun and a memorable experience. And, should I ever attempt to play the bad guy again, I can learn from my own masterclass in how not to do it.

And now I suppose you want to watch it, don’t you? Oh go on then: