Before this week, I had suffered with insomnia once in my life. During my time in Peace Corps, all Africa Volunteers who had not previously taken antidepressants were given mefloquine/lariam as our malaria prophylaxis. Having done my own research, I was opposed to taking this drug because of the possible side effects. I spoke with the medical office in D.C. on the phone before my departure and asked if I could take something else. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I refused to take the mefloquine I would be sent home- no alternative. Malarone, my preferred prophylaxis, was too expensive for the Peace Corps’ limited budget. Not wanting to be sent home, I took my medicine. And so began possibly the worst year and half of my life. I don’t blame mefloquine completely, but it definitely played its role. Six months ago the FDA updated it’s warning for mefloquine and fortunately for current and future Peace Corps Volunteers, the Peace Corps, while still advising Volunteers take it (because it’s cheap), offers alternatives.
Here’s a short list of some of the side effects for mefloquine from fda.gov (the one’s I experienced are bolded):
- Ringing in your ears
- Convulsions or seizures
- Behavior that is unusual
I cannot speak strongly enough against mefloquine. It is the worst thing since the invention of the rack. Just say no.
I love to sleep. I love bedtime. I love naptime. And before mefloquine, I’d never had a consistent problem falling asleep. Then all of the sudden, I was only sleeping two to three hours a night. In a hut. With no electricity. No internet. No TV. No cell phone reception. Just me, under a mosquito net, in the dark for hours and hours on end. Misery!
Why this trip down memory lane? For four nights in a row this week, I have been unable to sleep. This time it’s not my malaria prophylaxis. It’s the heat. Even though it’s supposedly rainy season, we hadn’t had rain for 10 days. The sun was bright and hot everyday- great for drying laundry and great for heating up our home like an oven. This is nothing new. We arrived here during the hottest part of the year.
The difference is now we do not have power at night. The reasoning is sketchy and I’ve heard various stories from islanders. The most prevalent explanation is that someone at the electronic company stole the money that should have been paid to buy the necessary fuel to make the power. Another story is that the fuel prices have been rising and the electric company didn’t budget properly so they can’t afford the fuel to make the power. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle, but the problem remains- limited or no electricity. No electricity=no fan= no air movement= no sleep. I lay in a literal puddle of sweat on my foam mattress. Within hours of laying down my short hair looks like I just stepped out of the shower. My pillows are drenched through.
By the third night, I wanted to sleep so badly I took two benadryl and two valerian tablets. I fell asleep quickly enough, in front of a working fan. But as soon as the power went off at 1:30am, I was awake again. Awake but dead tired. And grumpy. No, not grumpy, I was angry.
Why was this happening? Why wasn’t God sending rain? Why couldn’t they leave the power on at night and leave it off all day, if they must ration? Why wasn’t there a breeze? Why couldn’t I just sleep through the heat? Why was this happening to me?!?
I’d been praying for the past two nights, every time I would toss and turn, I’d send up a prayer for relief. By the morning after the third night, I couldn’t anymore. My mind was exhausted, barely functioning. I didn’t have the energy or the desire.
This was the same morning that my team was starting our first retreat. This is a time for us to rest, look back over the previous months and plan for the next several months. I was dreading it. As an introvert, while I enjoy being with people, it is also draining. I was already drained. I had nothing left to give. And I couldn’t even pray for myself.
So I video called my mom and dad. It was late their time. They were already asleep. But when I explained what was going on, they turned on the light in their bedroom, sat up and prayed for me. After my mom said “Amen”, I felt some renewal of energy and a burst of strength, enough to pack and make my way to the hotel where we would spend the next two days. And after a two-hour nap in an air-conditioned room I was able to make it through the remainder of the day. I was certainly not the life of the party but by God’s grace, I wasn’t a complete monster either.
That night I went to bed early, still not able to pray, but hoping for a good night’s sleep. I was disappointed. The mosquito net was too small for the bed and was constantly in my face; the power went off in the middle of the night so the A/C did as well and the room grew uncomfortably stuffy; but worst of all, I felt like I had bugs crawling all over me all night. After four night of sleeplessness, I was going insane!
At 4:30am, with my roommate softly snoring next to me, I just couldn’t take anymore! I grabbed my Bible and my journal and headed into the dark outside. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to God; but I knew others at home were interceding on my behalf. Maybe in reading His Word, He would speak to me.
I started writing my litany of complaints in my journal. As I wrote, the story of Job came to mind. So I opened Job and began reading. I would encourage you to read Job 38 and 39 to understand the impact this had on me, but if you can’t, I’ll try to explain. It starts off with the Lord saying, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me.” Then God asks Job a series of questions. Appreciating sarcasm as I do, my favorite is, “What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!” Job 38:19-21. Then God says in 40:2, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”
Job had lost all his children, his wealth and his health. I lost four days of sleep. Dare I accuse God? I had just received a giant, divine facepalm.
I cried out in repentance and was led to 2 Corinthians 12:9, a familiar passage, “But he said to me [Paul], ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
The dam was broken and I wrote a prayer reminding God of His promises and asking for mercy. I was still sleepy all day. I was still weak. But I enjoyed the time with the team. We played games. We went swimming in the pool. We prayed together. We thought about the future together. And when I fell into bed at 11pm, I slept a sweet, dreamless eight-hour sleep.