A picture of a very young Kathleen Frazier stayed with me throughout Sleepwalker, her fascinating memoir of the effect of her sleep disorder on her life. Ms. Frazier’s sleep problems begin in earnest at age twelve and range from insomnia to sleepwalking and night terrors, from which she awakens screaming in fright and occasionally in perilous situations. She blames herself for these problems and hides them, afraid that if anyone learns about them they will lock her up. Though living in a constant state of exhaustion and fear, she attends college, moves to Manhattan, marries and divorces, and pursues an acting career while holding down numerous waitressing jobs. Her sleep problems continue through her twenties as she self-medicates with alcohol and, unable to sustain intimacy, becomes promiscuous.
Ms. Frazier is the youngest of five children whose parents are not without their own problems: her father is a recovering alcoholic and insomniac and her mother experiences night terrors. The stories they tell about her grandparents also hint at sleep problems, and the book raises the question of whether sleep disorders have a genetic component.
Sleep science is in its infancy, and Sleepwalker illustrates the lack of understanding of sleep disorders among medical professionals as well as the public. Ms. Frazier eventually finds help from a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders. She starts to sleep better, first aided by medication, then through a combination of diet, therapy, lifestyle modification, and the support of friends and her newly established family. She comes to recognize the role of her own denial and of traumatizing events of her childhood in her sleep disorder. She begins to write Sleepwalker, and telling her story becomes an essential and integral part of her recovery.--Priscilla Mainardi
PRISCILLA MAINARDI, a registered nurse, attended the University of Pennsylvania and earned her MFA degree in creative writing from Rutgers University. Her work appears in numerous journals, most recently Blue Moon Literary and Art Review and The Examined Life Journal. She teaches English Composition at Rutgers in Newark, New Jersey. Her short story “Pretending Not to Know” appeared in the Spring 2014 Intima.