Features and Occasionals

Relief for the Chronically Inspired

By Alice Toler

Making the best of a Valium dependency.

To be honest, I was a bit of a weird kid. Today I think they would diagnose me with some kind of learning disability and give me extra time in a room with some adult who could help me work out “successful strategies,” but that sort of thing didn’t exist in the early ‘80s Bahamas where I grew up. I just had a tendency to go into my own dream world—so much so that they tested my hearing at one point because I just could not attend in class. There was nothing wrong with my hearing—it was just that the worlds inside my head were much more compelling than the world where my body was stuck, sitting in a plastic chair behind a melamine desk.

Over the years I learned the rules of society and started paying attention as well as I was able, but the dream worlds were always there, always competing for it. A lot of the time they were literal dreams, and I’d spend nights being prodded awake in order to record them. They were DEMANDING and INSISTENT and would not let me rest.

I painted them and drew them and sculpted them, and people complimented me and called me an Artist. I hung out with other Artists, and we all made our individual Art, and that was how it was.

The Art I made came from an inconceivable crowd of inspirations that pestered me almost constantly. Other creatives I knew had the same problem—it was often hard to finish a singular piece of work because you’d already started on another three in the meantime. These were our brainchildren, and we felt responsible for them.

Last year my husband and I got Fitbits. You know, those little watch-type things that record your heart rate, the number of steps you take a day and so forth? They also give you an estimation of how well you’ve slept, and how much time you spend in deep, restorative sleep as opposed to REM sleep, which is amusing but not very restful. To my complete lack of surprise, I was getting hardly any deep sleep at all on any given night—because I always woke up with my head full of the latest in nocturnal surrealism. It was, frankly, pretty exhausting.

This summer, however, I had a health crisis, which to cut a very long story very short, left me with an entirely unwanted Valium dependency (which I am currently tapering off).

Valium. Mother’s little helper from the 1950s? Boy, does it ever deserve its reputation for invoking torpor. During the day I’m constantly pitting my physical activities against its massive hibernatory gravitation. My naps have become epic. Insomnia is inconceivable. But…

I am surprised at my relief to realize that I am not dreaming nearly as much. Neither do the inspirations bother me during the day. You’d think that as an artist, I’d be having some kind of identity crisis—and surely, there is an aspect of that. But I’m fascinated to find for the first time in my life, my brainchildren are not throwing toddler fits and pulling each other’s hair out to see who gets to the front of the line to get made. It’s like they all got sent off to summer camp and the house is finally quiet for a bit.

PLEASE NOTE: I am not advocating getting on Valium or any other drug! I ended up here against my intentions, and I am making the best of a bad situation.

However, as I’m progressing with the Valium taper, the little brainchildren have started to sneak back. I catch them peeking tentatively through the screen door, or spy the footprints of one of them in that patch of mud by the garage. They’re shy to return, but I don’t blame them, because while they were gone, I cleared out the front room and put in a row of plastic chairs and melamine desks…




Alice Toler is one of the most prolifically creative person we know. Her stories have appeared in CATALYST, her artwork on our cover, and our office is full of her wonderful “brainchildren.” Really, it must get exhausting now and then.


This article was originally published on October 2, 2017.