anxiety

My Night Brain

I have always been more of a night owl than an early bird. When I was a teenager, there was rarely a night I was asleep before midnight. I liked the freedom of nighttime. It made me feel *dangerous* even though all I was doing was religiously watching romantic comedies and designing my Myspace profile.

As I’ve gotten older, my desire to stay up late has waned. I look forward to sleep, and I start to panic when the clock ticks into the wee hours of the morning, leaving me with a smaller and smaller window to get that sleep. Also, since I am VERY cool, I tend to get nauseous if I stay up too late. It’s that weird middle ground of my body saying, I am absolutely done eating for today, but it’s also been too long since we ate so maybe we’re starving? Idk your call but I feel like we should start freaking out.

When I get in bed, I’ll either scroll around on my phone or read a book until I am on the verge of sleep, and then I will turn over, hopeful that I won’t wake up again until morning. And I will do everything in my power to make that happen. I’ll stop drinking water an hour or two before bed to ensure I don’t wake up to pee, I’ll try and make my room the perfect temperature with just the right amount of air flow so I won’t wake up cold or overheated or feeling like I’m suffocating, I try to exercise every day to burn extra energy—like an adult might have a child do so they’ll crash sooner rather than later. I like to go to bed exhausted, and I like to sleep hard.

The truth is, I am doing everything in my power to avoid my night brain. My night brain is a bitch. My night brain knows exactly what to say to scare me, make me feel worthless, and spiral me into an endless stream of thought that will keep me awake for hours. My night brain waits patiently under the veil of sleep, hoping, praying something will wake me up, so she can put on a performance sure to rattle me to my bones.

It goes something like this.

2:30 a.m. I roll over in my bed and inexplicably open my eyes—awake.

Night brain: *smirk*

Me: Hmm. That’s weird. It’s not nearly time to wake up, let’s roll over and go to back to sleep. Maybe we’ll have a super cute dream!

Night brain: Or maybe you’re awake for a reason. Maybe someone is about to break into the house and attack you.

Me: I—what? Why would you even say that?

Night brain: It happens all the time. You listen to true crime. You know.

Me: Yes, but everything is locked. I am safe. I am fine.

Night brain: The same thing countless people have thought before they were attacked.

Me: Okay, you know what? No. I’m not hearing this. I’m falling back asleep.

Night brain: ……..

Me: *drifts*

Night brain: So you know how sometimes you feel entirely unlovable? Do you think that’s because you are?

Me: *closed eye, eye roll* Can you just…

Night brain: You don’t make enough money.

Me: What?

Night brain: Shouldn’t you be exercising more?

Me: I exercise enough, thanks.

Night brain: What about that pimple on your chin? Aren’t you too old to get breakouts? Aren’t you worried that you’re, like, hideous?

Me: *sighs and rolls over*

Night brain: Have you considered that maybe one day you’ll be completely alone? Or that everyone secretly hates you? Maybe none of the relationships you have with people are genuine. Maybe everyone wishes you would move to Antarctica and only send the occasional picture with a penguin.

Me: Now you’re just being ridiculous. I know full well that my family—

Night Brain: —ARE WE NAUSEOUS?  

Me: What? No?

Night Brain: WE MIGHT BE NAUSEOUS. You’re going to throw up! You’re going to throw up!

Me: I’m NOT going to throw up………………..am I?

Night Brain: Do you remember that time you embarrassed yourself in front of the entire high school baseball team and they all whispered behind your back for weeks?

Me: *grits teeth* ……yes, though I’m not sure why that’s relevant here.

Night Brain: When do you think your biological clock will, like, stop ticking? Soon?

Me: I—

Night Brain: Do you worry that most people find you boring? Or are you comfortable with that being who you are?

Night Brain: Why did you wear your hair like that in the ninth grade?

Night Brain: Remember all those horrific Facebook statuses you posted?

Night Brain: Have you considered that maybe you waste all of your time and are not doing anything useful?

Me: *turns over, this time aggressively, as if my night brain is a loud snorer beside me that I’m trying to quiet down*

Night Brain: *long sigh* I just wish you were worth anyone’s time. Or that you never owned those hot pink capri pants. Or that you wouldn’t have IM-ed the boy you liked “haha idk wbu?” in the 10th grade like a Frat Guy on a dating app.

Me: ENOUGH. It is 3:30 a.m. now. We have been at this for an hour. I am fine. I am safe. I am loved. I have plenty of genuine friends. I do regret speaking in IM abbreviations and sounding like a cave man, and I can still hear the whispers of the baseball boys behind my back. I don’t regret the capri pants because they were comfy as hell but I can’t explain to you why I wore my hair like that, it was ridiculous.

Night brain: Isn’t it wild that ANYONE you come across could be the person that kills you?

Me: OMG STOP.

Typically, it takes some deep breathing or the creation of an entirely fake (but happy!) scenario in my head to quiet my night brain down. Sometimes I have to start my nighttime routine over, picking up my Kindle or phone and waiting until I get tired again. And sometimes I get up to pee, in the hopes that somehow my night brain will also get flushed down the toilet.

At some point, I fall back asleep, and then, mercifully, the sun comes back up, officially exiling my night brain to its (literal) dark corners.  But I know she’s always there, waiting, and so I always spend the next day doing whatever I can to keep her quiet.

A Five Senses Check-In

Back in October I wrote this post—inspired by The Next Right Thing podcast—that was all about connecting to your senses in order to find some peace amongst the fear of the future and chaos of the present.  

Right now, I have a lot of moving pieces in my life, a lot of things that I don’t feel like I have control over and that are changing. As a result, I have been pouring myself into projects, exercise, and goal setting in order to combat the corresponding anxiety. Yesterday, after getting home from work a little earlier than usual, and with the sun out and the weather an incredible 75 degrees outside, I found myself debating over how I could be productive. Should I go for a run, a walk, a hike, do yoga, do work, write, clean, read, pray? What could I do to make myself feel good, or better, or at the very least, calm.

After a while, I decided to do a little yoga, even though I spent the first few minutes frustrated and unwilling to participate. I pretended to relax until I actually relaxed. Then, I sat down on my bed and tried to map out my plan for the rest of my evening—instantly going back to that place of demanded productivity.  My mind was racing and I felt like I was wasting time. But then, I felt the breeze come through my bedroom window. And then I noticed that the sun had turned golden with the evening and there were birds chirping outside. And then I thought back to that post, and I thought it was a fitting time to shift my focus back to the present—“to what is rather than what we are afraid could be.”

Here’s what I wrote down:

Five things I can see

  1. The golden hour sunlight shining through the window
  2. The flickering shadows casted on my bed, my floor and my wall from my blinds
  3. A branch of the palm tree in my backyard swaying in the breeze
  4. The collage on my wall that I made to inspire me whenever I look at it
  5. My newly painted pink toenails

Four things I can hear

  1. The bells of the church down the road that mark the start of every hour
  2. Birds chirping—a reminder that spring is so close!
  3. Neighbors chatting and laughing
  4. A UPS truck driving in the distance

–Three things I can feel

  1. The evening breeze that is cool but no longer cold
  2. The soft comforter that sits on top of my bed
  3. Hunger. The excited kind of hunger you feel when you know what you’re making for dinner and you can’t wait to have it. Looking at you Naan pizza.  

–Two things I can smell

  1. The laundry detergent I used to clean the cozy sweatshirt I’m wearing
  2. Fresh air from my open window

–One thing you can taste

  1. Cold water

There are a lot of things that we can’t control, but there are also a lot of moments that we can choose not to let control us. As it turned out, there were plenty of good things to find on what tried to become a very stressful afternoon. And while I can’t guarantee that anxiety won’t sneak its way back into my shoulders, as I sat there, allowing myself to feel the breeze, to listen to the family next door joke and laugh, and to watch the sun turn gold, I knew everything was going to be okay, and that I could take a deep breath and relax.