It’s 3:24 am and I’ve been awake for almost two hours. My usual bedtime is around 10:30 but I’d watched TV longer than I planned. Around 11:15 pm just as I was ready to hit the sack a group of people started having a very loud party in a rental van just outside my apartment.
They couldn’t hear me yelling at them to shut up, so I actually had to turn a fire hose on the van so they’d notice me. It’s ok, no-one got wet! They apologised and said they’d move on. I hopped into bed a little wired from the encounter, but I drifted off pretty quick.
Bang on one o’clock I woke. No big deal I thought, this sometimes happens. I did a quick bladder check. No, didn’t need to get up and figured I’d fall asleep again quickly.
About 5 minutes later, the first wave of anxiety swept over me, immediately followed by the negative thought spiral.
In summary, it goes something like this – I’m a failure… nobody likes me… I’ll never fix my problems… I’m no good at anything… such and such a body did me wrong…. etc… etc… etc…
Why the hell does it have to happen in the middle of the night? Anxiety in daylight hours can be bad, but never as bad as when I should be sleeping. Every negative thing is amplified and seems insurmountable.
The middle of the night is when I feel the most alone. Sure I’m married and I have friends but at this moment, everyone else is, I assume, asleep.
I can’t possibly wake my husband or text a friend at this hour. That would be rude. No matter how awful I feel, it’s just wrong to burden someone else with sleeplessness and anxiety.
There are people I know in the UK and it’s daytime there. But that seems selfish. Weird huh… I’m suffering, but I don’t want to burden people I know care for me. Part of that is because I feel embarrassed. I’m an adult. I should be able to cope.
I read recently that anxiety in the night is probably due to our evolutionary past. We are basically hairless apes with no claws, tusks or sharp teeth to defend ourselves. When we first came down from the trees, that made us vulnerable, especially at night when our relatively poor night vision made us easy prey for large carnivorous hunters. Anxiety in the night was a survival mechanism – it kept us safe from very real dangers.
Nowadays, a middle-class person like me living in New Zealand is pretty safe. There are no snakes or lions out to get me. I just need to flick a switch to banish the dark. Yet an instinctive fear is still there and it is searching for something, anything to cling to. Tonight, it found the perfect prey – my own limitless insecurity.
Around 1:45 am I started reading a book but my eyes got blurry and I just kept re-reading the same page. Half an hour later, I got out my iPad and started watching something on Netflix. I know they say it’s the wrong thing to do, but I needed the distraction. An hour later, I tried unsuccessfully to get some sleep.
It’s 3:49 am now and I’m feeling sleepy. Writing this has been cathartic, and I’m feeling better. I’m also feeling hungry. Oh, God… now my sleep-deprived brain has to make a decision. Do I get up and eat? Or do I turn off the light and try to sleep?
If I get up and go to the kitchen I’ll be wide awake, besides my desperate need to sleep is winning. So, I turn off the light – it’s 4:30 am.
Suddenly I’m fighting with someone dressed in black and I drop my iPhone and both sides are badly cracked – I’m really pissed off.
I open my eyes and check my phone. It isn’t cracked. It’s 5 am and I’ve just slept and dreamt for half an hour.
At least my phone isn’t damaged.
For the next three and a half hours, I drift between wakefulness and sleep till 8:15 am when my husband comes in with a tray of breakfast. He’s a little puzzled because I’m normally out of bed by 6am.
I’m groggy and drained, but it’s daylight, and, for now, I don’t feel like a failure.