For the first time in forever, I tried to listen to my body when it told me “I’m tired” last night and went to bed earlier by a half hour than I typically go to sleep. I was awake for 30 minutes before I gave up and turned on my phone to distract myself. Bad decision. I always keep my screen on the lowest brightness possible, and my phone has an additional “night mode” that activates automatically to further dim the screen. Still, it felt too bright for me.
Since I wanted to distract myself, I browsed the news on Buzzfeed. There’s a kind of comforting certainty in giving myself the belief that having a distraction will calm me down. The downside is also believing it only “works” because I’ve developed this habit over the years and if I try to stop, my mind will inadvertently push me to go back to it because it doesn’t like that I’m trying to change this habit. This happens even when I attempt to focus on developing better ways of dealing with insomnia, like journaling before bed by writing down everything that is bothering me.
About an hour into my news browsing adventure, I felt my eyes start to sting from fatigue. Two thoughts kept me from turning it off. What if I still can’t sleep after this? Why do I still feel on edge?
So you see, what I did to “distract” myself didn’t actually work. I wanted to believe it did. After my phone auto-locked when I didn’t touch the screen for 5 seconds, I took it as a sign to try and sleep.
Nope. Sleep kept eluding me after this. I tried drifting off by not thinking of something good, rather than getting swept up into the canvas of my anxieties. Upon laying still for what seemed like an eternity, it was hard for me to tell if I was asleep. Many times I’ve found myself asleep, but the transition into dreaming is so seamless and indistinguishable from my state of wakefulness that I don’t realize I was actually asleep until I wake up.
This whole time it was like a tornado of thoughts was sweeping through my mind, but it was so chaotic that I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was making me so anxious. Following some tossing and turning, I got up quietly and pulled open a curtain to allow some light in from outside. I started writing down the first things that came to mind.
My writing was jumbled and all over the place, but eventually, I concluded I was worried about being social with people, and I was imagining what would happen even before I put myself in the situation. To me, social is any kind of people interaction. Something as minuscule like having light conversation with my parents can feel like trying to move a mountain on some days. Pushing myself to be honest with my therapist, even at times when I don’t want to because the topic is painful. Going into a store and greeting the counter person before I order food. I can and have been able to do this many times before, but it doesn’t make it any easier every time I do it. Hell, the other day, I was terrified going into McDonald’s because I had a coupon for a free peppermint drink that I wanted to use. Somehow I did it.
There is almost a sick pleasure and discomfort out of keeping habits I wish to be rid of. To do the same things over and over like a compulsion that I have no idea if and when I can stop, to the point it becomes my “normal” and I both revel and loath in what I’ve become.