It’s 1.35 a.m. my eyes feel grainy, and all day, the right one has been twitching. I am so tired, I kept dozing off during a conversation with my best friend earlier this evening, and my head aches, especially my ears. And there goes my right eye again.
Over the past week, I’ve averaged about 4-5 hours of sleep per night. This after coming back from two weeks in nigeria during which I regularly had rather broken nights of sleep, and the journey back overnight, during which I only slept for about an hour, between Paris and London.
I know I need sleep. and I will, soon. But I just needed to at least start this.
Anyone that knows me knows that the above is quite a regular pattern – I may go through periods where I start going to bed at a more normal time (say around midnight, relatively early by my standards), and get enough sleep. But gradually, I will start slipping back into this mode – staying up later and later, my body and mind tired beyond belief, but not going to bed all the same. And it’s not insomnia – aside from a few very short bouts of this, I’ve never had a problem actually getting to sleep. The problem rests more in actually going to bed – the ultimate and most pointless of all procrastinations.
I’ve heard it said this could signify a fear of sleep. Or maybe of missing something. The latter, maybe; the former, I really doubt. I love sleep, when I actually do it.
I sometimes wonder what I would be like if I slept enough. I’ve read enough on the matter to know that prolonged sleep deprivation can and does have a number of adverse effects on health, both mental and physical. My memory has always been bad, but got increasingly worse over the past years. My attention flits – watching me work is probably a master class in self-distraction.
Sitting here tonight, thinking about something I mentioned to a friend earlier, I had one of my slow-dawning realisations.
Since I was at Uni, I have noticed a tendency towards mood swings. Though I’ve read up on them (well, at an internet level), I’ve never really been sure if they are the normal degree, or warrant worrying over. All I know is that any time I’m more than a little happy one day, it is guaranteed that within the next day or two, my mood will swing low, often spurred by nothing at all. It’s something I complain about to close friends off and on, but have never really done anything further about.
These mood swings are often perpetuated by, and/or themselves perpetuate, a degree of social anxiety that I have. And by this, I don’t (just) mean being shy. Which I am – incredibly so. A fact often disbelieved, given my generally outgoing nature. The fact is, the anxiety manifests not necessarily in the way I present myself in public, but in what is running through my mind, generally before and after events and interactions, and sometimes even during.
I find that, as soon as I feel a little low, negative thinking prevails. Of course everyone has negative thoughts, and irrational ones also. But the degree to which mine run, and the lack of any real cause to prompt them, is a regular difficulty for me.
Conversations with friends are later picked over – did I say something stupid? Something that might have annoyed them? Something I really shouldn’t have? Any plan to meet new people, especially in groups, becomes an event in hyper-worry about how they will view me, what they will think of me – my predictions are generally not positive ones, and though 99% of the time, these doom-laden prophecies of mine are disproved by the general loveliness or at least amicability of these people, this neither prevents the dissection after the meeting, in which I manage to forget all the positive feedback, and concentrate on negatives that generally didn’t actually, really exist – wondering if I came across as too argumentative, too timid, too loud, somewhat disagreeable or stupid or whatever else springs to mind in the post-evaluation process; nor does a positive experience mean that next time I won’t have all the same negative prophecies again, even as my rational self recalls that it all turned out OK in the end.
Sitting here thinking tonight, I decided that the coming year will be the one I tackle these issues – the sleep, the anxiety, and the fluctuating moods. I do believe they’re all at least a little linked. And I do believe as well that, though I’ve complained about them, talked to friends about them, pondered them and researched them, I’ve never actually decided to take the time out to actively do anything about them.
Tackling the sleep issue seems, for me, both the most potentially doable, but also one that I know I’ve tried and failed at so many times. It’s also the one that I think holds the key, at least to a degree, to the other two.
Staying in will need to become my new going out, and each time I miss a gig or show, I will need to remind myself why I’m doing it – I can’t spend the rest of my life getting miserable each time I’ve been happy (to the extent that I actually worry if I get in ‘too’ good a mood). And when I’m rested, and emotionally stable, then I’m better able to deal with the anxieties that prevail over all my relationships, that have me feeling things are going bad, even when they’re good, or that if they have not yet, they soon will be, and that have me viewing myself so poorly through the eyes of others, projecting my insecurities onto them and translating it into negative reactions that don’t exist.
This is the first time I’ve ever really written about this in any way publicly. Partly I was inspired by a number of friends and acquaintances who speak and write candidly about their own issues of mental health. In particular, reading (and recognising bits of myself in bits of) the poet Harry Giles’ blog post made me determined to write my own, when the right time came. Partly, I really think this needs to not be something strange or shameful in any way, and the more people talk about mental health, the less it will be so. Finally, I guess it’s just that time of the night when things come out that maybe in the day, supposed right-mindedness might pull down the shutters of censorship.
“You are so weak. Give up to grace.
The ocean takes care of each wave till it gets to shore.
You need more help than you know.”
The Essential Rumi
“And we made your sleep (Subaat) as a thing for rest.”
Suah An-Naba’ (The Tidings) 78:9
“And it is He Who makes the night a covering for you, and the sleep a repose, and makes the day Nushūr (i.e., getting up and going about here and there for daily work, after one’s sleep at night).”
Surah Al-Furqan (The Criterion) 25:47
Wasi Daniju is a counsellor, photographer, and sometimes blogger at Wasi Somewhere In Between where his article was first published.