The other night, I fell asleep early in the evening. After several hours of dozing in an armchair, I woke up enough to put myself to bed. I consciously didn’t turn on lights; I even kept my eyelids lowered to maintain the illusion that I was still sleeping. All of this effort was intended to keep me from waking up enough to have trouble getting back to sleep.
Unfortunately, force of habit caused me to tap the mail icon on my phone when I picked it up to set an alarm. And there, staring me in the face, was an email from work. I opened it and read it. Immediately, I regretted doing so: my heart rate rose rapidly, my breathing became shallow, and I was in the throes of a midnight anxiety attack before I even realized what was happening. Suddenly, everything I hadn’t done or hadn’t done perfectly came rushing into my brain. My miles-long to-do list landed with a crushing thud on my solar plexus.
I said farewell to sleep for the night.
One of the things I found myself doing in the course of the sleepless hours that followed, was randomly rereading posts from this blog. The longevity of nearly seven years offers the humbling discovery that, despite the myriad changes that have taken place both internally and externally in that time, I have certain perennial life issues – as evidenced by this post from February 2011:
When I start to feel pressure from the things I know are on the horizon, I have a tendency to give anxiety free-reign. And as I feel more anxious, I grow less patient, less able to take minor setbacks in stride. As anxiety reaches fever pitch, I begin to resent the conditions in which I find myself – as if I didn’t have a hand in creating them.
Because a lot, though not all, of what I will be doing in this busy period is work related, I will have a tendency to blame my job for the outcomes of my anxiety – if I snap at someone, if I drop the ball and let a friend down, if I miss an appointment. So my challenge is to remain centered and on task in my own life, and to not allow myself to abdicate responsibility for my actions.
Parker Palmer, my go-to guy, says this, in A Hidden Wholeness:
“The notion that we cannot have what we genuinely need is a culturally induced illusion that keeps us mired in the madness of business as usual. But illusions are made to be broken. Am I busy? Of course I am. Am I too busy to live my own life? Only if I value it so little that I am willing to surrender it…”
My challenge, now as it was then, is to remain centered and on task in my own life. This includes having the self-discipline to skip checking my email at midnight and to forego entering the spiral of anxiety in order to preserve any hope of sleep! I haven’t exactly been surrendering my life to busy-ness as much as allowing it to slip away, often in empty hours of wakefulness.
It’s an odd feeling when your past self speaks directly to your present quandary. But it is also kind of nice to be reminded of lessons you’ve already learned. Reapplying them is often easier than the initial learning curve.
And on that note, I believe it’s time for bed!