Overthinking so you don't have to.
‘ve got this journal that I actually, physically, write in when I’m traveling. And when I have no place else to put it. And when I can’t sleep.
Last year it got a lot of mileage, particularly for the lattermost exercise. Insomnia is one of my body’s go-to ways for signaling excess amounts of stress. A problem wakes me some time after two a.m. and it simply won’t quiet until four or five. It’s bad enough once in a while; I hate starting a day feeling unrested. It is its own savage beast when it persists for days on end, into the weekend, and drawing itself out into consecutive weeks. I talked to two professionals who’ve dealt with stress-induced insomnia, and one of them suggested I think about my feelings instead of thinking about my thoughts. I’m a problem solver, a person who feels compelled to work things through in her head, and when I go to bed with something unsolved, I pick at it like I’m undoing the crust and thread in Maniac Magee’s Cobble’s Knot. Instead of living in my mind, I was advised to take it downstairs, and start living in my heart.
“When you wake up at night, thinking about the problem and what you should have done or what you could say,” she said (paraphrased), “Draw that focus away from your mind and start acknowledging your feelings.” She told me to list the feelings about that moment, a distraction from whatever thought might be addling my brain with the added benefit of helping me appreciate the positive in my life.
I attempted listing My Feelings a number of times. I was earnest in my efforts, because I knew that by living in my thoughts I was only holding myself back. The results were nearly always the same. Here is how one such soliloquy would run, it being highly representative of other Midnight Monologues:
I feel grateful to be in this place.
I feel cared for and loved.
I feel challenged by work.
I feel like I need to take deeper breaths.
I feel like I have slowed down my breathing.
I feel my muscles relaxing.
I feel my head, shoulders, chest, torso, legs, toes, arms, fingers.
I feel my stomach lift and fall.
I splay my fingers and toes, and relax them again.
I feel grateful that I can do these things.
…that I can feel.
I feel the comfort of my bed.
I feel the comforter of my bed.
I am grateful to be in a bed.
…in a house.
I feel grateful I can afford these things.
I feel the pillow beneath my head.
I feel like I am feeling a lot of things.
I feel like I should be falling asleep.
I feel like I have been awake for a long time.
I feel like I had a long day.
I feel like I have no excuse to be not sleeping.
I feel like I am in a bed with my head on a pillow and I cannot sleep.
I feel like this is not helping.
Where the Hell is sleep.
The past few months I’ve experienced nearly perfect, healthy sleeping patterns, but I have had to whip out The My Feelings List a couple of times. It’s not always fun trying to slow yourself down. The laws of physics tell us how halting a body in motion takes an external force or work.
But at least I have a pillow. I am grateful for that.