Monday, April 30, 2007


It is well-enough known that new motherhood is not conducive to well-restedness: babies generally don't let you sleep as much as you would like. How frustrating, then, that my Miss Baby now sleeps through the night, and I do not! I wouldn't say that I am an insomniac, but the nights that find me tossing and turning fruitlessly in the dark for hours are becoming more frequent and more regular.

So here I am writing to you at 4 in the morning--I might as well do something, right?

When I was younger--in my teens and twenties--I had a terror of this long dark midnight of the soul. One of the reasons I then was such a nightowl was that staying up on purpose forestalled lying in the dark and worrying. And I was always a worrier. I worried about the usual stuff, about being single forever, or about the failing of whatever relationship I happened to be in. About school and grades and homework assignments neglected and coming due. About what Life Held for Me in the Future. Tired but ever less sleepy, I would drift into more amorphous worries: always prey to 'imposter syndrome,' I would inevitably call the worth and purpose of my very existence into question. Good times! One of the main perks of 10 years of student life turned out to be that I could sleep in until noon after one of these episodes, put some serious distance between myself and the worry.

As I've aged and, I hope, matured, I worry about different things and about the same things. I don't think, for example, that I slept at all the night that Pynchon and I put in the successful offer on our house. The magnitude of the commitment, the legal irrevocability of it, both to the bank and to each other, awed me. A marital cliché, I also of course often lie awake in bed calculating budgets and bills and to-do lists major items from which escape my notice until 3am. The responsibilities of adulthood defeat me in the dark. The idea of managing food, shelter, nurturance--keeping body and soul together--for myself and my family seem in the middle of the night responsibilities to which I am unequal. I am pervaded by a nagging sense of dread. Nothing is right in the middle of the night.

The miserable loop of my nighttime thought process wraps me ever tighter across the chest as I roll and toss--I'll never get tenure because someone else scooped me on my book! How can we pay for daycare and property taxes on a reduced income in the same month! How can I get everything packed for our trip to Cuba! Where are the passports! Why on earth are we going to Cuba when we're so crunched for money! Now we owe a walloping tax bill for reasons inscrutable! Will Miss Baby be happy with my sister and mother for a week! How can I leave her! How come every time we fix something in our house something else falls apart! I'm hungry! I haven't had my hair cut for six months! When did I become such a frump! Am I old, and if so how can I still be so unformed, so immature! Immature and frumpy, Jesus what a stupid reason to like awake worrying! How will I ever stay awake for my full-day teaching workshop tomorrow! Why am I even going to a four day teaching workshop when I need to write a book! I'll never get tenure ... and the loop comes around again. For hours.

What always amazes me, though, is that by morning it all seems (pardon me) like a bad dream, nothing the light of day can't chase away. Even on drastically reduced sleep everything seems brighter. Doable. My dread thoughts of the hours prior reveal themselves to be mere chimeras of false logic, fatigue, and self-pity, easily vanquished by simple daytime doingness. I'm always tired after one of these nights, obviously, but I always manage to shake my head at my own silly fears--"I can't believe that kept me up all night," I chide myself. I write a cheque, or make a list, or start a new research project. I drink a lot of coffee and resolve to try to be calmer.*

I see the pattern, but I still can't shake night's clammy grip, can't loose myself from the claustrophobic worry with which it envelops me. But it is one thing to understand the futility of a course of action, and quite another thing to change course. Sleepless, I usually don't even manage to get of bed, to untangle worried me from the mess untidy sheets and blankets, uncomfortable me even more uncomfortable from a desire to not wake poor peaceful Pynchon. How pitiful to not even take the minimal step of walking away from my own terrible thoughts, too hopeless even to soothe myself with TV or some blogs. I usually just lie awake, awe-struck, miserable, feeling culpable and afraid until suddenly it's morning and I must have been sleeping again.

I have read that when worries keep me awake I might write them down, to translate amorphous dread into a plan for aciton. So here I am, in my dark midnight house, feeling the chill on my bare arms and explaining myself through my fingers. Trying to chase the ghosts away in the light of a laptop screen, to lull myself to drowsiness with the soft clicking of keys. The night, though, is a place, a topsy-turvy world where competent, cheery, daytime me can't operate. No amount of list-making can soften its fearsome topography. Night, sleepless worried night, is a space that must simply be traversed, the scary void between know territories, the dark hallway shadows between the nightlights that I rushed through, heart-pounding, in midnight trips to the bathroom as a child.

How silly it all is! Maybe, though, the defeats of the nighttime offer a necessary darkness to my otherwise charmed life. Maybe the night keeps me humble, reminds me that things are not always easy, that a good attitude is sometimes insufficient. That the human soul is not endlessly capable of easing its own cares. That it is vulnerable. That I am vulnerable.

Tomorrow--today!--the mists will clear. I'll write you something about about the wonderful wonderful bloggy fun over here this weekend, of new old friends, of surprising connections, and of the intensity of interaction that comes when bloggers who already 'know' each other 'meet'.
* I didn't say my judgment improved. Only my outlook. Morning can only do so much.


Beck said...

Hm. That's not fun. I do that on occasion, but for the most part, my worries can wait until the busy day. When I AM up late fretting, it sometimes helps me to work things all the way through to their worst possible conclusion: if my husband lost his job, for example, I'd have to go work at the grocery store and live with my in-laws until we got on our feet again. And once I realize that things are NOT that bad, it's okay.
(and my husband's job is not at risk, but you know what I mean.)

slouching mom said...

You've just described to a tee how I spent so many nights as a child. I don't know why I don't lie awake in the night anymore.

I think it may be something as prosaic as not getting enough sleep -- so that these days when my head hits the pillow, I am OUT.


Beck's 'prescription' is actually the same as that used by many psychologists -- that taking your fears to their logical conclusion makes them more manageable.

cinnamon gurl said...

I totally couldn't tell that your hair hadn't been cut in 6 months... it looked pretty chic to me.

And, um, property taxes... I have heard (of course I wouldn't know from personal experience or anything) that nothing really bad happens if you don't pay your property taxes exactly on time... they tack a bit of interest on, but you can pay a month, two months late... just in case that helps.

I didn't sleep well last night either but it was because of Swee'pea as much as my racing thoughts lingering from the exciting weekend.

But I totally know what you mean about the lonely expanse of night to get through...

crazymumma said...

I am one of those 4am fretters as well.

Sounds like you need that holiday big time!

Mad Hatter said...

Frump? Frump.

Next time this happens, give that pretty little head of yours a shake and remember that if you find yourself thinking you're a frump, you are clearly not thinking with a rational mind.

BTW, I do this too sometimes and I haven't really done it since early university days. It's just one more way our children break our sleep patterns in destructive ways. I sure wish there was an answer other than time.

nomotherearth said...

Sometimes it all just seems like too much to handle, huh? I am so there.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Oh, I know. Nothing worse then lying sleepless worrying and thinking, I must sleep! Immediately!

I must have been channelling you last night. I wonder if you were commenting on my blog at the same moment that I was lying awake (my sick child woke me, but SHE fell back asleep) & having this waking nightmare about both my kids falling in the river just above the dam and me shouting help! help! and trying decide which child to save pheeeeeeeeeewwww. I welcomed daylight.

Omaha Mama said...

Oh my goodness. It's as if you typed that right out of my brain! I've had those nights since I was a young girl. Back then it seemed morning would never come. Now I can logically worry away the night with the comfort of an oncoming morning. I like how you put that it keeps you humble, that's a great perspective. I often think about the poor souls who live their life in that state if left unmedicated, people I've worked with whose anxieties make them absolutely crazy. It gives me a tiny bit of empathy. Even for those who do unspeakable things. The mind can be a terrible thing. It makes me so grateful to know that the cure for my darkest thoughts is a sunrise, which you can always count on.

I'm so glad you got up to type. That was riveting.

Jenifer said...

My mind does exactly the same thing. I must admit I do this much less now that I am not working, staying at home causes me to fall into deep coma like sleep it seems. I too have stared out into the dark while my mind whirls and churls a million miles an hour. I have read things I have written in those moments and cannot recognize that person in the morning.

You are not alone my friend.

NotSoSage said...

I do this, too. Thankfully, less often than a few years ago (again, the tiredness) but last night is an example.

Mme L has started opening her door and taking her time in the hallway before she visits us in our room. Our tenant is currently away, but he has a tendency to sometimes leave the front door to the house unlocked late at night. I lay awake last night worrying that one day Mme L would wander downstairs and out the door and I would HAVE to speak to the tenant about being more vigilant in locking our door. The irrational part is that this kept me awake for HOURS and he's not even around.

In the daylight, it all seems so strange. But I think I'm going to put an automatic lock on our front door.

I hope no posts means you've found some rest the last few nights.