I put my bookmark between the pages, and placed the book on my bedside table, turning off the lamp and rolling onto my side. For a brief moment the thought of sleep was beautiful and seemed overwhelming, until… POP… eyes open, brain on fire.
What was I going to do about …?
How am I going to make x work?
It’s all going to come crashing down, and I’ll be left with these heaps of rubble and what if, what if, what if?
I didn’t plan on the anxiety. Seemingly out of no where every worry that lived, covered, in the shadows at the back of my otherwise optimistic mind, had come crashing in on me, and sleep was no longer an option.
I started to sort. Putting the different worries into different bite sized boxes. We all know that you eat an elephant one bite at a time, and right now this elephant was sitting on my chest, keeping me awake, when all I wanted was sleep.
Once the boxes were categorized into neat little piles, I started to review the exterior of the boxes. Did I really want to go there? Did I really want to wake up this sleeping elephant, and cause it to stampede over me? Couldn’t I leave the box closed?
And so I went about creating solutions to all these boxes, rounding them up, placing them into new boxes and working around in circles. When I felt like I had a good solution to my worries I tried to go back to sleep. Closing my eyes, thinking happy thoughts…
Those fucking boxes wouldn’t get in line.
And so I did what anyone would in that moment. I tried to distract myself. I turned on the lamp, picked up the book, and started to read. Reading always helps me fall asleep.
Not on this night.
Grabbing a blanket I went to the living room and started watching an episode of NCIS. Because seriously, when your worries get you down, where else should you turn but a naval crime drama that makes you realize your life is easy compared to all these poor (fictional) marines that are getting murdered at home.
Eventually the exhaustion and the distraction worked and I went back to bed. But the damage had been done. I had lost precious hours of sleep, and I still had these boxes jiggling around in my head, with just their surface solutions tagged to the outside like a fragile sticker.
In the morning it became quite clear, to deal with anxiety and worry, I’d have to open the boxes. Mark Twain once said “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened.” He’s absolutely right. We often worry about completely minor and unimportant things, to the point of exhaustion. But what happens when those worries turn into something bigger, they stem from bigger issues that you need to address.
Those little worries, that often never happened used to bug me a lot in my old career. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and be worried about completely random and minor things, that at the end of the day, would result in nothing. They would keep me up at night, and I wouldn’t be able to get past them, until the light of the next morning would remind me that maybe I was being a little ridiculous.
Worries always seem so much bigger when you can’t define the boundaries of them as they blend into the darkness. And as soon as the morning light shines, we see that the worry we had wasn’t that big monstrous thing after all, but a tiny concern hiding in the shadows.
And sometimes, in the light we realize that maybe our worries are stemming from something a bit bigger, and in order to move forward, we need to open the box and dig in. Because if we continually ignore the things that are pulling at our mind, eventually your mind is pulled completely off course and it takes a lot of time and effort to get it back again.
Sometimes, we need help unpacking boxes, but there can be so many incredible rewards in doing so. When I started to unpack my boxes I realized that I had allowed fear to stop me from moving forward with something, that had snowballed into a new issue, which had created the big lump of worries and anxiety that had kept me up that night. And that really the thing I needed to deal with was that fear, because once I was able to overcome that, I knew that I would be able to move forward, and the remaining issues would no longer be factors, and I would no longer need those boxes.
And so, if you take nothing else from this diatribe on the night I couldn’t sleep, think about this:
- When you shine light on your worries, are they really as big as you thought they were?
- Are you packing your worries into boxes with fragile stickers, waiting to be knocked over in the middle of the night, when it’s dark and hard to understand the scale of the concern?
- Are you avoiding unpacking your boxes?
Sometimes when we avoid unpacking our boxes its because they have become irrelevant. Like all the boxes in your storage room from the last time you moved, just throw that shit out, and focus on the important boxes. Approach your worries like a minimalist approaches shopping – only keep the ones that actually matter, and unpack those before they ruin your sleep.