I have always had a vivid imagination and although I am sure I’ll be grateful for that when my children ask for bedtime stories off the cuff, the stronger your imagination the more you can manipulate your mind into believing anything and everything – the more you can convince yourself a molehill is Everest, and that you just won’t be able to stand the climb.
My brain can be so powerful at times that it is simple to go from ‘That deadline is really getting to me, I don’t know if I’m going to make it in time’ to ‘I’m going to lose my job/run my business into the ground/push all my loved ones away and die alone’ in about twenty minutes flat. Or five hours of tossing and turning in bed if my brain is feeling particularly devious, because night time is when the Dementors thrive.
I have never been a good sleeper since I was a little girl, but the year I was diagnosed with depression things started to get out of hand. The normal person’s midnight felt like my 7pm start-of-the-evening, and I got to know 4am very well as a bedtime during those years. I know many people that struggle with sleeping, and the problem is that night time is a very lonely place.
I have friends who, as good friends do, say ‘call me at any time, day or night, and I’ll be there’, but if I were to take them up every time I needed help they’d be getting a phone call at about 3am every morning and I doubt the practicality of that. I know they love me, and I know they’d help if they could, but unfortunately night time battles often need to be fought alone.
Coping with over-thinking and the intensity of your thoughts can be easier in the day when distraction is everywhere – you have things to do, places to be and people to see, and even if you haven’t got any of those it is much easier to busy yourself in daylight hours. It is safer to go for a walk in the park to clear your head, it is more practical to be proactive in taking your mind off things and it is much easier to find people to call for a chat when it’s not gone midnight.
Night time comes and I often get anxious about the kind of night I am going to have, which inevitably makes my worrying worse. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve gone through the whole ritual in the hope that tonight I will sleep – hot bath, cool bedroom, no phone, writing my worries down on paper to supposedly get them out of my head, lavender on the pillow, a bit of controlled breathing…but it never seems to do the trick.
I’m sure making myself comfortable and relaxed helps, but I can’t be the only one that feels it’s easier when I am busy and stressed because I don’t have a minute to contemplate just how busy and stressed I am, and having a minute to think leads me to panic that everything is ten times worse, and then I am crying and it seems that the sheer exhaustion from getting upset is what knackers me out enough to send me to sleep. And I do not want to rely on tears to make sure I am getting my 8 hours a night.
Things have got better since I moved in with my boyfriend and a routine was established. I make an effort to go to bed at the same time, sometimes as early as 10.30pm which would horrify my 19 year-old self. It takes a truly exhausting day to send me to sleep straight away, but I find the hours spent staring at the ceiling until the sky goes light outside have reduced.
It can be the loneliest thing in the world to be lying next to someone you love very much and feeling horrendous, but I try to keep in mind that no matter how awful I convince myself that life is at 3am, there is at least one person that has decided to stick with me through it. This tiny glow of a nice thought encourages me to look at my phone and scroll through a few photos of happy times or lovely messages from friends (we all have a little collection somewhere!) and it’s like a Patronus working it’s magic.
For another night the Dementors have been silenced in their tracks, and I drift off to sleep maybe not feeling ecstatic with the state of the world but at least feeling content that I am doing my best, and that is enough. My Granny was right when she said things are always better in the morning, and there is a glint of relief when you wake up to that light sky and can say you made it through another night.
I know there will be many of you who are reading this and nodding, and it gives me comfort to know once again that I am not alone in my troubles. If you should find yourself lying there with eyes wide open and a brain trying it’s best to shatter your hopes and dreams from within, just remember that the darkest hour is the hour before it starts to get light.
You will eventually fall asleep, you will eventually wake again and you will be able to fight another day and another night again. I know they say your mind is a dangerous neighbourhood and you shouldn’t go in there alone, but you are not alone, you never have been, and you never will be, no matter how it may feel.