I’ve always envied the person that can fall asleep as soon as their head touches the pillow.
As a kid I spent countless nights at slumber parties listening to my friends sleep and wondering if I would ever be doing the same. I see my dad pass out on any form of transportation possible, and I have always been so fascinated by this. For me, “going to sleep” carries a whole different meaning. ”Going to sleep” for me is a process. A chore. An experience. I have dealt with anxiety my whole life. Intense in some periods of times, and more generalized in the others. If you know me, you know my mind is moving at an unnatural speed. My tongue can barely keep up with all the words I am trying to say, and I just do everything quickly. My anxiety makes me a hard worker and productive, but it also makes me feel borderline insane when I am trying to relax.
With my mind going a thousand miles a minute, you would think I would be totally exhausted at the end of the day. And I am. I am physically, emotionally and mentally tired. But my mind can’t just be shut off and hung up and put on a back shelf to pick back up in the morning. The process of slowing my mind down to a place where sleep is possible is a long and grueling process. I am not an insomniac; I am always able to sleep eventually, but a side effect of my anxiety has always been the “shutting down” time at night.
If you are not an anxious person, the next part of this post might seem completely foreign and unfamiliar to you. Maybe you are able to fall into your cozy bed and linger just for a moment in between that beautiful place of awake and asleep, and then drift off into sleep until morning. If that is you, I am so happy for you. However if you do tend to host anxiety in your mind, you might chuckle at some of the similarities you see in us. (and maybe feel less crazy).
I want to give you a glimpse into my mind when it is time to go to bed. Some days, laying down in bed is the first time I have slowed down and gathered my thoughts in 12 hours. The first moment to decompress. Between hundreds of students and trying to save the world, I told you, I move fast. For the entire day, my thoughts are just racing around freely and un-contained- very dangerous bouncing without restriction. The process of relaxing myself enough to go to sleep is divided into many phases. They come in whatever order they feel like, but almost nightly will appear in some way.
Jenna’s phases of falling asleep
As I lay in bed, suddenly all the questions of the world seem to come to mind. Some are deep and some are trivial. Can an unmarked police car pull me over? Do animals understand us? Where was I before I was born? What was I doing when Thomas Jefferson was alive? My mind likes to use the time in bed to wonder. I usually work myself up enough during this point that I will take my computer out and begin googling the answers to many of my questions. With then will lead me to Facebook.
At least once after I have gone through my nightly routine and turned off the light, I will begin to doubt and panic about random things. Did I lock the door? Are there two alarms set? Did I forget anyone’s birthday today? Do I even know what I’m teaching tomorrow? What am I going to wear in the morning? What would happen if coffee stopped existing? I know my phone is on silent, but what if someone texts me and needs me? Okay I will turn it on loud just in case. Now I can’t sleep because I am worried as soon as I start to fall asleep my phone will go off and wake me up immediately. That would be horrible. I will turn it on silent.
During this phase, I like to doubt my safety and double check all entrances in my house. And then since I am up and walking, I pour a bowl of cereal and clean up my kitchen. Do you notice how each phase leads to another distraction?
My mind likes to marvel about phenomena in the world as I am trying to fall asleep. Suddenly, I will be hit with amazement as I think about the intricacy of the highway system in the United States. How the heck did someone build that? How did they all connect it? Does anyone even take the time to appreciate highways? This is like a phase of wonderment, but it is also very emotional and overwhelming.
When my mind is buzzing along after some of the previous phases, it likes to replay certain events. Sometimes they will be things that happened that day: an interaction with a student or a road rage incident that left me emotionally scarred. Others will be events that happened long long ago: a fight with a friend, my first tooth falling out, or when my dog died. The events will replay in my mind like a movie, and then if I am bored and exhausted because I am so tired but can’t fall asleep, I will change the stories and give alternative endings. It’s like going to the movies, but free! I also choose memories to reminisce upon. Good memories, bad memories, happy memories, sad memories- sometimes I will dig back as far as I can go and try to think of my earliest memories. It’s fun.
I know all the tricks to falling asleep. There’s this thing called progressive muscle relaxation. I try that sometimes. I pray. I take melatonin. I also rock (I rock myself to sleep each night…I can’t even fall asleep in stillness). But the truth of the matter is, my mind is special and it needs a special process to be able to call it a day.
One day, I hope I can get to the point where I can lay my head down and fall asleep. But I am thinking I won’t know TRUE exhaustion until I am chasing around kids of my own, so for now I will deal with my phases until my children give me the gift of pure tiredness that is able to shut my mind down.
Sleep well friends!