At three o’clock in the morning, I had a revelation. Christopher Hitchens was wrong. It isn’t religion that poisons everything. It’s thinking. Lying awake in the blanket silence, the rest of the household sleeping, the mind tends to go into overdrive. Your entire life becomes the subject for debate, except there’s no-one around to field the questions.
I’ve suffered from insomnia for short periods ever since I can remember. Sometimes as the result of chemical over indulgence (chemical imbalance some might say), and sometimes because of depression. The combination of mental and physical exhaustion and the resulting paranoia that goes with it, leaves a lasting impression on the psyche. Lately, I’ve come to challenge my fears around this issue and to examine the causes, if any, in a bid to gain a better understanding of this debilitating condition.
Exercise is a must. Sitting around stuffing myself full of food and going to bed after midnight isn’t good for me. I’m used to being active. The self-imposed rest period I have around Christmas means that I drop the year-round swimming and cycling in favour of the odd brisk walk to keep me from stagnating. But, I have to admit, in the last few days, I haven’t done much of anything, apart from sit around and indulge my vices. Hence, the slow decline into corpulence, via the sofa and the remote control.
Eckhart Tolle was right. Thinking is, indeed, mankind’s greatest enemy. The central theme for his bestseller The Power of Now might not have been all that original, but you couldn’t fault the general principle. All, or most, of our troubles are of our own making. And most of them begin with the seed of thought, planted by the subconscious to cause as much consternation as possible.
Working out your entire life problems at three o’clock in the morning is not advisable. Read a book, or make a cup of cocoa as the guidelines suggest. Failing that, walk the dog (if you have one). Deserted streets are, surprisingly, far less daunting than the tomb-like isolation of the bedroom.
Learn to relax. Lying awake all or most of the night isn’t pleasant, but fighting it is worse still. Keep calm and resist throwing back the covers in vengeful anger. Time passes. Slowly, admittedly, but it does pass. As you lie there, cocooned in your warm quilt, listen to the silence and think how peaceful it is. The closest you’ve been to tranquility all day.
The mind is a washing machine on eternal full spin. To stop it or slow it down you need one of two things. Heavy tranquilizers or a course in meditation. As ordinary earthbound mortals, we’re all fleeing the same thing. Dark and sinister tunnels of the mind, opened up in childhood and never quite boarded up again. Insomnia welcomes all these uninvited guests, like the residential home in a Stephen King novel.
As each grim cycle churns over the past and the future for reappraisal, we look for something else to cling to. The most trivial distraction might offer some relief. Television, internet food shopping, football, malt loaf. Anything to take the mind off the revolving drum, the endless permutations that create anxiety and resolve nothing.
Me, I’ll be glad when it’s all over. In fact, as I peer vacantly at the digital clock, I see that , thankfully, it is. Hurrah! I’ve seen in the New Year with eyes wide open and survived with senses intact. My first act will be to throw myself in the local swimming pool to celebrate the end of sloth. The dog-eared manuscript, left in temporary exile in the third drawer down, is next on the list. Maybe I’ve written something that’s salvagable. Whatever the outcome, thank God it’s over. Christmas, that is.
(Originally drafted on New Year’s Eve 2011)