This article has been the hardest of all to write. Not because the subject matter is particularly daunting, deep or traumatic. But because it is the first time I have had to overcome fatigue and bodily wariness in a long, long time. Normally I am straight on a computer after a CBT session, full of energy and a desire to share with the world the wonders of cognitive behavioural stuff! Today, I had to overcome a big barrier of fatigue just to be here writing this, and I can’t promise anything special.
My recent episode of sleep deprivations seems to come from two places. Firstly, A gradual build up of anxieties, natural to living in a busy, expensive, polluted city. Secondly a loud idiot next door who shouts and wails at random intervals into the early hours. And I guess there is ultimately my own anxious personality and thinking patterns which can turn problems into serious problems. This I discovered from today’s CBT.
Lets start with the shouting. At random intervals in the night, a man will shout. It won’t be massively loud, but loud enough to jar you, or awaken you. For me it feels like his voice has entered by body, my being is filled with his sound. It is the exact same wail every time, a supposedly songful sound, but in truth, a horrible, mechanical, repetitive, intrusive load of shite. I came to associate any noise he made with the possibility of a wail or shout, and this puts me into a downward spiral of hyper-vigilance, which prevents me from having decent rest and recovering.
I didn’t realize how much this was effecting me. On the first day it was a nuisance. On the second day it hampered my ability to fall asleep. On the third I bashed on the wall at midnight and came close to telling him to shut the fuck up. On the fourth there was no shouting, but my system was in constant vigiliance, and wouldn’t let me fall asleep easily. This causes feelings of frustration, which develop into rage, something highly unconducive to falling asleep. I was, and still am, catastrophizing about the effects of sleeplessness.
Today in therapy we discussed this and revealed I do have unrealistic expectations and standards. I always feel the need to be active, alert and at around 80-90% capacity. I know we can never be at 100%, but I am very wary of being weak and vulnerable, especially having lived in countless environments where appearing unaware can be dangerous. It might seem obvious that this is a vicious cycle – the more you want to make yourself capable, the more you fear incapability, the more prone you are to anxiety and thus incapability. My therapist was very good in challenging this through questioning, making me run through the evidence and realize the vicious cycle. (But I don’t think it is entirely bad to have such high standards. Human beings are hunters by evolution, it makes sense that we will want to be capable of reacting to threat or opportunity at every possible occasion.)
But with me there is an additional problem, and the heart of the problem. The formation of patterns. I have used patterns to some good effect, building up positive days and exploits to get me out of panic disorder. The downside is, one or two shit days and I fear a bad pattern forming. This rigid thinking really is a double-edged sword, and never far from a downward spiral. The challenge is to be more flexible, to accept more sad days as inevitable. This is not easy to do.
My mind is prone to catastrophizing and thinking the worst. This is why the nuisance of an inconsiderate idiot’s shouting can become something frightening and world-shaking. If I stop fearing the predicted outcome of losing sleep, my body should become less hyper-vigilant toward such disturbances. I don’t feel our session quite went into enough detail. How could it? One hour cannot cover a lifetime of being this way. But it has been very helpful, in hindsight. I am less afraid of sleep deprivation, and less prone to it.
There was also the factor of a build up of anxieties. We tend not to realize sometimes how anxiety gets us. It is like a shadowy assassin, slowly poisoning you drop by drop. For the considerate, this causes internal strife and restlessness. For the inconsiderate, this inspires the harming of others to regain a sense of control. I am sadly in the former category of person, and so the day-to-day banalities of life occasionally build up and make it difficult to function, even at 50% or so.
But its not only the cost of living and banal problems like that. The backdrop of an idiot sitting on America’s nuclear arsenal, catastrophic climate change threatening to wipe out everything that breathes, the dissolution of communities and the watered-down experience of Facebook and the like to replace it, new technologies falling into the hands of powerful capitalists; among a host of world events and tragedies, make anxiety quite a normal and relatively sensible state to be in. How we react to that anxiety is another matter entirely – with fear and paranoia, or the will to change things and become more harmonious. Or like myself, a mixture of the two. Nevertheless, I entirely understand why it is there.
These worries are definitely harming natural, harmonious functioning. Not only in me, but in so many citizens of the ‘so-called’ first world. This includes that most natural and essential, but mysterious, phenomena that is sleep. Sadly, I can’t think of a way around this off the top of my head. Maybe to paraphrase Alain De Botton and to see the odd night of insomnia as a creative gift to be cherished. And to realize that normality isn’t quite so normal, and lots of people have trouble sleeping. This doesn’t give me much solace. If I could sleep eight hours a night without disturbance for the rest of my life, I would.
Learning what I have about my own need for patterns and rigid routines, challenging negative thoughts by seeking evidence, practicing breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation, I should have a decent night’s kip tonight, and be back up to a decent level of running, without fatigue tomorrow. I at least can write a half-way decent article three days into moderate sleep deprivation! I venture to say then that it isn’t quite as bad as anxiety has made it out to be, (even though it is far from ideal). As with all things in life, the breaking of the pattern has made me realize the pattern. Perhaps this is the key to changing it, and perhaps something better will actually emerge from it. I don’t know, lets see.