paradox: a situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.
I’m pretty sure people with mental illness could be a study in paradoxes.
One day last year I was chatting with my mom while running errands, and she asked me if the coming weekend was daylights savings. When I responded yes, she exclaimed, “oh! we get an extra hour of sleep, Jordie.”
“But it gets dark at 5pm!” I said, exasperation and pure sadness tinging my voice.
“True. That’s the worst thing about it, I guess.” my mom says, and continues on.
Yeah, that’s not the worst thing about it for me.
Today I was on my way home for Thanksgiving break. I looked out the window to see that it had slowly become pitch black on the 40 minute ride. It wasn’t even 5 o’clock yet.
I sighed, staring out the window into the darkness.
The darkness. This is why I hate daylights savings time.
My anxiety and depression overwhelm me when the sudden darkness and the long nights of the wintertime start.
I hate it. Hate. it. When it gets dark at 4,5 o’clock I feel like my day is over in the afternoon. It makes me feel like everything is enveloped in darkness and it’s going to last forever and I get sad and despairing for the night to be over. I get shaky and clammy and fearful when the world gets dark and quiet.
And yet, I can’t sleep when it’s dark. My body freaks out as soon as my head hits the pillow in the pitch blackness, and I toss and turn fitfully until light breaks through the next morning. It’s like I suddenly wake up and decide that it’s time to do all the things I apparently didn’t do during the day.
The dark is when I get most of my work done. It’s when I read, when I write, when I have quiet time.
It’s like I simultaneously shut down and wake up when the sun sets. My depression shuts me down when the sun goes down, yet because of my anxiety, I’m afraid to go to sleep. So I stay awake, hoping the dark fades soon enough.
How does this even make sense? Short answer: it doesn’t. But it’s how my brain works these days. I hate the darkness, yet it’s the only time and space I fully function.
I’ve been a night owl since college– all the late nights of paper writing, studying, and hangouts with friends caught up with me and have forced a nightly rhythm that I didn’t have before. I’d stay up till 11,12, 1am when my high school schedule typically put me to bed before 9. Totally out of my norm, but I slowly started loving those late nights of typing or late night chats that gave way to either late or coffee-filled mornings.
But it wasn’t just those school or friend things that kept me awake late. It was those things at first, but those didn’t stay the reason I went to sleep late.
I started staying up late- really late- when the panic attacks started.
I was scared. So, so scared. I was afraid if I’d sleep I’d not wake up the next morning. I was afraid I’d die in my sleep of some unknown sickness, so my solution was to not sleep. Sleeping meant I was dying. I’d cry and fight sleep with all my might. So I’d stay up till 3, 4, even 5 am– I’d be attempting to sleep as my mom was getting ready to leave for work. Attempting being the key word. I’d be in my room (both at home and in the dorm) alone, scared that I wouldn’t see the next day.
I thought that if I could avoid the dark by staying awake until the light, I’d be okay.
Then I’d do it all over again the next night. It was a constant, terrifying cycle for 3 or 4 months.
I was absolutely, devastatingly broken in this season.
Thankfully the introduction of medicine and therapy specifically for my anxiety helped me find solutions to get sleep– even though I was still slightly terrified of dying in my sleep.
2 years later and I’m still fearful of that happening.
Life circumstances have changed and have forced me back into the rhythms of the morning: living with 4 morning people who consider 5-6am a normal wake up time (why why WHYYY?!?) and who typically go to bed before 10 has forced me to change my ways a bit; working a job that sometimes equates to 12-14 hours days has left me perpetually exhausted and in dire need of sleep, so I’ve been going to bed generally earlier than my college dorm days, pre and post-GAD diagnosis.
I’ve been getting up at 7 or 8 to read my devotional and prep for the day, still groggy from my broken sleep the night before. I’ve been going to bed around 9 or 10, depending on how long my day was and what the next day looks like.
And yet. This change has caused my sleep-related anxiety to creep back in. This forcing early sleep has made sleep almost near impossible (or good sleep impossible– broken sleep is barely sleep). I’ve been back living in that fear of not waking up the next morning for the past few weeks (especially since daylights savings ended). It’s kept me from getting good sleep, waking up every 3 or so hours. I’ve been back to being alone with my thoughts and fears at night, when the house gets quiet and still at 9, 10pm. When the house gets dark so early (especially when the outside matches the inside of the house), it causes my brain to get all jittery and fearful at the nighttime. It causes me to get overwhelmed by the darkness and freak out. So my anxiety has been back in full force lately, once again causing me to stay awake later in the night for hopes that the morning would be here soon. I don’t have the “luxury” of staying up till the sun rises these days thanks to the nature of my job, but I instead toss and turn in my sleep, waking up every few hours hoping that I’m okay and the light has returned.
There are some nights when I need to pace or talk to shake out of this feeling, but no one in the house is awake, and my pacing would disturb the people sleeping so I just sit in my bed overthinking everything that’s giving me anxiety. When the lights go off in the house, the lights turn on in my brain– and it makes me feel anxious and shaky until I wake up to the light’s return; and with that, I feel like I can breathe again.
At least when I would have those rough anxiety nights in the dorm, I could waltz out of Elam and go for a walk, breathing in the outside air for a few minutes and calm myself down. Or I could find a friend/RA usually awake that I could talk to. Adulthood (or our Leap year version of adulthood haha) is different. I don’t have that same buffer, that same out that I had when the anxiety started in college.
So now I’ve got to come up with new ways to curb the anxiety in this new life chapter. Wee. I thought I was done with this, people.
I want the nighttime to just be nighttime. I want it to signal rest and sleep and peace like it does for so many others, and not be this place of fear and overwhelmingness. I want to feel safe going to sleep, and not feel most alive at night when my anxiety is amped because of the darkness.
I thought being afraid of the dark was for childhood. But this isn’t just fear of the dark; it’s fear of what the darkness brings. It’s fear of perpetual darkness, the feeling that the darkness will envelope me and not let go.
It’s the fear that I’m not going to wake up from the darkness the night brings. The fear that the light won’t come the next morning or stay long enough to keep my anxiety and sadness at bay.
So now I must deal with this fear of the dark– not the actual darkness, but the feeling it gives me when the sun goes down and the lights go off. Because I know the light is coming… I just wish it stayed longer and came back sooner.
I don’t want to be fearful of the dark. And I don’t want to live waking up at the dark’s arrival, fearful until the light returns (only to start this cycle over the next day). It’s exhausting living in this way.
My brain really hates living in this state of paradox. I really hate both hating the dark and it being the time I’m most awake, living in this state of anxiety that the dark ushers in and won’t let go until light comes back the next day. It sucks feeling like this; it sucks living like this.
I know and believe the light always comes in the morning… I just wish it’d come soon and last longer than the night.