Two nights ago I woke at 2 am. It’s a fairly regular occurrence, and normally I toss and turn for a couple minutes then drift back to sleep. Sometimes I get up and wander the house before returning to bed. Occasionally I dip into my latest book for half an hour until sleep slides through the back of mind and tugs my eyelids downwards.
We have a new couch in our spare room, liberated from a lady in Preston who ‘wanted it to go to a good home rather than land fill’. It’s not particularly new (it came replete with stains reminiscent of a well-loved life, the wrinkles we gather through a life well lived), its not particularly comfortable (‘hard as a rock’ was one quote), but it was free and we’re saving the planet, one uncomfortable stained couch at a time. It also creaks slightly when you shift your weight.
So imagine me: sleepless, wrapped in a sleeping bag, sideways on a slightly creaking couch, reading a book on copyright reform. After mindlessly flipping the same three pages for twenty minutes, I close my book and allow my mind to drift. I’ve become aware over the last several weeks that there are some issues I keep coming back to, and rather than resolving them, I’ve pushed them down into that back part of my mind, the part that only works when I’m incredibly bored or asleep. I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve been bored since around 2008 (symptoms of a busy life, and the smart phone revolution), so my mind doesn’t get much time to work through the issues I choose to ignore.
It’s somewhat similar to the computer at my old workplace that no-one turned off for seven years (actually), and when someone accidently plugged the toaster in to the same power socket as a hair dyer, the building’s fuse flipped. When we flipped it back on, the computer attempted to restart itself, but being four versions of an operating system out of date, and having never had a security update it attempted to download 600 gigabytes of data to a 100 gig hard drive. We left it chugging away for two weeks and finally put it out of its misery, sending it to the repair guy who gutted it and put a brand new computer into the old metal box. Same old body, brand new mind, some slight foibles. The main negative was we lost some seven years worth of scanned documents (it was ostensibly my job to re-scan all these documents, but I quit shortly after to begin a career as a jazz drummer).
So what am I dwelling on, and how do I protect myself from allowing it to overload me? Where’s the reset button for the human mind? Are there effective ways to regain healthy sleep patterns?
I find my biggest sense of solace in a little diary that sits by my bedside. I’ve perfected the art of picking it up, scrambling for the pen that always finds its way to the floor below and shuffling in darkness out the door and down the hall to the spare room in silence. Flip the lights and begin to write.
It takes pages of fluff to get to the crux of the issue. And the issue is never the same. But as I flip in daylight through my night-time journal I find the same issues re-appearing, re-creating themselves in different guises, sliding themselves from the hidden cracks in the back of my mind and through my head to my eyelids where they force themselves into consciousness and force my eyelids open and force my awareness to engage with them.
Writing them down helps. My conscious mind knows I can engage with them later if they physically exist in the world. Writing them down also gives me scope to scoff at past Nathan’s worries. Like the worry I had in 2011 that I’d pissed off a friend who wasn’t returning my calls (turns out he’d dropped his phone into a toilet and spent two weeks living on vegemite sandwiches to save up the $200 needed to buy a third hand iPhone 3). Or the worry that I can’t play drums (turns out that I can play drums, but comparing yourself to others is a quick trip to an unsatisfied destination). Or years of worry that I might occasionally suffer from insomnia. You know, just casual stuff.
Drinking wine with friends helps. There’s a beautiful space, generally one or two wines in where you gain the ability to download your worries on to other people. Sort of like the Matrix, without the technology or karate. Heck, you can probably do it without the wine at all, it’s the friends bit that’s truly effective, but man is good at making tools to suit every occasion, and wine suits this scenario.
Exercise absolutely helps. It’s probably the most effective method of dealing with worries, but hardest of all to implement, because it requires putting on running shoes and that’s often a bridge too far. If only putting on shoes was as easy as opening a new Google Chrome tab to watch Youtube.
In the end I wrote down three big ideas that had been worrying me for the last couple of weeks. I woke up today and one of them had silently resolved itself. No input from me, it just untangled its knots and appeared in my inbox. Not sure if there’s a lesson here.
Ps. If anyone needs a couch to crash on, we have one. 😉