It usually starts with thoughts of the immediate future.
I feel the worry build—filling the glass to the brim—losing its balance, tipping over, spilling the worry to spread across my mind, body, heart.
I feel it creep into the clench of my jaw. Settle into the soft and gentle spot between my eyebrows. It snakes its way into my shoulders as they subtly creep up toward my ears in a knotted hunch—even while lying in bed.
It seeps into the deeper crevasses of my thoughts; stirring up dust, it disturbs and awakens the sleeping “skeletons” of my past. I worry about things that have been asleep for well over a decade.
And lastly it infects my heart—makes its tempo steadily increase in a panicked sonata, matched in time to the deepening crease of my brow and a growing tightening of my low back and hips.
These things that cause such grief are often beyond my control—especially in the dead of night. And even if I could go back to change anything that keeps me up at night, would I?
I replay episodes of my past like late night reruns. I play out future scenarios. I respond to situations that have yet to occur. I plan how the next day, week, month, five years will or will not unfold.
And I let the worry have its way with me.
It tightens its grip on my thoughts (the easiest to manipulate), creates an ever expanding, consuming space to throw all those forgotten about during the day moments. Both existing and imaginary.
It runs its bony hand up and down my skin—jabbing and prodding at my tender spots, creating knots and tension. Breeding general discomfort in places that used to be malleable and open.
It grasps my heart, slowly strangling it until I can feel the pace slow—not out of acceptance, but of defeat—expanding into my chest; tightening to the point of tears.
Then the words come. These things I tell myself in the middle of the night.
They speak of past failures, mistakes, lessons learned too late. They foretell of all the different ways something could (will) go wrong. They tell me I wasn’t good enough then, why should my expectations change? They whisper vile, hurtful things, taunting me in voices from my previous lives.
But eventually I succumb. I get lost trying to sort out who has happened, who could happen, or who I want to run like hell from. And it is here that I find surrender. My breath catches sharp on my lips as I try to prevent it’s tumble into a sob.
And there’s a quiet voice that says “There is nothing you can do about anything right now—go back to sleep.”
Sometimes it works.
Often it bears repeating.
Occasionally it needs back up.
I tell myself that I have indeed learned from those “mistakes.” I may not be able to identify what, but I know on a cellular level I have.
I can not foretell the future despite worry warping my imagination into an after dark hostile playground.
I can however feel ways to plan for (and even encourage) myself to be open to what will be, and therefore be accepting of and preparing for the next wave of life that crashes onto me.
Or at least I’d like to think those last few things would be what I would tell myself in the moment if I could—but most often it is that repeated (sometimes even whispered aloud to give it strength) mantra of “There is nothing you can do about anything right now—go back to sleep.”
Perhaps that is something more people need to whisper to themselves in the middle of the night.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman