The mental link between anxiety and tiredness is a strong one. The blackest of moments for me always showed up with both fear and brain mushing exhaustion. Back then, compounding sleep debt from insomnia, with zero mindfulness knowledge, and a green understanding of what was happening inside biochemically was a pretty solid recipe for paralysing anxiety. The work I have done over the years has revealed rationale for how I felt back then, but I guess my psyche wants a little more proof before it lays down its guns.
It’s natural for the mind to scan for threats – it’s in our makeup. So it was no surprise to me when I felt the glory of the day’s victory fade into the background whilst chilling with Kenny in the common area of the ski lodge. Tiredness was beginning to rain on my parade and memories of trembling in the band room corner before stage started flashing across my mind, as if it was giving me insight into tomorrow’s performance. “Caught ya mother fucker!” Seeing that thought just as it is, and knowing it’s not a glimpse of the crystal ball kept me from being swept up. The rest was all about bringing in a bit of self-compassion to the situation. “Dude, its all good. It’s all part of the process of getting back on the horse. Of course, there are going to be some worries and hot emotions”. Don’t get me wrong, I had some great moments hanging with one of my best mates, and the contentment was still there, but it moved in waves. Whilst I didn’t get snagged, the whole process of compartmentalising thoughts that accompanied strong memory based emotion was weighing me down. It’s still new to me and isn’t second nature yet. I went to bed.
I’m all too familiar with Insomnia. Whilst it’s not all that common these days, three years of it with no sleeping pills makes you pretty good at managing it mentally and emotionally. I hit the sack at 11pm and giggled to myself as my buzzing body and monkey mind saw 3am on the watch. “My old friend, it’s been a while.” “Oh hello worrying thoughts!” I’m pretty sure the encounters with my inner Gollum and Smeagol went something like this:
“You’re going to be fucked tomorrow. You’ll be so tired and anxious that you won’t even be able to get out of your room.”
“Thanks for your repetitive concerns but that’s not happening right now. Right now its quiet, snowing outside and I’m lying in a warm bed. I’ve been in worse situations. Good night.”
“Oh yeah, but soon you’re going to have to get up and deal with a whole heap of people you don’t know, with a mushy mind of loony thoughts. You won’t be able to eat because you are so nervous, and you’re stuck here on this mountain until Sunday. You’ll bail playing on stage. Insomnia will stack up. You’ll consequently be so weak and depressed and anxious that you won’t even be able to drive home. A family member will have to fly down to Cooma airport to drive you and your car back. You’ll be delivered home to your family looking like a corpse. Is that a chest pain? Yeah you’re probably about to have a heart attack! No-one will hear. You’ll die.”
“Yeah yeah yeah. Heard it all before. Bring on the heart attack. Give me what you got baby. If that’s my fate, no point worrying about it. I’ll still enjoy my bed. You’re a douche.”
All that within a few minutes!
Welcoming the fearful thoughts is one of the most powerful techniques I’ve learnt. The only thing that keeps fear alive is resistance. Resistance just gives more for the “worrying mind” to use on us. As soon as you say, “Cool. Bring it on”, it’s left with nothing to do. Why? Because its power doesn’t go beyond thought. It can’t turn the skies black. It can’t make the mountains crumble. It can only use the imagination. And we know that imagination is no crystal ball. Its only means of manifesting these situations is by triggering emotions and physical sensations, but WE have to believe it before that can happen.
At 4am, I took a good look at the situation and remembered my goals. I came down here to get out of my comfort zone and gig. Not to go back as a boiled and born-again human. I assessed the possible challenges, prioritised and decided that dealing with insomnia was for another trip. I was happy that I did the mental work to stay grounded. That was victory enough. What was left was contentment in a buzzing body that was never going to surrender to slumber. I popped a sleeping tablet – fine about it.
I opened my eyes four hours later as “me” of the past – alone, struggling, and overwhelmed. I was withdrawn, exhausted and low on will power. Already with the fucking anticipatory self doubting stories. I focused on my breath and environment to ground myself. After 5 minutes, the concerns were still there, but not taking up all of my focus. This is why morning routines are so damn important.
With the blinds drawn to reveal an ice-cold amusement park of soft white powder, it was difficult not to feel a little lighter. It was pretty awesome!
In the mornings, I do a bit of Qi Gong or general stretches for around 15-20 minutes. The object is to focus on the breath and general physical sensations. Each time the mind goes wandering, I gently bring it back knowing that it’s all a natural part of the process, no matter how hot the thoughts are. I follow it up with a meditation. This time I tried something a little different.
It’s a little cliché, but it’s said that we have all the wisdom we need to face each moment as it presents itself. There’s often many layers of thought, emotion and other patterns that get in the way. So I decided to test the theory. I spent the first 10 minutes of meditation focused on my body whilst watching my thoughts roll by. I then brought to mind a “wise figure” which will remain unnamed. Don’t freak out, it’s not a god. I simply put a question to it and here’s are the answers that popped up. I was blown away. I didn’t think I had this in me.
- First, respect that this is part of the process of stepping out of the comfort zone. Allow for it and don’t put any more thought into it. Nothing is going wrong.
- Focus/anchor to the things that matter. Focus out the things that don’t. What matters right now? Family. Playing music. Being here in the moment.
- Resistance is showing you what doesn’t work anymore. Maybe the things that used to excite you don’t because you’ve changed, and not because you’re depressed. Instead of trying to resuscitate the joys of the past, focus on finding new ones.
- Be you. Don’t try to be anything more.
I woke up from that meditation as if a cold and heavy iron suit had been lifted from my body. The veil over my eyes was removed. The warmth of my new purposeful forethoughts opened me right up. The fears were still there, but they now resembled an over-dramatic little kid…I couldn’t help but smile at the pickle I got myself out of. Mind you, one that was never there! It was time to take on the “moving trees” (as a fan put it) of the ski slopes for the first time since I was 10. Just like leaving my boy yesterday, it felt refreshing to now be dealing with a challenge that seems justified. Numbness was now replaced with a grounded excitement. Bring it on!