I managed to sit earlier than for the past few weeks for the third time in a row today. When I started the challenge, I decided to start to write before 9pm. But from the third day, it became quickly impossible to do for some reason. I would always find a thousand reasons to do other things beforehand. Most of my essays until 18/100 were written during the night, like a lot of things I wrote in my life.
When I started to write, and for years, I would strictly do it between midnight and 6am.
I always loved the night. My insomnia so often felt like being allowed to be by myself, in a quiet environment, and being free of doing whatever I want, at my freaking pace, with any of my weird habits enabled, unjudged. It still sometimes does feel like this.
It reminds me of being a teenager, and finding so much relief knowing everyone in the house was sleeping. I could finally just read and listen to music and relish in hours of tranquility.
Now, I rarely go to sleep at 6am, the way I used to EVERYDAY 8 years ago. And I don’t believe it’s a coincidence. The fact that I started to have bad insomnia at that time in my life, or the fact that it is also slowly disappearing from my life now.
I was raised and socialized to be very helpful and there for my people, but also super self-reliant. I’m also super introverted and very highly sensitive.
What all that means in everyday life, is that I tend to not set good boundaries with my people. To let them invade my space without telling them it feels like invasion (but also resenting them for not realizing it), knowing that a lot of things feels like invasion and overstimulating to me. To make their needs a priority over mine. To have a hard time saying “I need/want alone time” or “No, I don’t want that”.
So I used to have a second parallel life at night. Where I would feel free to do my things without being disturbed or interrupted. I was rarely insomniac when I lived by myself.
I am also super perfectionist (in rehab, but still). So I procrastinate a lot. Especially things that are scary, of course. Like many of us, I wait until the very last moment to do them.
Which made my insomnia very productive and useful, as many mental diseases I experienced or worked with are.
During the day, when my inner critic and my inner procrastinator were running my inner chatter very skillfully, anything that was overstimulating was an excuse to not do what I wanted to do.
Any time someone I cared about needed something was a perfect excuse to say : “Oh, see, now we can’t do "it", we need to take care of them/that first. But you'll see, afterwards, we’ll be able to do it, not being anxious because we didn’t help them first, our mind will be clear and quiet”. That would go on and on all day long, because the more we age, the more potential responsibilities (aka reasons to do other things) we can have.
And my mind always needed a few hours to calm down when night would come. Hence my creative self only being able to run the show very late at night, when I could settled down from my day, relax my nervous system, and finally finding the courage and energy to do my things. After 2am.
That’s why I learnt to paint mostly during nights, and write a lot fo my stuff then too.
Of course, my inner critic and procrastinator also try to prevent me from doing those scary things at night, mind you.
They just have less opportunity to do so then and I’m more relaxed given the circumstances, so it’s easier for me to tell them to shut up and piss off.
It’s only when I started to set better boundaries, a few ago, that I realized I was hiding, to let myself be in those silent hours.
It was no use (at least more than a few days) to be careful about my sleeping schedule and habit.
What was useful though, was using my resources to slowly learn to create during the day, focus on what seemed to be the reason why I needed to stay awake at night.
And in the mean time, to use the excuse of not going to sleep anyway, to at least make it useful and meaningful by creating as much as possible.
One of my weirdest resource was my addiction. The first times I painted were the only times I allowed myself to smoke weed in the house. I would keep a joint at hand reach, smoke a little puff to numb the fear for 10-15mn and paint. And do that over and over, especially if I was painting during the day.
At night, the ritual was to smoke to kick off the activity while numbing my nervous system, and do that again during breaks. But for the first times and during the day, the anxiety was too high, so I let myself smoke more for a while.
By not harassing myself about the smoking, I limited the shame usually associated to addiction. It was still here, just not so bad.
Most importantly, I also stayed firm on the idea that it couldn’t be a habit either, for myself because I hated the smell of inside smoking, and so was my partner, and I also hated very much the idea that I needed something that bad, it made me feel weak, which I am not fond of.
Both helped making the addiction useful for a while and not getting too attached to it, still seeing it as something temporary, and working hard to make it that way. I worked with many patients around their addictions like this, and had quite incredible results over the years.
It didn’t make it good, please understand that. I never thought, let alone, advocated that addiction was a good thing but it didn’t feel like I was wasting my life either by something I was powerless about. The difference is important.
Recovery means we need to find ways to love ourselves, even in the midst of mental illness. This, finding meaning in what was happening, and seeing myself slowly letting go of it, helped me.
Now, I can create a few moments after waking up or during the day mostly without issue, it’s been like that for a year or so. Since I also stopped smoking (through a very incremental process), almost 3 months ago, it’s even easier, because the option of “taking the edge off before or while I do it” barely exists. Herbal tea helps a bit, or having a sugary snack, but it’s so much less helpful in that department that I don’t overuse it.
And the more I incrementally made creating during the day normal, the less staying up at night was useful.
The less I would slowly let myself smoke to create, the less I appreciated it, the more it felt like it was getting in the way.
The more I did all that, the more I started going to bed earlier.
Now, most of my insomnia is what I call “Introvert insomnia”, where I need a couple of hours to digest my day and the overstimulation that went with it. Setting better boundaries majorly helps with that too.
This is what I mean by the idea that mental illnesses have a purpose. We don’t get them by accident or simply through unlucky genetics. Mental illnesses, as organic ones, develop through a specific context. They are a response to our way of living our life.
I have yet to meet a depressed person who isn’t preventing themselves from having a real life (one that doesn’t bore them) and feeling their deep pain in the first place.
I have yet to meet an anxious person not doing a lot of things, but not what’s really mattered to them, “feel” like them, and/or not avoiding anything too scary and uncomfortable like their lives depended on it.
I have yet to meet an addict who doesn’t feel deeply lonely and wasn’t trying to either numbing themselves out, taking back control of their life in some way, and/or compensating for a life deeply lacking of interest to them.
I have yet to meet someone suffering of mental illness not crippled by shame of not being enough, not trying desperately to avoid it.
So if this feels like you, dear hummingbird, know that you’re not alone.
A lot of us suffer the same way you do.
Please don’t hate yourself for suffering, try to understand how you came to it instead, how it could have some function in your life, and come from a habit of not feeling your feelings and not being yourself enough.
The more you will understand about your suffering, the better you’ll be able to recover and find love for yourself, life, and others.
So try to put some energy into accepting your illness, not as something that will be here forever, but more as something that is here to stay for now, and can be healed better and more quickly, if we start by looking at it and understanding it.
Your mental illness is trying to talk to you. Try to listen to it. You might be surprised about what they have to say.