This morning I woke up before the alarm went off. I do this sometimes. I generally wake up and get out of bed at 5 a.m. because I like the silence of the early morning, before the traffic increases in the streets outside my windows and my husband gets up and puts on the TV and washes dishes in the next room, and the sounds of the day begin.
But sometimes I wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. and don’t realize how early it is, and then have trouble going back to sleep again. I can’t see a clock from my bed – a deliberate strategy that helps me sleep most of the time – so, when I wake up, I’m not sure if it’s 5 minutes before the alarm goes off or several hours.
So this morning, when I woke up, I checked: was the alarm going off? I have a visual alarm instead of an auditory alarm, which is gentler on my psyche, but it means I have to open my eyes and sit up slightly to glance over my husband’s shoulder to see if the light has begun to brighten yet. If I let it go too long, my husband wakes up and grumpily tells me that the alarm is going off and then, his sleep disturbed, he gets up earlier than usual and there goes my hour of peaceful silence.
But this morning the light was not on yet, so I lay back, and began the ritual of waking up. Moving my feet gently to limber the plantar fasciitis. Running through a speech I’ve been working on for Toastmasters. Planning my day. And then I realized that the alarm had still not gone off.
And then the anxiety began. What if the alarm wasn’t about to go off? I felt wide awake and had since I had initially checked the alarm. What if it was really 2 or 3 a.m. and not 5 a.m.ish? What if I had gone through my ritual and woken myself fully up? Was I now going to lie there for 3 hours and not be able to sleep. I hate days like that, so sleepy, slightly foggy, a little behind the 8-ball on things.
I began to berate myself: I was so stupid. Why didn’t I just get up when I had first woken up and checked the time then? If it was 5 a.m., I could do my ritual but if it was earlier, I could have reset and gone back to sleep. So dumb. And now here I am beating myself up, and once I start that, I never get back to sleep. What a terrible person I am for beating myself up!
The cat, sensing my awakened mind, began to annoy me. Knocking books of my bedside table. Yowling. Now look what I had done: if I had gotten up, saw how early it was, and settled back to bed, she wouldn’t be awake now and annoying me.
At that point, my husband woke up and turned on his phone to check the time. I asked what time it was.
“6 o’clock,” he replied, getting out of bed.
“Why didn’t the alarm go off,” I mused, sliding out of bed myself.
“It did,” he replied. “I turned it off.”
When they talk about creating stories in your head and getting hung up in them, this is what they mean. Story 1: the alarm was about to go off; Story 2: the alarm wasn’t about to go off, and I sucked for letting myself wake up early, and would have insomnia and not have a good day.
How much do we do this to ourselves throughout the day? A story about the meeting you’re in, are you imposing on someone by speaking up? Will people think you’re stupid or assertive if you propose an idea? A story about your desk: you hate working from home and you have permission to go into the office and work there but you choose not to for now – why? Because you’re cautious, lazy, or fearful?
All these stories aren’t helpful. I was reading an article yesterday about a philosopher (Gray, I think) who has written a book of philosophy about cats. Cats, he says, don’t make up stories about the future like this. They just live in the present moment.
Being human is a much more complicated thing.
How much of that is a choice we make?