Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Two A.M. Thinking

I decided to give up writing a few days ago. It seemed logical at the time. I was having a miserable experience with my latest, feeling unappreciated and harassed, and I thought, Why go through this? I’ll just stop. It was, of course, 2 A.M. That’s why it seemed like a logical decision.

Fortunately, I managed to get a few more hours of sleep and when I finally got up, I had no more urge to retire. That’s really the problem with decisions you make at two in the morning: there’s no such thing as good sense at that hour of the day.

I’m the kind of insomniac who can get to sleep fine, but who then wakes up a few hours later unable to sleep any more. This usually happens when I’m stressed, and the reason I can’t get back to sleep is that I’m thinking about whatever is stressing me out. Of course, the next night I’m usually able to sleep pretty well because I’m too tired to stay awake, but that doesn’t stop me from being up and about and stressing.

But here’s the thing—at two in the morning, everything seems a lot worse than it really is. If you’re having problems at work, they’ll seem insurmountable. If you’re unhappy with your writing, you’ll be convinced that you’ll never write anything worthwhile again. It’s the 2 A.M. effect, and if you can keep that fact at the back of your mind, you’ll be able to weather the storm, knowing that once the sun is up, you won’t feel quite so down and out.

So here are some things you should never do at 2 A.M.

1. Call someone. Even if you get their voicemail, it’s a very bad idea. This is the equivalent of drunk dialing—it’s 2 A.M. dialing. You may be cold sober, but you’ll be in the grip of 2 A.M. thinking, and that’s the same as a couple of hours of tequila shots.

2. Send emails. Same principle applies. If you must write emails, do not, under any circumstances, hit Send. Keep them in the draft folder and then you can delete them when you’re back to normal.

3. Make major decisions. Well, you can make them, but don’t take any steps to implement them. Do not wake up your Significant Other to announce your life changes. Trust me, tomorrow morning this impulse to head for that monastery in Nepal will have passed.

4. Do revisions. Again, if you insist on revising your writing, make sure you save the original copy somewhere so that you’re not stuck with the changes you made. Eliminating the hero or changing his profession from firefighter to fashion designer will no longer seem like such a great idea.

Actually, the only thing you can reliably do at 2 A.M. is either read or watch TV, and even then, make sure your credit card is nowhere near the TV remote. You do not want that jewelry on QVC, no matter how nice it looks right then, and if you buy that onion chopper, you will be sorry when you realize it’s the same one you bought two months ago.

Just pick up that article on compost you’ve been meaning to read, or better yet check out the manual for your microwave. Find something so mundane and boring your brain will go into hibernation. You too can survive 2 A.M. Just make sure you do nothing that can’t be undone tomorrow after you’ve had your first cup of coffee.

So what else should you never do at 2 A.M.? And has anybody found a way to make 2 A.M. thinking work for you?


Teri Wilson, author said...

I love this post. I do the exact same thing...fall asleep and then wake up in a near panic about things that are stressing me out. You are so right - it's always much, much better in the light of day. I like that. I'm going to try and remember that the next time I am laying awake worrying.
2:00 AM thinking never works. The best thing is to go back to sleep. Last week, I read about a technique to lull oneself to sleep by picturing/imagining animals in the wrong colors. For instance, a green elephant, a purple donkey, etc. The idea is to occupy your mind so you can't worry. So far, this technique has worked for me. I've done it twice and both times I only got to the fourth or fifth animal.

Meg Benjamin said...

And how many of those animals were Cavalier King Charles spaniels?

Teri Wilson, author said...

LOL. A few. They were pink.

Kelly Jamieson said...

OMG that's exactly what happens to me!!! And you're right, things seem so much worse in the middle of the night.I remember once waking my husband up because it seemed so URGENT that we IMMEDIATELY update our wills. Like we were gonna die before morning? Oy. On the other hand, I've written some darn good stories in my head while lying awake...

Meg Benjamin said...

Oh the stories I write in my head are always the best thing I've ever done!

Jeanette said...

I'm a huge insomniac too, but more of the can't get to sleep but once I'm out I'm fine ilk. So many terrible thoughts run through the mind when it's trying to sleep. I've made so many horrible choices that, in the end, I've never acted on while staring at the ceiling. Good list of rules here for talking oneself off the edge.