I was hoping for an early-to-bed night tonight. Admittedly, for me, early-to-bed is anything before 1AM, but the goal was in sight regardless. After getting ready for bed and reading a few chapters of Born to Run I planned on playing on my phone or watching some Burn Notice to help me drift off, but I felt my eyelids start to droop and satisfaction in a rare successful attempt to get to bed early set in, so I clicked off the light and settled into my blankets.
Next thing I know it’s 3AM and I’m writing a post for a WordPress I haven’t updated in around two years.
Setting aside the sleep issues, I did feel like using the opportunity to get out some thoughts that, in various forms, I’ve meant to get out on this medium for a while now. As I lie there in the dark, my thoughts started drifting to some of my struggles of late. Next thing I know, my heart is racing as I panic in a sort of quarter-life-crisis mindset. I began to worry about nearing 30 years of age, unmarried, not finished with school yet. I normally scoff at others who worry about that sort of thing–both of those circumstances are, admittedly, by choice (in my case). Yet here I was, almost sweating in worry about them, about things I’ve always been able to laugh off.
The details of my worries aren’t as important to my point as the simple fact that I had them. I most often will use some form of media entertainment, TV or Facebook, to sort of bore myself into getting to sleep. Tonight, when I didn’t, I really got myself worked up! I recognize that I’m an anxious person generally and it is late enough that my mood probably isn’t too hot, but I haven’t felt myself spiral off like that in a while. This is from someone who worries a lot and has faced some huge decisions lately–yet something about this was different. Without turning on some form of screen to prevent my mind from drifting anywhere important, I managed to leave myself vulnerable to some very uncomfortable thoughts.
I see a counselor for my anxiety, and this idea of discomfort tends to come up fairly regularly; sometimes even on this very topic of getting to sleep at night. It’s very common for me to sort of ‘fight off’ bedtime…fully recognizing what I’m doing and knowing it’s a poor choice, I often simply cannot will myself to take the steps towards going to bed. Typically it’s not until 2-3AM that I’m so exhausted that I’ll finally drag myself to bed and crash. When asked by my counselor why I think I do this, I was once able to come to the conclusion that it’s probably because I’ve had trouble falling asleep in the past, and I despise sitting in bed for ages, unable to sleep. I was almost subconsciously avoiding that discomfort.
Now, even when I do get to bed “early,” I nearly always use some method of distraction to, once again, avoid the discomfort. The idea of “avoidance behavior” or “avoidance coping” is no new idea to the psychology world, especially in relation to anxiety. Only in recent years have I come to realize what a significant underlying issue it is. It’s the ultimate emotional illness painkiller. It doesn’t fix the problem, and can only address the symptoms in a way that makes them worse later. Anyone reading this who’s starting to resonate with where this is going, I encourage you to look into the concept.
What really struck me about this whole situation tonight is that TV, Facebook, my smart phone, really any form of digital or media entertainment…they’ve all become vessels of avoidance. Perhaps not all the time, but in this case, I couldn’t deny it. Probably just managing to forget how uncomfortable I become without some kind of avoidance, I let myself be vulnerable, and sure enough, BAM…I was swimming in discomfort. My modern digital comforts have become my go-to avoidance behavior. Certainly not a new idea, we see (ironically) countless posts, articles, and YouTube videos about how addicted we’ve become, but that sunk in to a new personal level for me tonight. I’ve had similar thoughts before, but this time really drove it home.
I’m overall glad I was able to have the experience, though. Not only was I able to formulate my thoughts here and call it out (which is a good idea with any avoidance behavior), but I was able to sit with that discomfort for a while. My counselor says this is a good technique to help a person start to overcome the true underlying emotional problem–avoidance behavior, much like painkillers, merely addresses the symptoms, and can make the problem worse. I’ve heard it related to being locked in a room with a snake. Yeah it’s insanity, but in reality, assuming both you and the snake’s basic needs were being met, you’d eventually get used to each other and be just fine. However, if you were to constantly try to avoid the snake, backing into the corner and submitting to your fear, that fear would simply compound on itself and you’d never do anything but be afraid…and likely eventually get bit.