The other night, I woke up in a state of panic around 3:30 am. A cloud of parental anxiety was swirling furiously in my head. Self doubt had settled in and taken grip, waking me from sleep and no longer allowing me to drift back to rest.
Am I giving them too many treats? Are they doing enough physical activity? Are they in too many activities? Are they in enough activities? Do they feel lonely? Do I yell too much? Am I too permissive? Am I working too much? Do I spend enough time with them? Do I not work enough? What will they remember of me when they are grown?
And around and around and around.
After trying unsuccessfully to fall back asleep, I eventually got up, moved to the kitchen, and made myself an english muffin and some tea. My middle of the night, can’t sleep, snack of choice. I sat down with my journal.
Here is what I wrote (forgive the fragmented nature of my journal writing): “Racing thoughts. Need to let it go. All this parental anxiety about this and that, about all that we should and shouldn’t do, all of the comparison to imagined ideals, just keeps us frantic, stressed, disconnected from ourselves and our kids. Disconnected from listening to them and tuning into our trust and intuition of what we understand of our children. Life is too short to be spent in comparison or living out someone else’s dream, and at the same time, life is long and we need to be sustainable…I need to enjoy now, enjoy now. The house is quiet. The first gray light is filtering in through the windows. I have four walls around me. I have healthy children asleep in their beds. I am trying to trust in the universe that all is unfolding as it should, we are all unfolding as we should be…”
Those amongst us who are not parents are of course not immune. They have their own versions of doubt and fear. The constant questioning. The future tripping and the ruminations. The tape that plays over and over about school and work and pets and money and parents and relationships and deadlines and decisions and health.
I see variations of these anxious conversations playing out in my own head, in my office, and with my friends over coffee. I wish I could offer a solution, a magic bullet that could make it all stop. But I don’t have one.
Instead, all I can do is share my own experience, that I too wake up at 3:30 AM with worry. I want people to know that even psychiatrists and other mental health professionals and other types of physicians struggle and question ourselves over issues big and small. I want people to know that they are not alone when they wake up in the same state of affairs, in their own corner of the world, somewhere in the dark of night.
For me, finding peace is a continuous “work” of sorts. To breathe, to meditate, to let go, to trust, to stay present. It is not automatic. It is not a box that has been checked. It is not a steady state of being. It is a constant leaving and coming back. It is constant reminder, sometimes a frustrated reminder that I haven’t gotten “it” yet.
And then yet another reminder to be gentle and compassionate with myself: I am doing my best, I am still learning, I will always be learning.
So today and in the week ahead, I invite you to find grace with yourself in the middle of the night when your thoughts won’t let you sleep. And know that someone else in the universe is finding her way too.
With gratitude, Monisha