Life advice from my bed at dawn

Wednesday, May 6, 2020 - 3:08pm

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Illustration by Summer Benton

A couple of days ago I found myself curled up in bed with my eyes glued open. My foot moved back and forth along my sheets, searching for a cold patch that had not yet been heated by my body. My fingers played with the edges of my pillowcase. My computer laid shut next to me, ready to be kicked off the bed during my next nightmare. My mind wandered from chocolate lava cake to men with muscular arms to nuclear war. I was thirsty, but could not risk the energy kick that came with getting up for a glass of water. My heart rate was slow, but not slow enough. 

At 6 a.m. I began to hear movement in my apartment— pots and pans hitting the stove top, a running sink, a cough. 6 a.m. and I had yet to fall asleep. Meanwhile, my family was beginning their day, having rested during normal nighttime hours. Fuck, I think to myself. Not again... 

Restlessness is exhausting. It creeps into your system and refuses to be digested. It’s the baby on the plane that roars like a pack of lions when you’re just trying to enjoy the new Ruth Bader Ginsberg documentary. When you try and shut your eyes, it pulls them back open. It plays the moment you put Diesel instead of regular gas into your car in your mind until you're rapt with attention and your thoughts are screaming. It comes the night before a final exam and the night after one too many drinks at Jug. You toss, you turn, you huff and you puff. You try the M’s: Melatonin, marijuana, meditation and music, but to no avail. 

This is a particularly important moment. What now? At 6 a.m., is it time to give in and start the day? To begin a day so early in quarantine is a recipe for boredom. Perhaps sipping a cup of hot black coffee while you watch the sun rise would be nice. Will you even be functional for an entire day on zero hours of sleep? Do you reopen your computer and watch the next episode of Succession? The blue light from the screen will suppress the release of melatonin in your body and make it all the more difficult to drift off. 

Or, do you simply lie there in your helpless twitch, waiting for your body to calm down and relax? It might just be that the latter, in fact, is the best option. To just lie. Lie regardless of your thoughts, regardless of your mood. Do not try and focus on your breath, just breathe. Do not channel your energy, let it hover around you and burst within you. Twitch your foot, think your thoughts. Bask in your own messed up circadian rhythm. Sleep patterns are largely influenced by your environment — how, then, are they being affected by being in quarantine? 

My personal quarantine routine thus far has included waking up at 1 p.m. and going to sleep at 5 a.m.. Am I a psychopath? Arguably, yes. Do I convince myself that the stuffed animals my mom shoved into an abandoned closet when I turned sixteen are staying in a luxury hotel because I feel so badly that I can't give them the love I once did? Also, yes. I digress. Because of my late wake ups, my afternoons instead take place during the evening. They begin with a family dinner filled with laughter, lessons about the stock market from my mother and sarcasm. My days end, however, in a more lonely setting — perhaps falling down the rabbit hole of celebrities read mean tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel’s youtube page, or drafting mean tweets of my own. After hours of online poker, movies and music, my wine glass is empty and somehow, the clock strikes 5 a.m. 

Odds are, plenty of other Americans are adapting similar routines. Exposure to natural light and meal times are key factors in managing when it is time to doze off. Some may say that it is time for me to start setting alarms and quit making quesadilla ice cream sundae avocado toast à la mode in the kitchen at 3 a.m. every morning. To that I would say, boring! 

C’est la vie. 

This phrase is quite honestly not my brand, but it best communicates my message. Actually,  I'll go with “it is what it is” and skip the French. I don't mean to say that quarantine is a free-for-all. We are living in unprecedented times during which public health, relationships and economic uncertainty need to be taken seriously. You know the deal. Be responsible, set goals, volunteer. But also, relax. I am a sophomore in college who cooks frozen pizza in a panini press, and tells the joke, “did you hear Jackson has an up-dog?” “Whats up-dog?” “Not much! What’s up with you?” 

Who am I to tell you to relax? 

I am nobody (shoutout Odysseus), and what I am suggesting might lead to your imminent doom. But say, hypothetically, it doesn’t. Say, instead, you do relax, by holding yourself, and those around you to no standard. Say you succumb to the precariousness of the world and let there be an ambiguous path ahead of you. There is no way to diverge, because there is no particular path to diverge from. Embrace a new normal without setting yourself up for failure. 

Also, say thank you (to me) because this is the best advice I have given myself, and now I am sharing it with you, a mere stranger. I am not always successful in lying peacefully, but I am certainly more calm and collected in 6 a.m. moments than I used to be. 

The idea of let it be has been around for some time. The Beatles shared the words of wisdom in the 1970s and Buddists have been practicing it since the 3rd century B.C.E. These words have become particularly meaningful to me as a twenty-year-old college student in the face of a global pandemic. I have been trained to look to the future for hope, motivation, structure and inspiration. I am discovering my values. I am choosing what I believe to be serious and what warrants a joke. During COVID-19, however, it has become increasingly unclear what is necessary to hold on to and what is appropriate to let go of. I have reframed my aspirations and accepted a new reality. Letting it be during the pandemic means flexibility and tranquility. Roman philosopher Seneca once said “the greatest loss of time is delay and expectation.”

In Tom Hodkinson’s book How to Be Idle, he wrote, “The lie-in — by which I mean lying in bed awake — is not a selfish indulgence but an essential tool for any student of the art of living, which is what the idler really is. Lying in bed doing nothing is noble and right, pleasurable and productive.” Hodkinson argues for the art of “idling”, which entails not having a job, and instead fantasizing, meditating, and imagining. Being idle fosters personal growth, creative thinking, and a sense of calm. Lying is an idle activity. 

This is not meditation, it’s just existing. Maybe it’s the lazy version of mindfulness. Without doing anything, you are being forced into your own social experiment: How will you react to being isolated wherever you are and respond to the people you are (or are not) with? Who are you without your routine, outside of your normal environment, without answers or traditional goals? When you do not have access to the things that validate your existence in your normal life, what validates you? What grounds you? You might know the answers to some of these questions, but if you don’t, now is the perfect time to find out. When else will you have the concession of this uncertainty?* 

There is an itch on the back of your left leg. Your head repels the pillow. You begin to hear cars outside your window. You continue to toss and turn. You’re restless, you're eager to be productive. You are ready to move on. Let yourself lay, and set yourself free. Perhaps you will drift into sleep, or perhaps you won’t. It is what it is. 

*DISCLAIMER: I understand that the privilege to relax in the quarantine is relative, and that these are very serious and trying times. So, take this with a grain of salt and remember those who cannot reap the benefits of uncertainty.