I must have left the gate open.
It almost always appears around 3:30 a.m., in the wee hours. It’s in that short stretch of time when I am awake enough to know where I am but no more, on the far side of slumber. I’ve had sufficient sleep so there is no going back; the jolt of arrival too ugly.
I try to lie perfectly still, nearly desperate to avoid the unavoidable, hoping I’ll drift off.
I roll over, knowing it will be better to face the other direction. It isn’t.
Sleep is elusive. Again.
Its clutches are the tightest in the moments I recall that I am, when I first remember I am alive.
I have often wondered , why then, at that moment, it appears. This is cruel, like it knows. It catches me when my defenses are down, when I am most vulnerable. I feel helpless. It is taunting me; it knows when I am at my weakest.
I feel the surge down my arms and in my chest. It’s hard to breathe. It squeezes my chest and I feel my pulse jump. Then it hits full force: I feel fear; raw, brutal, gut-gripping fear.
I can’t move and I can’t breathe. I try to be calm. I wait.
It’s 3:30 now, so I get up to empty my bladder. Maybe I can shake it, I reason.
I have tossed and turned. It’s now 3:40 a.m. and I cannot shut off my brain. The fear has quieted somewhat, and I am fully awake. I review yesterday and imagine today. I can reason now and I have perspective. I feel I can almost handle life.
I adjust the pillow and blankets, and I drift off.
Somewhere in the 5:00 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. stretch, I wake again.
I am peaceful and calm, fully cognizant of my nocturnal visitor. There is no fear. I feel rested, and able to start my day.
Just like yesterday.
I’ve discovered I am pretty tough on myself, that I am tougher than anyone has ever been; I have yet to learn the reason. Because this has occurred throughout my life, I have had to work very hard to be kind to me, to let myself off the hook. Maybe this is the source of my visitor. I am unsure. At any rate, it persists with cruel regularity.
One thing I am certain of is that I am not alone. I find that as I get older, it has worsened.
How, then, do you handle anxiety?
“Love me when I least deserve it, because that is when I really need it.”