Before COVID-19 rocked our world (and not in a fun way), I had a hard time sleeping. I’d twist and turn. My daughter would thrust her 70-pound four-year-old body over me every night, to sleep in between my wife and me. Then each night her knee would find its way to my stomach at 2 a.m. By 5 a.m., my wife and I were awake with a book light shining in our faces with a brown little arm attached to it, one of our twin daughters fighting off another hour of sleep in exchange for having both of her parents awake with her at 5 a.m. for no valid reason at all (not even to read). It’s been hard for all of us to get any rest, for very different reasons.
There is such uncertainty that looms ahead of us with our trusty companion COVID-19 leading us blindly ahead. How could the worries of such an unpredictable virus not keep us awake at night? There are obvious fears, like what happens if I start coughing or develop a fever or suddenly lose my sense of taste and smell — or am asymptomatic and putting anyone I encounter at risk. Then there are the fears I will call “other,” like: is my face mask protecting me? Is that $5 bottle of hand sanitizer going to kill the virus better than the $3 bottle — what if it doesn’t? Or if I bring my groceries inside, can I believe the CDC who changed their story about how the virus transmits on the packaging?
These are the more obvious fears, the fears we’ve been awkwardly dancing around for months, the fears we just now (perhaps) may be coming to terms with. Next, we have school openings to look forward to (or dread), missed family vacations to mourn (as well as birthday parties and graduations), and what if distance learning is a thing in the fall too? How will we handle the logistics of that? The number of fears we carry seems to be never-ending.
One would hope that once we laid our head down on the pillow for the night, we could just let it all go. That perhaps for the 6, 7, 8 hours that our eyes are closed, our minds can shut off too, as it needs respite just as much as our bodies. But for me, my brain does not always turn off. Sometimes, I need a little help. Maybe by way of a glass of Shiraz (my only favorite red wine). Maybe it’s a nice long meditation before bed. Maybe it’s my beloved lavender-scented bubbles poured out into my hot bath and my jasmine and ylang ylang scented candle, all in hopes of relaxing me enough to fall asleep. Or maybe, after all of this: the glass of wine, the bubble bath, the meditation, and I still cannot sleep, I watch a show (Workin’ Moms as of late, or, dare I say, Selling Sunset) to get my eyes heavy enough to close and my mind clear enough to stop racing.
Once I turn off my phone, I roll over to see my soon-to-be kindergartener peacefully sleeping next to me (revving up her little engine to knee me in the stomach soon, I imagine). And as I look at her, my fears pick up again, even go into overdrive. Do I send her to school? What if I must stay home and teach her myself? I don’t think I can handle it again, can I? What if she catches COVID-19 because I decide to send her back to school? Can I work from home the entire year? What if I get laid off over all of this — over choosing not to send my kids back to school? What if trying to keep them safe means our family’s finances will hang in the balance?
I have no answers as of yet. No decisions can be made even as the anxiety clings to me. When I commit to going to sleep and completing my bedtime rituals (whatever they may be), I realize two things: my fears will be with me when I wake, and worrying about them before bed won’t help me decide at all. Nighttime may seem like an ideal time to slow down and think about things, but the things I’m thinking about are doing nothing but keeping me awake.
As time moves ahead and our national numbers begin to rise again in various parts of the United States, my fears remain. They aren’t leaving me anytime soon, I know. I also know they will change as new information comes in, and I must change how I respond to them. I can practice compartmentalizing them before bed. I can journal. I can refill my anti-anxiety toolbox with real tools (like taking a Xanax before bed). I can try all of the things I’ve tried before: putting my phone away a few hours before sleep, practice gentle exercises, or so many others.
COVID-19 and all its associated fears aren’t going anywhere, and if I’m going to get any rest, having a bedtime ritual might just be my saving grace in these times of worry. Because I’d rather be woken by my daughter’s knee than by the jolting fear of the unknown.