Thursday, January 03, 2008

The vicissitudes of the unconscious

Why, I would like to know, is four in the morning such a cruel hour?

You can go to bed warm and happy and securely loved, snuggled in fleece and a new periwinkle comforter you got for Christmas. You can even have sweet dreams. But if you awake at 4 am, you are a blind panic.

It's never that you wake up and think about that pair of boots you'd really like to buy, the movie you want to see, or the funny conversation you had yesterday. Nor do you wake up thinking about trying a new paint color in your bedroom, or how you really like eggnog lattes at Starbucks, or that maybe next time you get your hair done you'll ask for more highlights.

No, no, and more no. It's never like that, and I don't know why. Four in the morning is reserved for terror.

It's the hour for waking with a start, suddenly and inexplicably, with a lead ball of dread in your stomach. Why is it the hour for thinking, in sweating anxiety, about should-haves, missed opportunities, and things you will never have the chance to do unless you change your life completely, starting tomorrow? And even then, if you oversleep, which you probably will, since oh, look, you're wide awake and it's 4 am, it might be too late?

Why is it that once you're awake, with enough of a sandstorm of hysterical thoughts to smother an entire desert village, you just keep producing more grains of swirling panic?

Like, if you wake up fretting about a work project, which is what I did, well, it's not enough to wake up and worry about work. Because also? Someone might, right this moment, be using your identity in Outer Mongolia. Or your kids might get lead poisoning from Chinese toys. The kids you don't have. Holy crap - you don't have kids! And you might never have kids! And hey, you haven't thought about dying alone in a while. Because that's always a possibility. Remember? Huh? Remember?

Honestly. I fucking hate 4 am.


  1. This is so sickeningly true. A big part of the 4am panic for me is that in addition to FREAKING OUT about possibly having cancer and not being able to solve world hunger, I'm also a spaz about the sheer fact that I'm not getting the sleep I need to prevent cancer in the first place. Sigh.

  2. What difference does it make if you die alone. If you're plane is going down in a fiery crash and you're doomed, I don't know why you would feel better if your loved ones would die with you (as opposed to missing the flight and leading a happy life and remarrying after an acceptable mourning period).

    But yes, the 4 am freakout is not good. Even I know this and I don't even have a uterus.

  3. Nicole - EXACTLY!!! If you can't get back to sleep it will affect your immune system and then with the cancer...

    HIN - So weird you said that. I was just having a conversation with someone about how I'd rather die with my family than alone on the plane. They were horrified.

  4. Only one nightmare seems to have the power to wake me up... but it wakes me up in a cold sweat every time.

    I'm being chased around the house I grew up in by one of those round clothing racks you see at department stores... except that it's as tall as the ceiling, and the clothing hangs to the floor. Anything that gets sucked inside the rack disappears.

    scary, no? :-)

  5. 4am is generally the time I get up. I sleep maybe 3 - 4 hours a night, and I have standing orders with anyone who knows me that if I am still in bed at 9am, call a Doctor!

  6. I've been waking up at four all this week in a blind panic because I just hate my job that fucking much. Also, nightmares about teeth.

  7. you're adorable, really. you describe things so well, it's almost unfair to the rest of us would-be writers!

    and your new profile pic is superb :)

  8. VVK - What's that about? That's wild!

    GaryQ - I'm sooo envious. I'd love to need that little sleep. I need a full 8 hours.

    The Ex - Ugh - teeth dreams are stress dreams. I've hated a job that much before. It's hideous.

    mooosie - Thank you for the amazing compliments! You are lovely.

  9. Dude, stop making me have to look up words in the dictionary. DAMN.

    I used to set my alarm clock for 3am, just so I could go back to sleep.

    I just noticed the new picture. Did you know that if you stare at it wayyyy up close for 30 seconds, and then look immediately at a white ceiling, the afterimage looks exactly like Caravaggio's "Boy Peeling a Fruit?"

  10. Oh, boy. The 4am worry-fest. I hate it. I'm so good at it, I should be paid to worry. Sometimes I wish I could start The Worry Company and be the CEO. Our slogan would be Why worry when we can do it for you?

    I hate that the 4am panic disturbed your time under that new periwinkle comforter.

    Sleep well, until 6:30a.m. at least.

  11. It must be a girl thing. If I wake up at 4 I think, "Oh boy, nearly another hour of sleep!" and roll over.

    My wife, on the other hand, wakes with a start and wakes me because she's convinced I've overslept (She likes to do this on Saturday!) or else she fears we have become completely, inexplicably penniless overnight.

    "Why can't a woman be more like a man?"

  12. Rich - Sorry about the dictionary hassle. I had to google the picture, and I have to say, oddly enough, you're right!

    DCup - That would be a company I'd definitely buy stock in! Let me know.

    James - I think this kind of fretting is particular to women. I can come up with all kinds of reasons I'm glad I'm not more like a man, but I'd love to ditch the 4 am fret-fests.

  13. 4am is a cruel hour because nobody has any business waking up at that hour, that's why! :)


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