(Click here to read “I, Myself, and Me,” which is the first half of this post.)
I spend 4 months of the year in sleep mode. A few months in early winter and a few months in summer. Sluggish hibernations of the mind and soul. Then something — and it’s hard to pin down exactly what — jolts me awake. So what does it look like when I emerge from my slumber?
When a bear wakes up from hibernation, it lumbers through the woods in voracious pursuit of sustenance. When my bear-like self wakes up from a hibernatory funk, I do something similar.
Suddenly wide awake, I emerge from my cave and barrel through the woods, barrel-chested, with more energy than a barrel of monkeys. Whereas I had been a bit of a morose drag in my torpid state, I’m suddenly a barrel of laughs too. Or a bear o’ laughs, if you will.
And I run. Headlong. Practically stumbling over my paws with eagerness. I run in pursuit of… everything. Music. Conversation. Nature. Movies. Writing. Quality time with my kids. Quality time with my wife. Every worthwhile thing on earth abruptly becomes hyper-vivid and eminently worth lunging toward. I suddenly remember the most important thing about life itself. That it’s absolutely packed to the hilt, to the gills, to the ceiling, with lavish depths of meaning. And exquisite pleasures of all kinds.
Oh and beauty. My gosh, the beauty. I suddenly remember the extravagant beauty of the world. Beauty, the ideal which I had emblazoned in ink on my chest when I was 20 years old, back when I would have proudly called that ideal the linchpin of my worldview. Beauty, which makes life worth living. Beauty, which makes the world’s stomach-churning horrors bearable. Beauty, which proves that we are not mere bundles of neurons or accidents of cosmic fate.
(Pauses, exhales, collects thoughts.)
Like that hungry bear, my thoughts are running out ahead of me, running so fast I have to keep pace. Because that’s what my thoughts do when I’m wide awake. I shall try to slow down. At least a smidge.
Depending on your perspective — and your inclination for wide-eyed conversation — my lucid self is either really fun to be around, or a bit exhausting. In my highest moments, I can imagine someone describing me as borderline manic. Danielle might say I’m being too hard on myself by saying this, although she would readily admit with a wry smile that I’m certainly a handful when I’m in my awakened state. (And an entirely different sort of handful when I’m hibernating.) Fortunately, I married supremely well. Danielle bears with both the semi-manic and semi-depressive sides of the bear she married.
So here is what it’s like when I wake up. This is a glimpse of what I’m like when I emerge from the cave of my creeping anxiety and neurotic self-loathing, out into the daylight of what I believe is my true self.
When I am wide awake, my mind runs on high-octane fuel and my tongue follows suit. My thought processes are lucid, often forming in my mind like a waking dream, and I don’t second-guess my logic or gut instincts (which is the diametrical opposite of my sluggish self). The verbalization of my thoughts becomes fluid. Whereas my torpid self gets tongue-tied and struggles to think of the words I want, my lucid self speaks smoothly and with enthusiastic conviction. I am somehow able, finally, to access every page of my internal lexicon with ease. I’ve been known to say to my wife, “I have my words back.”
I can construct spontaneous edifices of logic and reason that help me make the decisions I need to make, thus pushing forward my personal narrative on any given day. And in contrast to my head-down, brow-furrowed, gaze-averting, hibernatory self, my awake self proactively seeks out conversation. I crave it like I crave food. (And by gosh, I crave food almost constantly.)
Remember the stuttering, stammering Colin Firth in The King’s Speech? Now remember his fluid, pivotal speech at the end? Purely in terms of the articulation of my thoughts, the transformation in that movie sums up my 2 selves nicely.
Truly, it’s a bizarre phenomenon to witness.
When I am wide awake, all I want to do while I’m by myself is listen to truly great music and watch truly great movies. I have very little desire to fritter away my time with disposable entertainment of any kind (reality shows, sports talk radio, random YouTube clips). What constrains my consumption is that the only time I usually have by myself, besides my morning blog session, is an 80-minute round-trip commute and a 60-minute lunch break. So I listen to carefully selected albums — and a few good podcasts — during my commute, and I stream carefully selected movies during my lunch break. As a result, I’m now finally chipping away at my bottomless movie queue. And with the help of a music streaming service, I discover or rediscover a great album almost every day. (Side note: The pool of stellar music is seemingly infinite! Which I guess makes it… an infinity pool.)
But the point is not the quantity. The point is the level of engagement. Being awake enables me to see, once again, the intensely textured beauty contained in a thoughtfully rendered sonic or cinematic creation. My mind is not distracted by worry or dulled by lethargy. It is sharp and receptive.
So I feed it the best art and the most compelling narratives I can find, and these nourish my mind and soul. I would even say they nourish my body, which was designed to crave (among many other things) the visceral rush of carefully curated auditory stimuli.
Evocative music and resonant movies make me feel more human. As I see it, that’s one of the most vital functions of any well-crafted narrative. After all, stories are woven into our human fabric.
When I am wide awake, I have much more to offer my kids. Or more accurately, I remember that I have much more to offer my kids. I’ve always had the same amount to offer, but my hibernatory dad self can easily get lost in the weeds. I can be defeated by the struggle of the moment, be it something the kids haven’t learned to do yet (i.e. potty training for Greyson, independent sleeping for Violet) or some momentary meltdown that in reality is just part and parcel of the toddler parenting experience. But when I am awake, I can much more easily put all of this in perspective and simply be grateful for all the kids’ glistening moments and achievements, which are plentiful.
My awake self is prudent enough — and content enough — to know that it’s infinitely more important to be warmly present in each moment, than to lug around my various axes and grind them dejectedly whenever the kids do something that disappoints me. Clarity tends to infuse me with a certain hard-earned wisdom on this point, and perhaps even the humility to know that my ax-grinding (and teeth-grinding) has never accomplished anything in the first place.
To quote a song by The Who, which later became the name of a good movie, the kids are alright. And so am I, when I am awake enough to embrace that affirmational truth.
When I am wide awake, I am a better husband. I won’t spell this out in too much detail since it feels odd to write in great depth about my marriage, but I will say this. When I’m in hibernation mode, I am codependent. I am emotionally needy. I am desperate for Danielle to be my quiet place, my rock, my steadying force in the midst of the storms that blow through my mind. And she provides all of that.
But when I reemerge into my true self, I don’t need or demand any of that. I still appreciate her being rock steady, no doubt. And I’m deeply grateful for her affirming, unwavering moral support. But I am perfectly able to maintain my own emotional equilibrium. I don’t slouch and slump over against her. I stand up straight and hold my head high with joy and purpose.
And that’s when our marriage — any marriage — is the best kind of partnership. When each partner can navigate their own ship. That frees up both of us to support each other’s ship however we can. Not because either of us is helpless or codependent, but because we love each other enough to throw our full moral support behind what the other one has energetically set about to accomplish.
But to do that, both partners have to be awake, and clear-eyed. And right now, that’s where we find ourselves.
When I am wide awake, I have the good sense not to barrage my mind with more than I can handle. I take a week off from the news from time to time. I modulate my Twitter usage. I avoid watching movies that might crush my spirit for no good reason, with no redeeming value. I try to steer clear of bleak conversations that I know will likely burden me with despair about things I can’t control. (Unless it’s a conversation with someone who needs a listening ear about something difficult in their own life. That’s a totally different can of worms, and one that’s well worth prying open.)
In short, I prize and proactively preserve my mental health. Especially since at any given lucid moment in my life, I can vividly remember having the exact opposite feeling within the previous 3 or 4 months. And I want to do anything in my power to hold onto that sweet sense of lucidity.
For my own sake, certainly. But equally as important, for the sake of my deeply impressionable young children. For the sake of my friends and family. For the sake of everyone I rub shoulders with. And for the sake of my true love, who deserves my best self, given to her with the best of my ability.
So I press onward, clinging to my clarity for a dozen different reasons. I will do my best to remain wide awake and stave off hibernation with reckless abandon.
After all, as a roving band of North American musical philosophers once sang:
“Sleeping is giving in…. no matter what the time is.
Sleeping is giving in… so lift those heavy eyelids.”
So there you have it. The dramatic ebb and flow of my mind, which pinballs me every few months between a semi-paralyzing flatness and an exhilarating depth of clarity. To be clear, I’m not helpless in this back-and-forth toggling of my mind. There are numerous things I can do — and indeed do — to enact and preserve my awake self. I’ll lay those out in some other post.
But there is a decent portion of it that still feels beyond me and my efforts. And it is that part I seek to understand by publicizing this aspect of my journey. Please don’t hesitate to comment or message me if you would like to engage with this post in any way or share the details of your own experiences. I’m all ears.
And finally, allow me to just say: THANK YOU. Thank you for reading this far. I am grateful for every person who takes the time to read the things I write. I am honored by your presence here on my bare-bones little blog (which at some point I’d love to spruce up a bit!).
To the extent that I know you personally, I’m grateful that our paths have crossed. I’m blown away by the array of fascinating people I’ve had the good fortune to meet over the years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that human connection is truly infinite.
And if you and I have never met because you somehow stumbled onto this page through some online conduit, I’m glad you’re here!
Make yourself comfortable.
FOOTNOTE: The roving band of philosophers is Arcade Fire. Gotta make sure every quote is properly attributed! Especially when it’s from one of my favorite bands.