It’s a very long time since I did O’ Level music (the fact that it was an O’ Level, not a GCSE, is indicative of exactly how long), but it occurred to me the other night (when I was wide awake, obvs) that my Dark Hours Anxiety has a particular pattern and follows an almost musical form. I would say ‘well done brain’ – but, I’d just rather just sleep (or hear a soothing lullaby).
To be honest, I’ve never been a brilliant sleeper, but I’ve never known so many disturbed nights as I’ve had since E left. Since then, I have tried pretty much everything to get a good night’s sleep. I’ve tried drinking, I’ve tried not drinking. I’ve tried herbal teas, herbal tablets and soothing baths. I’ve tried banning screens and TV for an hour or so before I go to bed. I’ve tried reading, meditation and ‘white noise’ apps. I’ve even tried sleeping tablets. However, whilst some of these things have helped me sleep for slightly longer, not one of them has ever stopped the heart racing fear that I experience in the Dark Hours.
I think everyone knows that in the Dark Hours of the morning everything is magnified and seems worse than it is. Things that you would normally shrug off in normal Waking Hours, haunt you with an intensity that can be breathtaking. The Dark Hours are a lonely time. When E first left, I couldn’t face them and used to get up and roam the house at 1am. I cleaned, I tidied, I watched Dr Who and tried to sleep on the sofa. I soon discovered that, whilst this meant the house was abnormally tidy (and I had few totally mad Tardis dreams), it didn’t quell any of the anxiety I was feeling. The Dark Hours are relentlessly silent and ruthlessly lonely, and they lay bare every bone of your worst fears.
First comes the Allegro, the anxious, heart drumming, first few moments as you wake from a deep sleep and realise that it’s 1am and you’re wide awake. Memory, then panic, grips you like a vice. It’s totally silent, but your ears ring with the Allegro’s quick fire piano notes and you catch fleeting fragments of your day and of the things that have haunted you for as long as you can remember.
Then the Adagio. It starts with a lachrymose low note, repetitive, resonant, and sounding throughout the night. It’s that slight feeling that’s been nagging at you all day, making you feel that you’ve done something wrong, been something wrong, that you’ve ruined something. It’s a feeling that, in the small hours of the morning, magnifies and becomes all-encompassing and threatens to engulf you. Into this this comes an oboe note of pure regret. It runs through every word that you’ve sad that say and every word that has been said to you and minutely examines every nuance of not just your day, but your whole life, to suggest every mistake you’ve ever made and everything you’ve ever done wrong.
Still haunted by the deep sorrow of the Adagio, a Minuet begins. It takes a theme from the previous two movements (what you did wrong today / what someone said that upset you / what you’re worried about happening tomorrow, next week, next year) and creates a repetitive, intricate and ever more detailed dance. The theme repeats and repeats – creating hammer blows of memory, worry and regret.
The complex notes of the Minuet give way to the final movement – which is another Allegro – a triumphant vocal chorus of despair. Soprano notes release a crawling feeling of anxiety, which grasps at the pit of your stomach and, eyes wide and heart beating, you fret and worry and try to quell the cold sweat of fear that’s gripped you.
As this final movement resolves and dies away, you finally sink into a disturbed sleep – where your brain kindly runs through everything you’ve just been through but in dream form – with added dream logic, as well as flying monkeys, serial killers, plane crashes and an ever-present sense of panic and fear.
When morning finally comes I’m usually so relieved to be freed from the endless loop of anxious wakefulness and disturbing dreams that I’m quite grateful to be awake. Whilst I think my morning cheeriness is a good thing, my not-remotely-morning-people kids would beg to differ. I like to think that maybe one day my brain will surprise me with a a long night’s sleep and a dream where Rufus Sewell appears and sweeps me off my feet, or where I save the world with the Doctor and the Tardis, or even just walk along a beach or in a meadow with people I love and feel the sun on my skin. In the meantime though, I’ve resigned myself to facing the Dark Hours on my own for a little while longer. So, until my brain gives me a break, if you see me looking a little wild-eyed in the mornings please be kind…