So You Can’t Sleep?

In the thin hours of the morning some things keep us awake:


A friend just lost his job. As we talked about it, I watched him scrub his hand through his hair, hollow-eyed, staring at his dim future flashing through his mind.


In addition to unemployment, I knew that he’d contracted the dangerous word going around. Like a virus, this word chews away at the brain, then attacks the body.


Like Dr. House searching for a cure, I’ve studied the word’s etymology. It’s akin to the Old High German: wurgen meaning to strangle.


That seems about right. Worry strangles its victims.


Worry: to harass by tearing, biting or snapping, especially at the throat (Merriam-Webster)


Webster’s secondary definition is to touch or disturb something repeatedly.


Yeah, that’s the way worry works. It pecks or hammers away at thoughts. If you’re like me, you scold yourself, “Stop it!” Then five minutes later, you’re staring at nothing, throat tight, drifting in the land of worst-case-scenarios.


It’s unfair. Anxious, lip-biting worries seep in effortlessly while heaving them back and putting up barricades require such effort. There are different battle plans (and future blogs). My first strategy (when I wake up out of my fog) is:



Dale Carnegie said, “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.”


I heard a similar mantra at an outdoor survival class: “Try to keep making your situation a little better.” Unfortunately, I experienced what that meant on an extended backpacking trip with my young son.


After 10 miles, we’d reached the trail to a mountaintop camp, only to find that it was overgrown and blocked with trees. There wasn’t time to bushwhack because nightfall and a storm were bearing down on us. That’s when my son announced that he was out of water and feeling sick. After the rain started, I also found out that he was out of dry clothes. Everything he’d brought was cotton. I mentally kicked myself. I should have checked with the Forest Service. I should’ve checked my son’s gear. I had a lot of “shoulda’s” until some spark of preservation goaded me.


We built a tarp shelter. Hope grew when we were able to start a fire; a tiny one, but it threw out a circle of light in the pouring rain. We built a water collector; an ugly jury-rigged contraption that the Boy Scout manual would laugh at. Never mind. Each action, even the ones that failed (like the collector collapsing) gave us a grip on a world we didn’t control. It kept us focused on the present.


I wish I could say that I’ve conquered worry. I usually stew for a while before I remember that “anxiety will not add any time to my life.” So the wee hours of worrisome mornings find me kicking off the bedcovers to write, pray, or look for phone numbers that I can call as soon as the clock strikes 8 a.m. (Those lucky people)


I have a friend who cleans the house or exercises when she can’t sleep. My unemployed friend tells me he’s stopped staring at the dark and instead tweaks his resume, circles potential jobs in the newspaper, or irons clothes for a possible interview.

We work on what we have at the present.

Morning will come. Hope comes with it.



About Barb

I escaped from a hardscrabble farm in Oklahoma. I'm not sure why people think I have an accent. I miss the sunshine, but not the fried foods.
This entry was posted in Hope, Worries and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to So You Can’t Sleep?

  1. Roxie says:

    I’ve been working backwards on this, wondering why hope is such a theme for you right now. And yes, worry is a killer. Worry is like mice chewing on the wiring of your tractor. We need internal cats to eat the worry mice. Doing something to help someone else usually does that for me. Somehow I can’t invest as much energy into worrying about the snow and the roads if I’m knitting a blanket for some orphan in Romania who NEEDS a blanket. Or if I’m making hats for homeless folks who are sleeping on the floor of some church during the storm. Or if I’m writing to a recently widowed friend in colorado who is getting through from day to day. Just sending an e-mail saying, “Hi. I’m thinking of you.” to someone is better than worrying about my problems.


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