I’m not sure what time it is. Maybe it’s 5 am. The sun is coming up. Maybe it’s 5 pm. The sun is seemingly at the same place. I’m not sure. My eyes are twitching, their edges screaming at any activity. My mind is vacillating with indecision between delirium and passing out, tired from 36 hours of not sleeping.
The first 20 of those were from a raging insomnia, the rest 14 because it was a work day, and I can’t tell my boss I need a day to sleep in the middle of the week. Even if I did, what about tomorrow, or the day after?
Among all the things that COVID-19 has destroyed, a crucial aspect has been sleep. In the U.S alone, “use of anti-insomnia, anti-anxiety, and antidepressant medications have spiked, with filled prescriptions increasing by 21% between February and March 2020 — that’s after use decreased between 2015 and 2019.” Those numbers peaked during the week of March 15 — the same time the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a “pandemic.” In the United Kingdom, a poll found that 38% of people were sleeping less or of lower quality than normal. Anxiety related to COVID-19 is also creating a whirlwind of emotion, and there seems to be no end in sight.
My sleep patterns started changing in late March with my bed time shifting from 1 am to odd hours At the time of writing this piece at the end of May, I have gone weeks where I slept at 7 am or sometimes didn’t sleep at all. I’m now consuming more caffeine than usual to stay up and feel energized, which then kills my chances of getting any decent sleep. My new housemates (my parents) have suggested sleeping pills, which, well, sounds sub-optimal. It’s not ideal for me to come out of a lockdown sleep deprived and dependent on pills.
It’s almost as if the coronavirus decided to package together all my fears and made them corporeal for me to engage with. Economic uncertainty, the challenges of moving back home and now being in a long-distance relationship for the first time has kept me awake on more nights than one. I’m not in Mumbai anymore, having shifted bases for fear of running out of food, so my warm support system has been replaced by my parents, who are obsessed with getting me married and cutting my hair. In that order. I think.
With the nationwide lockdown, the death toll rising, and rumours around COVID positive cases in my neighbourhood, I’m barely stepping out. The lack of an essential physical component is compounding my already exacerbated anxiety, creating a loop of mental jitteriness and physical lethargy. Up is down, down is up.
Previously, like most people I didn’t care for the sun much, but apparently it’s quite important. The human body is dependent on it for fighting “seasonal affective disorder.” According to the professor who coined the term, it’s defined as, “lethargy and feelings of sadness and hopelessness that come when the weather forces people to spend more time indoors and the season provides little opportunity for exposure to natural light.”
I, alongwith, million others in lockdown aren’t getting any of that much needed sunlight.
Additionally, this once-in-a-lifetime oddity has wrecked any semblance of certainty. And my brain, like most brains, is disintegrating in the face of uncertainty. According to psychotherapist Bryan Robbinson’s article in Forbes, “Your survival brain is constantly updating your world, making judgments about what’s safe and what isn’t. Due to its disdain for uncertainty, it makes up all sorts of untested stories hundreds of times a day because to the mind, uncertainty equals danger.”
“If your brain doesn’t know what’s around the corner, it can’t keep you out of harm’s way. It always assumes the worst, over-personalizes threats and jumps to conclusions,” Robbinson added.
This doesn’t sound great. It’s almost as if I won’t be sleeping tonight (or today) thinking about why my brain is running around fearful and making up stuff. How does one then evaluate risk, or trust their own judgement, when they know their brain isn’t functioning like it’s supposed to?
I’ve spent a lot of my sleepless nights watching YouTube videos about The Arrow of Time. It explains how entropy creates chaos in the human body, and with particles constantly expanding, we’re always changing, always going forward. That’s how time works, we can’t go to the past, because we’ve changed, with our reality striving to transform into our immediate future.
What though, if our physical reality, the world we live in, is in a state of futurelessness? Will everything go back to ‘normal,’ as we previously understood, once we have a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 or 2022? What will that ‘normal’ even be? The study of time tells you it won’t be what we’ve had, and with our brains making up things, what do we even hope it to be? All of it makes me anxious.
I’m still not sure what time it is. Is it 5 am or is it 5 pm. How am I supposed to care?