I start most of my mornings the same way I have for a good while now: vice-gripped by panicky waves of existential dread. Who needs an alarm when you can just baste in what feels like a full-blown personal crisis with no identifiable cause? (IMO anyone can trigger this experience simply by using the iPhone “Radar” alarm sound, which must have been invented specifically for inducing an aggressive amount of fight or flight upon awakening.)

I don’t know if this is a menopause thing or a midlife thing or a citizen of the world in 2023 thing but I tend to wake up very early with a hammering heartbeat and an overall sense of Forboding Doom. It’s rare that this feeling can actually be mapped back to anything in particular; like sometimes I might have an appointment or phone call to fret over but usually this is just free-association anxiety. Anxiety Open Mic night. What’s wrong? EVERYTHING!!

Sometimes I can unclench myself back to sleep or at least into a less-tooth-rattling state of semi-relaxation (thank you ASMR videos, which I have been piping into my head-holes for many years now), sometimes I’m driven right out of bed even though it’s, say, 5:30 AM.

Once the cortisol sends me lurching upright I get to confront my stiff, cranky body. I use a knee pillow in bed to keep my spine from crumbling out of alignment but my lower back still registers a LOT of complaints first thing. Same with my hamstrings, which are like Bazooka gum: as the day goes on things get easier/more malleable, but it’s damned hard going right out of the packaging.

At 5:30 AM my house is so quiet. It’s cool and dark outside and there’s no bustle to anything, it’s like a gently held breath. It would be the perfect time to be kind to my stressed-out, achy body with some easy stretches. Maybe some warm chamomile tea, some deep breathing, or even a 10-minute meditation to start the day with serenity and focus? Or how about just some peaceful time with a good book? Or just, like, a GLASS of WATER?

Here is what I do instead: stagger like the fucking Tin Man to my Keurig machine where I blast myself 10 ounces of low-quality BPA-laden caffeine (I then add my preferred amount of creamer, involving an upended Coffee-Mate which I pound like a Cherokee drum until there’s a Mt. Everest of dried corn syrup solids in my cup with splenda poured on top of that, because why have one bad habit when you can cluster several together into a die-early turducken of poor choices??), then I drag myself out to the couch where I jam my protesting self into a cross-legged seat (audio accompaniment: “Huuurrrnnggggh”) so I can more easily rest my phone in my lap and doom-scroll until the poop juice fully kicks in. The only thing that drives me out of my calcified criss-cross-applesauce-with-an-impending-knee-replacement position is full-on GI distress, which really adds a complex layer of weirdly boosted adrenaline to the whole shebang.

Anyway, I have no inspiring conclusion to this. I’m not writing from a place of, “And here’s the 10-step plan I rely on now, starting with guzzling warm lemon water first thing and then following with 55 grams of clean protein and a brisk walk to boost my circadian rhythms, I FEEL SO AMAZING!” There’s plenty of that on the Interwebs, how about this instead: “I know EXACTLY what I’m doing wrong, and I’m almost certainly going to do it all again tomorrow.”

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Suzy
Suzy
7 months ago

I swear to you I could have written this myself…if i could write worth a shit that is. All of this. Right there with you.

ErinInSoCal
ErinInSoCal
7 months ago

OMG. Right there with you. I actually said this week, “if only I could sleep more than five hours at night, and not wake every morning filled with dread and anxiety for no apparent reason.” If only.

Nicole
Nicole
7 months ago

Third person to say – “yep, me EXACTLY” Let us know if you find out if this is a) a mid-life thing, or just b) a living-in-this-world thing. I keep idly wondering if I should try medication for anxiety or if this is “normal”

Swistle
7 months ago

This is my life now, too. At least tomorrow I can think from my nest: here we are, all together.

Pictou
Pictou
7 months ago

Same here, but I stay up too late, get up, doom scroll and pound coffee, then head out to my over-scheduled day. Lather, rinse, repeat.

sara
sara
7 months ago

as always, you fucking nailed this! Maybe it really is an age thing? Every senior ive ever knows wakes up at 4am. Perhaps it starts gradually? At 41, i feel myself waking earlier (not by choice!), long before my alarm is set to go off. Usually I wake up in a cold sweat, so that’s fun! I gotta say though, the hour or so before the rest of the house wakes up is a sweet sweet time. So quiet, no one needs me to do anything or find anything. I try to savor it!
The back and knee pain is complete and utter BS.

Lisa
Lisa
7 months ago

I feel seen! No really, are you spying on me?? You described my morning routine in freakishly good detail…I mean, it’s uncanny!

Erica
Erica
7 months ago

This is just wonderful and had me laughing out loud. I’m so glad you still write.

Kristi
Kristi
7 months ago

Yes, this happens every morning, why?! If this is midlife, I do not recommend.

Katherine
Katherine
7 months ago

At the risk of being annoying, Integrative Therapeutics Cortisol Manager and Biogenesis Stress Factors supplements. Hugely helpful for that “I’ve been living with it so long I don’t recognize it as anxiety” anxiety.

Debi
Debi
6 months ago

Wow. Get outta my head! Literally me every morning. The jolting awake feeling you get is me at bedtime. Fifteen minutes or so after falling asleep I have what feels like a mini anxiety attack. It started with menopause and hasn’t let up. Then there are the numerous night sweats/hot flashes all night. Good times.

Nine
Nine
6 months ago

Totally. Except instead of doom scrolling I play video games designed for the youth who have much better reflexes, and I use the Classic “Alarm” alarm that sounds like something you’d hear at a nuclear power plant.
I’m medicated (Effexor + weed, don’t try this at home kids!) so I don’t feel anxiety how I used to, but… I still have it? It just feels different. Unmedicated anxiety always manifested right under my ribs and felt like when you tip too far back in your chair, right before you fall? Except when it was in full bloom it felt like being thrown out of a helicopter. Now I grind my teeth to powder and give myself migraines and have the most fucked up anxiety dreams about not graduating high school that devolve into a zombie apocalypse with special bonus vampires that can turn into bats made out of blood? But no diaphram-y doom feeling, just more clenching and sweating. I’m not exactly carefree over here is what I’m saying.

Katie
Katie
6 months ago

Literally my favorite blog post I ever read. Laughing out loud multiple times! Same here but from 4-6 am, then a clenched extra hour or nightmare filled sleep. Then get up! Please keep writing. I need to read more about my life.

Sally
Sally
6 months ago

Yup. Same. All of it. Your writing is amazing – and so very relatable.