My kids all started new schools last September – two at the local primary school, one into the second year of the local senior school.
Every night that week at 3am the week before they started I was woken up with these thoughts:
“My youngest will come home on the first day saying how much she hates everyone and that she can’t tell the time and everyone else can and that her teacher is scary and that she absolutely will NOT be going back tomorrow. The class bully will find her and tell her she’s too skinny and stamp on her new smiggle bottle. And then pull her hair and then they’ll all stand round her in the playground chanting ‘you stink’.”
“My son will have a panic attack before going through the gates on the first day, which will cause me to have a panic attack which will freak out my daughter and all the other parents and kids who will peg us as weirdos and tell their children to have nothing to do with my son. Or me. And he’ll spend every break time hiding behind the bins in the playground crying while everyone else plays football and doesn’t ask him to join in. And he’ll be the only one who’s into playing the piano and and art and the class bully will find him and stamp on his glasses.”
“My eldest will start senior school and come back with her nose pierced at the end of the first day. She’ll have rolled her skirt up to the tops of her thighs and probably walk out of school smelling of smoke from the fags she’s been smoking while hanging out at the chip shop at lunchtime. Her grades will have dropped from straight As to Ds and Es by the end of the year as it’s not ‘cool’ to be clever when you’re 13 and it won’t matter anyway as she’ll be pregnant by 15 and have to drop out anyway. She worked so hard to get into her old school and make friends there and I am an evil wicked person for asking her to change schools only a year into her old one.”
“I am a loser, I have failed them, they will never forgive me, I’ve ruined their lives and we’re all going to be living with the emotional fallout of this move for at least a year. If not the rest of their lives.”
I’m not asleep when I’m having these thoughts, I’m fully awake.
They seem reasonable to me at 3am.
More than reasonable, in fact, they are simply true.
I can seem them taking place, I can feel how I will feel when it happens, and I feel dreadful.
Luckily, I had an insight a few years ago about 3am thinking.
Never. Ever. Trust your thinking at 3am.
A few years ago, before I understood anything about the nature of thought, I would have had to get up and start create contingency plans in my head for when these awful events all occurred.
Or get up and distract myself with TV or chocolate.
But then after finally falling asleep through sheer exhaustion, I’d wake up in the morning and see my scrawled to-do list, made at 3.15am.
“Get kids contact lenses. Do a huge launch of a new program. Get a tutor for my daughter. Research home schooling. etc etc.” and it would be a whole pile of nonsense.
My 8am thinking looks like:
“They’ll be fine, because they always are. My kids have a resilience and common sense that will mean they’ll know what to do no matter what situation they’ll face at their new schools today.”
“When we looked round, the other kids and teachers could not have been nicer and more caring, and the schools are full of nice ordinary people who will look out for my kids as it’s their first day.”
“It might be a bit bumpy to start, but we’ll all be fine.”
And I have an unshakeable knowing that it’s all going to work out.
Because it always does.
Now what’s interesting is not the content of either of those two sets of thoughts.
It’s the fact that our thinking in the moment looks totally real to us, and creates a solid looking reality that:
- at 3am – has to be dealt with through a series of actions and precautionary measures to make sure we’re all OK, and
- at 8am- where nothing at all has to be done
Same situation at 3am and at 8am. My kids and I did not undergo personality changes/get contact lenses in the intervening 5 hours, yet everything looks different.
And the fact that our feelings let us know when we can trust our thinking
- at 3am – there are feelings of anxiety, worry, panic, sweating palms and racing thoughts and heartbeat, and
- at 8am – there is a feeling of neutrality and calm
At 3am we get caught up and totally swept away by our reality in that moment.
Only it’s not really our reality, it’s just our experience of our thinking in that very second.
And the moment we wake up to that, we remember to ignore ourselves.
How do we wake up to it? We start to understand the fact that we ALWAYS can only feel our thinking in the moment. That’s the way the system works. Even at 3am.
This is what happens to me now in the middle of the night:
My mind starts to rant, and suddenly I remember: “Never. Ever. Believe anything you think at 3am”
And I turn over and go back to sleep.
This is an insight I had a while back.
But what I’ve seen more recently is that I can quite happily do 3am thinking at 4 in the afternoon. Or 10 in the morning. Or any time at random.
The clue is in the feeling.
If it feels shitty, it’s probably just 3am thinking.
But the route through it is exactly the same. Did you know you can ignore what you think?
Never. Ever. Believe your 3am thinking.