'Morning dread: On the Sisyphean task of getting up every day', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on daily ritual.

Morning dread: On the Sisyphean task of getting up every day

I’ve struggled with my fair share of atrocious mental health over the years. Thankfully, these days, I enjoy more good days than bad, something I can only say about the last two or three of my twenty-odd years of adulthood. Yet, despite this, over the last six months, I’ve been suffering a pretty serious case of the morning heebie-jeebies, the dawn funk, the waking dreads. Why is that, I’ve been asking myself? There are some pretty obvious aggravating factors to the onset of this debilitating condition: instability in my working life, instability in my living situation, relationship difficulties, stresses over money and lack thereof, all of these things and probably a dozen others. These are the surface reasons. Are there deeper causes, also? There could be – as I said, I struggled with my mental health for a long time, and there’s a chance the ghosts of those foregone times have drifted from the grave, perhaps as a response to the difficult conditions we’ve all been living through these last few years. The world feels smaller, the world feels more constrictive, more repressive, more cloying

We all (or at least many of us) have lost jobs and livelihoods, social outlets, a social life; our health – emotional, psychological and physical – may have suffered due to the ongoing (read ‘never-ending’) pandemic. It has hit us all, and hit us hard. Isolation, lack of freedoms – these are things we’ve all endured for too long now, and it’s perhaps wearing on us.

How does the morning funk manifest in me? I wake up with an inexplicable tension in my gut, like a rock almost, and it sits there while I pull the covers up around my chin and lay with my eyes closed and just shake. Don’t ask me why – shaking seems like the only response to the sensation. It feels like I’m trying to cast some demon out of my body, an exorcism of sorts. This can, and usually does, last up to an hour. After an hour of this, my mind can finally get around to throwing back the sheets and getting up.

But it doesn’t end there. That’s just when I entertain the idea of getting up.

On a brief reading of the phenomena, it’s apparently due to high cortisol levels that are released into the body first thing in the morning. For people with high levels of anxiety, the very act of being awake can trigger the release of stress hormones; simply coming around from sleep in the morning sends the body into a reactionary biochemical response. Pretty heavy thought, that simply being awake can elicit a feeling of stress and anxiety in some of us. And it’s debilitating, no two ways about it.

Some mornings, the act of rolling back the duvet can seem like a momentous, terrifying task. And very often I do so, only to pull it back over me again and curl up in the foetal position. It doesn’t help that it’s winter. Yes, sometimes, throwing your legs over the edge of the bed after waking can seem like a Sisyphean impossibility. But what you have to remember is this: you only have to get your feet into your slippers. Once there and standing up, you simply need to keep moving. Staying busy is the key. Once you’re up and going, you gotta keep going, it’s the only way to keep the anxiety at bay. Don’t burn yourself out – rest when you need to rest, and close your eyes for an hour in the afternoon if you need it, but a busy mind is a sure way of keeping the dread at bay.

No one begrudges you that time in the morning. Let it assail you, haunt you, for however long it takes to face it down. Then get your feet in the slippers and get to work. And stay busy. The dread’ll still be there the next day but at least you’ll sleep like a baby, and a good night’s sleep is worth its weight in gold.              

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 ‘Morning dread: On the Sisyphean task of getting up every day’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

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