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Antisocial ?

Charles Warner

I get up early in the morning. I always have. For years I fought this urge simply because it seemed so antisocial. Social stuff happens at night-right ! When I was a kid I always missed out on the television that all the other kids would talk about at school. The Sweeney, The professionals, Not the nine o'clock news, were all unknown to me because at six AM I had been out in the countyside wondering why it was that noone else was around. I can't say that it was much of a problem then and I lived with it through my teens and twenties often by having a quiet time early evening and then coming alive again later at night. It was more difficult in my marriage. I had a business to run and children to care for and a bigger need to fit in with everyone elses more standard timekeeping. I went through a period of quite deep depression in my mid thirties when the strain on me was most intense. I sought medical help and saw my local GP. He focused on what he saw as my unusual sleeping pattern and suggested that I change it by staying awake a little longer every evening and therefore staying asleep for longer in the small hours. I trusted his judgement and gave it a go but found it impossible. His advice had put the onus on me to change what he saw as an antisocial habit. This reinforced the message that my wife and others also sent which was that I was somehow deliberately keeping to a sleep-wake pattern that meant that I didn't have to interact with people. I began to believe it myself. So much so that when I was offered sleeping pills I decided eventually to give them a go.

It was odd though. I didn't feel antisocial. It was true that in the evening I was often unable to stay awake through the dull soap operas and junk TV that populated most evening viewing but hell I had no interest in that stuff anyway. Instead I would get up at 4.30, have a coffee and read for a bit in silence before heading to work when it got light. Often I was full of enthusiastic ideas at this time of day. Anyone that talked to me in those early hours would not have detected any hint of depression. When I got the chance I enjoyed nothing more than sharing the pure joy that I felt to be up and alive in the quiet of the morning. I should have run with these feelings. I should have trusted my body clock. The message that it gave me should have registered loud and clear. I was too compliant in those days though. I wanted more than anything for my family to be happy and if taking pills could help then I was prepared to try. I lost two stone in weight over this period. This might have been an indication that all was not well.

I suppose that I was lucky that the pills didn't work. They seemed to have no effect upon my sleep at all. I only tried them a hand full of times when I was at my most desperate. My marriage fell apart and eventually I was back to a situation where I could have a sleep pattern that suited me and noone else. Needless to say that meant back to waking early and retiring early. I still try to impose limits. Even if I'm wide awake i don't get up before 5am and I try to keep awake in the evening as long as possible (easy in summer when I work late. Harder in winter) .

I was recently listening to the world service in the small hours and there was an article about circadian rhythms. The gist of it was that our sleep- wake patterns are governed by our brain chemistry and that we are all different in this regard. It also mentioned that in bygone eras when people were less dictated by their work patterns it was normal for people to wake during the night and eat and be sociable before going back to bed and sleeping until morning. So maybe I'm not that unusual and maybe I can stop beating myself up about it . I sure feel healthier and happier when I'm allowed to fall into my own pattern. It might be a shame that there is noone about at 5am but these days I can catch up on tv, read a book, listen or play music, bake bread or write a blog. Just don't phone me at 7pm with an order because I probably will speak gibberish. In fact I've taken to not answering the phone or the door after 6pm. I have a partner now that understands. I get a bit of gentle ribbing now but she can see the benefits of me falling into my natural cycle.

The point here is that I think that there are things about ourselves that we can change. Smoking, overeating, lack of excercise for instance and those which we cannot or should not. Our nature is, for the most part, our nature and trying to change it can do more harm than good.

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