Solitaire and Bedtime Stories: How My Anxiety and Creativity Live in the Same Room

As I’ve been getting out of my month-and-a-half-long sickness stupor, I’ve been getting back into my creative pursuits—bullet journaling, writing, etc.—and I’ve noticed one big change since I have been accessing this part of my brain again: I can’t fall asleep as fast.

My brain won’t shut off anymore now that I’ve turned it back on to almost full-on conscious mode. No longer consumed by my illness 24/7, my mind has time to wander as I rest my body, and sometimes I don’t like where my brain goes. I feel like I’m back in high school, during which, when my head hit the pillow, my brain would go on a whirlwind monologue about things I needed to do, things I had done, what I should be doing, how the future seems scary and also great but what if I fail, etc. At night, I think a lot about whatever creative projects I am doing and how I should be writing more in a day or drawing more in my bullet journal each month. My creative career is often the thing that takes the backburner in times of stress or illness, so it’s easy to be hard on myself for the lack of creative things I’ve done in the past month and a half.

I decided to try to solve this problem in two ways. First, I am using a tactic I have used for much of my life to get myself to fall asleep—I come up with stories that I tell continuously to myself each night. Sometimes, these turn into stories I write down. Sometimes, they’re just fun or stupid narratives I tell myself as bedtime stories. Not only does this distract my brain from my constant worries, it also makes being creative during the day easier because I’ve mulled over ideas already. Right now, my bedtime story is about a teen who is walking down a road with a blanket around their shoulders and a bloody nose, dreaming of a bowl of mac and cheese and their recently deceased dog. This is one I might actually write out, but who knows where it will go? I can do whatever I want with my no-stakes bedtime stories. I could add dragons. Or wizards. Or a bear. Maybe a ghost.

The only downfall to this practice is that I sometimes get too excited about the story I’m coming up with. I’ll want to get up and write it down so I don’t forget, or I’ll sit in bed with my mind racing through plot ideas. Then I queue up my white noise app and listen to fake rain fall instead.

The second tactic I’m using is much simpler: I play Solitaire on my phone. I usually have at least one mindless game downloaded on my phone to play in times like this. When I can’t sleep, I bore myself into tiredness with these games, pretending that having my phone on night mode cancels out the negative side effects of phones before bed. Solitaire acts as a baseball bat that knocks out a few of the Hydra Monster’s heads so I can get to sleep, whereas the bedtime stories just lull them into a more placating, malleable state.

One of the unfortunate things about how my brain works is that when I get more creative, the Hydra Monster gets more creative. That is to say, my fears and anxieties get more creative and my imagination goes wild. This is why I often take long breaks from writing if my anxiety or depression become particularly difficult to deal with. I have yet to figure out how to balance the moderate language that soothes my anxiety and the dramatic language that ignites my imagination.

Being creative is important to me. It is an important part of my personality and how I spend a lot of my time. Now I just have to learn how to wrangle those tendrils of imagination that fly out of control.

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