I just want to wake up like a normal person
March 17, 2012 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Existential panic in the mornings that subsides shortly after waking up. Is this just another stage in getting over a breakup?

For over a year after my live-in relationship of three years ended, I would wake up in the morning reliving the loss. After we stopped contacting each other, my life got immeasurably better, quickly. I no longer harbor romantic feelings for my ex, and wouldn't consider dating them again. I've dated other people and am learning a lot about friendship. I enjoy my life and feel happy in my own skin.

I still wake up feeling like shit, though. The feelings of grief I had in the mornings have faded to a kind of waking existential nightmare. In my half-awake state, I see myself, alone in my room, as the camera of my mind's eye pulls away from me, slowly revealing my place among millions of dwellings and the people occupying them. I'm painfully aware of my insignificance and I feel intense doubt about the point of my existence. I feel completely worthless and alone.

As I shake off the dregs of sleep, I start to remember why I matter, where I belong and what matters to me, and the feeling fades. It never lasts longer than twenty minutes, and I feel pretty happy throughout the day. Sometimes I put off going to bed because of the waking nightmare I have in the morning.

This was the first time I'd had my heart broken, so I'm wondering if it's normal to feel this way. Will this fade as well at some point? Is this just part of getting over someone you loved and shared your life with? I am finally going to be moving out of the place we shared next month--will that help? Would it help to get rid of the bed we shared as well? I really like it, but would rather not have nightmares.
posted by sockomatic to Human Relations (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I think moving will help. Before getting rid of the bed, try a morning routine that will make you happy and that will be different than what you did with your ex. Go running, or do yoga, or a crossword puzzle, or just buy an awesome washcloth or something you'll be psyched to use every morning. This might replace some of the dread with "Man! Am I excited to do X!" type feelings.
posted by sweetkid at 7:05 PM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

It is a normal reaction to lots of stresses, not just romantic. I would suggest that a part of you is still feeling slightly lonely, or at least lonely for the type of relationship you had. You are, in some ways, still mourning the loss of the relationship. I suspect. You rationally don't care for the person anymore, but there are still patterns in your head that pop out in moments when you aren't guarding yourself.

The way out is to consciously think about the things you love about your life, those things you look forward to every day. If there aren't enough of those, create some, or find a way to love the things already in your life.
posted by gjc at 7:10 PM on March 17, 2012

You're grieving. It's ok and its a process. Be gentle on yourself. When someone close to me, left, I rushed thru my emotions to be happy. It worked but one day came crashing down for I didn't respect my feelings of grief. Your emotions are valid. Don't cut yourself short with shortcuts.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 7:34 PM on March 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Try not to linger in bed if you can help it; if you can get out of bed and onto the floor or a chair for some meditation or breathing exercises, it may help. That feeling sucks but you can already see that it is very short-lived and thus it's not really based on any reality of your current situation. Meditation will help to reinforce your detachment from the funk. Good luck,.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:38 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Become fully conscious, then don't hide. Look it in the eye. Flood yourself with it, the worst of it, consciously, until you're tired of being afraid of it. If you need to cry and have your heart race and your palms sweat and hairs stand up and be horrified, let that happen, and sustain the response as long as you can stand it. You'll eventually tire. Keep stimulating the thought past the point of being tired of fearing it.

Do this every time it happens.

It's just a thought. Not even a completely wrong though. We are alone, and life is pointless. You're not worthless, mind you, but there's some truth in most thoughts, even the one you're having. Still, just a thought. It has power over you, your life, because you are cowering before it. Avoiding it. Dreading it.
posted by ead at 9:55 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, this was definitely part of the lingering grief of a couple of major breakups for me (as well as the lingering grief when my maternal grandparents died, incidentally). It's normal, if unsettling. It also receded, with time.

This might sound strange, but what if you consider what it might be like to make friends with the grief? If you can start to think of it as just a part of the morning landscape -- for awhile, not forever -- then maybe that helps make it less frightening to anticipate. And maybe, too, it even has something worthwhile to teach you: that all relationships are impermanent, that life is ultimately fleeting. These can be very depressing thoughts, in one way -- but they can also be very invigorating thoughts, in another. Accepting that all things change and pass away can prompt us to celebrate what we have knowing we won't have it forever; facing the feeling that life is inherently pointless in the abstract asks us how to create meaning in our own lives as individuals.

All that said: I would bet that some of this will fade pretty quickly once you move into a new place (though don't be alarmed if other aspects of sadness get triggered by the move as well -- such as feeling wistful that you're now in a place that your ex won't ever see). I don't know that getting rid of your bed will necessarily help, but what if you make sure to get some new, cheerful bed linens that you really like, or cute pajamas, or a vase with flowers to put by your bed? These all might help reinforce your bed and bedroom as a space of comfort and security as well.
posted by scody at 10:19 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have this too, especially after breakups, but often for no reason at all. The advice to have a morning routine that you look forward to is what usually works for me. Also, I check my e-mail from bed in the morning these days so that I have something to take my mind off it, even if I don't particularly look forward to checking my email.

I agree that you might feel lonely in some way that you haven't been consciously dealing with, perhaps, because I often find that's the case for myself. I hope it lifts soon for you.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:21 PM on March 17, 2012

John Mayer covers this topic in "Dreaming With a Broken Heart":

When you're dreaming with a broken heart
The waking up is the hardest part
You roll out of bed, and down on your knees
And for a moment you can hardly breathe
posted by jitterbug perfume at 10:36 PM on March 17, 2012

Wake up faster. Alarm goes off->jump out of bed->in the shower before your second alarm goes off a minute later. You won't have time for an existential crisis while racing into the shower. If you are tempted to turn off the alarm: why? You want to prolong the moment of feeling alone and crap? Or is there something else that you enjoy about sleeping in and are just associating with the moments of waking up?
posted by jacalata at 2:03 AM on March 18, 2012

Eating something and/or having a cup of coffee right away helps me a lot with this.
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:46 AM on March 18, 2012

I went through something similar right after separating from my ex-husband. Persistent nightmares about dying (in a new and different way!) every night for 18 months caused the first waking moments of my day to be confusing and terrifying until I was awake enough to realize I WAS STILL ALIVE.

Luckily I was in therapy at the time and learned this is a very common component of the grieving process. Counterintuitively, I was advised to get more sleep, regardless of how much I dreaded it, being especially careful NOT to awaken during the last few critical minutes of the sleep cycle (this made a HUGE difference, but it would be impossible for me to explain how).
Briefly, your mind pushes aside any kind of intense issues during the day so you can go about the required daily activities of living, only to try to work them out at night when you are not otherwise occupied.

The good news is, it really really does get better. You have to work on it a little during the day to reduce the "heavy lifting" that goes on at night in the dream state. Peace of mind could be found through exercise and meditation, as does good sleep hygiene.

It's awful until it passes. I wish you peace of mind and better mornings ahead.
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos at 8:16 PM on March 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Got some great advice in a mindfulness seminar once. Turns out many people have anxious thoughts and feelings first thing in the morning because they are just waking up and thus vulnerable (my most anxious time is when I'm very sleepy, morning or night). The advice was basically not to listen to the story the voice was telling you, because it wasn't true (in the same way the story you hear at other times of the day when you're feeling more up to tackling things is). You should accept and acknowledge the feelings, but calmly shrug them off and try moving on with your day.
posted by lovingkindness at 11:01 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I know exactly how you feel. I went through the same exact emotions of grief, depression, sadness, loss of hope, etc. Wanting so badly to scream out the pain. But, as everyone has stated...it does get better. At least, the initial pain and shock wears off, but that void does remain. Personally, it's been 4 months and I still miss him like crazy. There's not a day that hasn't gone by where I want to contact him...but I have to remain strong. It's okay to feel the loss and breathe through the pain. I highly recommend therapy. It helped me process some of the feelings of inadequacy I felt. In therapy, you learn that there are child needs and adult needs...the child in you feels abandoned, the adult in you knows better. The child in you needs comforting and for that person to come back to you to make you feel whole again; the adult in you knows that you can to remain strong and healthy (mind, body and spirit) whether or not he returns. Be patient with yourself, that was one thing I wasn't able to give myself initially when it happened. I kept questioning why it hurt so much and when the pain would subside. But, everyday, it seems like that fog lifts, slowly but surely. You have to keep reminding yourself that you're worth it and that a man should treat you the way you deserve to be treated. I hope you find peace, again. Moving on is the hardest thing, but it's your life...and you deserve the best!
posted by dream weaver at 10:04 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks so much everyone. I'm happy to report that my nightmares pretty much disappeared after I moved out. All of your suggestions and thoughts helped me get through the last few weeks.
posted by sockomatic at 9:10 AM on August 8, 2012

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