Ball of LettersLast night, I couldn’t sleep.

Nothing new or special there. It happens regularly, I suspect, to all of us. The day shuts off, but our brain stays turned on.

Usually, when I can’t sleep, I like to play the Alphabet Game — an easy mental exercise that provides me with a simple task to focus on — in order to push out the circular thoughts that are keeping meu up.  You pick a category, like boy’s names, and then you go through the alphabet and try to think of one name for each letter. Andrew, Bobby, Curtis, Dylan, Edward.

When you exhaust one category (Xavier, Yanni, Zachary), you simply move on to another. Items at the grocery store. Professional sports teams. Religious objects. Diseases. Countries. Units of measurement. (The list is endless.)

But, last night when I couldn’t sleep, I ditched the Alphabet Game in favor of some technological distraction. I pulled out my iPod, opened my NPR app, and scanned the day’s stories. Anything about the war or the economy would keep me awake even longer, so I bypassed anything that looked too serious for 4:17 a.m.

I settled on this story from Talk of the Nation. An interview with cartoonist Roz Chast of the New Yorker. Okay, that should be good. Maybe they’ll talk about cartoons or drawing or something else that’s light and fluffy and happy.

So I started listening…but it wasn’t long before something caught my attention. Chast began to describe her motivation for writing her new book, What I Hate from A to Z:

“It’s actually sort of almost an accident. I sometimes suffer from insomnia. And when I can’t fall asleep, I play what I call the alphabet game. My other friends … do similar things. I have one who calls it categories … You think of a category that, you know, [has] a number of things … in common. And then you list one for every letter of the alphabet.”

Ahhhh! I do that! I DO THAT! I got so excited that I shot upright in bed.

She continued:

“And, you know, I had done countries and I done Beatles songs and prescription drugs, diseases — you know, appendicitis, bursitis, common colds, diphtheria, elephantiasis, flu, gout — whatever. And I thought, well, what about phobias? And I started out with phobias, but then I realized that this was not really strictly phobias. They were things that kind of — phobias were included under this umbrella, you know? But it was really just sort of loathsome things.”

So, guess what I did at 4:21 a.m.?  I turned on the lights, picked up a pen, and started an alphabetical list of Things That Make Me Anxious.

First on the list: anxiety. Yes, anxiety itself. Anxiety about anxiety. (Dare I even say panic about anxiety?) Anxiety makes me anxious. Meta-anxiety. Worrying about the fact that I’m worrying. All that.

Amusingly, amidst all of my list-making, I fell asleep. (I count this as an insomnia win.)

I have a few more alphabetic holes to fill this evening (like K and Z), but I’ll be back soon with my completed A through Z list. Care to join me in putting an alphabet’s worth of your own fears and anxieties on paper?

Creative Commons License photo credit: lincolnblues