It’s 5am, and I’m brushing my teeth before bed. I’m nowhere near sleepy but it’s a trick I like to try sometimes, in the hope that my brain will some day realise that brushing your teeth is something people do before they go to bed at night, and know it must be time to sleep. It’s never worked. I sometimes think that it will backfire and as I’m brushing my teeth before I go to work one morning, my brain will finally get the message and I’ll crumple peacefully to my bathroom floor. I only think this when it’s 5am and I haven’t slept well for a few days though.
I pause, and think back on all the times I’ve gone through the ritual of brushing my teeth before bed – knowing every time there’s a pretty good chance that I won’t doze off, that I’ll be awake and hungry within the hour and head to the kitchen for some sort of snack, before repeating the whole procedure over again. I think back on all the houses I’ve brushed my teeth in – two or three times a night – and how it’s taken me this long to recognise that while most people don’t end up doing it as often as I do, I should accept that the intention to sleep is more important than the worry I’m just wasting time.
I think that at the end of the day – in this case literally – context is as important as action. If I told someone, unprompted (though I can’t imagine how that conversation would even begin) that I brush my teeth two to three times a night between midnight and 6am, they might start throwing the phrase ‘obsessive compulsive’ around a bit. But the action has come to represent something in my head. An unfailing optimism that gets me through the worst of times. The thought that some time, maybe next time, things will be different.