What to do when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Ignore Freud for a start

Laura Kennedy: I woke with a ball of anger thrashing in my guts

Laura Kennedy got up on the wrong side of the bed and spent the day in a cantankerous fug. Photograph: iStock

Laura Kennedy got up on the wrong side of the bed and spent the day in a cantankerous fug. Photograph: iStock

 

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Not the wrong side, precisely – I always sleep on the right, next to a vast collection of potions and unguents, and my beloved humidifier, Gertrude. I woke up, as usual, to the sinus-relieving whirring of Gertrude lightly misting the atmosphere around the bed, and to the slanting, slate grey light of a December morning, and a ball of anger thrashing in my guts.

I have always been interested in emotions, mostly because they are such bizarre and imminent influencers of what we think and how we behave, and because we are largely unaware of them in the moment. After years of reading and thinking about emotions carefully, and then doing a PhD which in part looked at what emotions are and how they have been thought about over time, I am just as unsettled by them as ever.

We like to believe we are rational creatures with reasonable justification for our choices, but this simply is not the case almost all the time. We could easily smother under the weight of psychological studies showing that most of the decisions we make in a day are based on feelings, and not reasons instantiated in rationality. Ah, you say, but a feeling can be a reason. Of course it can. But if I eat three donuts on my break because I feel like it, that is not a reasoned decision. Unless I am ravenous and there is no access to any healthier food, then eating three donuts is satisfying an urge for pleasure rather than a decision with any grounding in sound reason.

My mood this morning unsettled me, because it was a reminder that while people like to think of themselves like Plato’s philosopher kings – intelligent, forthright, and capable of not eating three donuts in one sitting and not feeling a strange internal friction with the jocundity of the Christmas mood – we are, in fact, elaborate hams, shuffling hammily from one whim to the next without much understanding of why.

I have made a principle of never, ever taking Freud’s advice, which really is more reasonable than it sounds

There are studies proving that we regularly invent reasons for our minor daily decisions after the fact – such as why we chose a particular pair of socks to wear – when in reality we took no such reasons (or seemingly any) into account at the time. Somebody like Freud would doubtless contextualise all the lesser tendencies of our characters (and our better ones) in the terrifying, poo-smeared recesses (sometimes literally) of early childhood. Unfortunately, I have made a principle of never, ever taking Freud’s advice, which really is more reasonable than it sounds.

Besides, anyone who has spent significant time around little children understands that there is a certain amount of human character which appears to inhere within us right away. We are so much more complicated than the outcome of a process of either nature or nurture. We are the result of both, in who knows precisely what ratio.

I have seen friends despair over the very early inclinations of their babies. One friend had to be talked down from the edge of the abyss when he discovered that his baby had developed a bone-deep passion for the music of Wings, despite his equally bone-deep hatred of everything Paul McCartney has ever done. “I don’t even know where he heard Jet. He’s even not one. He does the ‘ooh-ooh-ooh-ooooh’ bit and everything. I feel like I’ve failed as a parent already.”

My irritation was there this morning, the moment I opened my eyes. Indeed, it seemed to have preceded my waking, waiting there for me as I was kicked through the tunnel of consciousness into the wet morning light, to acknowledge it. It had no attendant cause that I was aware of; no grounding in reality. Yet I was rude to Jules, who asked whether I was making tea (the rule is that the first one awake makes the tea), and I did indeed wake first.

The whole day was waded through in a cantankerous fug. I could, in Freudian spirit, excavate for the cause. Or I could simply get on with things, and that is quite enough work for one day. There is always tomorrow.

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