Sleep was never elusive when I was younger. I could sleep anytime, anywhere. I never pulled all-nighters in university because I honestly couldn’t stay awake all night. But now, that has all changed.
I’m 41. I work full time as a writer. I do freelance gigs on the side. I teach at a local university. I stare at screens a lot.
Sleep used to be something I looked forward to. Now, as I approach bedtime every night, my anxiety builds.
It all started a couple of years ago. I’d get anxious before a big day, and it would disrupt my sleep. I could literally feel my body buzzing with anxiety, but I’d usually be so exhausted the next night, that sleep would come.
Now, my sleeplessness comes in two-week cycles. Half of my life is now spent in a dazed and confused state due to insomnia. For the first week, I’m usually pretty groggy and grumpy, but I can cope. But by week two, getting through each day starts to become a game of mind over matter.
You’d think it would be easy to sit at a desk all day, pecking away at a keyboard, regardless of energy level, but insomnia amplifies every ache, every struggle and every emotion. It stretches every brain cell to its limit. The ability to focus is lost. Everything pales in importance. It’s almost as if perception itself is smeared with Vaseline so that the world is hazy and smooth around the edges, and it’s fine, except that it’s not because I’m barely functioning.
Productivity becomes a painstakingly slow process, and only absolutely necessary tasks get done. Yet conversely, certain functions go into overdrive: emotions, sensitivity, anxiety. And the ability to find a second, third, fourteenth wind, usually at night, right when it’s time to relax and sleep. It’s strange to get that surge of adrenaline when you’re absolutely exhausted, but the body is an amazing machine. It just keeps going. It’s a never-ending cycle — exhaustion, adrenaline, sleeplessness, exhaustion.
What You Resist, Persists
Every day in the cycle feels a little bit worse, and it gets harder for me to cope. So I’ve been experimenting with a technique to ease the pain and struggling I go through during these two weeks. I’ve begun to work on the concept of letting go of the need to feel good.
When you’re exhausted, all you want is to feel better: rested, energetic, clear headed. But the fact is, without sleep, that’s simply not possible. The harder I fought against the effects of insomnia, the worse I felt. They say what you resist, persists. And so I stopped resisting the exhaustion. I embraced it.
This might seem a little counter-intuitive, but simply accepting my new reality feels so much better. Because when it comes down to it, I still have to go to work everyday. I still have to produce thoughtful, coherent content, and be present and responsive. And it’s hard to do that when I’m exhausted.
But I found that accepting the exhaustion, stopping the whining and complaining in my head, and simply carrying on with my day has been easier than fighting against it. Fighting the fatigue takes energy. But leaning into it, accepting it for what it is, and putting a stop to the internal monologue about how much it sucks, frees up a little energy to endure it.
I still need to find a solution to the insomnia. But until I do, accepting it as part of my new reality has made my sleepy-headed days a little brighter.