Over the past couple of weeks of extremely difficult sleep, digestive chaos, and a crazy mood roller coaster, I've been kind of a mess. And by kind of, I mean a huge blubbering mess. I'll spare you the details. But if there is a silver lining to this story, I'd say I've uncovered some deeper insights about why for decades I brushed off my symptoms as just something I just had to suffer through.
I have struggled with digestive issues, sleep, and anxiety off and on for most of my life. Sleep in particular is something that EVERYONE has thoughts on because you would be hard pressed to find someone who has never suffered through an occasional bout of insomnia. You might get some overly simplistic sage advice like, "Just take a Benadryl...skip caffeine...take a bath...have sex...use earplugs...just try to relax...improve your diet...use this herb...be more active...but not before bed...read something...but not on a screen..." I could go on.
And if you tell enough people how little you are sleeping, you will fairly quickly encounter someone with a sleep saga--or equivalent health saga for that matter-- who is just putting up with it. I have found that often it is the very people who have struggled the most to IGNORE their sleep struggles are the same people who cannot empathize with my story. "I haven't slept a full 7 hours in years!" They'll tell me this like they deserve a medal for their fortitude. And this is supposed to be comforting to me?! I had an acupuncturist once tell me that she is resigned to not sleeping well because of a host of factors including her snoring husband and in doing so she implied that I should do the same. Needless to say, she is no longer my acupuncturist.
Sleeping less than 7 hours a night is a reality for so many people in modern Westernized societies because of lifestyle choices and a variety of less than ideal situations we've found ourselves in as humans living in the 21st century. I want to give a nod here to people who have been dealt a more challenging hand than most because of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, and a host of other ways one can be labeled "other", especially here in the United States. Not being able to show up fully as your truest self and feel respected by your community has a way of making any stress-related challenge more difficult to address.
Whether or not you have these added stressors, there are a host of reasons why you are not sleeping. That is a post for another day. What I want to focus on here is how we are conditioned to engage in our lives on a broad scale. How many people do you know are of the work-hard play-hard mentality? Maybe it's you who is living a busy life with little time for restful sleep. Maybe you have been prescribed an amphetamine-based substance for your ADHD or use uppers like coffee to keep you functioning and feeling "normal" while living out of touch with your body's need for rest. This way of being in the world is so pervasive that we have acquiesced to subsisting on a cocktail of of uppers, like coffee, and downers including alcohol and sedating substances, of which I've been prescribed many. Collectively we have had our view of what is "normal" skewed so far from the reality of our bodies' natural rhythms that it is hard to even consider that many of us are suffering quietly in isolation.
In a Western individualistic society like the United States, "Busy." is an acceptable or even EXPECTED response to the question, "How are you?" Why is that? Because we are fed a constant barrage of anxiety-inducing news, things we all "need" to buy or accomplish before we're allowed to take a rest, and an ethos in which appearing well to others in person or on social media is more important than actually BEING well. So we take our pills, eat addictive and processed food-like substances, drink our coffee and continue on like zombies until one day we either wake up or continue to add on more consciousness-numbing layers in the hope that we will feel like ourselves again. I can say from personal experience that while I became pleasantly numb to my pain, I was a shadow of my true self for many years.
Please know that this is NOT meant to shame people into making dramatic changes in their lives right this very moment. We all know how things tend to go when someone has shamed us into dieting, quitting smoking, exercising, or generally taking better care of ourselves. It's not pretty.
I really want to emphasize that we are all in this soup together and that simply staying "positive" or eating "better" is not going to change our lives drastically. I feel so strongly that a lift-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps strategy does not really apply here or anywhere for that matter. Also who still has bootstraps? That kind of thinking perpetuates the individualistic stoicism that got us into this mess in the first place. Asking for help from your community, committing to really facing your most challenging struggles and weaknesses with bravery and self-compassion, and allowing yourself to be fully imperfect all serve to re-humanize us on so many levels. These are things that subvert the system. They are radical acts. I struggle to stay connected to these values, especially when my health is not in the best shape. But I know I am not the only one who knows in her bones that this re-humanization process is a critical part of our collective healing. We need to hear each others' voices, and this will only happen if we all can pledge to speak up about how important it is that we remain as humbly human as possible. The more we can see that we're not alone in this, the easier it will become to stay strong and accountable in our struggle to stay true to ourselves.
Lauren is a registered nurse and herbal consultant specializing in depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy. She supports people with pre or postpartum depression and anxiety through one on one coaching, classes, and online resources to create a support system through the use of herbs, trauma release work, and other body based techniques. Send me a message and we can schedule a time for a free consult about what you want to achieve and how I can help.