How Can You Heal Your Insomnia?

Chrissy Shaw

If you’ve ever struggled with insomnia and anxiety, you know that they fuel each other so completely, it’s almost impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. The questions become “Am I unable to sleep because of this anxiety? Or do I have anxiety because I can’t sleep?”

Anxiety is something that can be hard to describe to someone who’s never experienced it. It’s hard to put into words that sick feeling in your stomach- not excited butterflies, but a fear, deep inside. When your heart starts racing, eyes unable to focus, thoughts jumping around so rapidly, you can’t fully think one before your mind jumps to the next…

It’s a little bit like being alone outside in the dark, thinking you hear something behind you. As you sprint your way to safety, you whip your head around to look behind you every few steps, certain there’s something there. You’re panicking, on the verge of tears, yet unwilling to surrender to the invisible threat pursuing you. Only, there isn’t anything actually there.

Insomnia can be just as hard for people to understand, if they’ve never experienced it themselves. Sure, the main point is obvious: “I can’t sleep”. But what’s unknown to anyone who’s never struggled with it, is just how much chronic “not sleeping” screws people up.

My first foray into the decidedly horrible world of no-sleep came as part of the package of having 4 kids under the age of 5. There was not a lot of sleep for me in those days, though I wouldn’t say it was insomnia. After all, I couldsleep — as long as a crying baby or toddler didn’t wake me up. Still, sleep deprivation was a very real and very life-altering thing. There’s much I don’t remember about those years when my kids were all really small, and a lot of it is due to the fact that I was chronically sleep deprived.

I experienced real, full-on insomnia when I quit smoking 5 years ago. It became my own personal hell. I didn’t know why this insomnia had suddenly became an issue for me, but it happened at exactly the same time that I first started dealing with day-long anxiety. I knew both were tied to me quitting smoking — in fact, the hardest part about quitting wasn’t the nicotine withdrawal, it was the emotional baggage that started popping up. All the garbage I’d been stuffing down for years with smokes and alcohol was finally able to make itself be heard.

After 6 weeks of almost no sleep, my husband helped me start digging — and eventually uncovering — why I was struggling with insomnia. I felt like I was literally losing my mind. I would cry as he held me, so tired I could barely function, yet unable to do the most basic thing — sleep.

“What’s stressing you out?” He’d ask. And I’d have no answer. I didn’t know. We had 4 beautiful, healthy kids. We had the money we needed. We had each other. Nothing was wrong. But, at the same time, something wasn’t right.

“What are you hiding from me?” He finally asked me one day. That was the question that shook me. It shook loose all of the things I’d been trying so desperately to hold together. At first, I got mad. How dare he accuse me of hiding something from him! But, as it turns out, he was right.

When I really started digging, I discovered that I was hiding so much. Not an affair. Not drug or alcohol abuse. Nothing sinister or marriage-ending. But, when I started doing the massive soul searching required when something big in one’s life needs to change…well, what I found changed everything. (though not overnight!)

I was hiding me.

I was hiding the fact that, despite being raised going to Church every Sunday, I didn’t know who I really was spiritually, and I was shocked to find that the relationship with God I’d patted myself on the back for having all those years, wasn’t really a relationship at all.

I was hiding the fact that I looked around at everyone else and wondered how the hell they seemed so grown up, so together. How their lives seemed to flow, while I felt like a kid playing dress-up. One who felt like I didn’t have it together and never would.

I was hiding the fact that sometimes I wished I was a powerful, successful career woman… not “just” a mom and wife. And then those thoughts created anxiety because I also didn’t want to work outside my home.

I was hiding the fact that every time someone told me I was a good mom, I’d cringe on the inside, turning away from any praise, because a compliment like that was an open invitation for all the mistakes and times I was angry/mean/overwhelmed/frustrated to come rushing to the front of my mind.

I was hiding the fact that I knew I wasn’t always loving my husband the way he needed to be loved, and the guilt and shame of this truth became yet another layer on myself, as “things I’m not doing right/good enough.” And at the same time, this issue added a layer of resentment at being needed/wanted by yet another person.

Finally, I was hiding from myself the fact that I was chasing the wrong dream — confused as to how I could be so good at something, yet not want to do it. Surrounding this fact was a lot of guilt, and the misguided belief that I was somehow duty-bound to pursue it because I’d been given a talent, and was supposed to use it. This fact is one I’m still working on fixing today. Letting go of a certain path involves letting go of an identity you’ve believed about yourself. Change of career plans, sure, but also a fairly significant identity crisis.

Uncovering and understanding all of the ways I was hiding from my husband, myself and the world, didn’t result in a miracle cure of everything I was struggling with. I didn’t immediately start sleeping again. I didn’t suddenly fix all that I (now) knew had to be fixed. But it was a start. Becoming aware is always the first step.

And, now, 5 years later, I sleep amazingly well most nights. Over these last 5 years, I’ve worked really hard to figure out all the things I needed to figure out. I’m not 100% where I want to be, and I still have work to do. But my soul and my subconscious mind can now rest easy, knowing that I’m no longer lying to myself about who I am, what I love, and why I’m here. Sometimes, maybe that’s what our insomnia is trying to tell us. Something, somewhere in our lives is out of balance. Figure out what that is, and take steps to change is, and find the peaceful sleep you’re dreaming of.