Why My Chronic Insomnia Is A Blessing, Not A Curse

by Sheena Sharma
Joe St.Pierre Photography

Nine at night: Hum. Hum. One tap of the button on my phone, and I can hear the sound of waves washing up against a shore.

Bzz. Bzz. One turn of a dial on my fan, and I can hear the blades speed up as they begin to turn. I’d rather sleep without those soft, sweet ambient noises -- I've done it before, and I’d like to do it again -- but lately, I’m lucky to get four hours of sleep in a pin-drop silent room.

Eleven at night: The ceiling stares me dead in the face. My sighs leave no space for silence in the room as they take turns with the whooshes of the fan.

Thoughts from the back of my mind creep forward to the front, muddling unintelligibly into one another. What do I have to do tomorrow? What should I wear? Will I ever find love again? Goddamnit, I miss him…

One in the morning: I’m half-asleep, yet still awake. I begin to stress about time. I begin to stress about sleep. I begin to stress about being stressed.

Thirty-minute intervals of waking and dozing finally bring me to 6 am. My alarm rings. I begrudgingly wake and remember the one thing that will get me through the day is knowing that in 15 hours, I can return to my bed.

Such is the life one with chronic insomnia leads.

“Nine at night is too early to go to bed,” some would say. Those people are probably right. But those people have probably never suffered from chronic insomnia. Those people probably don’t know what it feels like to be prey trapped in the fangs of a monster that refuses to let go.

On any given day, I’m so exhausted that I can hardly blink. Each breath I breathe shortens more as my lungs tiresomely push out less. Every muscle in my body feels like it's spent a day being crushed underneath the weight of 80 pounds.

And because I have not even half an ounce of energy in me to do anything else after work, I slip into my pajamas, turn off the lights and helplessly pray for sleep to steal me at 9 pm.

My insomnia began almost a year ago, when my ex and I broke up. Losing sleep was a gradual process. Slowly but surely, his absence from my life took away one hour from a good night’s sleep. Then two. Then three.

Eventually, I stopped counting. All I know is I spend more time in my bedroom lying awake than I do actually sleeping.

Six months after the end of my relationship, I was medically diagnosed with anxiety-induced, chronic insomnia. The doctor decided to prescribe pills for my sleeplessness.

I started on a small dose of one kind, but that didn’t work, so I switched to a higher dose. And when that didn’t work, I tried another pill, but that also didn’t work. So I tried both pills in conjunction with one another. By the end of this past summer, I was taking three different kinds of pills in one night just to get four disjointed hours of sleep.

Chronic insomnia is like a toxic relationship with an emotionally unavailable man -- it sucks the life out of you. It keeps you on your toes.

Your mood oscillates from one extreme to the other, and you never know if you’ll wake up ready to face the world or be too tired to leave your bedroom. And even if you do experience the latter, you’ve got to learn to buckle up your bootstraps and face the world anyway, because a life forever confined to the comfort of one’s bedroom walls is no kind of life at all.

I am currently on a quest to rid my insomnia, which includes weaning off pills, having weekly discussions with a therapist and finding ways to keep my stress levels low.

I began the quest weary and weak, but I’ve learned to grow stronger with it the more it unfolds. I’ve found ways to view insomnia as a blessing rather than a curse because hating insomnia doesn’t help me, let alone the insomnia itself.

I've expressed my frustrations to my therapist. He insists I don't sleep because I refuse to let myself be vulnerable.

It makes sense, really. When we sleep, we are making the decision to surrender ourselves completely -- to the comfort of our beds, to the stillness of our minds, to the randomness of the universe. We are choosing to let whatever may happen to us in our unconscious states happen to us.

But I have chosen to no longer be vulnerable in life because I have lost in love. And I don't know how to back down in the name of love -- or sleep -- again.

And so, until I'm cured, I will treat my insomnia as a blessing, not a curse.

If you suffer from chronic insomnia, the best way to stay sane is to look on the bright side of it, as clichéd as it sounds.

But I'll tell you a little secret: Those of you who have enough anxiety to keep you awake throughout the night are the lucky ones. You’re lucky because you’re too smart to stop thinking, too brave to let your guards down and too sensitive to take anything impersonally.

Those who sleep soundly through the night cannot comprehend the world the way we do; they don't let it weigh down on them the way we let it weigh down on us. And because of that distinct difference, we have more difficulty sleeping, but we also never love half-heartedly, live life uneventfully or begin a project without putting any and all bits of our soul into it.

As I write this, my eyeballs sting. My eyelids feel heavy. My brain is fuzzy, and my words are clumsy. It’s a miracle I can navigate the webs in my mind coherently. It’s dumb luck I can write lucidly enough to be able to inspire others.

These days, I do yoga. I hang out in good company. I try to remember I don’t have the capacity to control everything, and that inability to control the world isn’t a part of life to be stressed over; it’s a part of life that makes living beautiful.

I'm anxious I won’t sleep tonight. I'm afraid I’ll never be able to sleep the way I did before I fell in love. But I’m also grateful that I endure something so profoundly challenging that raising awareness is enough to stimulate the minds of those who can’t put their own to rest when night falls.