Survival Mode & Taking Things One Day at a Time

Insomnia is stressful. Plain and simple. During the past couple of years, I’ve noticed my body shift from carefree mode to an overly anxious survival mode. If you’ve ever (unintentionally) gone without sleep for extended periods of time, you might understand the feeling.
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In survival mode, my mind (probably due to lack of energy) can only address the absolute essentials for staying alive. This means my daily goal-list includes eating, exercising, resting and praying; anything else I view as a bonus. Seems like a pretty easy life, right? The problem is that I, the former Kat living in my little sleep-deprived world, do NOT desire living in survival mode. I desire going back to carefree mode because that’s when I felt productive, energetic, helpful and human.

Zombie Brain

I’ve compared myself to a zombie on more than one occasion when expressing insomnia woes to my husband. Exhaustion often makes me feel completely brain-dead; I lose all impulse-control—as in, I’m so tired I don’t even care that I’m eating cake for breakfast; and I really struggle with politeness as I interact with people. It’s terrible and I hate it with every fiber of my being, but being rude and blunt takes much less energy than acting with kindness and compassion.

I think I relate well with Drew Barrymore in the show “Santa Clarita Diet” (I know, I know; it’s my guilty pleasure show). Barrymore’s character turns into a zombie and, well, begins eating people, but also becomes an impulse-driven “contentment seeker.” While I think all humans act as such to an extent, impulsiveness and desperation for comfort kicks up a notch in the undead. (I’m going to lose so many potential subscribers with this paragraph.)

But in all seriousness, it’s similar to how I often feel as an insomniac. It’s like I would do anything just to feel comfortable. To feel alive. To feel energetic. And without the reason of my disciplined, rested self, why not enjoy the short-lived sugar rush of eating cake for breakfast?

A Planner Who Can’t Plan

The unpredictability of life in survival mode probably kills me the most. I loved living in carefree mode because I could plan exactly when I’d go to sleep, when I’d wake up, when I’d eat, exercise, work, and on and on. If I wanted to plan a night out with friends, no problem. A morning hike with my husband? Easy-peasy. Weekend getaway up north or to the beach? Yes, please!

Insomnia stunts the privilege of planning. I often wake up exhausted after tossing and turning most of the night, so by 10 or 11 a.m., I’m due for another rest to get me through the day. This means my “schedule” begins in the afternoon. And anything I’ve planned for the afternoon or evening must be cancel-able in the event of another energy crash, or intense anxiousness from lack of sleep.

So I’m a planner who can no longer plan. I must admit, only insomnia could steal away my obsession with schedules and itineraries, which makes me think planning was a privilege I was always destined to lose.

I’ve lived decades of my life thinking, “Tomorrow I’ll do this and that, see him and her, go to this place and that place, and accomplish all of the goals on my checklist.” Though I don’t believe anyone should really live life in this mindset. We do not know what tomorrow may bring, so why pretend like we do?

Am I saying we should never plan? No, absolutely not. Plans can help accomplish great things and make the world a better place. But plans can also control us if we let them. They can cause us to miss the most important things in life and turn our focus, ultimately, to our own selfish gain.

Freedom to Say ‘Yes’

The benefit of a plan-free lifestyle hit me as I was writing my nephew a letter recently. He attends a boarding school fairly far from home, so receiving letters gives him a sliver of family time that he currently lacks.

Thanks to insomnia, I can write him regularly to keep him updated on my life, to encourage him, and to ask questions about his journey. The former Kat, though more energized, would not spend nearly the time Kat the Insomniac does on these letters. Former Kat’s planned life controlled her, and her tight work schedule would have forced ‘letters to nephew’ into a low-priority category.

I’m finally learning. I’m not there yet, but I’m learning. It’s OK to plan some things each day—healthy, even. But plans should only exist if we accept that God may completely change them to accomplish His will.

Insomnia stole away my ability to plan, but it forced me see life as it really is: uncontrollable, spontaneous and free. It made me a zombie, mentally unable to handle a full-time job, but gave me freedom—as energy permits—to say ‘yes’ to the unplanned.

When a friend needs to talk after a hard day, I can say ‘yes.’ When my husband needs me to take our cars in for an oil change because he’s swamped all week, I can say ‘yes.’ When God prompts me to take a few minutes—or a whole evening—to pray for someone’s hurt and brokenness, I can say ‘yes.’ Life’s messiness can’t be planned, but, as I’m also learning, neither can the most meaningful moments.

Peace and blessings,

Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac


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