Keeping It Together

Cat Cute Beast Pet Tomcat Animal HomeSometimes I fear that everything in my life will fall apart. There, I said it. Whether it’s insomnia and its consequential sleep deprivation, upset hormones or just my own anxious mind, something deep inside me keeps provoking a looming dread; it’s a feeling I can’t seem to shake.

This dread may stem from a mixture of sources, but I think fear plays the largest role. The feeling crept in during a weekend retreat I took recently with my husband. Our trip—a quick getaway to my in-laws’ cabin—was the first time I have traveled with insomnia in nearly a year. The intent was to get away from the city and summer heat, of course, but also to gauge my progress with insomnia and travel anxiety.

Sleep-wise, things went about as I expected. I certainly wouldn’t boast that they were the best two nights of my life, but I got a satisfactory amount of rest considering the circumstances. My energy levels, however, took so many unexpected dips that I had a difficult time focusing on the scenic landscapes and normally enjoyable activities; instead, my body and mind entered zombie-mode frequently.

The dread started there. What if I will never enjoy travel again? Could it be that no matter what we do or where we go, I’ll struggle to enjoy trips I once would have loved?

It worsened as I realized how much my husband enjoys getting away—how he needs these kinds of trips. He seemed calm, relaxed, at peace, calling everything “beautiful,” and showering me with compliments and appreciation for making the trek up north. He became a new man, treating me like a queen the whole time, despite all of my ups and downs. I felt humbled by it all, though at the same time, that looming dread kept creeping in and telling me I’ll never be the fun, adventurous wife my husband deserves.

These thoughts should not, I kept telling myself, inhabit my mind right now, as my husband rubs my shoulders and offers to do the dishes. What is wrong with me? I should feel overjoyed, cared for, grateful and loved. Instead, guilt and dread occupied the space where these positive feelings should reside. Talk about some heart issues and thinking errors.

I wish I could say that I had some great breakthrough and worked through all of my negative emotions. Not so much. Though as I write this, I can at least identify the faultiness of my feelings. Of course I am worthy of love. I am a being created to love and receive love—the kind that cannot be earned through good deeds or commendable behavior on my part. Real love flows freely, despite my behavior. The key, I think, is accepting it.

I don’t know all of the answers for dealing with dread and guilt, or for finding true joy despite discomfort, or for accepting sacrificial love when I feel completely unworthy to receive such a gift. However, remembering the sound advice from someone much wiser than myself has helped. The advice goes like this: “What you know trumps what you feel.”

Something powerful happens when I identify my thinking errors and heart issues, and something even more powerful happens when I pray through them. I’m reminded that Christ is my stronghold. He gives me strength and steadies me when emotions pull me in all different directions. Through prayer and the promises in God’s Word, I can lift my eyes above fear and dread, refocusing on Truth and disproving the lies my mind tends to believe.

Peace and blessings,

Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac

Time: The Insomniac’s Archenemy

Cats and ClockPerhaps one of our worst habits as insomniacs is watching the clock. We lie there wide awake, see the time, calculate how many hours are left before the alarm sounds, then panic a little as we think, “But that’s not enough!” The panic makes us feel even more awake, and the cycle continues.

I’m certainly guilty of this behavior. Worrying about time—in particular, not having enough of it—would land somewhere near the top of my Ten Most Ridiculous Worries list.

Recently, the concept of time has become a fascination of mine. It started when my husband and I watched the movie “Interstellar,” where the main character (Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey) travels through a wormhole in outer space, hoping to find a new planet to sustain human life. Upon landing on the first planet, Cooper spends mere hours exploring the terrain, but finds out he has been gone 23 years when he returns to his team.

I knew I was watching a sci-fi film, so I turned to my husband and whispered, “That’s fake, right?” He replied simply: “Time is relative.”

Obviously, I had a million more questions at that point, but I contained myself until we arrived at home. My husband gave me a science-y explanation of time, relativity, theories based on space travel, and the like, while I tried to process a concept of time existing beyond my own perception.

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not think like a scientist. A philosopher, maybe, but definitely not a scientist. I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around what my patient husband attempted to explain. But I began thinking of my life as a timeline—with a beginning, a middle, and an end—and how powerful it could be if I lived my life without this ongoing fear of not having enough time. If time is relative, who’s to say how much is enough, right?

Lessons From Chrono-Displacement Disorder

My newfound curiosity led me to re-read a book I finished in college called “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” Yes, it’s a sappy love story, but the creative plotline makes it worth reading (I would not, however, recommend the movie … snooze-fest).

The book’s main character, Henry, suffers from a genetic disease that causes him to bounce around on his life’s timeline (don’t fret, the disease is fictional). For example, Henry may be 40 years old, but he uncontrollably travels back in time to find himself hanging out with his wife when she’s a child. It’s a trippy book, but I love how it makes the reader think.

How would you live your life if time wasn’t really a thing? What if your timeline didn’t run from start to finish, but instead went all willy-nilly and took you from 1993 to 2007 to 2023, then back to 1998? The clincher in the book is that Henry can’t change the past when he travels backward. Everything has already happened, so none of his actions will alter the future in the slightest.

It really intrigued me when Henry would tell someone about the future, usually to comfort him or her over current anxieties, and suddenly that enlightened character would find renewed strength to keep on living. For example, Henry tells a friend suffering from AIDS that he is still alive and well in the future. He tells his wife to persevere through her traumatic miscarriage experiences because they have a baby in the future. He tells his uber-depressed dad that he will teach violin again when his granddaughter is born, and she will excel because of his teaching.

Knowing the future—namely, that everything will be OK in the end—is powerful. But does this happen beyond fictional stories? Can we know our future and experience the peace that comes with this understanding?

The Happy Ending

I believe we can know the most important part of our timeline: the ending. I don’t believe humans are put on earth to live completely unaware of the future … just time and chance acting on matter, as my atheist/agnostic friends would say. I believe we have a good God, a loving Father in heaven who assures us He is working all things for our good (Romans 8). He knows the future, and He tells us it is good, that He will prosper us and not harm us, and that He will give us hope (Jeremiah 29).

I’m slowly learning how to view time as a blessing, not a curse. I do not need to fear whether or not I’ll have enough time to accomplish my life’s duties. My timeline is already planned out, and the plan is good because it’s created by the Creator Himself.

So, I’m going to take one step at time, putting one foot in front of the other, and trust that He who gives me strength will provide just what I need for this time. I can take my eyes off of the clock, off of my own perception of time, and back to life as I’m supposed to live it—without the fear of time running out.

Peace and blessings,

Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac

The Bright Side

Happy catI’ve always been a silver-lining seeker. I believe there’s good in every situation, no matter how bleak it may seem. And trust me, with insomnia, things can feel pretty darn bleak.

Though we ‘somnis often get extremely down about our sleeping issues, insomnia does have its perks. A recent post in an insomnia support group asked us to talk about the “bright side” of not sleeping. I loved reading the responses—some deep, some funny, some laced with sarcasm. Here are a few of my favorites:

Marcie W: “I get alone time. The only alone time I get.”

Jailyn B: “My husband is a disabled vet. Sometimes the insomnia is a blessing because I am able to jump up at a moment’s notice if he needs me, or I can stay up all night if I need to and take care of whatever needs to be done.”

Laura P: “I get special late night texting time with my dad, he is a trucker, who works nights.”

Elizabeth J: “I get to cuddle with my cat more often.”

Amnee J: “At least I know if anyone tries to break in or attack me, I’ll be awake to defend myself and see the attack coming in advance.”

Robin D: “I have had insomnia for decades. I have learned to love the night … I can see the beauty in the darkness.”

Moriah J: “I will die sooner.”

Alone time, yes! Being more available for those in need, awesome. Cuddling kitties, obviously a fantastic benefit. But of these responses, the last one resonates with me most.

I’ve talked about our clingy relationship with physical health in a previous post. We get far too attached to the here and now; we ignore our purpose on earth and abandon beliefs that life goes on after death. The reason I love Moriah’s blunt, honest response is because it forces us to face the reality of death, and choose to view it as a positive or a negative.

I believe we can find comfort in death. After dying, we will no longer experience mourning, crying or pain, and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). On the particularly terrible insomnia nights, I cling to these words and allow my anxious mind to soak them in. I try to imagine the beauty of a new world without suffering, and where perfect contentment will make a home in all hearts.

This may be the greatest benefit of insomnia. It puts death right in our faces, and it reminds us not to live our lives going through motions without a real purpose.

Beauty in Darkness

I excelled at ‘going through motions’ 10 months ago. I would drag my grumpy insomniac butt out of bed in the morning, work a job that demanded more from me than I could ever give, try to squeeze in a half-hearted workout for health’s sake, then barely have time to scarf down dinner before attempting another night of broken sleep. I didn’t allow adequate time for my marriage. I didn’t even attempt to see friends or develop relationships. I rarely picked up my guitar, read a book just for fun, or anything else I once enjoyed.

Insomnia—as a blessing in disguise—pushed me to my breaking point. I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt miserable, and I worried my friends and family who thought I had dropped off the planet.

Fortunately, I married a compassionate, self-sacrificial man who helped me make a plan to get out of the rut. We readjusted our budget and made major lifestyle changes so I could afford to quit my job. My husband told me the most helpful move I could make was to take a step back, let my body and spirit rest, and do what I could as a full-time homemaker for the time being (or “domestic engineer,” as he likes to call it.)

Insomnia hit me like a slap across the face, but I’m finally learning to adapt and even appreciate this season of life.

Robin’s response above, the one expressing a newfound love for nighttime, also gave me an important reminder: we are designed to adapt. When we lose something—a limb, a loved one, a relationship—we go through a mourning period and eventually learn to cope with the loss. Memories remain of the way things once were, and sadness over the loss may creep in throughout our lives, but our new reality eventually sets in and we learn how to find joy in it. Humans are made to be highly resilient beings.

I love how Robin says she finds beauty in the darkness. That’s what life is about, isn’t it? The darkness, the brokenness, the sadness—it will never go away while we live in this world. But we can still find beauty in it. We may lose our mental/physical capacity to hold a steady job, but we gain time with loving friends and family. We may lose the ability to travel, but we’re humbled by the people who come thousands of miles just to visit us. We may feel exhausted 90 percent of the time, but we learn to appreciate that 10 percent of “normal” more than any human ever could.

Cuddle your cat, text your night-owl friends, enjoy your alone time, and learn to find the beauty in darkness. If you look hard enough, you’ll always find a silver lining. Even with insomnia.

Peace and blessings,

Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac

Manna in the Desert

Insomniacs often wonder how long they can survive without sleep. They know sleep is important—and are frequently reminded by concerned family members—yet they can never get enough, if any, to feel confident that their bodies will endure another day.

Thirsty Cats.jpg

I think it probably feels similar to wandering in a desert. We know humans aren’t meant to live in a desert; we need food, water, shelter, clothing, etc. Surely one could only survive days, maybe weeks, in such harsh conditions.

Logically, yes, humans would perish quickly in a desert. Likewise, they would not function well, or even survive long, without sleep. But this is without considering the Miracle Factor.

The Miracle Factor allows humans to survive in a desert for 40 years. It produces life-giving bread that drops out of the heavens. It supplies water flowing freely out of solid rock. It keeps shoes and clothing from ever wearing out. The Miracle Factor defies all human logic.

I’ve experienced the Miracle Factor recently. Around the time I posted “When Things Get Worse,” I thought for sure my life was about to take a fast downward spiral. My sleep declined drastically for many nights and I experienced bouts of depression, likely stemming from fear over what was happening to my body.

I would climb into bed with my heart pounding, feeling incredibly anxious over trying to fall asleep again, and knowing the whole night would be a battle. I felt fearful, miserably sad, and of course, emotionally and physically exhausted.

After several days of this, I should have been a wreck. My spirits should have plummeted to rock bottom, my body should have been drained of energy, and my brain should have entered zombie mode. That’s when the Miracle Factor showed up. Over the course of a few days, without any improvements in sleep, a sense of peace filled my mind and spirit, providing what felt like a protective shield around my whole being. This peace developed through lots of prayer, scripture, and the Holy Spirit dwelling in some amazing friends. The miraculous peace allowed me to feel safe, and it reminded me that I have all the tools I need to arm myself against fear and worry.

Toward the end of my nearly sleepless week, my body felt perfectly fine—normal, even—and my spirit overflowed with hope. I kept telling people, “I should be completely exhausted right now. This is crazy. It makes no sense.” Crazy or not, I knew that the Miracle Factor stepped in that week.

Slowly, my sleep began to improve to where I am now. It’s nowhere near perfect—usually five to six hours broken up into many sections—but I’m finding it is just enough to fulfill my purpose each day.

I’m thankful. Even though I’m still wandering in the desert, somehow that life-giving bread continues to fall from heaven. Every. Single. Day.

Peace and blessings,

Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac

Doing the Best I Can

I must be doing something wrong. If I just saw the right doctor, took the right medicine, did the right exercises, ate the right foods, read the right books, I’d be cured … right? My mind travels down this dangerous path often. Surely I’m just one step away from instant insomnia relief. I must have missed something.

Cat Help

Or maybe I haven’t. Maybe what I’m doing now is enough. Maybe my body’s current state—weight, BMI, fitness level, overall physical health status—is exactly where it’s supposed to be at this point in time.

Our Clingy Relationship with Physical Health

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed, but it seems like our nation obsesses over health now more than ever. Everyone needs to wear a Fitbit, run five or more days per week, drink kale smoothies for breakfast and sleep eight hours each night. How much time and effort do we invest into physical health before saying “enough is enough?” (Side note: I do wear a Fitbit and I LOVE kale smoothies, but that’s beside the point.)

Let’s think about this. The average life expectancy in the United States sits around 80 years. That’s a decent amount of time, so sure, take care of your body while you have it. Give it quality nutrients (as possible) and try to keep it moving in reasonable amounts throughout the day. But guys, zoom out for a second. Our lifespans—80 to 100 years at best—are basically tiny blips in time when you consider eternity.

I don’t mean to sound depressing, I just think we need to recognize this when considering physical health. In particular, we should think about what’s worth investing more time, energy and thought into—our physical health, or our spiritual health?

Personally, I believe in an afterlife. I believe our spirits will remain eternally after we die, either with or without God, depending upon faith or lack thereof. And I’m pleasantly surprised to find 80 percent of Americans also believe in an afterlife, despite a recent decrease in religious affiliation (NBC News, 2016).

So the vast majority of us agree—our spirits will go on past those 80 years. Yet we cling to our years on earth as if they’re all we’ve got.

Shifting Perspective

I’ll confess, I habitually spend too much time calculating my sugar intake, ensuring I get plenty of fruits and vegetables, adding up “active minutes” and step counts, and, the big one for me, estimating time asleep (which has been quite a downer the past few years).

But jeepers, does it really matter?! What happens when I lose the ability to exercise? When my sleep drops from four or five hours per night to an absolute zero? When sickness or old age depletes my body’s nutrient status and my appetite for healthy food? Well, my body will gain and lose weight dramatically; it will alter in shape; it will change in overall appearance. Then it will be gone.

The process is inevitable. It occurs faster in some, slower in others; and sometimes the loss of our physical health happens in a split second. (Before we have the chance to say, “Wait! I still need to lose five pounds!”)

That’s why, starting now, I want to focus on the part of me that lasts beyond 80 years. Rather than investing embarrassing amounts of time into expectantly making my body better, stronger, leaner, I want to concentrate on strengthening my spirit. For me, this means asking myself on a daily/hourly basis:

* Am I praying/praising/giving thanks as much as I’m exercising/meal prepping/attempting to improve sleep?

* Am I taking adequate time to study who God is and nurturing my relationship with Him?

* Am I listening to Him and His Word throughout the day?

* Am I spending time with His people and serving them when I can?

* Am I living intentionally in all that I do, keeping my mind protected from worries and anxiety-provoking lies?

I still plan to take care of my body. But while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way. I’m choosing to address my body’s physical needs, giving myself grace in what I cannot control, and letting God take care of the rest. Most importantly, I’m choosing to shift my focus from today to eternity.

Peace and blessings,

Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac

Insomnia Breeds Negative Nancys

Insomnia breeds exhaustion. Exhaustion breeds hopelessness. Hopelessness breeds Negative Nancys. Negative Nancys must be stopped!

Grumpy CatI’ve spent many-a-day playing the role of Negative Nancy, and I’ve never enjoyed her one bit. She’s easily annoyed. She’s too blunt. She struggles to enjoy the things she once loved. Negative Nancy is a major downer.

My sister-in-law recently experienced her own Negative Nancy day after a rough night of sleep. She told me, “I don’t know how you do it. I’m so crabby when I’m tired!”

I smiled and told her it’s certainly one of my biggest challenges. Little does she know the extent of my struggle.

Battle of the Mind

Just over a year into my insomnia battle, I discussed some of my frustration with a loving aunt. This woman has been through hell and back when it comes to health challenges, and today she’s one of the most joyful people I know. She fought intensely with lupus for many years and was sure the disease would take her life. Her pain became so severe that she couldn’t even hold her new baby.

Through a miracle of God, my aunt no longer tests positive for lupus and can lead a normal life as long as she takes proper care of her body. But her journey was certainly no walk in the park. The part of my aunt’s story that sticks with me the most is what she termed “the battle of the mind.”

Any illness causing physical limitations will also involve a mental component. We become fearful when our bodies begin to fail; although, inevitably, they all will fail eventually. It scares us to live a life that does not match what we pictured for ourselves.

Faith allows me to cope with this. It doesn’t make coping easy; it makes it possible. I’ve read and heard about an insane number of miraculous healings from insomnia and other illnesses, so I know that no matter how bad things get, there’s always hope.

But then there are those who don’t receive healing. And I could be one of them. It’s faith that allows me to cope with this reality as well.

Pondering the ‘Why’

In my previous post, I discussed how we often ask the question “why” when we’re sick and not recovering. I think this is a perfectly normal question to ask, and though none of us can give a definitive answer, pondering the possibilities is a good tool for warding off Negative Nancy.

One reason, which I discussed in last week’s post (see subhead 2), is how pain often acts as a catalyst. Suffering spurs us toward action so we can help those facing similar battles. Anyone who experiences life’s deepest pain knows that no one should face it alone.

Another guess involves the incredible maturation that often comes with a burdensome illness. I’ve seen this countless times. Someone falls seriously ill, and suddenly he or she begins living life the way it’s meant to be lived. Worries about rent, career moves and wrinkles fade to the background. Spending time with friends and encouraging people, whenever possible, becomes a greater priority. We grow in our faith. We’re humbled as we realize how little control we possess over our lives.

I have to (once again) reference Sara Frankl for my final guess. I mentioned Sara’s story in my first post, and how she touched my life with her joyful, optimistic outlook. Sara fell terminally ill, but her sickness created a community of hope that reached—and continues to reach—thousands of people all over the world. I believe God worked through Sara’s pain in countless ways, but probably the greatest among these is how He used it to spread the gospel. It’s impossible to read Sara’s story without sensing God’s presence throughout it all. Sara wrote about her suffering, perils and incredibly challenging circumstances; but more importantly, she shared how living in God’s Kingdom and viewing life with an eternal perspective gave her persevering strength until she arrived at Home.

Fighting off Nancy

Nancy wants us to believe our suffering is for nothing. This is why pondering the reasons behind our pain, and looking at how God has used others’ suffering for His glory, helps me the most when fighting off Negative Nancy. But there are other practices I also find helpful. My top three are as follows:

1. Find an uplifting support group and ask them to call you out (gently) on your negativity.

2. Stay in scripture—arm yourself for this battle of the mind! (Psalms, Job and Ecclesiastes are my go-tos.)

3. Address fear by finding the root. (Fear of pain? Fear of loneliness? Fear of death?) Then, study Truth and work through it with God through prayer.

Remember to give yourself grace throughout this process of fighting off Nancy. I let her win way more often than I’d like to admit, but I keep brushing myself off and starting all over again. His mercies are new each day.

Peace and blessings,

Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac

When Things Get Worse

I believe there’s a plan for this world. I believe that plan is good. It involves redemption, restoration and complete healing. In the long-run, things will get better. But right now, they seem pretty sucky.Sad cat

Because I’ve been taking intentional steps to reduce stress, care for my body and allow plenty of time for rest, I assumed my insomnia would begin to subside. I would slowly begin to sleep for longer stretches, I’d feel tired earlier in the evening and fall asleep faster, and my energy levels would eventually pick up. But my body gave me a reality check during the past several weeks.

It’s not better. Unfortunately, the sleeplessness has gotten worse than ever; I’ve been sleeping just 2-3 hours for several nights now. It’s not fun. Frustration begins to set in and I feel like I’ve been cheated. How do I find the good when things keep getting worse?

When in Doubt, Look to Job

A few days ago, around 4 a.m., I flipped to Job to figure out how he dealt with discouraging circumstances. Job did pretty well coping when all of his stuff, and even his children, were taken away from him. However, once his health began to suffer, the dude kind of lost it. I get it, though. When life hurts, it’s easy to ask questions like “why am I here?” or “wouldn’t death be so much easier than this?”

I’ll confess that I skipped to the end of the story to remind myself how things worked out. Truth be told, Job never does figure out why he had to suffer so intensely. God just tells him it’s not his place to know, then blesses him with even more than he had before.

I hate that Job—and anyone throughout history, for that matter—had to go through such great loss. But man, am I glad he did. I turn to his story so often when I’m hurting. It always reminds me that I’m not alone and that things will work out in the end (even if they don’t work out the way we plan or expect). Seeing someone persevere gives me inspiration to keep going, one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

Pain as a Catalyst 

When pain and suffering get worse, one of the main questions we ask is “why?”

Like Job, we’ll probably never know the full answer (at least not in this lifetime). But God certainly gives hopeful glimpses of how He uses our painful journeys for good.

I got to chat with an encouraging friend recently, and we began discussing how ugly the world can be. We talked about our body-image obsessed culture, mental illness, substance abuse and an overall loss of self-worth that seems to affect many.

After hitting a heavy silence in the conversation, it occurred to me how God works through many of these difficult circumstances to spur us toward action. I’m writing an insomnia blog to connect and encourage others going through the misery of sleeplessness. My friend is writing a blog on body image to encourage other women dealing with the issues she has faced from a young age. I’ve also met a former addict who became a hospital chaplain to help others through their struggles, a woman once homeless who started a program to get others off of the streets, and so many similar examples.

Pain stinks for a million and one reasons, but I cannot for a minute think that it’s meaningless. When people hurt, they want to help others experiencing the same pain. They get it, they know how terrible it is, and they can no longer sit idly by while people face it alone. I know I wouldn’t wish insomnia on my worst enemy. I want to do whatever I can to help encourage those in sleepless misery, even if it’s just saying, “Hey, I’m right there with you. We’re in it together.”

I don’t know how long I’ll be in this trial, or why it’s happening. But I do believe I’ll look back someday—maybe soon or maybe at the very end—and I’ll know it was worth it.

Peace and blessings,

Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac