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

Sleep is Hard

Sleep. It used to seem so simple. Then suddenly, like a thief in the night (literally), insomnia destroys the one routine that always felt safe and peaceful.

Cat sleeping tongueIf you resonate with this post’s title at all, and if you understand the woes of insomnia, this blog is for you.

If you’ve tried the chamomile teas, the epsom salt baths, the soothing music, and the healthy sleep hygiene habits, but STILL spend more than half of your designated sleep time wide awake, this blog is for you.

If you dread bedtime due to the inevitable tossing and turning, coupled with a constant stream of well-meaning “calm thoughts” turned panicky, this blog is for you.

I, too, know the frustration of insomnia and its mind games. Beginning nearly two and a half years ago, sleep disturbance became a thing in my life. It’s crazy for me to think that once upon a time I would put my head on a pillow and wake up eight hours later—but here we are.

So why start an insomnia blog? Three main catalysts motived me to finally launch “Kat the Insomniac”: a need for understanding, the example of an inspiring blogger/author, and a desire to generate hopeful community amid discouraging circumstances.

Voyage Toward Understanding 

As stated above, insomnia likes to play mind games.

One familiar game starts with the body saying, “Um, excuse me, could really use some serious Z’s tonight,” and the brain responding with, “Yeah OK, I’ll chill out tonight … ” Then once you lie down, it yells: “PSYCH!”

That said, it’s no surprise that battling chronic sleeplessness tends to bring on a good ol’ fashioned case of the anxiety bug. I found myself in therapy beginning this past January, and one of the first suggestions my therapist made involved writing about my experiences and feelings so I can better understand them.

I began journaling here and there, but I found it hard to stay consistent. Part of the reason is that writing someplace where no one can read it feels like a waste of time. Plus, I yearn for connection and know that understanding myself will only get me so far.

This brings me to the two-fold goal of learning more about myself as I write, but also learning about the other bloggers I meet—their struggles, their views, and the obstacles they’ve overcome. After all, there’s nothing new under the sun, so why not share the enlightenment with one another?

The Sara Frankl Legacy

A second catalyst came from a book my dad lent me called “Choose Joy” by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver. He told me I would really like it, and that—”by the way”—I’m related to the author.

Within 30 pages of reading, I became a sobbing mess. I felt as though I knew Sara personally, and like she knew me. Sara suffered from a terminal disease that left her homebound, dealing with enormous amounts of pain, and extremely limited in her abilities. Yet through it all, Sara found ways to choose joy in her daily living despite the heavy burden she carried.

I read my husband some of the book’s passages, and we realized I had recently said many of Sara’s lines nearly verbatim, but in regards to my chronic insomnia. Sara and I were both journalists, both from Northeast Iowa, both musical, and both learning how to let go of so many expectations we put on ourselves. Oh, and my dad later expanded on the relation bit by telling me Sara’s grandma was my grandpa’s sister—in other words, we’re second cousins.

Though Sara and I never met, I’ve suddenly felt a deep emotional connection to this woman who learned to make the best of the life she was given. Reading Sara’s book gave me the extra push I needed to start my own blog, where I also hope to help others choose joy amid frustrating circumstances.

Generating Community

The final catalyst came from a place of deep conviction. I’ve been praying and pondering during the past several months on how I can continue to love and serve people, while also respecting my body’s demanding need for rest.

In one of my first therapy sessions, the therapist assured me I’m not alone in my sleeplessness—I think her exact words were: “None of my clients sleep … in fact, I don’t think any of my friends sleep.”

Hearing this gave me an odd sense of comfort, and it finally hit me that there’s an entire community of insomniacs out there also trying to get through life’s demands sans sleep. Light. Bulb.

My vision is that this blog can generate a community of hope for my fellow ‘somnis (yup, made that word up and I’m going with it). But I don’t want it to be exclusive—I also hope the community expands beyond us non-sleepers. Anxiety, depression, chronic pain, hormone imbalance/infertility, autoimmune disease—all of these can put frustrating limits on our lives and abilities. And it totally sucks.

However, I do believe there’s a purpose behind these struggles. Maybe one of those purposes involves uniting us in our pain and hurt, so we can encourage each other and bear burdens together. If so, I’m all in … and I’d love for you to join me.

Peace and blessings,

Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac