For anyone struggling with insomnia – this is for you xx
I had my first bit of insomnia when I was 16 years old at boarding school, in the period just before my GCSE’S began. The radiator in my room started leaking around 1a.m. every night for about a week. After it was fixed, the habit of waking had taken root, and I struggled to stop the waking. But after a few weeks, it righted itself and I could sleep again.
The next bit was at university. After a month or so of being unable to go back to sleep in the middle of the night, my mother gave me some sleeping pills to try. The thing is, I have this super sensitive nervous system, and so all they made me do was hallucinate thousands of soldiers in minature, who I’d sit up in bed watching, as they trooped across my bedroom floor, like an endless flow of ants enlarged.
But again, after a month this sorted itself out, and I could sleep again.
The next bout of insomnia came after university, and it was that here that I started experimenting with running at 2am in the morning, as this thought of come on, we need to be productive with this, emerged, only I freaked myself out so much doing it, that I only ever did it the once. But I struggled to settle this insomnia, until a very precious and old friend, Tomas, said to me, Lau when you can’t sleep at night, it’s because your soul is trying to tell you something.
And then in 2012, two weeks before I gave birth to my first child, after experiencing the most beautiful deep regenerative sleep throughout the pregnancy, in a little room, on a self-retreat in a Buddhist centre in east sussex, two weeks before I gave birth, a flutter of unease eased into my heart, and the sleeplessness rose once more.
It stuck around, for the next 6.5 years.
At its most chronic, there would be no sleep. Maybe an hour.
At best, there’d be about 5 hours of sleep, but broken and with 2 or 3 hours in the middle of me being awake. That’s not sleep. And for anyone in this place now, I just want you to know, it will change, but first, something needs to happen…
This is why I’m grateful for what Tomas said. Because, there’s not a book I’ve read, nor a technique I’ve not tried, that’s produced a more significant impact then when I was finally ready to address deeply, this question my friend posed 15 years ago. The only adjustment I’ve made, is to change the world ‘soul’ to heart. Because this is the way I understand the question. On a somatic level, I do experience my heart telling me things, and equally I experience my head, saying oh Christ, don’t listen, don’t go there, ignore it…. But last year, after the most challenging year of my life, I started to pay more attention to what my heart was telling me.
I think the more entrench ourselves in scenarios that involve others, the harder it can be to trust our hearts. And this is why I wanted to write this – because it’s for anyone who’s still in the grip of long term insomnia, and is loosing hope that they will ever sleep normally again. I want to say this to you, as if you were sitting here right with me now, drinking this cup of tea:
I swear to you, if you are prepared to look deeply at your life and what your whole heart body intelligence is trying to tell you is amiss, then sleep, and good sleep, will come back to you.
This is scary actually, because I think us humans are kind of amazing in how much we’re prepared to sacrifice in order to keep the peace. To sleep again, you have to go inwards, and the answers we find there, may feel a whole lot like standing up to a tsunami of overwhelm.
Ultimately though, whatever messages our heart is trying to tell us, are unique to each of us. It’s not for me to say, or even imply what they are. I wouldn’t dare. The magic of your life is for you to trust, and the rest of us to enjoy. None of us can guess at another’s purpose. We may have a sense of it once they’ve recovered themselves, and are walking towards it, but we can never place on them the role we feel they need to live when they’re struggling to find it. For this reason, I’m not going to say that the insomnia is “a gift.” It’s too brutal for that. Also, I acknowledge that retrieving the confidence to trust your heart, may feel terrifying. Because when we’re living in a way that our head tell us is right, or others insist is,, we can see clearly how everything works out. We know what next year holds and the year after that. A part of us is reassured by this – but its not the part that helps us sleep.
Because when we’re ready to trust our hearts intelligence, we’re saying yes to the disembowelled part of ourselves - the part that never knew it had a right to exist. It’s also a part that’s deeply connected to a mystery that will challenge every assumption we have about what we need, and who we are.
This is damn terrifying, and I don’t say this lightly. And yet, maybe it’s not as scary as we fear it is –( and this is why I’m starting my podcast, to share with you women who’ve trusted their hearts and every day are managing the sitiuations in their life, to retrust them again and again).
In each of our hearts lives a truth true for us. It may not be true for those around us – our partner, our friends, our family – but if it lives in our heart, it is real. And what’s more, it actually wants to come into being, and have a relationship with us that will define who we are.
When we feel adrift from that, because we are shutting down on who we are, whether by stopping doing the things we love, or working in a way that’s so far away from the values and things we care about, this matters to our heart.
People often say insomnia is a mind thing. Oh look at those insomniacs, so unable to let go and turn their minds off.
Insomnia isn’t a mind thing. It’s a heart thing. It’s the pulse of our life, which is to say – of life itself – and it’s calling to us to: WAKE UP, WAKE UP, don’t let this thing go, it’s too precious.
And this thing, is none other then who you are, and what you are meant to be for this world, which is you.
Insomnia is our hearts letting us know in the dead of night when things have gone array, when maybe we’re buying into someone else’s version of the world that’s just ever so slightly crushing our own.
Having said this, tif long term, yes insomnia also can (can is important, because nothing is set, everything is different for everyone), become a body thing. 6.5 years of chronic insomnia does take it’s toll. But here again, there’re so many articles out there talking about the negative impacts of sleep loss.
I really think they can do more damage then good! In that words are powerful, especially if they come from someone we respect, or trust. And so know this too, yes long term insomnia has impacts, but so too does returning to our hearts, because it restores in us an energy that is most healing.
Never undersestimate the power of the human heart once it is revitalised.
So, on one level get yourself and your body the best support you can find.
But also give yourself time.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in her book Women Who Run With Wolves to give yourself 2 years to come back to yourself. I imagine if you are reading this, and are in the bowels of insomnia, 2 years feels a traumatically long time. And so this is when you need to trust. And I know a lack of trust is at the source of all of this, so go slowly, go gently.
Because I think it’s also a journey. Insomnia is our red flag for when we’ve allowed ourselves to be over influenced by things in our life, that we feel we have to give into, but in doing so have sacrificed the very things that nourish, restore and define us. And those may be values, those may be people we care about, or places we love, or things we love doing, or ways we love being. Because reclaiming our sleep is about reclaiming many things in a world where so many feel disempowered, so that as we start to retrieve what’s true for us, we rediscover not only our ability to enjoy deep sleep, but the texture of our voice, the contours of our confidence and our access to a truth that’s ultimately larger then any of us.
To all those for whom shards of glass have lodged inside your hearts.
May we learn and then relearn again, every single day, how to dislodge what seems so permanent. Because only then can we learn to hold what has seemed so wounding in our open palms, as our feet carry us in a direction most mysterious. A place where we discover a campfire roaring, around which others have been gathering since time immemorial, and are already dancing... And where, close by, the animals’ hooves and paws have smoothed down what was once rough, so that now it is smooth.
It's a fire around which women of all ages and backgrounds are standing, the heat of which is so strong that it can be felt by those not yet ready, or able, to make the walk. Like a memory calling them, from not so far away after all…
Here, on this earth, is where we place these shards of glass.
Hans Christian Anderson wrote of Gerda and Kai and the pixies up high who relished in destroying all that they couldn’t understand. The thing that the pixies didn’t realise, was that the power that beat in Gerda’s heart was more powerful then any mischief they could create. And so, similarly whatever dramas have played out in each of our lives, when we learn to remove what has lodged inside our hearts, and place those shards of glass side by side, those of others, it’s exactly then, when we see those jagged edges which we once feared so much, fitting effortlessly into one another, so that what’s slowly forming is a new mirror.
One that we are learning to peer into to discover…we are never as alone as we feel we are.
To all those who are learning to peer into the mirror: this post is for you.