I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately.
That isn’t precisely true. I sleep easily. I just can’t rest.
I can fall asleep almost anywhere. When we were first married, Ron was fascinated and annoyed by my ability to conk out in random places, at random times, even after a full night’s sleep. A few years ago, when I was teaching full-time, I survived by sneaking 20 minute naps under my desk during my free periods.
During those years I was always either pregnant, parenting a newborn, or caring for a high-needs kid. I didn’t sleep so much as I dozed between emergencies. I was always, always tired.
Back in 2018 I sought the advice of a specialist. He did a sleep study and found very, very mild sleep apnea (literally one rogue wake-up, on average, outside the bounds of normal). He prescribed a CPAP machine. If you haven’t seen one before, the one I used had the full face mask that looked like the respirator on Darth Vader’s helmet and sounded similar. It blows humidified air directly into your face-holes such that the floppy bits in the back of your throat can’t flipppity-flip around. It was incredibly awkward and as unsexy as it sounds, but I used it dutifully for 30, then 90 days.
Modern CPAP machines have an internal computer chip that records information about your sleep patterns for the doctor. When he ran the diagnostics on the chip at my follow up appointment, he found improvement. My wake-ups now were averaging within the bounds of normal…by an average of one rogue wake-up.
Yup, all those nights sleeping like Darth Vader saved me maybe two wake-ups.
I tried to maintain a poker face, but my voice definitely broke when I told the doctor, “I’m still so tired.” He gave me a sympathetic look and the contact information for a couple of therapists.
So I went to therapy, and there I remained. I went to therapy though a two-year mental health nightmare with my second child, through the conclusion of my teaching career, through the end of my thirties and the beginning of my forties, through the slow waning of my faith, through pandemic and lockdown, and through the gradual return to normal-ish that followed.
My sleep stayed the same. My poor smartwatch records the sad story every night. I fall asleep quickly, but never deeply. My heart rate, which in healthy adults should dip an average of 10-15% during sleep, goes down an average of 0-5%. On most nights I record no deep sleep. None.
My therapist suggested I might be “tired but wired,” as in, my central nervous system feels safe enough to allow me to feel tired, but is still too hypervigilant to let me rest completely. Seems plausible. My conscious mind never stops running scenarios, trying to use this relatively peaceful time to somehow get ahead of any incoming disaster. I organize and re-organize the house. I make plans for how to earn more, to save more money. When I can’t stay on my feet a moment longer, I restlessly read the news, trying to identify where the next threat is coming from. Even my worries about sleep are part of this…I worry that when the shit goes down again (and how could it not?), I won’t have enough energy, enough focus, enough health to take care of the people I love.
Today I saw this post make the rounds again, from psychologist and speaker Naomi Holt:
A gentle reminder about why you are utterly exhausted…
No one I know began this year on a full tank. Given the vicious onslaught of the previous two years (let’s just call it what it was) most of us dragged ourselves across the finish line of 2021… frazzled, spent, running on aged adrenaline fumes.
We crawled into 2022 still carrying shock, trauma, grief, heaviness, disbelief…
The memories of a surreal existence…
And then it began…
The fastest hurricane year we could ever have imagined. Whether we have consciously processed it or not, this has been a year of more pressure, more stress, and a race to “catch up” in all departments… Every. Single. One. Work, school, sports, relationships, life…
Though not intentionally aware, perhaps hopeful that the busier we are, the more readily we will forget… the more easily we will undo the emotional tangle… the more permanently we will wipe away the scarring wounds…
And attempts to re-create some semblance of “normal” on steroids while disregarding that for almost two years our sympathetic nervous systems were on full alert, has left our collective mental health in tatters. Our children and teens are not exempt. The natural byproduct of fighting a hurricane is complete and utter exhaustion…
So before you begin questioning the absolutely depleted and wrung-dry state you are in–Pause.
Remind yourself of who you are and what you have endured.
And then remind yourself of what you have overcome.
Despite it all, you’re still going. (Even on the days you stumble and find yourself face down in a pile of dirt).
Understanding brings compassion…
Most of the world’s citizens are in need of a little extra TLC at the moment. Most are donning invisible “Handle with care” posters around their necks and “Fragile” tattoos on their bodies…
Instead of racing to the finish line of this year, tread gently.
Amidst the chaos, find small pockets of silence.
Allow the healing.
And most of all… Be kind. There’s no human being on earth who couldn’t use just a little bit more of the healing salve of kindness.
Reading this again felt like an exhale. I may be frazzled and restless and mad, but I’m not alone.
Years ago, when I was flush with the fervor of my young-adult reversion to my cradle Catholicism, I posted a long advent note to my facebook followers, asking for their prayer requests:
“We all live in the knowledge that something, cosmically, is Not Right. Something has to change. There is something more to hope for. There is music more beautiful, there are vistas more magnificent, there is love that truly satisfies the heart, but we can’t quite touch any of it. In the face of this sublime frustration, many give over to despair and cynicism. The bravest of us keep faith, keep watch, keep waiting.”
I don’t know if I qualify among “the bravest of us” anymore, but I am not yet a despairing cynic, either, not quite. As I write this, we are 8 days from the longest night of the year. For Christians, it is the long darkness–the bleak midwinter—that breaks with the dawn of the Incarnation, the God-Man born to earth as a tiny child.
This year, I wish for all of us that the long night–of the solstice, or of the soul–will be one of deep rest. I wish for peace, restoration, and renewal. I wish for the coming new year to be entirely, blessedly unremarkable. I wish you all a silent night, and a bright morning.
Theresa Weiler is a writer, singer, speaker, seeker. She lives in the Detroit area with her husband and four children. If you would like to help Theresa sleep more easily, you can throw a tip in her Venmo tip jar, @realtheresaweiler. To keep her company in her waking hours, follow her on Twitter @real_theresa, or instagram @realtheresaweiler.
ALSO: If you would like to celebrate the season with Theresa and her favorite accompanist/beloved husband Ron, pour a glass of holiday cheer and join them virtually for Christmas with the Weilers a livestream of holiday music and marital banter, streaming live next week, December 22nd at 7pm EST.