I never could really relate to people with anxiety, panic attacks, irrational thoughts, and constant anger and sadness. As a nurse with several years of experience in different settings, I had come across many people in many of these situations and although I felt empathy, I could not relate. Physical pain was something I could understand and despite the growing increase in awareness of mental health issues and despite the fact that so many people suffer from mental health issues until you experience it for yourself it remains some foreign, “other” concept.
Three months ago today I stopped sleeping. I mean, I started waking up multiple times a night and the in-between stages where I should have been getting sleep were interrupted with dreams and frequent waking. Over the following month it progressively got worse to the point that I stopped sleeping entirely. You can imagine how miserable I was…or maybe you can’t. I slowly got more irritable, more sad, more anxious and the lack of sleep continued to perpetuate the cycle and exacerbate my already fragile and topsy-turvy emotions. I would lie awake in my bed at night trying to quiet my brain and body so that I could hopefully fall asleep but my brain kept going and going. I wasn’t even thinking about important things or even anxiety-inducing triggers but I just could not fall asleep. I would get panic attacks and hot flashes just as I felt I was about to drift into sweet oblivion.
All I wanted was to escape my brain! I wanted to escape reality for even just a short period of 2 hours; Two short hours of relief from the agonizing emotions I was experiencing day and night. I seriously considered slapping myself across the face several times because at least that brief second of pain would distract my mind from the misery of myself. I was miserable during the day because I hadn’t slept. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to cry. I was angry or irritable or sad constantly. I tried every conceivable natural supplement but I still could not sleep.
I finally went to the doctor and was given sleeping pills which did not work. I was told that I needed time off work. I had been working 3 jobs to make ends meet and I felt that I should be able to handle all of it. I felt other people did that sort of things…so why couldn’t I? I felt weak and I felt SHAME. Here I was, a seemingly perfect individual, needing time off work for stress and over-work. I am young! I haven’t worked 30+ years, I don’t support a family, I don’t even have a mortgage!
My homeopath and my family doctor were amazing. I was afraid that I would have to explain and apologize for myself. Instead they gave me exactly what I needed and were not afraid to ask me the questions that I did not want to ask myself.
My family was incredible. They came around me, encouraged me, listened to my irrational thoughts that would randomly surface and they supported me as I made decisions. I quit one of my jobs and slept for 6 hours straight! What a feat!! A few days ago I quit my other job. I am starting to feel more like myself for the first time in over 8 months. I actually feel like going out with my roommates. I feel like laughing. And I don’t have random panic attacks. My body is starting to feel like my own again, my old friend. I still need to rest. I am still learning to pay attention to my body. I am still learning what it means to love myself and accept my own experiences and limitations. I am trying to rediscover what I love.
The thing I realize as I come out of this season of life is that we don’t pay attention to ourselves. We don’t pay attention to our body’s emotional, physical and mental needs often until we it’s too late or we are desperate. We easily hide our pain and exhaustion behind a mask and then feel bad for doing that.
I share my experience with you to encourage you to pay attention to yourself! To be open to acknowledging that you cannot (and shouldn’t!) do it all alone. You have family, friends and other people around you who care for you! I know that I couldn’t have survived without them or without relying on God. We often think that strength is pushing through and standing on our own when real strength is recognizing our own limitations and letting others love and support us. There is beauty in weakness – because our weaknesses testify to our humanity and give us all permission and freedom to participate in a shared experience of weakness and love without shame.
My challenge to myself daily is to start paying attention! My invitation to you is to start paying attention!