I was so exhausted last night that I didn’t even want to talk with Ben or listen to the book we are reading together, which are the special weekend night bedtime rituals I look forward to all week. I could barely drag myself off the couch as my eyelids were getting heavy. Although the schlep upstairs did wake me up a bit, once in my bed, I just wanted complete silence. The wind-down-for-bed routine in my dark bedroom usually lasts at least an hour, but I think I lay with my thoughts last night for just fifteen or twenty minutes before I was out. As much as I missed one of my favorite times with Ben all week, it felt glorious to be so simultaneously relaxed physically and mentally. When you struggle with chronic insomnia, either your mind or body (or both) are an ever-present restless nuisance that act like an annoying external force shaking you into wakefulness. The rare nights where sleep comes easily and naturally are a surprise present.
Although the abnormally early hour that I succumbed to sleep translated to a disturbed sleep cycle for the night so that I kept waking up and struggling to fall back asleep, I woke up feeling rested and energetic. I can’t remember the last time I felt like “me.” The quotes are appropriate because I’m not sure if that energetic (almost to a fault!) me even exists anymore because I’m so habitually tired from poor sleep now that I’ve lost that vibrancy that once so innately characterized my personality. I miss it; I miss feeling so youthful, healthy, exuberant, hyperactive, silly, and bouncy. While in the past few months I’ve finally learned how to be happy and emotionally stable even when utterly exhausted from both a mental and physical perspective, I’ve dealt with this feeling of chronic fatigue and listlessness for about three years now. Compared to the high-energy, full-throttle pace with which I attacked everything in life, the past several years when these chronic illnesses have run me ragged, I’ve become beset with such a languid disposition. I have to fire myself up to do even low-level physical activity and I feel like my days are spent judiciously partitioning my limited energy reserves to the various vying responsibilities and interests that require physical or mental effort. My heart always wants to overcommit, the ever-ambitious passionate drive to engage in all the exercise, activities, and engagements I used to be able to handle (and even thrived on), only to constantly fall short and peter out prematurely, unable to do a small fraction of what used to be just a regular day’s schedule.
There is a deep feeling of loss, mourning the feeling of wellness and vivaciousness I so took for granted for all of my young adult life. I loved racing marathons, training ten or twelve personal training clients a day, lifting weights, and running around on-the-go all the time, game for anything active. My body felt limitless and my zest for moving was rarely superseded by my body’s need for rest. I can’t help but think I just didn’t understand the signals though, or that they may have indeed been absent but in error. It’s like I burned through all the matches in the book and ran the gas and oil tanks in my engine totally dry without receiving a warning signal or recognizing one as such. Now, I’m paying for it. My body needs to totally lay low, conserve energy, and repair. The damage wasn’t the type you can reverse with a good night’s sleep. Instead, it exacerbated my autoimmune diseases and dug me into such a hole that I got buried in this daily sludge it feels I have to fight through every day now.
The thing that still feels bizarre to me is that it’s not like a gradual change occurred where I started getting more fatigued and started needing to take things at a slower pace. Instead, it was sudden, one day in my life when a switch flipped, only I was unaware of the “culprit” because I hadn’t considered it or had denied it. However, this morning, while meditating, I had a disturbing epiphany. That switch, that sudden change, was the day of my attack.
I’m far from oblivious to the many ramifications of that trauma and the way, like ripples extending from a tossed stone into a lake, the effects reverberate outward into so many domains of my life. That said, I didn’t fully connect the exponential escalation of my chronic health and autoimmune issues with the stress and fallout of bearing the torture of what happened, physically and emotionally. That night became the first in this endless string of insomnia I’m now saddled with every day. I had dealt with sleep issues beforehand, because my sensory processing disorder has always made me a poster child for a light sleeper and anxiety has ebbed and flowed over the years, but I never had true insomnia, extending beyond a few days, before I was violently attacked. Poor sleep, of course, lowers one’s energy and after months upon months and years upon years stack up, the deficit gets so severe that highly active pursuits aren’t physically possible.
The lack of sleep alone is reason to understand my drastic loss in ability to be active and feel healthy. However, this issue isn’t operating in isolation. The stress of what happened was a major trigger for spiraling my autoimmune diseases out of control. Those illnesses corroborate with the chronic fatigue and poor sleep quality to render me a depleted, sloth-like old person. I constantly remark that I feel like an elderly adult. I don’t just miss the way I used to feel, I NEED to find a way to restore my ebullience, not just because being energetic and active makes me happy and is my passion, but because feeling physically capable and well made me feel whole and alive.
When I got attacked, I was physiologically closer to dying than I let on. I minimize the severity of what happened as a strange self-protective measure, as if undermining it will make what really happened go away. Though I don’t see a need to dwell on what happened, I want to regain my energy and health not just because it will feel good but because it will represent a true triumph over what happened. When someone tries to harm you so significantly, it feels like a daunting enough task to survive. I’ve been inhabiting that place, survival, and while it’s a big accomplishment and I’m proud at how far I’ve come, I want to move from surviving to thriving. The real “win,” the true miracle will be to fully be alive again. I’m not sure how to get there, in fact I have no idea where to start, but I’m hungry for it. I’m starting the chase for that goal today.