Mental Health

Anxiety > Insomnia > Anxiety: Capitalism?

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[Image: photo of Sage lying down in a bed with a disgruntled/sad expression on their face].

 

CW: discussion of anxiety, insomnia, and mental health.

Hi, I’m Sage, and sometimes I forget how to sleep.

Maybe this makes me sound quirky, but I can assure you that it’s mostly just terrible.

I have anxiety-induced insomnia and sleep-deprivation-induced anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle. I’m not always sure what triggers my bouts of sleeplessness, but I know as soon as they’ve been activated.

For awhile, all is well. Then one night, right after I lay my head down, I’m hit with the first pang of anxiety. It begins just below the centre of my chest and rolls into my stomach, and it tells me I will be wide awake for many hours to come. Usually, this will last for three or four nights in a row and then resolve on its own. Sometimes, however, it can go on for weeks or even months. Life transitions, burn out, arguments, overcommitments, and a variety of other stressors can all be triggers. Sometimes, it feels like life itself is a trigger.

I’ve tried many things over the years in an attempt to either solve or cope with this issue and have come to the conclusion that if I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep. That sucks but it seems to be the way it is.

On August 19th, after returning from a long trip and needing to wake up extra early for work the next morning, I wrote:

I have to change my relationship to sleep in order to get over my insomnia. I have to switch from “should” to “want,” like with food, where it is healthier to have a “want” relationship than a “should” relationship. Instead of, “I have to sleep now because I should in order to be functional tomorrow,” I need to go, “I am tired, I am done with the day, and I want to go to sleep”. The “should” is what keeps sleep from happening by making me anxious. I have to do the difficult work of changing the way I think about sleep.

The next morning, I wrote:

The trick is to lean into the anxiety. The issue is with trying to make it go away, make it stop so that I can sleep, but that does not work. I need to feel the anxiety in my body, the way it rolls in my belly and tingles my feet. I need to take deep breaths, not try to erase the anxiety but breathe into and around it. I need to lay there and embrace it. Eventually, I can get to sleep this way. Eventually.

It’s tricky because I can use these strategies to help myself fall asleep, but then I will often wake up about ten minutes later with a renewed surge of adrenaline. Anxiety really gets the best of me when I’m not awake enough to properly deal with it. Reasoning gets harder and fear takes over. It’s best, when this happens, to turn on the light and read, write, drink water—anything but continue to lie in the dark with the fear.

I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with bouts of sleeplessness before, but they can seriously interfere with your quality of life. I’m far more irritable and less able to focus on whatever tasks I have to perform. I try to compensate for my lack of energy by drinking more coffee than normal, which makes me feel even more anxious. I often end up cancelling plans, getting sick, and feeling totally disconnected from my body. Most of the coping mechanisms I have for managing my mental health go out the window. Small things that would normally have little impact on my mental state send me over the edge into full-blown panic attacks.

To summarize, when I stop sleeping, EVERYTHING IS BAD.

Pot helps sometimes. Herbal remedies help sometimes. Deep breathing helps sometimes. Leaning into the anxiety helps sometimes. Reading a book helps sometimes. Sleeping with my partner helps sometimes. Writing helps sometimes. All of these things help sometimes, but I haven’t found anything that helps all of the time, that is guaranteed to help me get to sleep. Even with my awareness and coping skills, I still experience anxiety-fueled nights with little-to-no sleep on a regular basis.

I will likely never be “cured” of this issue. Insomnia runs in my family on both sides. I’ve had sleep issues my whole life. My mother says my brother was the picky eater while I was the troubled sleeper. I remember, night after night when she would tuck me in, I would ask her, “What if I can’t sleep?”

She would reply, “Then you’ll just be tired. It’s not like you have to perform brain surgery tomorrow”.

I still use this to calm down sometimes. Thank god I didn’t become a surgeon.

Until my brother was born and his crying kept me awake, I insisted on sleeping in my mom’s room because sleeping on my own scared me. A nightlight wasn’t the solution because it wasn’t the dark that bothered me, it was the fear of being alone with my nighttime anxiety.

I believe this issue is in my genetic makeup. It has also been with me for my whole life and I don’t expect it to ever go away, so what do I do? Is there anything I can do beyond what I’ve already tried? I don’t think so. I feel like I’ve tried everything. And yes, before someone suggests it, I have tried meditation and mindfulness exercises. Those things are about as effective as everything else I’ve listed.

I’m anxious. I’m an insomniac. These things are a part of me, a part of my package. I seem to have been born with them. I doubt they’ll change or go away. Sometimes, they’re relatively mild and easy to live with. Sometimes, they flare up and significantly impact my ability to function. It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting! But also, it is what it is. I don’t know if it’s worth my sometimes very limited energy to fight something that may, very well, just be an integral part of my existence.

I read once that there’s an evolutionary advantage to some folks being light sleepers because if there’s trouble at night, the light sleepers are more likely to wake up and alert everyone. Perhaps this is true of insomniacs as well. We keep odd hours and are often hypervigilant in the middle of the night, aware of whatever may be lurking in the dark while many are blissfully asleep. Perhaps my insomnia isn’t purely negative and shouldn’t be viewed as such. Yes, it makes functioning in the nine-to-five world difficult, but I solve a lot of problems at night, I process things, I remember important things I’d forgotten during the day, I read, and I write. When I’m not totally consumed by anxiety, which often results from me resisting the insomnia, it can actually be a thoughtful and productive time. I’m able to look at things from a different perspective than I do during the day. I wrote a poem once that captures this:

wide awake at 4 am
getting my tasks done
my boxes checked
my ducks in line
what would i do
if it wasn’t for
4 am anxiety
4 am memory
reminding me
of messages to send
of supplies to bring
of work to plan

what would i do
if i didn’t
wake up & worry
so early
in the morning
forget probably
slip up probably
be stressed probably
it’s 4:20 now
i’m writing this & thanking
4 am anxiety
4 am memory
the 4 am that’s saving me

There’s research that shows that humans are not necessarily meant to sleep solidly through the night but in two stages, which would explain why so many of us deal with insomnia. It may actually be hardwired into us to be alert for a few hours when we think we should be sleeping. Unfortunately, we’ve created a society that doesn’t accommodate that. I’ve thought about how much easier my life would be if I had time to take a nap during my lunch break or sometime in the afternoon, if I could split my sleep and my workday in two. What makes me anxious is knowing that I have to get up early in the morning and then muster the energy, regardless of how little sleep I get, to go go go all day without any breaks, rest, or downtime.

Wait a second here, might the problem actually be… capitalism?

Might it be how we’ve structured the workweek to maximize our labour rather than fit comfortably with the rhythms of our bodies and minds? Hm, there’s a thought. I know during times in my life where I’ve had more flexibility with my schedule, where I could choose when to sleep and when to work, insomnia hasn’t been an issue in the same way.

Okay, so now I’m thinking that rather than mindfulness exercises, to deal with my insomnia, I should be using my sleepless nights to work on overthrowing capitalism. This would also give me something to focus on rather than my anxiety about not sleeping. Alright, there’s one thing I haven’t tried. I’ll give it a shot.

Creativity, Life and Death, Sex/Relationships

17.22.750 Chapbook + Patreon

I am launching two new things today! The first is my chapbook, the details of which are below, and the second is a Patreon page, which exists to support my writing. Depending on the tier, patrons can get access to my zine, chapbook, works in progress, details about my writing process, and other bonus content.

This means that you now have two options for accessing my zine/chapbook, either by purchasing them through PayPal or by becoming a patron! Let me know if you have any questions about this here.

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[Image: black text centred over white background that reads, “17.22.750”].

17.22.750 Chapbook

What does it mean to be the 26-year-old editor of your 17-year-old self? What does it mean to come back, years later, and publish something never meant to be shared? Can modern-day me consent to publish past me? I suppose I’m going with yes.

17.22.750 is a 35+ page chapbook comprised of approximately 750-word entries I wrote at the ages of 17, 22, and 26. It is about growing up and having lots of questions. These younger versions of me navigate school, work, relationships, heartbreak, existentialism, gender, sexuality, in addition to fear and excitement over an always unknown future. Originally private entries written on 750words.com, from high school to university to adulthood, I spill out the clutter in my head with stark honesty.

Order the Chapbook | $5.00 CAD

Once your payment has been processed, please allow 1-2 business days for me to email you a copy.

Sex/Relationships

Nonmonogamy, Jealousy, and Security

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[Image: close up of Sage’s face, lying on a bed with a green dinosaur toy in front of their face, looking at the camera with a concerned expression].

CW: mentions of trauma and sex.

Last night I dreamt that my partner slept with two other people but had my blessing to do so. Last night I dreamt that someone else tried to sleep with me and I said, “Wait, hold on, I need to check with my partner first”.

They responded with, “Your partner is so controlling”.

Last night I dreamt that other polyamorous people told me I’m not doing it right, that “real poly” means just sleeping with whoever whenever and not having to tell your partner anything. I know some people do it this way. I also know this isn’t the only way to do it, but clearly, my subconscious is struggling with the idea that I’m somehow “doing it wrong”. I’ve been grappling with nonmonogamy for awhile. I’m not totally sure how to go about it, what parameters to set, and how to put it into action. On the one hand, I like having the option to engage in romantic and/or sexual relationships with other people. On the other, I’m not sure if I have the time/energy/emotional capacity for a whole other relationship. Do I want multiple relationships or one primary one with more “casual” encounters outside of that? Do I want to explore nonmonogamy, an open relationship, or polyamory? And what exactly do all of these mean?

Nonmonogamy is stressful. Monogamy is also stressful.

Monogamy stresses me out because it doesn’t feel quite right to me, doesn’t fit quite naturally. It feels like a lot of pressure, like this person is now the only person and that’s it and you will never get to explore anyone else. Nonmonogamy gives me the space to breathe. I don’t have to feel guilty about liking other people. It takes the pressure off of a single relationship and allows me to feel more at ease, more myself, but it also has its stressors: fear, jealousy, complication, worry, what if my partner leaves me? I mean, that could happen in a monogamous relationship as well, but the fear with nonmonogamy is more like, “What if my partner finds someone better and leave me?”

A friend of mine said recently,

“If anything, nonmonogamy makes it less likely that your partner will leave because their interest in another doesn’t have to lead to the end of your relationship”.

There’s some truth to that.

I also struggle with jealousy and that makes me feel gross. I’ve been working on it, though. I’ve been reading, writing, and watching videos. I found this one couple on YouTube who discuss how they both used to be jealous people and what they did to work through that. It’s been helpful. It’s good to know that there’s nothing wrong with feeling this way, it’s all about what you do with the feelings and how you process them. For me, jealousy is usually an “animal brain” response to a perceived threat, i.e. my partner is going to abandon me, I’m not good enough, I’ll never compare to so-and-so, and on. The couple I found talk about jealousy as a perceived “lack,” like the jealous person is feeling a lack in themselves somewhere, like they are not good enough, not enough for their partner, do not have as much love as their partner, etcetera. I believe I’ve struggled with these lackluster lack feelings as well.

I’m scared I’m not enough in a hundred different ways and that it’s just a matter of time before my partner sees that too.

It’s strange because, on my end, I can clearly see how my interest in someone else has nothing to do with my partner or our relationship. It does not threaten it at all. It is not a comment on a lack in what we have. It is completely separate. Love and desire are not limited resources, and my interest in someone else does not diminish or devalue the love and desire I have for my partner. The logical brain gets that, even the heart brain does. It’s the animal brain that struggles, the fear-based response, the child self, the traumatized self (for they are all wrapped up together). That’s what I have to watch out for.

In thinking about and processing my jealousy, I have found its roots. It is a secondary emotion, you see, like anger, and so it has hidden roots in other emotions underneath—fear, sadness, anxiety, insecurity, helplessness. In working through my jealousy, I have also begun to feel what might be the beginnings of compersion, the joy one feels in response to another’s happiness. There isn’t just the capacity for jealousy within me but also the capacity for desire and happiness at the thought of my partner being with someone else. These are new and interesting feelings I’d like to explore further.

I believe I have two selves, two attachment styles. One is secure. They are mature. They feel safe, loved, and free. They have the capacity for compersion. The other is anxious-preoccupied. This is the wounded child self, the traumatized self. They are anxious, fearful, and insecure. They are the one that struggles with jealousy and they do so because they are afraid. I can’t erase this side of me, ever, they will exist always. What I can learn to do, however, is take care of them.

I need to train the secure self on how to hold and reassure the anxious self when they feel threatened.

I need to be honest about their existence—I cannot repress or deny or shame them. I need to be honest with myself, my partner, and whoever else I may get involved with about this side of me. I need to take care of them so that they do not reign uncontrolled, wreaking havoc on my relationships.

I’ve gone on a few dates so far. Aside from that, while technically nonmonogamous, my partner and I have been functionally monogamous. I want to change that. I want to take the next step. I’m scared. Even doing the work, I’m scared. My animal brain tells me that if one of us sleeps with someone else, that’s it, it’s over, it’ll all blow up. We so often see representation in the media of this being the thing that automatically ends romantic relationships. Logical and heart brain know that this isn’t true, but that doesn’t make the fear go away. I have to be with the fear, ride it out, and see where it takes me. Closer to myself, I hope. Closer to my partner. Closer to compersion. Closer to love.

Mental Health

Panic

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[Image: Close up of turbulent, foamy water crashing towards the camera. Grey, white, and light green tones]. Photo by RaspberryLime.

 

CW: description of panic attacks, mental health issues, negative self-talk

I woke up last night to a full blown panic attack.

I had fallen asleep with some sad feelings. I was in a bit of a funk but didn’t know exactly why. I had some theories. I decided to sleep on it. Sometimes that helps.

The temperature outside dropped very low. The wind roared against my window. Cool air slipped silently into my room.

I woke up shaking uncontrollably but didn’t realize I was cold.

Hundreds of thoughts were racing through my brain, competing for attention. I couldn’t parse them. I couldn’t pull them apart for examination. They were a mess, and they didn’t make any sense, but they all felt real.

Thoughts like:

“He doesn’t care about you”.

“It’s over”.

“You’re a fuck up”.

“You’re useless”.

“You’re selfish”.

“You’re alone. You’ll always be alone”.

“You’re pathetic”.

“No one cares about you”.

I couldn’t keep up with it all, the cyclone in my brain.

Along with these thoughts, I felt a powerful desire to do something destructive: to send a slew of accusatory texts, blow something up, and push someone away to affirm the idea that I will always be alone.

Then I realized I was cold. I was shaking because I was cold, not because I was useless or selfish or pathetic or alone, but because my room had gotten fucking cold. I got out of bed and switched on my space heater, then dove back under the covers and curled into a ball for warmth.

Slowly, the room and my body began to warm up. My heart rate slowed. My shaking became less violent and then stopped altogether. There only remained a lingering feeling of dread in my stomach.

“I’m alright, I’m alright,” I reassured myself. “I just need to warm up”.

Eventually, I fell back asleep. I woke up several hours later in my normal state and thought, “What the hell was that?”

I’ve been having panic attacks since my early twenties. I was in university when they first hit. Though I’ve lived with an anxiety disorder my entire life, the panic attacks bowled me over when they first showed up. It took me a while to develop coping mechanisms for them. They consisted of surges of intense anxiety and fear like I’d never experienced before, irrational and hopeless thoughts, shortness of breath/feeling an inability to breathe, a tightness in my chest, a racing heartbeat, and generally feeling like I was dying/going to die. They almost always happened at night. I struggled with insomnia in school as well and the panic attacks reacted cyclically with that. I’d often struggle to fall asleep for hours, eventually clock out for twenty minutes or so, and then wake up in a panic and be wide awake for hours afterwards. That or I would have an attack because I couldn’t sleep and the deprivation was interfering with my ability to go to classes, study, write papers, and do exams. I was chronically exhausted, stressed, and anxious. I was living on my own for the first time in the middle of a big city where I knew almost no one. My roommates weren’t exactly the friendliest bunch and my school didn’t have a great track record as a warm, welcoming place. I was putting an immense amount of pressure on myself to perform as well as I had in high school, even though the expectations were much higher. I was struggling financially, living off of OSAP loans and paying too much for rent every month. These circumstances were ripe for my mental health to take a nosedive and the panic attacks subsequently developed.

One of the most important non-academic things I learned during my years in university was how to cope with panic, when the rational portion of your brain shuts down and the fear-based, animal brain takes over. I developed strong abilities to self-soothe, ride out the fear, and practice self-care following an attack.

I’m in a much better place now than I was back then, so last night caught me by surprise. I haven’t had an attack like that for almost a year. I wasn’t prepared for one, and for a little while there, it seemed like all my coping skills had gone out the window. It’s always challenging when the panic sneaks up on me when I’m half-awake because for a while, nothing really makes sense and I can’t take the wheel because I don’t even know where the wheel is.

But I did it. Those skills I developed a few years ago came back. I remembered. I rode it out, self-soothed, and even managed to fall back to sleep. I also didn’t do any of the destructive things my panicked brain was compelling me to do.

So, there’s another bad night under my belt and one more small victory too.