Today I’m talking about my personal struggle with insomnia. And it was a long one, y’all!
In this episode, I share:
This is one you don’t want to miss. Because there’s a lot of power to a story.
Yours, too 🧡
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Full Transcript Below:
About Beth Kendall MA, FNTP:
For decades, Beth struggled with the relentless grip of insomnia. After finally understanding insomnia from a mind-body perspective, she changed her relationship with sleep, and completely recovered. Liberated from the constant worry of not sleeping, she’s on a mission to help others recover as well. Her transformative program Mind. Body. Sleep.™ has been a beacon of light for hundreds of others seeking solace from sleepless nights.
Today I’m talking about my personal struggle with insomnia. And you know, so many people ask me about my story and I’m always glad when they do because I’m a big believer in the power of a story — I think other people’s stories play such an influential role in how we create our own stories. And really, isn’t everything built on story. But I’ve also been a bit reluctant to share over the years so today, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share it with you.
I’ve always sort of viewed life as one long dance. And this could be because I was a professional ballet dancer in my youth… but actually, I think I just really like the metaphor.
So, in my mind, some dances are long, some are short. Some are fun, some are a drag. Some partners are great, and they bring the dance to a whole new level, and some partners will test you. Every dance is different, and you never know for sure where it’s going to take you and what it’s going to teach you.
My dance with insomnia was long, and it was frustrating, and it was very dark at times. And… it also brought me to where I am now which is helping others understand this experience in a way that they can move out of it, too.
Towards the end of the podcast, I’m going to talk a lot more about why I don’t view insomnia with any sort of ill will or regret and how if I had to choose my life all over, I would do it exactly the same because it’s my life and it happened, and I fully trust that. And if that idea sounds crazy, outrageously impossible to you right now, that’s completely normal, I’m pretty sure that the whole time I was in it, I felt the same. But I really have made peace with all that suffering somehow.
So, where to even begin you guys, because this is one long story and I feel like I almost need chapters or sequels because honestly, how do you condense DECADES of insomnia into a single podcast. So, I’ll just start talking and see where it goes.
Insomnia for me started as a young girl, I think I was about 8 years old when the precipitating factor took place. What happened was my parents decided to make a bedroom switch in the household. They wanted to move downstairs into my bedroom which was on the main floor across the hall from my brother… and they wanted to move me upstairs into their bedroom which was on the second floor — this was a restored attic bedroom typical of 1930’s story and a half house.
Now, my 8-year old brain thought this was the WORST idea that they could possibly have — and for some reason, it felt very scary to me; I had it in my head that the upstairs was definitely NOT a place I wanted to call my bedroom.
I truly resisted this idea with all of my 8-year old heart and cried and felt like it was the end of the world, but my parents stuck to their guns and the switch took place.
Now, I want to make it super clear that my parents are amazing people. If you are listening to this Mom and Dad, I love you and you did nothing wrong whatsoever — I’ve never even told them about this. And to be very honest, that bedroom ended up being a dream bedroom as a teenager, but at age 8, it seriously felt like an end of the world situation.
So, in that new bedroom, I couldn’t sleep. I was scared up there, I felt really far from the rest of my family, and I remember just not feeling safe enough to fall asleep. And that event in early life, I think had a LOT of emotional charge to it because to this day, I will still feel that afraid to fall asleep feeling every once in a while almost 50 years later.
So that was the point where my brain linked being awake at night as an unwanted experience — it started to associate being awake at night as something bad — a sort of threat to me.
Now that event resolved to some degree, but something changed after that – my relationship with sleep was different. And it was too early in life for me to recall specifics around the event, but I do remember crawling into bed with my mom on occasion, and telling her that I couldn’t sleep and she would do this relaxation practice with me and say “okay, start with your feet and relax your feet and then move up to your knees…” And even then I remember thinking “this isn’t working” and my Mom meanwhile would fall asleep during the exercise. But I’d still have this hyperalert feeling.
So, moving into my teen years, this pattern really started showing itself. I would have obvious cycles of sleeplessness for no apparent reason, and I had no idea why. I just couldn’t sleep like my peers and this was really the beginning of such a journey of “What is wrong with me,” and “Why can’t I sleep like other people?”
I was acutely aware of the difference between my sleep and others my age because I went to a performing arts high school where I would have different roommates every semester, sometimes up to 4 of us in a room. And no one else seemed to have this problem.
Now, this was already becoming quite debilitating in my early life because I was in a very strict setting on full scholarship getting some of the best training in the world for ballet and the responsibility of this was daunting.
So I was already devising ways of how I could chase sleep since I couldn’t sleep well at night, I would sleep at weird times like in-between rehearsals, or on the bus, and every once in a while I would be so worn down that I would do a sick day and then I would sleep as much as possible during the day and coast on that for as long as I could.
It was really hard to navigate all this at that age and I think what saved me was my love for ballet; my craft. I have no idea how I knew I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer, I just knew that I did growing up and I was quite determined to do that.
So, my early life was very entrenched in the “no pain, no gain” mindset, and I was good at that. I felt very driven and inspired to do what I felt like I was meant to do.
And I did end up dancing professionally with some amazing companies and to this day, I still can’t believe I got paid to do that on some level. But insomnia just hung on and got worse and more unpredictable throughout life.
My life as a dancer was very irregular. I was performing and traveling and able to chase sleep at odd times pretty effectively and at this point, I was also really becoming a night owl.
I was mostly a night owl anyway, mornings for me were always a little painful. I just could not relate to how anyone could be chipper in the morning. Dance class rarely started before 10am and often later due to performances and this freed up a lot of pressure for me not to have to get up early.
I ended up retiring from dance pretty early and I didn’t know what I was going to do after that. So at my dad’s urging (he was an air-traffic controller), I went to an open house for what was then Northwest Airlines, because they were hiring flight attendants.
I got the job and next thing you know, I’m a flight attendant. And this really brought my sleep schedule to a whole new level. Now there really was no actual schedule at ALL and I’m on call all the time and just getting up and sleeping at random and bizarre times and time zones and I’m just dragging insomnia along with me this whole time.
Looking back, I think on some unconscious level, I was working my whole life around this sleep problem. Because it was just always there lurking in the background of my life. So I started accommodating insomnia more and more because I didn’t know what else to do.
Also throughout this part of my adulthood, insomnia is starting to seriously impact my romantic relationships. Well, all of my relationships, but specifically my partners because I could never really count on what my sleep would do. So it was hard to make concrete plans and commit to things and this affected the flow of life quite a bit.
I think it was around age 30, or early 30’s that I started on the medication merry go round. This kicked off years of every med imaginable out on the market. I saw so many sleep specialists and did these sleep studies and cbti and just couldn’t seem to get any real answers or anything that could help me beyond medication.
And you know, I had a pretty horrible experience with the medical system in general. I felt very dismissed and diminished and none of these experts in their field had anything tangible to offer me and some even insinuated that I was crazy. And I would get my hopes up over and over every time I saw someone new but then insomnia would always come back.
Insomnia for me came in cycles where I felt like couldn’t sleep at all, or I would have really unrefreshing sleep followed by periods where all I wanted to do was sleep. There wasn’t a lot of moderate ground or normalcy, it was like I was either wired but tired in a state of total hyperarousal, or I was just so fatigued that I was just slogging through life. And it was so seriously bizarre because I hadn’t met anyone else that was dealing with this problem quite like I was.
In my early 40’s I got very sick with Lyme disease and it knocked me out of life for several years and it was a long climb out of that but even after I got my health back, I still had this insomnia problem going on and it was completely baffling in every way.
Now, I definitely want to devote a future podcast episode to Lyme disease because it was a pretty profound period in my life and I think a lot of people would benefit from knowing more about it.
But for this episode, and some sense of brevity, I’ll stay focused on just sleep.
After years of doing everything imaginable to recover from Lyme disease, I ended up using a pretty unconventional approach, and again, this deserves its very own episode, but it was what happened prior to that is perhaps significant to this podcast.
Because it was the beginning of a new way of being and thinking about not just my heatlh, but life in general.
Throughout my entire journey with illness, I was in a battle. Remember how I mentioned the “no pain, no gain” mentality that came with the dance world? Well, that was how I approached recovering my health. It was me against Lyme and I thought I could conquer it.
This had been such an effective mindset for me for me for most of life. It helped me accomplish so much of what I set out to achieve. But it didn’t work with chronic illness, and it doesn’t work for insomnia either.
Early on when I found out that what I was dealing with Lyme, an absolute angel came on my path. And she was several years ahead of me getting over Lyme and she said: “Put on your boxing gloves.” She knew what was involved in that recovery process and that it was going to be tough. And me being naïve at the time thought, “oh yes, I am really good at that, I’m going to be good to go in less than a year.” So, on those boxing gloves went!
Years into this battle, I realized that duking it out with Lyme wasn’t working. I was spinning my wheels over and over and never really got anywhere. Plus, I was at least 100K in the hole trying every kind of treatment there was and getting nowhere. And I remember vividly staring at the ceiling from my bed, where I had at this point, lived so much of my life thinking: “This isn’t working.” “Fighting this beast isn’t working.” “No amount of fighting will ever be enough.“
It was just this moment of complete surrender. It’s hard to fully verbalize what occurred in that moment but I somehow intuitively knew that I had to give up the fight. Not give up but give up the fight. And something in me shifted. In my mind, I took off the boxing gloves.
And from there, all of sudden things started working. This radically new treatment approach came on my radar and that worked quite well, which lead me into my masters in holistic health. And this was a real departure from my education in finance which I had completed just prior to crashing from Lyme disease. And then I got certified in Faster EFT which is a tapping modality and it was like once I was out of the fight and all of that resistance to my situation, there was less resistance out of my situation.
I had to accept where I was, to get to where I was going.
Okay, so I’m sure at this point you want to know: “But how did you get better? How did you get finally get rid of insomnia?”
Now, I had been immersed in learning about all of these cool concepts around neuroplasticity and the unconscious mind and how we create these patterns in our lives. And I had the amazing privilege of working with some of the most pioneering minds in that field. But I wasn’t viewing insomnia through the lens of any of that learning. I was deeply identified with the belief that my brain was broken and beyond repair, I still thought I had something uniquely wrong with me that I just didn’t see other people having the world, at least not to the extent I did.
So, it was during a practice session with another tapping practitioner who was getting certified at the same time I was that this insomnia program lost its power.
I showed up to the session that day and she asked me what I wanted to work on. and I pulled out my insomnia story which by now, I had told sooo many times. And I was in the trance of that story when she stood up very abruptly and waved her hands and said “BETH, those are just a bunch of programs!”
And that was what scratched the record of my story.
It was like at that moment I realized that all those decades that I had been so deeply identified with insomnia as a sleep problem was never a sleep problem. It was a belief problem. It was program I was running in my mind. A belief that I couldn’t sleep like other people. That I didn’t have that physical capacity and that my brain was somehow different.
It was like somehow at that moment, by brain decided to integrate everything that I had been learning about into that moment and apply it to insomnia.
And to be honest, I felt stunned or awestricken or something because I literally felt my brain processing this understanding. And I couldn’t even talk. Because I was like what is even happening right now? How can this be?
So, I’ve really never really had another moment quite like that.
And that insomnia record that I had been playing on and off for decades just didn’t play the same anymore.
Once I made that distinction in my mind that I wasn’t dealing with a sleep problem, I was dealing with a mind problem, I felt much more equipped to handle that. I realized I had been barking up the wrong tree for most of my life.
And I think to some degree, and I’ve thought a lot about this, there’s a hierarchy in the survival system. Meaning my safety system wasn’t going allow me to have this realization until I was ready. Because remember, I had already recovered from Lyme disease at this point, which took a lot of mind-body work and it was like this was just the exact moment that my safety system felt like it was okay to let it go.
Now, most people want to know more about what my recovery path looked like because it wasn’t at all like I just had that big epiphany and then my sleep was automatically better, not at all.
The record just didn’t play the same anymore. The conditioned arousal response that was keeping me from sleep still showed up, but I didn’t respond to it like I normally would. Because I knew what it was, I knew where it was coming from, so I just didn’t buy into my brain the same. I no longer felt like there was something uniquely wrong with my brain, instead I understood that I was just running this insomnia program on replay this whole time.
So, I think I’m going to create a sequel, part 2 of my dance with insomnia because it’s such a long dance. And in that episode, I’m going to talk more about the unlearning process. What that looked like for me and how I perceived it then compared to now.
But before I go, I want to speak to my view of insomnia as a teacher. Because I know that when you are in the dance and in the struggle, it’s tough. It will test you in every way. My intention is never to dimmish this in any way because I’ve been there. But nearly everyone I know that is on the other side of insomnia talks about how much they learned from it. How it brought them to new levels of awareness and acceptance that they wouldn’t have explored otherwise. And there is some beauty in this. The answers for me were in that dance but I had to get beyond the dance to fully realize the patterns in my life that I wanted to change.
So, while insomnia wasn’t my favorite dance partner, it was an influential one. It taught me the power of my own mind and it taught me what was possible. Because I think that if I can unlearn that pattern after 42 years, then I think anyone can.
Join me in the next episode where I’ll talk more about leaving insomnia…. Until then… be well.
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