Do you ever feel like insomnia is starting to take over your life?
Do you miss who you were before insomnia?
Can you feel your life getting smaller and smaller, but you’re not really sure what to do about it?
This episode is for you.
The insomnia identity can sneak up you…
First, you give up things that you really enjoy like coffee or wine (even though they never affected your sleep before). Then, you stop going out with friends at night (too close to bedtime and what if you don’t sleep?). Then you stop making early morning appointments. Before you know it, a vacation seems out of the question.
Everything in life gets filtered through the lens of: “How will this affect my sleep?”
Tune in to learn:
Remember: You are NOT defined by insomnia. You are having the experience of insomnia. It’s not who you are, just an experience to be had.
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Full Transcription 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.
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Okay, so in this episode, I’ll be diving into the concept of the insomnia identity. When I say the word "identity," I’m talking about how insomnia can gradually start to become a part of your self-concept, or how you fundamentally see yourself. What happens when you go through something like this is you unconsciously start to take ownership of it in a way that you might not even realize. And then before you know it, you get to the point where you are so convinced by your own insomnia story and living in that identity, that anything to the contrary just sort of bounces right off you.
And I know this because this is exactly how I was…
Now, if you’re new to the podcast and you feel like what you’re going through with your sleep right now might be due to something physical like a blood sugar imbalance, or hormone disruption, or chronic pain, or something along those lines, then this episode probably won’t be for you.
But if you’re going through insomnia and you’ve had it for a while and you feel a lot of fear and emotional struggle around it and like you have this conditioned arousal response that just seems to have a life of its own, then this episode might be right up your ally.
If you want to know more about how I approach insomnia, you can go back to episode one where I talk about my 3 core philosophies. But basically, I view insomnia as a fear-driven process. The brain has learned some fear around not sleeping which kicks off hyperarousal and that’s what can keep us awake at night.
If you’re in this situation, you’ve probably already done a ton of things to fix your sleep which never seems to work long-term because it reinforces the fear and becomes this self-perpetuating loop of TRYING HARDER and SLEEPING LESS.
And this can be a perplexing thing to go through.
My story of insomnia is one of deep unconscious attachment to the identity of insomnia. And I’m not saying this as a means of self-blame, because after 42 years of insomnia, OF COURSE I built an identity around it — I think anyone would. In fact, if I had listened to a podcast like this during most of my insomnia years, I probably would have written it off and even felt a little defensive. And I think that’s because what I was experiencing was so horrible and I felt so misunderstood during all of those decades that I deeply believed that my brain was broken, and I had some sort of unique case of that no one could figure out just based on my lived experience of it.
And I think in the later stages of insomnia, we do build up protective patterns of belief around our ability to recover. This happens because we’ve tried so many things and each time, we get our hopes up, only to be let down. After a while, dealing with the heartbreak of that can be more painful than insomnia itself. So, we unknowingly dig ourselves even deeper into the identity of insomnia.
In this episode, I want to talk about a few ways we can start to let go of this identity.
Now, prior to recovering from insomnia, I had recovered from chronic illness. So, most of what I’m going to share with you today comes from that experience and letting go of that identity. By the time I understood what was going on with insomnia, I felt like I had kind of been around the block in terms of understanding how non-linear and inexact the process of recovery is and how an identity, and the neural network associated with that identity tends to shift over time.
So let’s look at some of the ways we can work with this:
The first thing you can do to start moving away from insomnia is engage with information that actually supports where you want to go. These days, we are constantly shaping our experiences with technology and algorithms. So, focus your attention on content that aligns with what you DO want in your life versus what you don’t.
For example, if you’re seeking more peaceful sleep, avoid hanging out in big Facebook groups that only focus on the problem without offering any real tangible solutions. If you are wanting to move from the orientation of fixing sleep to trusting sleep, then follow people who remind you of your own unbreakable capacity to sleep. The things you read and watch and listen to are going to influence your perception. And your perception is going to shape your thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. So, surround yourself with information and sources that reflect your desired path. And your intuition will often give you a head’s up on this, so pay attention to the feelings that accompany your actions.
One of the first things I had to do when I was stepping out of the chronic illness identity was leave all of the FB communities I was a part of. And this was really hard because I had a lot of great friends in those groups, in fact some of the closest people in my life today came from those groups. But I also knew in a deeper part of me that the level of engagement I was giving to those groups was keeping me in the identity of illness.
Another thing I started to do was seek out people who got well from Lyme disease and talk to them. And these were generally very quiet people who weren’t hanging out in groups. So, I talked to them and got curious and asked different kinds of questions about their experience and their recovery, and it was a lot different advice than what I was noticing in the groups.
So, follow the people or the sources that already embody where you want to go.
Another thing you can do to start getting beyond the insomnia identity is to start investing in life in ways that are meaningful to you.
Make life bigger than insomnia.
In my program, I talk about this as a North Star and putting your attention on what’s really important to you beyond just sleep or the status of your sleep.
So, to explain this a little better… just imagine a pie chart graphic with all the different colors of pie sections representing the different aspects and interests of your life. So you might have time with friends, or exercise, or work, or your favorite hobbies, time with your pets or kids, or just whatever rocks your world.
Now, before I crashed with Lyme disease, my pie-chart was pretty colorful. I had health issues going on, but it was still a relatively small section of the pie chart in comparison to all the other things that made up the pie.
When you’re dealing with something like insomnia, its corresponding pie section starts to get bigger and bigger. And those other pie slices get smaller and smaller. You start to adjust your life to fit around insomnia.
Maybe we stop making plans with friends, we stop doing things at night because they’re too close to bedtime, or we take away the things we really enjoy like wine and coffee, even though they didn’t have much impact on our sleep before, we slowly start giving insomnia more and more power over our lives.
Again, this isn’t about blaming ourselves because this can happen to anyone and it can kind of sneak up on you to the point where you realize you have this one big slice dominating your whole life and making decisions for you.
I did this because I didn’t really know what else to do. I was just trying to survive what I thought was a sleep problem. So I started protecting my sleep the best I could because it was getting more and more precarious. And so I was just trying to hold on to what I thought I could lose.
So just pulling away from sleep and starting to figure out the things that bring you actual joy in your life. And these do not have to be big things.
For instance, when I was really sick, I couldn't meet up with friends, but I could still give them a call. Most of the time, I was so focused on what I couldn't do anymore that I neglected the things that I could do. So, once I began doing what I still could, things began to change. It didn't have to be an all-or-nothing situation, and it didn't have to fit a particular mold to have value and meaning in my life. Just a simple call or text to say hi made a difference on many days. This helped me shift my focus from what I couldn't do to what I could, and as my focus moved in that direction, I became capable of doing more and more things.
So, ever so slowly, I was taking my attention away from illness and this helped me feel a lot less tied to illness as this all-encompassing thing in my life.
And I actually took this a lot further, I stopped talking about illness, I stopped researching illness, I totally stopped identifying with all the labels and diagnosis I had been given. You may have noticed that I don’t use the word insomniac in my marketing because the last thing I want you all to do is take ownership of something you’re trying to get free from because I think that’s pretty confusing for the unconscious mind.
So just continue to invest in your life in meaningful ways even WHILE you have insomnia because that’s going to start taking some of the power away from insomnia.
Another thing that can be helpful when you’re going through this process is to be aware of the discomfort, or disorientation that can come with an identity shift. I think that all change requires some sort of identity change and sometimes this can be uncomfortable…
I’m going through this right now as a business owner and creator. For most of my working life, I’ve been an employee, and that path was very clear-cut and familiar. And now here I am as an entrepreneur and it’s stretching me a bit. But I also know that’s it’s normal to feel this way, and it doesn’t need to happen overnight.
I heard this analogy once around thinking of your identity as a city.
And I think it was Dan Koe who described this. But basically, the neural network that we build in our brains around an identity needs time to dismantle. So if you try to change your identity by taking out a big part of the city like say, City Hall, then that’s going to create a lot of chaos and disruption in the city. Our psyche is wired for survival, so when an identity becomes threatened, our brains tend to go into fight or flight.
I think it’s important to understand this before making changes to the city because you don’t have to start with the heart of the city, you can just start with a small part of the city. We can peel back the layers of insomnia in a kind and compassionate way.
So, in closing… remember: You are not insomnia. You are having the experience of insomnia. It’s not who you are, just an experience to be had.
Thanks for joining me today, I hope this was helpful. This is the Mind. Body. Sleep. podcast, I’ll see you next time…
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