What Insomnia Taught Me About Gratitude
I have always had trouble sleeping. For seemingly no reason, my body goes through spells where it simply refuses to shut down. Many things contribute to this problem. I am a chronic over-thinker, I have a great deal of anxiety, I internalize stress and emotionally upsetting episodes, and I struggle to maintain reasonable bedtimes and rising habits. But sometimes, even if I have managed to calm my mind, establish good routines, and am in an emotionally healthy frame of mind, I still cannot sleep.
The practice of gratitude first came in to my life during one such episode of chronic insomnia. I had just moved from Georgia to California, all my life was in upheaval, the future was uncertain and I could not sleep for the life of me. Night after sleepless night I would watch the sunrise, nearly in tears due to my exhaustion and my body’s refusal to rest. I had heard that the practice of gratitude helps ease the mind and relax the body, and that even the act of trying to think of something to be grateful for releases endorphins, causing pleasurable feelings. Out of desperation for some sleep, I began closing my eyes and thinking of things I was grateful for every night when I laid down in my bed.
What I discovered truly surprised me. In the dark behind my eyes, when I let my mind explore things I genuinely felt grateful for, I was shocked at how much I had. I didn’t allow myself to go for easy answers, or mentally rattle off the answers I was “supposed” to have. I dug deep, truly searching for things I felt lucky to have. And there were so many. It truly was an eye-opening practice. It made me calmer and happier, and yes, genuinely grateful.
I don’t want to label myself as particularly ungrateful. However, I do have a mind that clings to negative thoughts with more tenacity than a dying man clings to life. While I have worked hard to re-train my thought patterns, actively thinking of things to be grateful for, to re-direct my mind in such a positive direction, was a very new experience for me. It felt unnatural, but in the most amazing way.
As time passed and my mental state improved, I fell out of the practice of gratitude at bedtime. Yet as we approach Thanksgiving, I am reminded of it again. It is difficult to have the mental discipline to focus on the things we are grateful for, but today I find myself thankful.
I am thankful for the ability I have to provide food and shelter for myself, for my ability to create, to express, and to make beauty. I am grateful for kind people, the ones who silently understand, the ones who give you a break, a second chance, 5 more minutes of sleep, a drink of water, a ride to the airport. Though it has caused me a great deal of trouble and often unhappiness, I am grateful for whatever force exists within me that will not allow me to take the easy road, but forces me to be authentic, to tell the truth, to tirelessly build the life I desire. I am grateful for people who have stood by me, who have sheltered my trust, my pain, my heart, my mind and believed in my strength before I knew I had it. And as I go to bed tonight, I am grateful for sleep. For a clean bed in a safe place. For rest, recharging, healing, and peace. When I wake up tomorrow, I hope I can carry this gratitude with me in to the new day, reminding myself often how rich I am in so many ways, and truly how very much I have to be thankful for.