When the sun rises

A little over a year a ago, on July 2nd to be exact, I started sleeping again.  After six long months of nights spent pacing my apartment until sunrise, driven from my bed by an upset stomach and anxiety, I was able to sleep.  Those first few weeks were saturated with mingled relief and disbelief.  It seemed too good to be true that after so long being sleep deprived I might actually be catching up on rest, that I might actually be able to function at a normal level again.

It was as if I was living in darkness during those six months.  When I think about them, I visualize the sky being enveloped by clouds, unable to see the sun or feel its warmth.  My cognitive functioning was drastically decreased.  I frequently lost my train of thought when talking to people.  I was overly emotional, always “two breaths” away from tears.  The boa constrictor of anxiety had wrapped himself around my ribcage and was slowly squeezing the air from my lungs, the life from my body, the joy from my soul.

Everything is harder when you can’t sleep.  Sometimes it took all my strength, all my courage, to leave my apartment and go to work.  I kept a picture of me with three of my best friends by the door.  On those days that it was hard to leave the house I looked at the picture and told myself, “Those people love you, and you can do this.” This was the only way I was able to get myself out the door at times.

Those closest to me were really worried, which made me more anxious.  I hate making people worried.  My supervisors in the US wondered if I should go spend some time in the sates to recover.  I decided to stay, to tough it out, because my friends and family would be visiting soon and I knew that if I left when things were really bad it would be hard to get on the plane to come back.  My coworkers here told me to take a month off to rest and spend time with my family while they were here, not to try to work at the same time.

It felt like things were never going to get better, but everything changed suddenly for the better. I began to sleep again the same week that I started my marathon training long runs.  I think that the hours spent running in the forest helped soothe my anxiety and tire out my body enough to sleep.  It was like I was finally able to relax again.  I don’t really know why the long runs had this effect on me but they did.

The reason that I count July 2nd as being the first time that I was able to sleep again is because there were certain triggers that caused me not to be able to sleep, namely, going out with friends.  When I would try to sleep my body felt like a buzzing neon sign that just wouldn’t turn off.  Maybe my body had too much adrenaline in it after going out to be able to go to sleep.  I don’t really know.  What I do know is that the sleeplessness made me afraid to have fun, to spend time with friends, to do things I enjoy doing.  July 2nd was the day of our big Fourth of July party last year.  Believe it or not, we don’t get the Fourth of July (or other American holidays) off in Kenya, so we often celebrate on the weekends. Even though I knew that it would probably mean not being able to sleep, I decided to go to my friend’s party.  I had a great time.  It ended up being one of my most memorable days in Nairobi.  I did all the things that had been causing me not to be able to sleep since January, and yet, I slept.  I was honestly astonished.

I have an inch long scar on my ankle from that night.  I cut it on the bus we took to get into town.  The scar is a physical reminder of that time in my life and the joy of being free from it.  Nothing lasts forever, even if it feels like it will never end.  Which, trust me, when you haven’t slept in six months you wonder if you’ll ever be able to sleep again.  Those wounds that are so fresh and painful now will fade into scars with time.  Healing comes.  The pain changes you in positive ways if you let it.  It has the ability to soften you, to make you more compassionate and empathetic.  Remembering and reflecting on the difficult things that have happened isn’t easy.  Scars aren’t pretty, but they are real.  They are a part of the human experience.

One of favorite songs during the time after I started sleeping again was “Seen A Darkness” by John Mark McMillan. I honestly don’t know how often this song was the soundtrack for my happy, overwhelmed, thankful tears.  I love John Mark McMillan’s  music because he addresses the dark and messy sides of life instead of just trying to cloak difficulties in overly spiritual language.

We have seen a darkness

But we have seen a light

We have felt the love 

Of a hope’s hot blood 

In the machinery of night

We have seen a darkness 

But we have seen the sun

We have come undone

To a love’s hot song 

In a symphony of blood

The valley of the shadow knows our name

We have seen a night

But we have seen the day

Dressed in the blood of love’s hot veins

We have overcome

Yeah, we have overcome

Born into the grave

But born a second time

We’ve been born again 

Into love’s hot hands 

On someone else’s dime

The valley of the shadow knows our name

We have seen the night

But we have seen the day

Dressed in the blood of love’s hot veins

We have overcome

Yeah, we have overcome

You have called us loved

And you have called us wanted

One time we were bruised

We were bankrupt and hauntedIMG_7305

The valley of the shadow of death might know your name, but you don’t walk alone. No matter how dark the night, the sun rises in the morning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s