Originally sent February 22, 2020
Have you ever looked back on a moment in your life and said “How did I miss all the red flags?” I bet we could all name a few. I bet if you’re like me, a majority of them are times we could have taken better care of ourselves, be it physically, emotionally, or all of the above. Today’s email is just one of those stories I have.
Our early twenties are a weird time for all of us. We’re stepping into our independence for the first time, but in our society we’re also asked to make some of the biggest decisions of our lives: choose a career for the rest of your life, a partner to stay with for eternity, and pick a place to stay while you’re at it. No pressure.
I, for one, felt every ounce of that pressure. I’ve spoken before on the podcast and in these emails about how I was (and at times, still am) a people-pleaser by nature. When hit by all of these milestones expected of me by the communities and people around me, I stepped up to the plate and accepted the challenge with full intention of checking each and every box, hopefully before the quarter-life crisis could set in. I approached it from a place of asking “What do I need to do?” instead of “Why” or “How” should I be doing these things.
The stress and pressure of this time period is something that I’m sure many of us resonate with. I plowed through undergrad, moving onto graduate school right away in order to secure a safe, steady job that would pay the bills. Rather than asking whether or not these choices were right for me, I depended on the feedback around me to confirm that I had done what I ‘should’. Praise from parents, professors, and even friends (“You just have it so together!”) pushed me through the long nights, longer assignments, and stress of working unpaid internships and high-pressure examinations. I took no inventory of how I was feeling, whether this felt aligned to what I needed, or if I was even ready.
At the same time, I looked at my romantic life and surveyed my options. As a life-long achiever, I was terrified of the prospect of “failing” by entering my mid-twenties totally alone. During graduate school, I held onto a relationship that was extremely painful, and opened deep-seeded wounds related to my self-worth and body image. Time and time again, I turned to others for feedback: “He does love you, he just made mistakes.” “Maybe you can work through it.” I took full stock in what they said, locking myself into this dangerous cycle of co-dependency. Just like with my schooling and career, I ignored the emotional repercussions and what my gut was telling me, and stayed committed to making it work. In both of these scenarios, the belief I was committing to was “They know me better than I know me.”
At different periods of our lives, we all ask ourselves those questions. Who am I? What makes life meaningful? What makes me happy? Especially at these major turning points, we can feel unsteady and ungrounded. To keep myself from sinking, I tethered myself to the values of others rather than turning inward. When I felt those feelings, rather than asking the tough questions, I numbed myself with comfort foods and “partying”, keeping the hardest work at bay. It had worked so far.
Until it didn’t.
About 3 months into this stage of my life, I started having the strangest symptoms. I fell asleep constantly. I don’t mean that I nodded off watching television or hit the snooze one-too-many times. My body started to shut down whenever it pleased. I went from alert to asleep within seconds in all different locations- at work, in classes, and most dangerously, even when driving a car. No amount of caffeine, open windows, and sleep remedies could stop these episodes. As someone who had been blessed with good health most of her life, this terrified me. I went through a process of meeting with doctors, going to sleep studies, and changing my lifestyle after receiving a diagnosis of sleep apnea. If you’re unfamiliar, sleep apnea means that my body would stop breathing multiple times during my sleep at night. Luckily, it would only happen for a few seconds (there are more severe cases), but it caused me to wake up 13 times an hour (even if I didn’t remember it), which led to little or no deep or REM sleep in my cycle. Thus, I was living in a constant state of exhaustion. There are many reasons someone can get sleep apnea. It can be weight related, related to asthma or other breathing disorders, or associated with other more significant health complications. My doctor pinned it on my body being sensitive to weight gain- I had put on 20 or so pounds through food and alcohol during this time. With my C-PAP machine in hand, I was determined to turn my life around and make some changes. You can hear lots about that story in the early episodes of the podcast.
Looking back at it, it’s so much clearer the true root of my health scare. I was numbing and ignoring the emotional signs that I was not okay, to the point that my body was sending extreme smoke signals to catch my attention. Ignoring the signs of depression, binge eating disorder, stress, and low self-worth led to my body taking extreme measures to remedy this. I hid from asking myself who I was and what I wanted, and had placed it entirely up to popular opinion. While literally asleep, I had put my feelings and goals to bed and relied on the world around me to tell me what I needed. When I started to include myself in the decision-making process, and took care of myself emotionally and physically, the scary sleep spells started to disappear. There’s no separating the mind from the body, it’s just that the body sometimes does a better job of catching our attention.
It’s been many years and a long journey since then. My C-PAP machine lies dormant in the basement, covered in dust. While the doctor pinned it on my weight, my body has fluctuated a lot in the past several years. At a recent doctor’s appointment, I noticed the number creeping closer to my graduate school days. No sleep apnea symptoms in sight. Our body and mind can do powerful things when it needs to be cared for. Don’t wait until you’re asleep at the wheel to listen.
Over the next few months of the podcast, my episodes will focus on all different areas of self-exploration that can help you tune into how to best care for yourself. We’ll explore personality, biorhythms, and lots of other fun topics that can help you discover the best fit for who you are. Tune in tomorrow for the first episode!
Take care of yourselves,
Host of Watered Grass