If you asked me what the hardest physical challenge has been in my life, my answer would surprisingly not be the challenges of living with type one, insulin dependent diabetes. Instead I have to say it has been chronic insomnia. It became so bad at one point even a sleeping pill would not give me relief.
The worst period was when I was still dancing in the corp de ballet of the New York City Ballet, a few years after my diagnosis of diabetes, when I was still struggling to find the right insulin regime.
On a typical day, my walk home from the theater after a performance was phase one of winding down from 10 hours of dancing and performing. I would shower and remove my stage make-up at the theater, and as I walked home from Lincoln Center to my upper West Side apartment I would try to let the day go. I would rehash all the steps I wished I had executed better and all the highs and elation of the evening. The music hummed in my head. I'd eat dinner, catch up with the happenings of the day, check my blood sugar levels one last time, take my shot of insulin, and at last, head for bed. Tomorrow would be a full day of dancing with class, rehearsals and a show. As exciting as it was to perform with the New York City Ballet, performing every night for months at a time was exhausting. I was exhausted. A good night's sleep was essential if I was to perform at my peak.
But sleep I did not.
I'd lie down and no sooner would my head hit the pillow than my body would wake up. It felt like someone turned on the light switch and all of a sudden I was buzzing. I was in over drive.
I tried to stay calm, hoping my herbs for relaxation and sleep would eventually work. I'd remind myself of all the recommendations for sleep I had learned: relaxing my muscles, quieting my mind, securing my eye pillow, and even telling myself it was okay if I didn't sleep. Perhaps meditation could rest my body.
But it wasn't okay. By the early morning I was wishing someone would put me out of my misery. Just knock me over the head. All I wanted was to go to sleep. This cycle would go on for months.
And even though I always managed to get through the next day, always surprising myself when I danced as if I had slept well, I struggled through much of it with sheer will and determination.
How did it get that bad?
Looking back, it was the perfect storm. First of all, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to maintain a peak performance level with the New York City Ballet. Getting rest was a key factor in the recovery needed after our daily rigorous routine. Sleep became a pressured event, and the more I couldn't sleep the more upset and awake I would become.
Secondly, since being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 21 years old, I had became anxious to go to sleep for fear I might not awake in the night should my insulin overwork and send me into a low blood sugar attack. I feared dying in the night. That was why the sleeping pill didn't work. I'd take a pill and immediately begin to panic. What if I started to shake in the night (the warning from my body I was having a low blood sugar) but didn't wake up because I had drugged myself?
Add both of these factors to the fact that I had trouble sleeping as a child due to deep-seated fears. A chronic insomniac was born.
Although I had an awareness of these possible causes for my sleeplessness, I was not yet in a healthy enough relationship with my body to calm my fears and anxieties. I had no compassion for my body or for myself. Rather I blamed my body. I was angry, and there was no way I was going to find rest in that state of mind.
Today I have a different lifestyle -- as an author, teacher and motivator. But more than the change in the way I live, I have changed the way I view my body and its "inadequacies." It's been a long road for me in learning how to have compassion for my body, how not to get angry and blame myself for having a problem. I believe because of this important step I am willing, and give myself permission, to take extra time and care when it comes to the special needs I have. My body in turn responds with balanced blood sugar levels and restful sleep. And because of that I live and enjoy a full and passionate life.
I have found that it is helpful for me to eat an early dinner, go to bed early, sleep in a quiet and dark room, refrain from drinking caffeine or alcohol, control my blood sugar levels, and focus on eating foods that alkalize my body.
Learning to accept that we are not super human and that we need to take care of ourselves is important for us all. Find what works for you. This has been a long process for me, with much trial and error. And while I still have an occasional problem with sleeping (air travel can still throw me off), as I do with my blood sugar levels, I don't get as upset or anxious as I used to. Now, my mind and body are more balanced so I no longer feel that I am a victim of my circumstances. Not a morning goes by when I am not grateful for the sleep I now get and the peace it brings me