Updated: Feb 23, 2022
Permission to sleep
As with most doctors, my sleep problems date back to medical school and residency, when we would work the 36 hour shifts and count ourselves fortunate if we got a couple of hours of sleep in there. We prided ourselves on being able to sound fully awake when responding promptly to the pager’s summons. We would quietly judge and condemn those residents who didn’t respond until the second page as being irresponsible.
By the time my first baby was born I was used to believing that my superpower was the ability to wake up instantly and fully at any time of night. My other mommy friends and I would deplore the fact that our babies would be screaming in our sleeping husbands’ ears but still fail to wake them. We would quietly judge and condemn those dads as being selfish.
And then when the kids got older and had a tummy ache or couldn’t sleep at night, of course mommy would get up to sit with them and make them feel better. When they started staying out later as teens, my mom friends would loudly proclaim that they were “so worried” and “couldn’t sleep a wink” until their child was safely home, quietly judging and condemning those moms who slept as being uncaring.
So if I didn’t want to be judged as being irresponsible or selfish or uncaring, I couldn’t sleep. Unless I was physically exhausted, I couldn’t give myself permission to let go of my humongous list of To Dos, my perfectionism, and my need to be responsible for everything.
The journey to allowing
I wish I could say that I figured this all out and fixed my sleep issues quickly. The truth is that I’m a very slow learner and it’s an ongoing practice. It took me doing another internship with 36 hour shifts at the ripe old age of 47 to not care what anyone thought if it took me until the second page to respond. So what if they thought I was irresponsible?
Four years ago I sat in on a class for qigong breathing meditation to keep my mom company because I believed I needed to be responsible for helping her with her heart problems. The unexpected collateral benefit to me was that I finally learned to let go and allow my body to do its healing thing. I believe that this experience changed my relationship with sleep forever. That still wasn’t the whole story.
When I taught myself how to self coach with the CTFAR model, I learned that I can only be responsible for my own feelings and to let go of the belief that I should be responsible for everyone and everything. I learned that no matter how noble the impulse, sacrificing my own physical and emotional needs only served to undermine my trust and respect for myself, leading to a victimhood mindset.
Self-responsibility means deciding with my mommy brain how much time I want to spend getting dopamine hits from food or social media, and deciding what boundaries to set with work and family demands to protect my “introvert me time”. Only I can make and enforce those lifestyle choices for myself. Being in integrity with my truth and my health is the only way to grow my energy and my power to help others..
The practice is imperfect because I am human, but I think I am finally getting the hang of how my mommy and doctor brains don’t have to get in the way of me and my brain health, but can actually help.