If I’ve realized anything about being at UVa the past four years, it’s that one of my favorite quotes from Toni Morrison’s Beloved holds true. The quote is “Anything dead coming back to life hurts”. (Slight digression: I wasn’t sure if I should write this blog post about how college has further solidified my identity as a Nigerian-American woman, but I often need to my remind myself that being black is only one story that streaks my life and that God has given me many other stories that deserve attention too.)
Merely a few weeks into my fall semester as a third year, I quickly noticed how difficult it was for me to stay on top of my workload. However, I thought that my struggles were just going to be something I overcame by working hard and being strategic with the time I spent studying. School had always been something I felt completely in control of and believed I could excel at with the right efforts, so I didn’t worry too much about my rigorous course load. The night before my first exam rolled around and I remember reviewing notes in my room, trying to elucidate concepts that were still blurry to me. Once I realized that information was no longer sticking in my head, I decided to go to bed. The only problem was that after I did get in bed, I couldn’t sleep. My mind continued strumming through concepts I didn’t understand and my heart felt squeamish in my chest. By 2:30 a.m., I figured I should probably try to talk to someone to see if that would get my mind off of things. I called my mom, who works night shifts as a nurse, and she tried to calm me down for a few minutes. It was comforting hearing her voice and being reminded that my heart and thoughts were not the only sounds that sloshed the earth.
I viewed that night of not sleeping as a fluke that would certainly not happen again because I’d be more diligent in making sure I got to bed earlier at a consistent time each night. However, even with my efforts to apply better sleep hygiene to my life, I continued struggling with anxiety and insomnia multiple times a week. Lying in bed exhausted in the middle of the night, feeling betrayed by and unfamiliar to your own body is one of the worst feelings I have come to know in my life. Insomnia descended me into a pit of loneliness, fashioned by anxiety and I was so unaware of how to plow myself out of it. Many activities that I used to enjoy became lackluster and I dreaded having things to do that would require a lot of energy/thinking. I felt like a walking silhouette of who I knew I was.
Desperately wanting to improve my compromised mental health and not wanting to turn to my parents for help (who come from a culture that struggles with legitimizing mental health issues), I began trying to think of ways to fix myself. I visited CAPs, looked up organic remedies to insomnia, sought prayer from my housemates, bought religious self-help books for sleeping disorders, and had my sister stay on the phone with me some nights in hopes that it would help me sleep better. Nothing seemed to be working long term. With my frustration towards myself and God mounting, I resolved to accept the fact that insomnia had woven it’s way into my life and I’d just have to make room for it on my bed most nights.
The night before my biggest final that semester, I began hearing strongly from God. I was on the floor in the room of one of my housemates who had struggled with insomnia one summer and told me I could stay in her room, so I wouldn’t feel as lonely, while she played worship instrumental music to see if that would help me sleep better. After she had fallen asleep and I was still wide-awake ready for the sun to sprout in a bit, I felt the Lord drop this poem in my spirit based on Psalm 23.
It is well with my soul
For the Lord is so faithful and gracious
He makes me lie down in still pastures
And allows my joy to overflow in abundance
He gives me reasons to sing
He calms my spirit
He gives me strength
He is my strength
After I received those words, I felt lighter. It’s interesting how easily we make room for our struggles to ingest more and more of our lives until something - an epiphany or encouraging word- reminds us that those struggles do not have to permanently suffocate who we are as people. God is our reminder of this fact. And He does it so well. He meets us right where we are, just like He met me in that moment, and tells us that there is hope. He is hope.
I’d be lying if I said that night was the last time I experienced sleeplessness. But, it was the last night I viewed insomnia as some insurmountable entity that characterized all of me. That poem God deposited into my soul made me realize two things:
God is always faithful and his faithfulness is noticeable if we actually open our eyes to see it
God wanted me to stop being so close-fisted with my studies/ future and to relinquish those parts of my life to Him
After I made these realizations, I felt a peace that I had not felt in months. I allowed myself to indulge in the kindness and graciousness of God unrestrainedly. Experiencing a semester racked with sleeplessness and anxiety made me notice how God is a high tower for those who seek Him. His hands are strong enough to carry all of our burdens and His love is deep enough for Him to actually want to carry them. Nights can still be difficult for me, but not as often anymore because of my confidence in God’s faithfulness and his desire to give me rest. I had to go through one of the most difficult seasons in my life for God to revive who I am in him and for him to truly make me a new creation.
John 14:27, Philippians 4:7, John 1:5, 1Peter 5:7-10