I’ve been working with my therapist for nearly four years, and in that time, there has only been one occasion on which she has laughed at something I said–when I didn’t intend for it to be funny. I infuse quite a bit of sarcastic/self-deprecating humor into the processing of my issues (heyyyy, unhealthy coping mechanism!), so I at times elicit a few quiet chuckles from her over the course of a session. That day, though, she quite literally burst out laughing.
Plot twist: I totally deserved it.
Still, she apologized for her laughter, and then followed up with what I’ve come to know as a phrase which precedes me getting called out on my BS: “So let me get this right…”
My therapist is an amalgamation of highly-skilled mental health professional, and Black auntie who is tired of playing with you. To be frank, it’s precisely what I need. “So let me get this right…” is one of her more effective tools, in which the statement is followed by a repeating of some foolishness I just said, and most likely closed with “And that makes sense to you?” It never makes sense, of course. She just wants me to hear how absurd/harmful/self-sabotaging (sometimes all three, depending on the shenanigan) the behavior sounds, when the wording I’ve used to clean it up is stripped away.
That particular day, the behavior we were attempting to get to the bottom of, was my refusal to go to bed at a decent hour of the night. It was my second semester of grad school, so it wasn’t entirely shocking that I was somewhat sleep-deprived. But this had been an ongoing issue, for about a year and a half. I’d started struggling with my sleep not too long after I returned to complete my undergraduate degree, a couple years prior. I found myself in an on-again, off-again relationship with a healthy sleep cycle, mostly because I wouldn’t fully commit to implementing the advice my therapist was giving me.
Most of it was just basic “sleep hygiene”: It was suggested that about an hour before the time I’d actually like to fall asleep, I should avoid electronic devices; turn off lights; play some soothing music or sounds; and lay in the bed. We also discussed various tools I could use to slow down the #fiftylem thoughts which always seemed to be racing through my brain; they were tied to #fiftylem commitments, resulting in most of my staying up being dedicated to working.
I’d try things her way for about a week, and then go back to a world in which I was proud of myself for making it to bed by 3am.
The statement which preceded my therapist’s laughter, was an answer to the question she’d posed: If I had to narrow it down to one thing, what would be the reason that I consistently stayed up so late?
My response: “When I want to shut it down for the night and go to bed, I can’t stop thinking that somewhere, someone will still be awake, outworking me.”
Then came hers: “So let me make sure I’ve got this right. You are risking your physical and mental health; depriving yourself of sleep; and operating throughout the day at less than what you’re capable of…because somewhere, a sleep-deprived mystery individual is getting a leg up on you. Is that correct?”
It was. And if I’m being completely honest, I haven’t completely shaken that as a thought. My therapist and I have done some excellent work which has resulted in considerable growth, for sure. Still, there is a culture that exists in our society–among millennials in particular–which has taken the idea that “sleep is for the weak” to a totally different level. If Gen X-ers are workaholics, Millennials are workaholics, stressaholics, and struggleholics. It’s 100% not some new phenomenon that people act as if you’re accomplishing nothing if you’re not half-dead. But between the advent of social media, and what I personally find is a generational need to prove that we are not lazy, entitled, unaccomplished little brats, we’ve certainly ramped up that mentality.
It is dangerous.
Twice, during grad school, I was hospitalized for dehydration-related exhaustion. In my first semester there, I sustained a concussion and totaled my car in an accident which had sleep deprivation as a primary factor. Almost any time someone asked me how I was doing during the two years I was pursuing my MSW, I replied with a laugh that I was either stressed, or tired. Disturbingly enough, there was a piece of me that felt as if those things were some sort of badge of honor, and appropriate indicators that I was doing something right. They were not, and one in particular–the car accident–actually could have killed me.
It’s taken some time and some pressing, but I’m almost free of the “No days off” mentality. I definitely continue to engage in some behaviors which leave me burned out and overworked/overcommitted, but I am done with always being “on.” Don’t try to be up under me when it’s a self-care/alone time day. Don’t call me 13 times when my phone is clearly on DND. I am not meant to be available to anyone, or anything, 100% of the time. Shifting to that mentality has been so incredibly healing.
So yall can keep the “Grind til you die,” “No days off,” “I’ll sleep when I’m dead; and even then I’ll probably just nap and then come up out of my grave to grind some more” approach. I’m good luv, enjoy.
And lowkey, now that I look at the clock…I probably should start getting ready for bed soon. Bye.