Three nights ago I stopped sleeping. I had insomnia through high school, college, and early adulthood and having sleep come easily and fitfully for the last two decades is something I’ve been grateful for.
So when sleep disappears it triggers panic. I’m sure you all know the drill; bed isn’t cozy. It doesn’t feel safe or comfortable. Each time you think you might drift off a thought comes in to make sure your adrenaline gets going again. 3 AM rolls around. 4:00 appears on the clock. Then it’s five and you start thinking it might make the most sense to just get up for the day.
When I came downstairs on the second morning of no sleep I told my husband what I’d realized; “I’ve been thinking and thinking about what might have caused my inability to sleep. I didn’t eat or drink anything different during the day. I didn’t start any new supplements or medications. My evenining routine was the same as always and I exercised at the same time. Nothing is different.
“So,” I said to my husband, incredulous from my relization, “can you think of what I did differently these last two nights that I haven’t done any other night in recent hisotry?”
He thought for a bit and before too long he said, “yes. I do know what you have done differently. You watched CNN”.
I stopped watching the news well over a decade ago. I realiezd what it was doing to my mental health. I aslso stopped watching medical dramas and shows like the Sporanos. I did not need more things to worry about. Every ailment on Grey’s Anatomy became one I was sure myself or one of my family members would get (remember the Grey’s episode from way back about the guy with the autoimmune condition that caused his body to be encased in a fingernail type thing and when they opereated spiders crawled out of his arm?! Sweet Jaysus!)
I did not need to know that there were more bad things that could happen. I did not need to worry about rare conditions and circumstances.
No Plan to Bury My Head in the Sand (well, maybe on the really bad days)
I also want to be informed. I want to know basically what is going on in the world. Not every detail. I don’t need to know every detail. I do not need to know every opinion, perspective, and theory. I don’t need to see facts gathered and left out to create a narrative that exists in the head of the person on a screen.
What I have learned is that reading the news for about 30 minutes a week (at the most) keeps me as in touch as I personally need to be. Maybe that is true for others, too.
When terror broke out at the capitol, I went on a hike with my kids. My son is so curious about the world and I know he would have wanted to watch the coverage. It would have been hard for me not to be glued to the TV, too. This is the goal of each network- that we can’t turn our eyes away.
I did not watch or look at any news that day or the next. I kept telling my son “we will wait until this has all calmed down and people have their heads on. Then we will look at the news and see what the story is.”
This is what we did. We spent about 20 minutes seeing what happened from various sources. And guess what? I knew just as much about what happened as people who had spent THE WHOLE DAY watching!
I did not watch it unfold. I did not immerse myself in the experience from afar.
So for thost first two nights after the mob at the Capitol we had our nights just like always. Dinner, a board game, music videos, cozy snuggles in bed and restful, fitful sleep. This held true even after reading about the events.
On that third night though, my son really wanted to watch some coverage, so we watched. He only watched for about 10 minutes and got up and left. I got on my phone to do other things but did not turn the TV off. Next thing I knew there was a man getting crushed -literally crushed- on the huge screen in front of me.
In my living room.
I literally could not breathe and ran to the bathroom sure I would vomit. That was a human in front of me having the life squeezed out of him with no escape. It was horiffic and I could not believe I had been watching it.
What good did that do for me personally to see that? Some will say it makes the reality more clear and that I need to see it. While I understand that view point, I disagree.
I already knew the people in that mob were unstable and dangerous. Seeing a fellow human being crushed to what seemed like a certain death was not necessary for me to see. It didn’t “inspire” me to take an action. It did not make me feel “outraged” at the mob. What it made me feel was sadness and anger at CNN for exploiting the most vulnerable moment of the life of another to up their ratings.
That’s Not My Story
But, that is not what I took away from this experience. Instead, I was reminded of why I stopped watching 24 hour news. It had been so long since I had watched it, this was a stark and shocking reminder. After three nights with no sleep I was bleary eyed. I could not be present with my kids.
Our typically smooth days turned to disconnection, forgetfulness, and confusion. I was not putting good into the world, my family, or myself. I was a blob.
Lack of sleep is a trigger for my mental health to spiral downward. I have to be very, very careful so that I am here for my kids. (Read my story here).
My sleep has not recovered yet. Now I worry that I have been thrust back into insomnia. Time will tell.
I share this, as always, not to suggest that anyone else should do what I do, but in case someone else has experienced something similar and hasn’t made the connection.
People will tell us we have to do certain things. Frankly, it’s probably none of their business.
It’s hard to detach from big news when it is happening. We use it thinking it is helping us process what is happening. We think we will miss a REALLY IMPORTANT DETAIL by looking away. Somehow, we have been convinced that subjecting ourselves to this 24 hour ratings cycle shows how much we care.
Mother Thersa once said “if you want to change the world go home and love your family.” Family can be your immediate family, friends, community… if we all went home and loved our family it would be much harder to hate each other, but I digress.
Watching the news does not equal action. It does not equal change, self-improvement, knowledge, connection, empowerment, understanding, or any of the things necessary to create change. In fact, if you read the thoughts and words of people who have spent lifetimes studying happiness, joy, and creating peace, change, and connection, they will tell you to turn off the news forever.
So I got my reminder. I will go back to my reading of the news for about 30 minutes each week. I will know more than most and not as much as some. Watching 24 hour news networks would not change that ratio.
When will sleep return? Every insomniac wishes for that answer. These are stressful times. We are uncertain. Afraid. It feels like things are unraveling and while there will be good to come from it instability is scary.
For now, I am going to stop listening to the noise that demands I do self-harmful things to prove my worth and humanity. I am going to do the things that I know make the world a better place; continue to educate myself, put as much joy into myself and this world as I can, and I am going to stay home and love my family.
Thank you so much for reading! Follow Pondering Jen on social or sign up for our newsletter to stay connected!