They never seem to mention the lack of sleep.
I’m sure someone does, of course. But in the world of mental illness, in my early days of diagnosis, at least, I don’t really remember talk of sleep. I remember phrases like exposure therapy, brain mis-firings, and Zoloft. I remember the panic attacks, the fears of being in public, and the tears shed (by myself and my family). I remember so many small, embarrassing moments where my OCD seemed to completely take over, making me almost unrecognizable from my former self.
I remember all of these things in those early days of a heartbroken, 16-year old girl so devastated about the condition of her mind. But what I remember the most was the lack of sleep.
I remember the complete terror as the clocked ticked away each day, knowing in a few hours, a few minutes, I would be left alone with my mind, unable to stop the endless cycle of intrusive thoughts and obsessions. A few weeks after my diagnosis, it became clear to me and my family that we needed to do something.
So we tried the traditional paths one might take. I took medicine. I prayed the rosary. My parents put a TV in my room to distract me. I listened to classical music. I read and read as many novels that I could get my hands on. But nothing seemed to work. Nothing seemed to calm the chaos of my mind to fulfill the deepest longing I had at the time, a longing I think many of us take for granted: the longing for simple REST.
That is, until, this one day. You see, early that day I was reading an article in a Catholic periodical about a woman who was diagnosed with a terminal illness, given only six months to live. And she had found peace with her death in those months. She celebrated her life with family and friends, deepened her faith, said her goodbyes. But with each passing month, her death never came. Months turned into years, and her once incurable cancer inexplicitly was cured. She was a healthy woman.
And that’s when the cycle of depression began. She cried herself to sleep at night. Her relationships suffered. She began to lose faith.
And I think we all know why this is, of course. Because life is so very hard. Death seemed easy to her, especially a death filled with goodbyes. But life?
As a 16 year old girl, this made more sense to me than I think it has in my entire life. Death was not to be feared, but life was filled with sorry, confusion, and pain. I, like the woman in this article, simply longed for peace and rest. We both wanted the same thing.
So that night, in the darkness of my room, as my thoughts raced and tortured my wounded heart, I started to make up my own story in my mind. A fictional story about a young woman who faced the same devastating reality of life and illness. And within minutes of slowly putting together the pieces of my story, I fell asleep. The best sleep I had had in MONTHS.
So the next night, as the thoughts raced and my heart pounded, I returned to my story. I added small details. I created new characters. I envisioned every piece of furniture, every word of dialogue. And I fell asleep.
And night after night, even years after going through a remarkable period of healing from my mental illness, I still return to my sleep story. The story which saved my life. It has changed, as have I, over the years. I’ve added new characters, I’ve changed the timeline a bit. My central character has aged as I have. But in the years since that first night, that first creation, I have often reflected on the HOW.
How God used a simple story to completely change this small yet mighty aspect of my life: my longing for basic sleep. And it was the first seed, I believe, in a long history of God showing me the power of stories to HEAL.
We know, of course, that stories can entertain, that’s really the main purpose of stories. But stories can also educate, stories can unite, and stories can help bring healing.
Central to our mission with Ruah storytellers was this basic premise: we believe that if each of us, just once a day, encountered a story of fellow pilgrim on this journey, our lives would be enriched, our minds could be opened to new perspectives and experiences, and our hearts could begin the process of healing. This advent, we are hoping to accompany you in the journey of this season through the power of story.
We share stories for one simple reason: It’s what Jesus does. In the Gospels, when Jesus wants to teach people about his love, about his mercy, about the plans he has for humanity, he does so in the realm of story. We want to use that model to journey with you this Advent, to encounter the humility of God in the baby Jesus, and to learn from the experiences of our fellow sisters who are on this journey with you.
We have gathered together 24 incredible women from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and faith journeys. And each day, one of these women of faith will journey with you to the manger through the power of story. Each story will dive further into the great mystery of God’s love for you this season, and the remarkable gift we have in the waiting. We are so humbled and honored that you have chosen to be on this journey with us. Thank you listeners, and welcome to Ruah Storytellers.
Jules Miles is a wife, mother, creator, and joyful, lifelong Catholic. Jules is the host of the Catholic storytelling podcast Mystery Through Manners, and along with Amanda Martinez-Beck, the co-founder of this new adventure, Ruah Storytellers.