As I continue to walk this path of dealing with my insomnia head on like never before, this desire to live and breathe without regret grows deeper and deeper within me. When this health crisis has subsided, and I do believe it will, I so want to look back on it all without an ounce of regret or self-loathing. I want my story with insomnia to be one that brings me and others some sort of hope.

I was thinking the other day about suffering, about the pains in each of our lives and how so often we view them as detracting us from the progressive plot-line of our lives. I know I’ve viewed my own struggle with insomnia as a detour from the narrative of success that I trace in my own life. Things like getting a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, winning skateboard competitions, being in a band, graduating from college. All these milestones are easy to place in my life story. They make my life seem exciting, and most of all, they portray me as someone with talent, someone who’s never struggled to accomplish one’s dreams.

But a consistent, miserable, deeply personal struggle with sleep is so hard for me to accept and reconcile with the rest of my story because of how uninspiring it often seems to me. It’s one of those topics that make party conversations fall kind of flat. Do you ever feel that way about yourself? Like you’re a natural conversation ender, for lack of a better term? I feel like people just often feel bad for me, and that’s actually really hard for me to deal with.

But, whether I want it to or not, my insomnia is largely what makes me who I am. Naturally, every aspect of our lives is the fabric of our very being.

I find myself dwelling on things like how I can’t pursue my dream of being a long distance runner, or how I can’t play live shows anymore, or how I presently can’t keep a normal job. But, the other day I drew this straight line of dots on my hand and as I sat there looking at it I was struck with this thought that maybe a better way to think of our lives is as a continuous trajectory towards self-awareness and inner peace. That seems to be a much more sustainable metanarrative, as opposed to viewing one’s life as a means of accumulating worldly success. (This reflection doesn’t end with a cute little Bible verse, so you can ease up.)

Don’t get me wrong, I think we should still make goals for ourselves like publishing a book, running that 5k, or landing a cool job, because doing those things can make us better people. My point is that no matter what happens to us, our stories get to include all of it, suffering and all, and we have the gift of making the most of whatever comes our way even if that is chronic insomnia, or the death of a loved one, or a battle with a disease, or spiritual doubt. Our pain isn’t a deviation from our lives; it is our lives.

These days I’ve been attempting to pull my hardship back into the center of my story, not in an effort to dwell on negative energy, but to acknowledge that my life isn’t on hold now because I am suffering. Of course, this is hard to do considering the circumstances. I wake up with a level of fatigue that prohibits me from driving anymore. I don’t get to see my friends and I feel very alienated as a result. I have to cancel lunch dates with my grandparents, my cognitive faculties of memory, problem solving, and decision making seem to be depleting the longer my chronic insomnia persists, and my depression comes in large, sometimes unexpected and unfathomable, waves.

But I remind myself that every day is another opportunity to respond to my pain with increasing love for myself. Sometimes I literally have to tell myself, “None of this is your fault.” I tell myself to relax. I get the opportunity to make something of my pain. And I’m finding that my biggest joy through all of this is the process of learning how to love myself more and more. This chronic insomnia is providing me every opportunity to care for my self in ways I have neglected all my life.

I’m sure you’ve heard before that our experiences with hardship can make us stronger. It’s become somewhat of a cliché, but I suppose there’s a bit of truth to that sentiment. Our suffering can ultimately bring us together if we adopt the spirit of transparency and extend empathy towards one another. They can even begin to heal our deepest wounds that would have been otherwise untouchable without our painful experiences. So I ask myself, “What can I do to care for myself today?” “Is there a way I can begin to allow my pain to heal me?” And who knows, perhaps meditating on those questions can help you as well.