How I Learned to be Happy in Discomfort: Living with Insomnia and Lyme

(Originally published in Elephant Journal)

"The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with." - Tony Robbins

Uncertainty is not something the United States of Advertising considers a juicy opportunity.

We run from the unknown like the headless horseman on Halloween. Have a headache, pop ibuprofen. Stressed? Have a drink. You’ve been having a low couple weeks, get on an anti-depressant.

What if our headaches, stressors, and lows are our gurus? What if our challenges saturated in uncertainty are waiting for us to ask what is this trying to teach me?

For the past three years, I have experienced the most uncertainty of my young 29 years. I sat in the discomfort of not knowing why I couldn't sleep, why was I ill, would I be able to sleep again, would I be able to work again, where was I supposed to live, and what the hell was I supposed to do?

I still ask myself the latter question on a daily basis. But even before finding out I suffered from Lyme disease—I was able to see these illnesses were my greatest challenges and my greatest gifts.

 On a beautiful spring day in 2016, I had barely slept in months. I felt horrific and thought this could be it...

My worst nightmare had become a reality. Tossing and turning left me with no energy to exercise, work, or even socialize. All I could do was watch TV, eat, and if I was lucky read.

The thought of death whacked me awake.

I decided even in the torture of zombie insomnia, I would let go of my obsession of figuring out what the fuck was wrong with me, be present, and absorb my beautiful surroundings.

 Gratitude flowed through my fingers flushing out frustration and self-pity. Tears streamed down my face. Suddenly, I saw my surroundings. I was living at my family’s log cabin built from salvaged wood and stone on 19 acres, infused with lush Kentucky trees, whose leaves sparkled with infant chlorophyll. I actually heard cardinals call and smelt honeysuckle for the first time in a long time!

There I surrendered to the unknown.

After that moment, very slowly, I began to uncover the root of illness, heal, and sleep. This slow process was just the medicine my impatient personality needed.

Now I welcome uncertainty and trust that more information will be revealed in divine timing. I let go of my obsession of labeling my illness as Lyme or whatever else the doctor diagnosed me with.

Before in my clinging, I couldn't see what these illnesses were trying to teach me.  Once I let go, I saw the gems of patience, presence, and peace sparkle like those baby spring leaves.

Admitting that, "I do not know" or "I do not know yet" still challenges me.

I used to get anxiety going to weddings or big events when adults would machine-gun the usual questions, "So what are you doing with your life? Then, I was too sick and tired to do anything with my life. And admitting that to myself made me go tomato-red in embarrassment.

No wonder our society is ridden with anxiety. We are conditioned to live in the future.

I'll be happy when I get that promotion. I'll be happy when I get married. I'll be happy when I am healthy.

What about now?

What about owning "I know, that I do not know." How empowering is that? If I knew my entire future, I would be bombastically bored. So why not embrace the mystery of the unknown?

In learning to be present with myself in the darkest of times, allowed me to appreciate how the simplest things in life are extraordinary. And they are all around us.

The green seas of leaves that bloom each spring, the cardinal that flies and sings on sunny days, the steaming mug of coffee on a misty fall morning. These are the jewels that ground us during uncertainty.

They encourage us in patience. They whisper our names like a prayer and hope we choose happiness. Because they are the present. And that is where happiness lives.

As Rainer Maria Rilke says, "Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually without even noticing, live your way into the answer."

Barrett Freibert