Why I Have Been Seeing a Therapist

Honesty

I am honest.

You know that. I know that. I am proud to say that honesty and transparency came from my grandma, or nanny as I used to call her. Nanny Muir was the toughest person I knew, and she always told you the truth. Like that time she told me my legs were chubby when I was sitting on the couch as an 18 year old. That forever scarred in my mind, and I used to tease her about it often.

I was HORRIFIED that she said that to me, but at the end of the day, she was right. At that point in my life I was heading towards a weight that would soon start to affect my running, and I was definitely eating much more than I was burning.

Although it upset me, it was the kick I needed to start looking after myself a little better, which was good for me.

Nanny Muir is also gave me the “grit” that allows me to go so far into the well on race day. She is the reason I am able to push myself so hard beyond most runners, I know I learned that from her.

But as honest as I am, I have not been sharing something with you that has been going on behind the scenes.

No. I am NOT pregnant!

But I have been going to a therapist.

A sleep therapist.

I have hinted several times that I struggle with insomnia, and it was getting to the point where it was affecting my life in a severe way. I have always been an early riser, but when you take hours to fall asleep each night with a racing mind, and still wake up at 4:30am without an alarm, or you wake up at 6am when you went to bed at 2, that is something that is eventually going to affect your training when you are pushing it to the limit as an elite.

You know I have some serious goals I am chasing down, and although I honestly believe I am one of those people who can get away with less sleep, I knew it was affecting my performance, and not only that, but it was affecting my sanity.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, when I just could not fall asleep, I would get delirious and start crying. Frustrated that I could not sleep, night after night, when my body was so exhausted from my training.

Before people start telling me I am overtraining. This happens year round.

And before I start hearing the tactics that “I can never make it to the end of…..” well, I tried those, all of them, and nothing seemed to work. I even tried the Sleep with Me podcast, where a guy talks for an hour in a monotone voice about a boring topic. I would make it through the full hour, still listening.

Sorry if I am coming across as snarky (shows you what sleep deprivation does 😛 ) but my point is, it was time to do something about it. I HATED going to bed. I dreaded the night as I knew I would lie there frustrated, my body too tired to do anything, but my mind racing, getting myself more and more worked up as the night went on.

I started taking benadryl, melatonin, or Dream Easy. Which worked, they really did knock me out, but there are two disturbing things about that:

  1. I would often have nightmares or hallucinations during the night
  2. I DID NOT want to get to the point where these did not work and I had to keep upping the dosage. I do not like taking medicines, and I was finding I slept much much worse on the nights I did not take it.
  3. If I did not time it right between taking them and going to bed (I would try to strategically plan it so I took it an hour before I got into bed), then I would get unbearable restless legs. Something I have had most my life, especially during my time off, but this would get to the point where I could not stay in bed or even sit down, the only thing that would help it would be to get up and shake my legs

Finally I reached a breaking point.

Steve was working 60-80 hours a week, yet I was keeping him up at night. I could see it was affecting him, and it was getting to the point where I could not plow through the way I used to (did I mention I HATE taking naps!).

I booked myself in to see a specialist.

Okay……lets step away for a second here. I apologize, I planned on being well into the therapy by now, but I am just on a roll with my story here……we might need a second post for this!

I researched into a sleep specialist who would understand runners, and although I could not find one who ran. I found one who loved cycling, and I thought she would understand.

She was fantastic, I really liked her, and she told me that I had conditioned myself to associate the bed with frustration and anger.

Kind of like Pavlovs dogs, it was like my racing mind waited until I got into bed, and as soon as my head hit the pillow, my mind began to dump; everything I had to do tomorrow, everything I had done that day, all my worries, fears, frustrations (even if I wrote them down before I went to bed!). Once those tasks were out of the way, I was well aware I was still awake 45 mins later……and we all know how that goes when you know you aren’t asleep yet!

Dr. Waldrop referred me to a sleep therapist, and prescribed me some pills for my restless legs (which have worked very well).

So, for the last 6 weeks I have been seeing a therapist about my sleeping. I had to fill out a psychological assessment, which was 300 questions long, and pretty scary to do, especially as you knew that they knew what they were looking for. What if they found out I was crazy? What if I have some kind of personality disorder?

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Thankfully, the only thing she found was that I am incredibly driven, and well….she used other words to describe it, but what I got out of it was….Type A.

She put me on a sleep restriction the first week. I was only allowed to sleep 5 hours a night, and if my mind began to race at any time, I HAD to get up. I also had to turn off all electronics except for a reading light for 90 mins before I went to bed.

That was HARD. SO much harder than I thought, but it worked. I fell right asleep each night, exhausted.

But it definitely affected my days too. I felt like a zombie, and every run was a struggle. I had a horrible meltdown on the day of my first workout back after philly, calling Steve crying saying that I did not want to run anymore.

Just goes to show you what sleep deprivation can do!

After that, I was allowed to slowly bring my sleeping back by 30 mins, only if I fell asleep within 20 minutes. All this time I have to keep a sleep log, to track how many hours I am actually sleeping.

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I am now back to normal hours, although still waking up around 4:45 without an alarm. We still have a lot to work on, and she is not exactly happy that I am going off traveling for the next month…..not exactly what she wanted when it came to a routine, but what I think has realy made a difference is the hour of electronics off an hour before bed, and that is something that I can take with me wherever I go.

During that hour I tend to read a book and sit with a whiteboard. Any thoughts or worries I have, I write them down, emptying my mind of those thoughts.

I will update you more on how this is going in 2016, but I just wanted to share my struggles. To once again show you that elites do not live this perfect life, and I am not getting the 10 hours of sleep that other elites get. I am happy if I get 7.

I am trying to do something about it, and after last weekend, I have decided it is time to get help about my inability to relax and rest. That is for another day.

If I get back from Australia, and I still am struggling to relax, it will be time to take that next step. I am not embarrassed to admit that, and neither should you be if you reach out for help. I hope if you have something that is bothering you, you will reach out to someone to help, or you can email me (my email is at the bottom of the page).

Sleep deprivation is real. If you are struggling for more than a few weeks. Do something about it. You will not believe how much of a difference it will make to your life.

Be Brave. Be Strong. Be YOU.

What would you like to get off your chest? Good or bad sleeper?

PS. Make sure you listen to the Runners Connect podcast episode about sleep with World Renown Expert James Maas

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26 Comments.

  • I love your honesty I think it is one of the reasons I relate so well to you is that you’re not putting on about what it takes to be a successful elite athlete. Good for you for seeing a sleep therapist as someone who also struggles from time to time with insomnia I think it’s great they are able to help you. Not sleeping enough has the weirdest effects on the body, I understand why it’s used as torture. Mine is diet based for the most part the more sugar I eat the less sleep I seem to get, I know you eat super healthy but I was curious if they mentioned anything about diet?

  • carla birnberg
    December 2, 2015 5:47 am

    wow I had no idea anything like this even existed!!! and Im with renee as well and wondering if they suggested foods to eat to sleep better too!

  • I am so happy you shared this! Everyone struggles with something (sometimes many things!) and by you writing about it openly and honestly you will help so many people with the same issue. I’m so sorry you have been struggling with this and I cannot imagine it as lack of sleep is truly tortuous and, as you know, affects all aspects of your life. I hope you can continue to improve and get the rest your body and mind desperately need! xoxoxo

  • You are definitely not alone on this! Thank you for sharing. I’m usually a good sleeper but have gone through periods in my life when it’s something I dreaded just because it never would happen. And in turn, everything in my daily life was a mess because I felt on the verge of tears all the time. I hope this helps you and your time away will give you some rest and relaxation.

  • Oh wow- so sorry you were/are struggling so much with sleep. As you’re finding out, sleep impacts EVERYTHING! I’m glad you’re getting more sleep these days and feeling better!

  • Sleep therapy is a really interesting field. I think that people often feel that there is a stigma regarding seeking help for mental health issues, but I don’t know why! When something is wrong with us physically, do we not seek expert advice? Why not for our brain! Glad you are getting help!

  • Oh man, not being able to sleep is the worst!! I went through a period similar to yours and it wears on you big time. Mine was for different reasons (some similar), but mostly because I was getting used to having a bed mate…my new husband! After a couple years of not so great sleep, we now have two twin beds pushed up next to each other with our own sheets and blankets. It’s amazing!
    I’m so glad you’re able to sleep longer now and I hope you continue to get lots of rest!! Know you’re not alone…or crazy:) Thanks for sharing!

  • Best.Article.Ever! Thanks, Tina for your honesty and sharing this.

  • I can be a really good sleeper and a really bad sleeper…When I am bad it is bad. It is amazing how the lack of sleep can really affect you for even just your basic activities. I am glad you are trying to figure this all out and get better!!! XOXO

  • Did not know you were struggling with this. I am really happy to see that you are getting some help with this. Interesting strategy and I hope it helps you. That and the long vacation should do wonders for you

  • I’ve always been a very “delicate” (haha) sleeper- have trouble falling asleep, the slightest noise will wake me up, etc. The worst was my parents telling me to “shut my brain off” when I started struggling with sleep in middle school. How insulting is that?

    What made me want to respond to your post was your comment about the drugs giving you restless legs. I discovered this reaction in myself after taking Tylenol PM, which contains diphenhydramine (aka Benadryl). Instead of knocking me out, which is the expected effect, it made me jittery, anxious, and with the sensation of restless legs and arms. Since then it has happened when I took cough syrup with codeine when I had bronchitis and percocet when my neck was broken. I did some research and all of these drugs are processed by the same enzyme system in the liver: Cytochrome P450 2D6. It turns out that if a person has more than two copies of the gene that codes for this enzyme, it can cause faster than usual metabolism of those drugs. These people are characterized as “ultra-rapid metabolizers” and this causes the paradoxical reaction of those feelings of jitters, anxiety, and restless legs. Look into it- you might have this as well. It’s useful to know, because you will likely get that reaction from all opioids, as well as other drugs metabolized by the enzyme. Just another reason to avoid narcotics, right? Wikipedia has a list (look in the substrate column): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CYP2D6

    Enjoy your honeymoon!

  • Ohhh thank you for being so honest! SO many people struggle with insomnia and it feels so isolating. It feels like we are the only people awake in the middle of the night. Worst feeling ever. I dealt with insomnia issues my whole life, even taking major heavy duty prescription sleeping pills. But I also have an anxiety disorder so seeing a psychologist for a while really helped me deal with the underlying issues. It’s too long to type out here, but just know that I empathize with you! And I’m glad to hear you’re getting help. Much love. xo

  • I completely understand when you say you get delirious and start crying in bed because that’s happened to me! I xanthum believe you still somehow managed to battle through your runs zealots ej g deprived. J would’ve canceled my workouts altogether

    So the no extrovert ox thing helped you sleep immensely? Should I avoid electronics 90 minutes before bed? Or was it something else that made the huge difference in sleep?

  • Sandra Laflamme
    December 2, 2015 12:58 pm

    This sounds as though it has been extremely helpful. My husband could use this help as he struggles with a ton of job stress. I am so happy that you have found some help for yourself!

  • Thank you for sharing this! I had to see a sleep therapist in high school, as I could just not get my mind to slow down during the night. As bad as this is, I now fall asleep to reruns of my favorite shows on Netflix – the background noise distracts my brain and keep me from overthinking. I’m glad you’ve sought one to get help and I’m sorry to hear you were dealing with sleep issues – I hope your sleep improves!

  • So interesting to read your account of how well you were sleeping before & after the therapist & great to see how much difference it makes in such a short space of time. You could easily go for years sleeping badly & not doing anything about it but this just proves how quickly you can get it sorted out. I tend to get a lot of nightmares & wake often during the night so I might try implementing your plan if that’s ok. It’s amazing the amount of difference a good night’s sleep has on you 😀

  • I always love your honesty in your blog and seeing your struggles. I hate to see you struggling, but it is relieving to see that elites struggle too (I especially admire elites like you who also work outside jobs, blogging, and are juggling a lot of things with training). I have had trouble sleeping occasionally and once for several weeks straight. I had the restless legs and fortunately I’m not dealing with that anymore. I agree with you on trying the most natural ways possible because medicines can be addicting and you have to take more and more of them, plus you as an elite have to be extra careful of what you put in your body so I 100% understand that too. I’m glad you got help for it and your therapist was understanding!

  • I love the idea of zero electronics 90 min before bed. I am going to start doing that!
    I am so happy you are getting help and I think the time away is going to be amazing for you! Thank you for sharing this with us. Sleep is so important and I also got a lot out of your podcast on sleep. Be well friend!! Xo

  • I love your vulnerability! you are so right about the electronics, you know that’s a big thing with Michael Hyatt, he says the same thing, no electronics for 90 min before bedtime. That’s so hard for me bc that is the only time I have a long block of time to be online! I LOVE the whiteboard idea!!! I just got one with a Kickstarter item, a planning book, so I’ll give that a try. I loved the Dick Beardsley ppodcast today!!!

  • Great post Tina! Thank you for sharing and for your honesty 🙂

  • I have struggled with sleep ever since I had kids. I have no issues falling asleep, but I wake up 1-3 times a night and have a hard time getting back to sleep. Obviously different reasons than you, but I can relate. I feel sleep deprived all of the time and it sucks. I hope that this therapist can really help you!! Hugs!

  • Christine @ Love, Life, Surf
    December 3, 2015 5:38 pm

    I’m glad that you’re seeing someone about this and getting some help with it. When I can’t fall asleep I get so frustrated and I can’t imagine if that’s every night! Hopefully, being away on your honeymoon will also help – might be just what you need. Thanks for sharing this Tina. xox

  • There is such a negative connotation for therapy which is ridiculous. There really shouldn’t be. If you suffer from an illness you see the relevant doctor. End of. It’s no difference for sleep issues, mental disorders or health in general. This is a great post so thank you for your honesty.
    I used to get what I called Sunday Night Syndrome where I would start to get anxious and worried about the next week at work. It got so bad (and this sound awful) I would have a glass of gin and tonic to help me relax (just one though!!). Otherwise I would stress and fret about the next week and it would cloud my mind and stop me sleeping. And then you start stressing about not sleeping, which is even worse! But eventually I changed jobs and found a job I enjoyed far more and suddenly Sunday nights became like every other night. Just that “oh man, the weekend’s over” sadness but nothing else. My sleep issues was caused by an environmental thing that I could change. I hope you find the root to your issue and manage to have better sleep in the future 🙂

  • Aninstantcrush
    December 8, 2015 10:45 pm

    Have you checked your magnesium levels?

  • Aninstantcrush
    December 8, 2015 10:46 pm

    Restless leg syndrome is often a sign of magnesium deficiency.

  • Wow! This is amazing Tina! I love that you are doing this and I hope it will help you sleep better and keep your mind from racing. I’m really looking forward to hearing what you find and learn through this process. I have a really hard time falling asleep because I cannot shut my brain off either, although you are even more Type A than me. Once I fall asleep I’m good, but like you sometimes I find myself laying in bed forever before I can stop thinking, thinking. I love that you take the time to look into all the little things that create and make the big things. Thanks so much for opening up and sharing this. Heart you. xo

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