Why I Don't Like The Word 'Insomniac'

Clear your mind for a moment and listen to how these 2 hypothetical people are describing themselves:

Person 1: I have insomnia.

Person 2: I am an insomniac.

Do they have the same "meaning" to you?

To my mind, there is a world of difference in meaning between the 2 ways these people are describing themselves.

Why is 'insomniac' problematic?

Many with insomnia spend a lot of time and energy trying to fix their sleep issues. Or they are always coping with the feelings they have after sleepless nights. It is almost like they might feel their world has become very small and all about getting sleep. It's like they start to define their very identities by the fact they have insomnia - and they start calling themselves "insomniacs".

I would urge you – for the sake of truth and for the sake of your recovery from insomnia – to consider not doing this.

The word "insomniac" is limited, narrow, and reductionistic as if the person has no other qualities. It’s a term used in a way that suggests the person it describes is fixed in that state.

The word "insomniac" is commonly and unfortunately used as if it is the definition of the person it describes.

Embracing person-first language

If you say you are a person with insomnia, or that you have insomnia, you are putting yourself as a person FIRST. You may have insomnia, just as you may have many other characteristics and qualities and conditions and states of being. And these characteristics and states change over time, they ebb and flow, and that is more the truth.

You are SO MUCH MORE than your insomnia. You may be a parent, you may be a sportsperson, you may be a sibling, you may be none of these things - but you are guaranteed to be more than your insomnia. Even if you can't recall the beginning of your insomnia, there was likely a beginning, and some times when it was worse and some times when it was better.

And through it all, you have been a person with interests, activities, work, hobbies, relationships, and more – even if sometimes they were more of a struggle than they were before.

We are not defined by insomnia

Insomnia is a condition, a temporary state. It may feel permanent but people all around don't have insomnia, and they get over insomnia.

By labeling yourself "an insomniac" you are taking that temporary state and condition which ebbs and flows and making yourself the definition of the word. And making yourself the definition of the thing you wish to be rid of!

So, not only is objectifying yourself in that way not reflective of the truth, it can be harmful to your recovery. Each time you use the word to yourself or use the word to find kinship with others, you could be very unconsciously holding yourself back from the very progress and change and recovery you are seeking.

Try this reflection exercise

If you are someone who uses the word "insomniac" to describe yourself, I want to give you an opportunity to reflect on this actively within your own life. Grab a pencil and some paper. Write down "I am an insomniac." Then scratch it out or erase it. Then write down all of the things you are and want to be instead. Focus on those enriching roles in your life instead.

What did you think of my take on how people use the word "insomniac"? And if you tried the exercise, what did you get out of it? I'd love to know.

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