Kim Cattrall has opened out about her life-long battle with insomnia for the first time. In a candid segment for BBC Women’s Hour, the Sex and the City actress spoke about how the chronic sleeplessness caused her to re-evaluate her entire life.
In revealing extracts from her diaries, she described how her anxiety about work and relationships, grief over her father’s death, and fear of getting older all contributed to her condition, which initially she dismissed until she lay awake night after night unable to nap for even a few minutes.
Her chronic sleeplessness began when she came to London in October 2015, to star in a play at the Royal Court Theatre. Upon arriving, the problem began. The 59-year-old actress said she initially attributed her sleeplessness to “jetlag … too much tea or sugar or another stage of menopause”.
She hoped it would right itself but as her ability to “hold onto ideas, thoughts, even tasks” began to slip away from her, the worry took over, and she started to question her mind and mental health. Her father had died from dementia three years earlier, and she feared (among many other things) that she might be developing the same disease.
Cattrell is an immensely talented, lauded actress but as she lay awake at 3 AM, riddled with self-doubt, she focused on only what she could see as her life’s failures – what she hadn’t achieved. She powerfully described the myriad worries that consumed her:
“I didn’t go to university and I didn’t have children, I have no husband… I’m guilt-ridden and I’m alone… I’m agitated about getting friggin’ older… I will be found out that I am a sham, I’m too strident … I’ve gotten to where I am because I’m f**kable… I’m frightened I will not be accepted or liked by others as a strong woman… I’m not talented enough, I just got lucky.”
It was, she felt, like “a three-tonne gorilla sitting on my chest”, and the pressure she felt (and a gruelling rehearsal schedule) amplified the issue. She felt she simply had to sleep and this made the problem worse. Eventually, she went to a doctor who officially diagnosed her with exhaustion as a result of insomnia, and soon she had to quit the play. “The media described it as a ‘mysterious illness’ and assumed I had cancer,” she said. “I even thought that if I did have cancer, people might have been more understanding.”
“[The insomina] is bigger than the play. This is bigger than your strength.”
Cattrell began a course of cognitive behavioural therapy and explained that one of the most crucial changes that helped her sleep was coming to terms and accepting her father’s death. She had been by his side as he died, and she said this had jolted her into a sharp awareness of her own mortality and place in the world: “I realised that if he could die, I could too.” This fear contributed to her insomnia, as she believed that “by going to sleep, I might not wake up.”
The actress, a self-confessed workaholic, needed to teach herself “to do nothing, to sit, to think, to stop, to eat a pear.” Downtime did not come easy, but eventually she said learning that “wasted time is not time wasted” enabled her to relax.
“I choose… to tame my appetite for work and challenge… [because] without sleep, I can’t possibly dream,” she said. And ultimately, “fearing death is a colossal waste of time, because guess what? I won’t even know I’m dead. And strangely, that’s comforting.”
The entire episode is emotive, powerful and worth listening to.
You can listen to it in full here