I have chronic post traumatic stress disorder which means I’ve experienced multiple times in my life where my life was threatened to the point of perceived death or I witnessed someone else experiencing the same. In my case, I have experience both several times in my life.
I can go several days in a row and sometimes as far as two weeks before being reminded that PTSD DOES NOT GO AWAY! This week was a PTSD week and I’m pissed.
The combination of having PTSD and also Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has left me almost completely housebound for approximately five years now. For a while I had work I could do at home, only to find the stress of the work exacerbated both conditions to the point of not functioning and my body shut down. I literally lost forty pounds in four months, was bed ridden and had to be treated at the ER for dehydration. That was a little over a year and a half ago. The contract on that job terminated about a year ago and the healing began. I was doing well and started a small private practice in my home and then last week hit.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly I can go from being pulled together and almost medication free to being thrust back into emotional, visual and physical flashbacks, constant state of panic, nightmares, jumping and screaming at sudden sounds and feeling completely unhinged, waiting to fend off an attacker, logically knowing it is not there.
I have found that the more secluded from stress I am and regimented in my routine I have, the healthier and happier I feel. Life actually feels worth living and I can contribute to the community and help others heal. Every once in a while I forget my limitations or attempt to rise above them (take your pick).
Several months ago I attempted this. I did it by the book: go slow, carefully watch the people involved so I’m safe, monitor my reactions and self talk, make sure I have an escape route if I’m too threatened and above all – appear normal.
I have a shaky trust in my ability to read people in my life. Even people I’ve known and loved forever sometimes startle me into a fear reaction. For people who are acquaintances or who I’m just starting to know, this fear is tenfold.
All it takes is for a person to react or act emotionally or physically different from what I expect and confusion sets in. Confusion equals fear and fear causes flairs of PTSD. These changes in behavior can consist of raising their voice, yelling, puffing themselves up, twisting my words or intent, flailing their arms around, pounding on things or behaving in ways contrary of what they say they are doing. One or all of these things sets my automatic brain in motion.
What is triggered in me, I call neuro-synaptic frying. It is very physically painful. My brain floods my nervous system with chemicals so I can survive a life threatening event, even if one does not literally exist. It feels like my entire body has been stuffed inside an open electrical socket. It hurts for hours and because I also have Fibromyalgia contracts my muscles and scrambles the pain signals to the brain. So the pain, sometimes debilitating, lasts for days and I have to take special neurological medications to calm the signals down.
This happened this week. I’ve almost worked past the, it’s okay you’re not in danger, stage of PTSD. My nightmares are still there, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, second guessing my decisions and desires to run and hide diminishing. They were an eight on a scale to ten and now are a three or four.
I did some reality checking with family to try to get a sense on how much I over reacted, the real threat ratio (knowing me and my PTSD history) and where to go from here (knowing my physical and emotional health and situation). I went out with people I know and trust. A best friend who loves me so unconditionally it never ceases to amaze. There is the church family with no agenda other than to share love and companionship and of course the love, support and companionship of my own family. Not to forget the humor, encouragement and camaraderie of Facebook friends.
Even with all that positivism surrounding me, PTSD still slammed its ugly head. It wouldn’t be so bad if I could just say, I have reservations about or I see inconsistencies I don’t know if I want to be involved in or I need to watch closer. No, all that is colored by the lenses of PTSD making the ability to make any of those above stated comments almost impossible at this point. I can’t even say, gee I wonder what is going on with that person that things occurred the way they did. That, I hope will come later, but not now.
I am glad I originally pushed myself, tested the waters because I learned some new things and met new people. I have to ask myself where is the line between putting oneself out there knowing the limitations and accepting the risk verses, staying safe, healthy and happy?
I’ve meditated, prayed and contemplated to no avail at this point. Perhaps what I did wrong was move too fast even though I thought I was going slow and trusting too quickly. Or maybe it has more to do with not honoring my limitations and working within those parameters.
I can say I’m damaged, but I tell my clients you’re not damaged you are unique. I say, you have witnessed things other people can never imagine or they go to the cinema to experience. That wisdom and knowledge of the fragility of life may make it so you are more like a piece of fine china and not a plastic cup. You don’t throw fine china in the sink or dishwasher and you don’t put it with the plastic cups in the cupboard. Does that make the fine china damaged? No, it makes it precious. I need to learn that I am precious and treat myself accordingly.
I’d love to sleep like this, but I can’t. Doctors have tried numerous over-the-counter and prescription aids. I’ve read multiple books on healthy sleep habits. I’ve used a sound machine, played a video of the ocean, ear phones and meditation music, hugged a stuffed animal. My diet was changed. I stopped drinking caffeine and alternated the temperature of my bedroom. Exercise, yep, I’m doing it. Meditation is great but not for my insomnia. I’m not sitting awake worrying. My life is going well. Nothing works. AHHHHH!
I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 1981. Truth be known, I actually have Complex PTSD although at the time they didn’t have that diagnosis. The hows and whys of this are not important for this writing. I’m telling you this because it and some wacky thinking on my part are the reasons for my insomnia.
I am so hyper-vigilant (on edge waiting for something inevitably horrible to happen) that any noise or movement jolts me awake with a startle. Then I’m up for several hours until I can no longer keep my eyes open. With any luck, I will return to some kind of sleep. Some nights this cycle takes an hour or two, other nights I’m up all night.
The less sleep I get the more my thinking becomes derailed. Things that normally would not bother me become monumental. I start taking things more personally and become defensive. Skills and determination take a sharp decline and old thoughts of self-doubt and self-scrutiny flourish and will spiral out of control if I don’t intervene.
I’ve tried many techniques and mild to wacky interventions to help me or force me to sleep. Occasionally, I think I’ve hit the right combination of circumstance, rituals and mind-set only to find it was all a fluke. I can blame my mattress, my hubby, the cat, the noise level in the room, hormones or any number of elements. While some of this is probably a contributing factor the end result is me and a need to find a way within myself to work with who I am now in a non-judgmental way.
Sleep eludes me. So I try to spin it positive. The house is quiet, I can write. There is time to process my day and goals for the future. There is quality time with my cat. All nice things but sleep would be greatly appreciated.
So, I am curious both as an insomniac and a therapist, what have you tried when facing insomnia? Did it work?
Maybe there are some techniques or home reminds I’m not familiar with. If you have any I’d love to compile them for anyone who needs aid. Myself included. Sweet dreams!