A few days ago I wrote a piece concerning my affliction with both insomnia and PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder. THIS piece is that one, with further explorations of the subject added in on the suggestions of a close friend. It is substantially longer, now clocking in at around four pages or 1515 words. The subject material hasn’t changed, but I’ve added much MORE of it. If you already read that piece, I DO suggest to read this one, for while you’ll be going over a lot of the same material again, the additions add to the overall experience and tone.
Thanks for reading!
I’m going to take a minute to deviate from my usual run of poetry, writings, and musings to talk about an issue I face nearly every night. As many who read this blog may have figured out, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I have written about it at length many times over the course of the three odd years I’ve been writing here. Either because of this abuse, or due to other as of yet unknown reasons, I also suffer from frequent and near crippling bouts of insomnia. They bleed into each other, blending cause and effect into a awful and sleepless collage of misery.
I suspect the root cause of my sleep disorder is in the way my abuse went down, always at night, always as I was in bed. I know for a fact the problem started soon after I met the individual who perpetrated those heinous acts upon me. It started at the age of eight with terrible nightmares, dreams so intense that upon waking I would call out and run screaming into my sister’s room for solace. The dreams took on a strange nature, often I would suffer from a certain and specific form of night terror called by some Sleep Paralysis. When experiencing sleep paralysis the dreamer seems to be aware of there surroundings though in a state of rest. They find themselves unable to move, and often times awful visions of nightmarish things approach in the room around them. There were nights at that age that the shadows would dance along the walls, taking on unnatural forms and appear impish and very much alive. Others: the walls would bleed red with blood, and a shadowy figure would draw near from the hall outside my room.
Eventually this period of my life passed, and at that point the insomnia began. I still had terrible dreams, and as I grew into a young adult they evolved with me. I began to have lucid and vivid dreams about my sexual abuse, but not simply just. My sleeping mind would magnify the experiences a thousand fold, creating all new horrors to be inflicted on me out of the same cloth of the abuse itself. It was that point that I started giving in to the compulsion to avoid sleep as long as possible. Insomnia can often times come as a voluntary act, and as my dreams intensified the will to sleep at all left me. For whatever reason, the individual DOESN’T CARE to sleep, doesn’t want it, and avoids it entirely. I would sit up most nights on my computer, putting off the eventual terror to come when my head hit the pillow. But then the balance shifted horribly. Laying in bed at night my thoughts would begin to race, never letting up enough for me to slip into the intentional and blissful realm of sleep. The day’s worries would fill my head, the anxieties and fears stemming from my life would never let up for a moment and I would find myself completely incapable of sleep.
On nights like that, the desire to just slip away into sleep would be so strong that its all I would want in the world. Now, in my adult life, every single night is a struggle to get what little rest I can. Over the past several years I have begun to wake in the night seemingly for no reason at all. I’m told by my therapist that the cause may be unremembered nightmares, once so dark that my conscious brain edits them away upon these many nightly wakings. I am currently on a run of several psychiatric medications, and two for my spinal condition, and I STILL have to work hard for whatever REM sleep I can afford.
There are days that come when I haven’t slept in over forty eight hours. At the twenty four hour mark without sleep is the only time I ever experience true mania. The normal racing thoughts begin to become a literal internal narration, my inner voice speaking out them instead of just HAVING them. Stray thoughts come not just out of left field or from out of the park, but from completely different parks playing completely different sports. I feel sharper, more intelligent, wittier, but it’s all a ruse my sleep deprived brain plays on me. I talk faster, move jerkier, and my joints ache and grow stiff. There have been times where, in a completely UN-self aware manner, I have copied and pasted whole sections of conversations, entranced by my own awful jokes and minor witticisms. At the same time, the most “brilliant” ideas come to me, such as for one: the idea to write this very piece you are reading. The night I decided to write this, I hadn’t slept but four hours in forty eight. My eyes ached from lack of rest, my brain pounded almost rhythmically with clusters of headaches that pierced my awareness and a resonate ringing in my ears that wouldn’t quit. All the while I plotted out points I was going to make, word usage that I would employ, and how grand the whole thing would be once written. As is: I had to scrap all but the most bare bones ideas, because as I said before: my mind is a trickster, letting me think I’m being clever when in fact I’m merely being me, but severely deprived of sleep. At this point I would literally do anything to shut it off, but even then in the throes of what feels like pure madness I struggle to shut down enough to rest.
Under normal conditions my post traumatic stress is like a minefield in my brain, once false step and I’m triggered and remembering terrible things in widescreen and technicolor. I go divergent, I regress, I blank out periods of time, and I relive the memories as clear as if I were actually back in those terrible moments of my past. When my insomnia is in full swing and the sleep deprivation takes hold it’s all many times worse. It is, in a word, unbearable.
The memories themselves, recalled in my weakest and most tender moments, come flowing back in a place most find respite: the bedroom, specifically, my bed. I still retain a childish notion that if any part of my body save my face is exposed to open air, that some boogeyman of the night will come and take me away, and this idea was implanted in my head by a solitary man. During the day he was the perfect surrogate father for a boy deprived of a real one, doting on me, giving me gifts, and taking me places my mother could not. At night however, when it was time to sleep, and the lights were out, he would lay in waiting for me. In his single closed room there was a cot he would pull out for me, one formed of what looked like stitched together couch cushions and crafted of a course harsh and hairy material that itched wherever it touched my exposed skin. On that cot I would lay trying to sleep, hoping that I would hear HIM sleep as well, the transition from slow rhythmic breathing to snores that would signal a night free of terror and embarrassment. It hardly ever came… Instead he would come to me after a while, when he suspected that I myself was sleeping, and commit unspeakable acts upon my prone form all the while whispering to me things that should never be spoken to a child. I had to lay perfectly still, I had no idea what would happen if he knew I was awake, and as such: I was paralyzed with fear. This ritual inflicted upon me is the source of my insomnia, without a doubt the catalyst that instilled in me such a fear of bedtime that it haunts me in my resting moments to this very day.
I continue to raise the medications meant to help me sleep, I continue to attempt to meditate, to tire myself out before sleeping, to take those medications and wait well in advance of crawling into my bed for maximum effect. I continue to play out all these rituals and more I haven’t mentioned, and every night, I continue to struggle.
I know that few will read this, and fewer still understand it. I know that this conflict I face in the night, in my bed, I likely face almost entirely alone. However: I also know that I cannot be the only one who has linked these two issues together, the peanut butter and jelly of grim insanity, the wine and cheese of nightmares. If I can have this be read and colluded with mentally with at least ONE person, than it was worth the wasted hours of awful wakefulness that incited it. If at least one person reads this, and feels for a brief moment understood, than that struggle I mentioned isn’t a lost cause, but an ongoing war that may be one day won.