Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
TW: mentions of suicide including discovery
I thought, as well as my previous recent postings, I may as well add a little about this, seeing as I’m in the mood to write blog entries.
What it is, and what it means, and how it can affect your life. As I’ve been writing, it’s occurred to me this is a fairly lengthy topic. I’ll write several entries covering different aspects. So today, I’m going to talk about nightmares in particular. I should add that anything I write can only ever relate to my own personal experience. Your mileage may vary.
If you’ve read my other blog entry about suicide, then you’ll grasp that I suffer from PTSD. I have an official diagnosis, for what difference that makes, and the mood stabiliser part of my medication regime (Topiramate) was chosen for its ability to suppress PTSD nightmares – a job which it is actually performing admirably well. I can’t say the same for the anti-depressant, even though I’ve been through almost every SSRI and SNRI and have now moved onto MAOIs. Seemingly nothing helps with depression for me.
The fact that I already suffer from prior mental illness, Bipolar Depression (as far as they say), means that it’s difficult to distinguish some symptoms, but there are a few that are quite obvious, which were not present before. Some are very blatant, and some are surprising in that I had always assumed, before they happened to me, that they were specific to combat veterans.
Under this heading I am also going to include night terrors, night sweats and similar occurrences. I’ve always been the kind of person to suffer from insomnia, and terrible dreams. I have a naturally dark and morbid turn of personality, it’s true. But PTSD dreams are very different to any of that.
I find for me personally, that a lot of symptoms grow. What I mean by that is that over time they become worse, and settle in you. For instance, the actual day that I discovered them, I hardly flinched. Some more capable version of me took over, called the emergency services, and calmly went through giving my statement to the police, as many times as they needed me to do it. I kept my mother away from the scene. I rescued my living dogs from the house (those dogs have since died). I deleted the angry answering machine messages my mother had left so as to save her from feeling guilty later on.
I’ll talk about flashbacks in another section, but in the moment, when I saw, I didn’t see my Dad. I saw an empty shell. It wasn’t a horror film. It was merely a situation to be handled. There were no eerie connotations then. Unfortunately, I’ve since come to realise that some of the things I noticed that day went on to form the basis of my terror, and I have to live with that. I don’t even know if this is something that can be worked through. I don’t know. I think that perhaps it’s just where a mind gets scratched and damaged, like a record. It’ll always jump there when you play it through. It’s no longer smooth. You notice it, and because you notice it, you remember, and because you remember, you can never forget.
Those things then. When I called the emergency services I had no idea who to ask for. I had never seen a dead body before then, but I knew immediately he was dead. It’s an instinctive feeling. Besides, there was the smell. He was face down. I went to the door and told my mother to stay outside. I let the dogs through the house. I went to the phone. Eventually, after a few seconds, I asked for the ambulance.
I explained on the phone as best I could. The lady didn’t seem to understand me, and told me to call out to him, which I did, though I knew it was pointless. Then she told me to touch him, and I laid down the phone, wandered over there, and I could see where the blood had settled in him, and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want him to be cold, and I knew he would be. I have no idea how long I spent, caught between wanting to obey the will of the emergency services, and resisting what I knew might hurt me. Eventually I turned away. I hadn’t done it.
The dreams didn’t start straight away. I had the grief to get through first, and that took over a year, even while manic. I was working nights. I spent my days clutching a giant teddy bear, crying and screaming along to nu-metal records. Grief like that feels like someone has stabbed you in the gut. I hardly slept. The dreams bided their time.
By the time I was signed off work over a year later with depression, I was living with someone, and perhaps that kept the worst of them away. I don’t remember the things that I dreamed about, but that’s when I began to have fighting dreams. I hit him several times in my sleep. I don’t feel guilty about this at all, because in the end he turned out to be violent himself. He did it once, and I threw him out. I moved back home shortly afterwards because I was too depressed to manage my own affairs.
Home was where I had found him. The same council house. I told myself it would be fine, because it’s also the same house where I grew up. Apart from the short space of time my mother and I lived away, as a family we’d never moved. I’d lived away from home several times, but always ended up back there. I told myself this was no different.
Nightly I began to wake up drenched in sweat, but not hot. Shivering cold, terrified of who knew what. I couldn’t remember the dreams then. For a while that continued. And then they began in earnest.
I don’t know if any of you have watched the recent horror series ‘Channel Zero’ and it’s ‘No End House’ story, but if you have, you might have some indication how those dreams present themselves. I haven’t mentioned my brother before now, but he was in the house that day too, and in my dreams they follow me around. They don’t speak. They’re dead. They move slowly, heavily, shuffling, and I can run but I can’t hide. They want me to touch them. So you see, the things we notice leave scratches. I wish I hadn’t noticed that so very much.
I stopped being able to sleep with the light off. I stopped being able to sleep through the night, and even now when I wake up from those dreams, to save myself going back there I have no choice but to get up. But to return to the past again… this wasn’t insomnia. It was sleep avoidance, because I didn’t want to dream. Sleeping in the day was sometimes easier, but not always. These dreams are like horror films. They do have eerie connotations and heavy atmosphere.
Sometimes I’ll dream of them, and they’re alive. We might be doing something ordinary, but then there’ll be a chance word or a turn of phrase, and the entire atmosphere will degrade, and we all remember what’s happened then. I’m not sure which dreams are the worst. Probably the first kind are the worst for sheer horror, the second are the worst for making me cry.
It’s a strange thing, to wake up screaming. You don’t really wake up screaming, but whimpering, like an animal. The whimper, it changes to a scream as you become more conscious. I guess it has something to do with sleep paralysis. I don’t really know. Sometimes, you wake up whimpering, and you don’t recognise the sound is coming from yourself. It’s a terrible, lonely, awful sound.
For a long time, I seemed to spend my days getting over the night before. Even when I couldn’t remember dreaming, I knew they were there. I could sense them having happened to me during the night. It’s a strange sensation. Like you’ve been living some other life. You wake up just as tired as when you went to sleep. I couldn’t make any progress because of it. I was haunted, not by ghosts, but by my own psyche. Mental health services provided me with a psychologist around this time, who refused to talk to me of my dad and brother for fear of ‘destabilising’ me.
At long last I was given the Topiramate, and I had my first taste in years of sleeping through the night, of waking up in the morning without having the feeling of needing to recover. Of finally waking up to a new day. The relief was incredible.
I’ve got to say that until that point, I really didn’t understand how bad the dreams had become. I’d been having them for so long. When they waned, I knew, and I was amazed. I still have them now and again, and I think when my mood is lower, like now, I’m having a lot of those unremembered ones. But on the whole, I’m better than before.
I know there is a good chance I can wake up in the morning, and be ready to face the day. That makes a huge difference.
I said at the beginning of this that I have a dark turn of personality, and I’m glad of it. I honestly think in some ways it’s helped me to survive all of this. I can bear the isolation easily enough. I think if I was someone else, I might struggle with that.
Well… that’s that for now. Next time, I’ll write about Hyperacusis.