I woke up at 11:30 p.m., panicked and sweating. It’s common occurrence. My right eye hurt – another frequent notation in my sleep log, which is usually connected to the entire right side of my face hurting.
Working with my therapist, I have an inkling of what some of these things are, but it’s going to take time to figure them out. I have to piece together what’s happening and why, while listening to what my body is telling me. Unlike my brain, my body can’t paint pictures or speak.
When I am asleep, I experience a variety of flashbacks. Some are vivid in minute detail, but often, they are of the emotional variety. I spend a lot of time calming myself down and reassuring myself I am, indeed, safe.
By 11:47 p.m., the nausea pill I took at 9:30 p.m., wasn’t working. I had taken it after a quick, intense flash of something that hasn’t come up in more than a year. I thought I was okay. I wasn’t. My pulse was rapid. I felt like I was going to puke.
I tried all the things I know to slow it down, to stay grounded. I remember I was biting the right side of my tongue. I had to consciously tell myself to stop doing it. I had flashes of [redacted].
I looked at the clock. 12:04 a.m. Everything hurt so much. It was everywhere all at once and the feeling overwhelmed me. Then, there was nothing. Only cold.
It was so cold. I had broken out in a cold sweat and was shivering. I remember telling myself it would be okay. The pain and the nausea went away. I can finally get some sleep. I tossed my Mandalorian comforter over me and closed my eyes.
Suddenly, my nausea was at a nine. In hindsight, I probably should have let myself vomit, but I desperately didn’t want to do it. I was desperately trying to stop the screaming, which was coming from me.
My jaw was clenched, another common occurrence. It happens so often I sometimes mention it nonchalantly. My stomach hurt, too. It was more than nausea. I held my stomach like everyone does when some part of their body hurts. It’s instinct – to hold what hurts – but the pain never goes away.
It was 12:15 a.m.
Clocks ground me. I don’t know why. I once tried to figure it out, but I decided I don’t really care. They keep me in the here and now and that’s okay with me. Any time anything helps me to not dissociate or have a flashback is cool in my world.
It’s just…..they didn’t work today. They were merely record keepers of each instance I dissociated.
12:27 a.m. – The nausea settles in at a 3. I recognize it well. It’s the 3 I’ve lived with for decades. After doing some EMDR in February it went away for a while. That’s a story for another time. The past few months, it’s been intermittent. Some days, I get a reprieve. Some days are a nearly unbearable pain. Some days the nausea meds work. Some days they don’t.
My heart rate was elevated, again. My stomach was churning. I leaned my head off the edge of the bed and foolishly held my stomach.
12:39 a.m. I lurch upward in bed, gasping for air. I feel hands around my neck. I know no one is there. There is no time to tell myself I am safe. My mind is 100% focused on being able to breathe. I have other physical reactions and make an assumption this is related to my trauma of [redacted]. I hear screaming inside my head. It is me, again.
12:51 a.m. It’s the last time I remember looking at the clock. My nausea has settled in to its comfortable 3. My jaw is clenched again. I go through the process of sorting it out. I’m sweating. I fall asleep debating on whether or not I should get up and change my shirt.
Somehow, I managed to sleep nearly four hours. Maybe I did sleep four hours. I have two clocks I can view from my bed. The one at the foot of the bed reads 4:50 a.m. The one on the desk across from my head reads 4:48 a.m. It doesn’t matter. It’s close enough. I slept for four hours. That’s one of my goals in therapy is to consistently sleep four hours. I’m guessing when that happens we’ll go to five and then six.
I need to get up at 5:30 a.m., and make sure Paul is awake for work. My brain begins to plot out my day. I’m not sure how to get it all done, but I have to.
It’s a process I’ve repeated thousands of times over the years. I have a job to do today. I make promises, which must be kept.
At 5:15 a.m., pain from a flashback of [redacted] hits. I struggle to stay in the present. My nausea has a little extra kick to remind me of where I am.
I get up and lie to myself that I can write two stories before my story interview at 1 p.m. I am capable of doing so. I know deep down it is not going to happen. I spend a few minutes trying to not think of myself as a failure.
I wander into the kitchen, feed the cats, and put the tea kettle on. I walk into the bedroom and tell Paul, “It’s 5:40 a.m. It’s time to get up.”
Sundays are usually good days for sleep. And by good I mean I only wake up a couple of times and have no flashbacks. I had several days last week that were good.
My mind starts to think about the work I need to do. I manage to finish one story around 10 a.m. I’m already done for the day.
Fuck. I remember I’m supposed to make a bunch of phone calls. It’s 11:51 a.m. Too late for calls. If someone says they want a phone interview now, I can’t get it done and get to my 1 p.m., on time. I fucked up another day. Maybe I didn’t. Fuck if I know. I’m tired.
Can I be okay after the interview for phone calls? Afternoons are difficult for me. I hit a wall around 2 p.m. each day. My doctor and therapist have ideas and we’re trying to figure it out, but I think it’s probably the constant sleep deprivation.
Some nights are worse. While this one has knocked me down, I wasn’t completely out. I accomplished part of my goal. Nights like Sunday occur 2-3 times a week. It’s better than the 4-5 times a week of a couple of years ago.
When I say I didn’t sleep well last night and/or I had a flashback, this is usually something along the lines of what happened. I don’t explain it too much. Some people can’t hear what happened. Some people don’t care. Some don’t understand. Some don’t want to understand.
Last night, I didn’t really sleep. I used to think I did, but have found I spent my life often mistaking dissociation for sleep.
Progress comes in little steps. In my attempt to keep myself moving today, I sat down and wrote this all out.
Thanks for coming to my shitty, rambling TED Talk.