Tiny Little Monsters Under My Bed: Nightmares, Sleep Paralysis and Insomnia
I’ve got a serious problem with monsters under my bed
they argue with the aliens in my head
the whole night long
I run as fast as I can. Through dark corridors, panting, sweating, trying to not breathe too loud. But I can hear the steps behind me, the disapproving smacking of his lips. The sound of the gun dragging along the walls. I know he is naked. I know he is angry. I know he is going to hurt me and might kill me if I don’t do what he tells me to do. Still, I run, it is instinctive. I run and try to hide somewhere but there are no doors to open, no windows to jump out of. But a long dark corridor. Panting, running, sweating. I can feel my legs hurting, my heart beating fast. The walls suddenly become more distant, the corridor wider and longer. The ceiling is further up. I have shrunk it seems. I run still, although my steps are smaller now. He is close now, the gun tapping on the wall. I can smell him. I can sense his anger. His arousal. His hatred. I run. And run. And run. I know he is going to get me. I scream. I cry. I am stuck, captured, dead already. I scream. And then I wake up.
I don’t believe in dream analysis. It has long been discarded by serious psychologists and belongs to past Freudian perspectives. I think dreams are our way of processing things that we were not able to process when we were conscious enough. And this is more so the case with traumatic experiences. If we haven’t been able to process them properly yet, they haunt us in the form of dreams. Those dreams don’t have to be exact memories of the event, they can be representations of them, depicting the emotions we felt, the situation in different circumstances. But always somehow related to the trauma.
I suffer from nightmares and night terrors. I don’t have them every night and when I am on the right kind of sleeping medication, they become less frequent. They are always related to what has happened in my past: the fears, the different kinds of abuse, the horrors I endured. They are never about the exact situation, although sometimes new images come forth, traumas I had pushed away and don’t have a memory of. My nightmares make me relive my trauma because my conscious mind has not processed what I had to endure, yet.
There is not a lot one can do about nightmares, although there are some therapeutic approaches that work for some. They don’t work for me. So every night, I fall asleep, knowing that I might have to relive some part of my trauma again.
Grinning furry creatures on my shoulder, in between a tired face
they throw things at each other in this chaotic place
the whole night long
Three hours of sleep. I try to close my eyes again, to stop my mind from racing. But I can’t. I think about all the things I want to do, that I need to do. Quick interludes of anxious thoughts. Why does my leg feel weird? What if my sugar is high right now? Did I send the email last night? I look at my phone and read messages, tags, reply to someone on Facebook, a text from a new friend, an entertaining email from my ex. Damnit. I need to sleep. This is not how it is supposed to be. I put the phone down, adjust the earplugs, and close my eyes. There is so much I want to do, I need to do! But I am supposed to sleep. Mind racing. Trying to be good and sleep more. NEED TO GET UP AND DO THINGS. Earplugs removed, I shakily get out of bed and try to conquer the world.
Sleep and having a routine around it is very important for self-management of bipolar disorder. Or so they say. I am not entirely sure how to sort if you just can’t sleep. I do everything I am supposed to do, and still, I wake up after a few hours. No sleep hygiene in the world, no mindfulness exercises, calming bubble baths or hours without screen time, can make much of a difference if your mind is in a hypomanic or mixed mode.
Your brain tells your body that you don’t need more sleep, and there you go, nothing you can do about it. I have learnt to be able to rest instead of sleep. Closing my eyes for a few minutes here and there is better than not resting at all. But it of course tears you down, makes you more vulnerable and more out of control. One of the factors that contribute to psychosis in bipolar disorder is the lack of sleep. Fortunately I have never gotten to that point. But I have definitely gotten a bit out of it and mad in the true sense of the word.
Tiny Monsters all around, small aliens inside of me
where are all those hairy monsters from?
tiny monsters all around, small aliens inside of me
I can’t move. My mind is awake but my body isn’t. I can’t move. I can’t fucking move. I am starting to panic. I try to send some kind of signal to my limbs but they are frozen. I feel like I am falling, deep, into the abyss, This feeling of falling is so scary. I try to cry but I can”t cry. My eyes are open, my mind is awake but my body is frozen, asleep. So I just lay there, in absolute panic, wondering if this is what death feels like, if I might have had a stroke. If this is going to last forever. I sweat. I scream inside. I am scared. So so scared. Eventually my mind gives up and I drift into sleep.
I sometimes suffer from sleep paralysis. It started with a medication I was prescribed, an antipsychotic I was supposed to take to stabilize my mood. The medication didn’t help but it seems to have altered something in my brain. I still get sleep paralysis, especially when I am exhausted and have had an emotionally draining day. It tends to happen when I am about to fall asleep and my body and mind don’t work well together, there is some kind of miscommunication. The first time it happened, I thought I was dying. Now it just makes me panic because it feels so wrong and I am worried the state would last forever. Sleep paralysis is one of the scariest things I have ever experienced, and I have been through some really tough stuff.
Bed Time Anxiety
imp-invasion in the kitchen, the fridge is under siege
they crash the dishes in the cupboard in this chaotic place
the whole night long
tiny monsters all around
I am tense. I am scared. I am anxious. But I know it is time to sleep. I need to try to function, take care of myself. I try everything to procrastinate, to push bed time further into the night. There is no way to avoid it. I am trembling, take off my clothes and go to bed. My body is tired but my mind is on high alert. I am little. I am scared. Sleep is not safe. I am not in control when I sleep. I try to fight it, the sleepiness. I drift off but jump almost out of bed when my partner starts snoring next to me. Someone will hurt me when I sleep. They will do things. I know they will. Sleep is not safe. I need to stay awake so I can fight or hide. I am so tense I am clenching my teeth. My hands are shaking. My body gives up and pulls me into sleep. I don’t want to. I am scared. I need to be in control.
This is every night of my life. Going to bed is a scary thing for me. It is related to my trauma. A lot of the abuse happened during nights. And I knew it would happen. So I often lied awake, waiting, anticipating. I heard the noises of the drunk men downstairs, my dad yelling. I knew it would happen. And that fear has stuck with me. It doesn’t matter if I logically know that I am in a safe space, that nothing can happen to me. That no one is going to hurt me. I switch into a little, and I am back in those moments of absolute fear. Sleeping medication and sedatives help with this, but I don’t always have access to those, actually, I barely do. So bed time is a moment of terror for me.
Last night I got three hours of sleep. I have issues with sleep. It is not about the occasional bad night. I mean serious sleep issues with a fear to fall asleep, sleep paralysis, nightmares and insomnia. There are so many layers to this, so many reasons, and I have tried everything to resolve it. Sleeping medication helps but healthcare providers are quite restrictive with prescribing those, no matter how many mental illnesses you suffer from. So I am often stuck with failed attempts of sleep hygiene, routines and breathing exercises. Sleep is a scary thing for me, and bedtime is the worst moment of the day. I wonder what a good night’s sleep feels like.
Lyrics from “Tiny Monsters & Furry Creatures” by New Days Delay.