Anxiety, Medical school, Mental Health, Sexual abuse, Stress

The Nightmares that Won’t Leave

For the past couple of years, I have been struggling with daily, vivid nightmares which have significantly reduced the quality of my life. Being a natural vivid dreamer, I am accustomed to seeing the odd nightmare once in a while, but I have been continuously battling my fears every night. For most people, nightmares are a thing of the past, something that they associate with childhood. Other people I’ve talked to tell me that when they do have the odd nightmare, it’s something like “falling down” from a height for example. That’s how it used to be for me, and life was a lot easier too that way.

Surprisingly enough, my nightmares have a lot of impact on my daily life. Especially because I remember every single one, and they are so life-like, that they could easily get confused for being memories instead. Some of my nightmares are situations that occur between myself and those close to me – ranging from an emotional and abusive argument to losing someone. Other nightmares involve really intense and frightening situations, for example watching a serial killer kill the people around me in the most disturbing ways (the images are very graphic and detailed in my head to add to the horrific gore) and me trying to escape being killed; I’ve dreamt several times of me being forced into marriages to unknown men by my parents; and just last night, I dreamt of being raped by two men who I didn’t know and being traumatised in the aftermath of the situation.

The thing is, I don’t really think about any of these things consciously during the day. Whilst they may be a reflection of my inner fears, to me they seem quite random. Almost every nightmare I have wakes me up drenched in sweat in the middle of the night and I find it difficult to fall asleep again because I end up remaining traumatised right after.

Recently, I’ve found a coping mechanism which has been to sleep with my Mum. I never thought it would work, but my Mum insisted so I tried it out, and I think that just having the reassurance that I have someone with me when I’m sleeping helps me to recover from any dreams, and sometimes even prevents me from having my nightmares. I’ve also now been told that I talk in my sleep, and it is usually a reflection of whatever nightmare I’m having.

The reason why I feel these nightmares affect the quality of my life is not only because of the content of these nightmares, but also because of the poor quality of sleep I get. My sleep is usually very broken and I often actually get very little as I am unable to fall asleep again. This adds to my fatigue during the day and triggers my migraines. Low energy also negatively affects my depression which worsens and brings on the suicidal thoughts again.

I have tried various sleeping pills which are fabulous for making me sleep (despite making me incredibly drowsy the next day), but I still see the nightmares. My doctors have told me that the cause is most probably my high anxiety levels, and this is something I am to be talking about during my CBT sessions in future.

For now, it’s a relief knowing that my nightmares are only dreams after all. When they’re not real, what’s the worst that can happen?

Mental Health, Reality, Sexual abuse, Stigma

“Boys don’t cry”

It is a well-known stereotype that ‘masculinity’ encompasses the criterion of being ‘emotionally resilient’, and thus it is misconceived that seeing a man crying is effeminate. Society has an expectation of men to be ‘strong’, funny and void of low moods. We also use phrases like, ‘stop crying like a girl’, which is frankly demeaning to both sexes. But until we stop feeding these stereotypes, a safe space for men’s mental health cannot be created.

My youngest sister is three years old and a few days ago, she came back from nursery and said to me, “boys don’t cry”. I was quite shocked. If anything, at home, my middle sister and I try our best to negate any societal stereotypes and challenge them – we never automatically opted for pink clothes for her just because she is a girl, we never stopped taking her to the car and robots section of ToysRus simply because they were boys’ toys. In fact, we encouraged her to play with a football and her cars, alongside her dolls and toy kitchen set. So to hear something like that from her took me aback.

That day, I realised how much this stereotype is really ingrained in our society. I presumed that this was an idea that she picked up from her peers at school, and children always learn from adults. Clearly, if we don’t change the way we think and act, children will only follow in our footsteps and reinforce the stereotypes, albeit subconsciously. It took me a lot of convincing to persuade my sister to believe that boys can cry too. She insisted that it was a ‘girly’ thing to cry.

Unfortunately, the large majority of men feel ashamed to open up about their mental health because of the expectation of them to be so ‘resilient’. Some of my closest male friends have divulged that it’s embarrassing to talk about it, so they often keep quiet and that leads to not being able to seek help. According to statistics, males are 3.5 times more likely then females to commit suicide. There is a shocking number of domestic violence incidents against men by women, but this is very hardly advertised. It is estimated that depression rates are much higher amongst the male population than the statistics suggest because most of them never talk about it or seek help. Sexual abuse is another topic that we never really much about from men – not because the incidence of sexual abuse amongst men is very little, but because of the strong stigma attached to it. We instinctively think of women as the victims when we think of sexual abuse, but I have personally heard some disturbing stories from men regarding their experiences of sexual abuse.

Whatever sex a person may be, it should never be shameful to talk about mental health issues. We need to stop indulging in the roles set by society for men and women and start accepting that everyone is human, and it is only human to cry, to be depressed or have any other mental health issues. Violence and abuse are not exclusively carried out by men, and we need to stop generalising behaviours and assigning them to a certain sex. There is no shame in talking about these difficult issues, for men or women, and we can overcome the taboo by opening up and opening the eyes of everyone else around us.