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?

Anxiety, Medicine, Mental Health, Stigma

Am I Insane?

I ask myself over and over again, “Am I insane? Am I crazy? Am I unstable?” As strange as it sounds, I am haunted by myself. The thoughts that run like obsessions through my mind and my gradual estrangement from ‘normality’ make me question my sanity. I often scare myself so much so that I cower away in the corner of my room and keep repeating to myself prescriptively “I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m normal, I’m ok,” rocking back and forth as comfort, in my attempt to convince myself that I am not insane. Counterproductive? Maybe.

There are a few reasons why I often feel as if I’m going insane. The first has to be my constant struggles with suicidal thoughts. Every day, they creep up on me insidiously, especially when I am alone, and they keep getting stronger and stronger, until they develop into well-thought out plans. The temptation to implement the plans becomes unavoidable, and just as I am about to do it, I stop. I re-think and play devil’s advocate. I think about my family and friends. I think about the knock-on effects. I step back. Then it happens all over again, like a video on repeat.

The thoughts and planning tire me out so much, that I feel completely exhausted. It’s as if I am constantly fighting myself, and it takes its toll. It disrupts my normal concentration, I always feel drowsy and weak, and my motivation drops even more than it’s normally low level. Often after these episodes, when I just about avert the implementation of my suicidal ideation, I break down completely.

With severe depression and anxiety also comes increased irritability and mood swings. I often lash out at the people closest to me, for the smallest reasons. I may say some hurtful things without thinking, and I immediately regret doing so. I apologise, but we can never take our words back, and I feel even more angry at myself for being so incompetent. I just feel as if I am no longer in control of myself. I don’t know how I will react, I don’t know where my thoughts will take me, I can’t do anything that anyone expects of me, I can’t even predict if I’ll still be around a few hours later, or if I’ll end up taking my life before then.

Although not as bad as some sufferers, I have had brief episodes of auditory and visual psychosis in the past which terrified me and made me more convinced that I had essentially ‘gone mad’. It’s scary because sometimes I no longer know if something is real or if I’m just imagining it. This haunts me for sure.

What doesn’t help is also being made to feel alienated because of my mental health. I don’t like being branded or being treated differently, because it makes me feel abnormal. The stigma in society relating to mental health problems is what fuels this alienation. I am lucky to have friends who do their best to treat me like myself whilst being sensitive at the same time. It makes a massive difference to not be shunned but understood. But of course, not everyone is like that. My friends are all medical students which make them naturally compassionate and understanding compared to the rest of the population.

Today, I was at my Medical Ethics and Law lecture on the Mental Health Act 1983, and we were taught that patients with ‘mental disorders’, such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, personality disorders, etc, are not to be considered competent of making their own medical decisions, and may need to be ‘sectioned’ if they are deemed to be inappropriately refusing treatment. Reading this made me feel as if I was an incapable outcast. Although I am depressed and anxious, I would always want to have the right to decide what happens to me, even if it doesn’t quite synchronise with the widely accepted definition of ‘my best interests’. I strongly feel that should I be in the position where I need to make a medical decision for myself, I am able to understand both sides, know the consequences of my actions and am prepared to take any risks with either opting or refusing certain treatment. Basically, I still have competence. To be stripped of that right simply because of my mental health state seems wrong to me.

Maybe I am insane. Or maybe we should re-define insanity.

 

Please note: If you are feeling low or thinking about suicide, please contact the Samaritans helpline on 116 123. They are open at all times and are there to listen.