Monday, September 17, 2012

Sleep Journeys

I think my brain is put together incorrectly.  Luckily I have lots and lots of friends with the same problem so I get plenty of understanding and sympathy. Until I surrendered to the reality that I've got a messed up brain, I never felt like I got enough sleep.  In my early adulthood I had trouble staying awake at work in the afternoon.  I went to the doctor at least once or twice a year to find out why I felt tired all the time.  They always ran all kinds of tests, found nothing and sent me home with sympathy.   Oddly, I was never asked how much sleep I was getting.  I was busy and had small children as well as a job, and believed I should be able to get by on five or six hours of sleep.  Not only did I feel exhausted; I felt guilty about it too.  I just knew I was a loser.

Eventually I found that cola and coffee would keep me going and consumed a whole lot of both.  That habit led to trouble getting to sleep at night.  By that time I also had some young foster children that didn't sleep well at all.  From about 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. one or more of them was awake.  By the time I was in my late 30s, there had been four tragic deaths in my family and I learned that grief makes it hard to sleep and makes you tired at the same time.

By the time of the wreck in 2005 when I lost my husband and was severely injured myself, I had developed a very erratic sleeping pattern.  My husband had armed himself with sleep masks and ear plugs so that he could sleep through my restlessness.  I had tried a lot of things to solve the problem - relaxation tapes, "sleep hygiene," prayer, depriving myself of sleep until I could sleep through the night, etc.   I had learned that the best remedy was to walk three miles every day at the fastest pace I could.  Then I developed back problems and wasn't able to do that anymore. 

Sometime in there I began to hear about post traumatic stress disorder and I thought I might have it, although it seemed war veterans were the ones most troubled with it.  A counselor I saw confirmed that I probably had had ptsd since childhood and that that was probably my major problem rather than the depression I had been diagnosed with previously.  Of course, the traumas I experienced as an adult just intensified it.

After the wreck I eventually had to stop working.  I hated to do it because I really loved my job, but I could not predict when I would be able to go to work.  Right after the wreck and continuing for months afterward, I would be suddenly unable to get out of bed.  Part of me felt guilty about it and part of me knew I really didn't have a choice.  Finally the person I was seeing for energy work casually mentioned that I was experiencing dissociation - a defense against overwhelming stress.  He explained that people who had ptsd often had it.  I had always thought dissociation was a form of psychosis so being told I had it was pretty scary.

It was explained to me that dissociation was a very effective defense mechanism in that when a person's nervous system had had all it could process, it just shut down and the person had to rest until his or her nervous system could finish processing it.  Trauma can be cumulative and so the more trauma experienced, the more likely it is a person will have ptsd and as a result, dissociation.  That information made me feel a little bit better but only a little bit.  My ego really wants me to be "tough" and undamaged by life - superior to other people, that is.  Hmmm.

In the past few years the best advice I've gotten from people who know, is to rest when I need to;  to honor my defenses and let go and let God.  So I work at doing that.  I feel better and more rested than I ever have in my life.  I have learned that there are people in the world who think sleeping and resting as much as you need to is crappy self-discipline and that people like me are just lazy and making up excuses for being lazy.  I hate to look bad.  My ego hates it, is more accurate.  So being judged by others is the biggest barrier to following the good advice. 

Nevertheless, I do my best each day to honor my body's needs.  Sometimes that means I sleep through the night and am able to get up early and still not need to sleep during the day.  Sometimes it means I'm restless at night and sleep later and still need to sleep in the afternoon.  The blessing I get is that I am healthier, stronger, and more emotionally stable than I have ever been. 

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