I have been getting really good sleep recently. When I went in for the sleep study, they discovered that I never entered REM sleep while I was there. Not once. The apnea was so disruptive that I was never actually able to fall asleep fully. It didn't come as a surprise to me that my CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) Machine kept me from having any apnea events.
I figured this was coming. The CPAP machine has allowed me to enter REM again. Why wouldn't I get nightmares? These happened to be some of the most vivid I have experienced in a number of years. I couldn't just smell the blood of the wounded, I could taste it. I woke up from the nightmares a little after 0200 and it took me almost an hour to calm back down enough to try to get more sleep. I really disrupted my night.
Here's the weird part. I don't feel the emotional aftereffects that I have felt previously. I am not overly tired and I feel emotional stable. Is getting recuperative sleep just a few nights in a row all I needed to start feeling more stable? I guess time will tell. My sister receives her Ph.D tomorrow at Columbia University. I am a little concerned that there may just be a delayed fallout from this latest round of nightmares. I will not miss this once in a lifetime event. My sister has worked so hard for this moment. Besides, it's Mother's Day tomorrow. What better gift could my Mom ask for than the whole family together for a day?
I had really bad nightmares last night. I kept on getting stuck at the part of the memory where my hand was inside the wounded Iraqi detainee's chest and I could feel his heart beating against my hand. I felt the asphalt under my knees, the DCUs sticking to my shins from kneeling in his blood. I watched chips of bone and small chunks muscle swim slowly away from his mangled leg toward the dust at the edge of the road. I looked up from the blood at the sound of moaning and saw the local translator laying a little ways down the road. He was fingering a bullet wound right below his sternum. The smell of blood was everywhere. I woke up and was completely disoriented. I still smelled blood. What was really messing with my head was that metallic smell. I couldn't shake it. God, I need a fucking cig.
That's when I heard the rain. I walked over to the screen door and inhaled deeply. The amazing smell of damp earth and the rhythmic sound of the rain pattering off the roof reassured me that I was in the present. But I could still smell blood. That was new. Previously, whenever I became aware of 'when' I was, the smell of blood went away. This was freaking me out quite a bit. What was happening to me? How could I be aware and still smelling blood at the same time?
And then it hit me: I went and got tissues. I blew my nose. My nose had bled while I was sleeping - was still bleeding. The incredibly dry weather we had over the past month up in Pennsylvania had dried out my nose and sinuses. I can't get rid of the smell and it's driving me nuts. The only time I can't smell it very much is when I go smell the rain. It's surreal knowing that I am actually smelling blood. And it's my own. I have this horrible knot in my stomach and I have no appetite. I think I am going to go take a shower and try to get this blood out of my nose...If I can't today will be a wonderful day of nightmares and rain.
It was one of those nights. I don't remember the nightmares, just feeling of nausea and the smell of blood. I woke up too many times to count so this was repetitive. Really repetitive. I was so exhausted I didn't hear my alarm and my wife was back from the gym before I was able to drag my ass out of bed. Needless to say, my wife was justifiably annoyed with me.
Here's the weird part. I'm in a good mood today. Despite the start to the day, I'm in a good mood. It's almost like my body and my mind are saying, "Screw you, PTSD!" While I wish this could be the case every day, it's not. It's not even frequent at this point. It starts to wear on the soul. When you look at the past week and all you see is sadness and anger broken up with small bright spots of happiness, it's hard to remain hopeful or optimistic.
That's what I wrote this morning before I went to the VA. I was sitting in the waiting room and realized that I was falling prey to the same cycle that I had been trapped in before. God Damn It All to HELL!!
I will not let my PTSD take over. Not again. Not ever. I looked back over the past week. Yeah, a lot of it was rough. It was not a great week. Much of this past year wasn't rosy. What I realized is that I am so physically exhausted all of the time that it's making me more vulnerable to the catastrophic thinking, the depression. That sleep study can't get here soon enough. If I can get just one good night sleep, without the use of medication to put me under, I may just cry. I feel that my inability to get a good night sleep is making it near impossible to have a healthy outlook on life. Is it May yet?
So here's my two cents for the day. VETERANS: If you find you are physically exhausted all of the time and you have a hard time staying asleep, ask for a sleep study. Find out it there is a clinical reason for your physical exhaustion. Don't write off what your body may be trying to tell you as a side effect of your medication or depression. Be your own advocate. Don't ever settle for the status quo.
Ok, so everything's going well right? Well, it's 2:06AM and I am writing this blog entry. I just got over compulsively washing the 'blood' on my hands. It was one of the doozies. The kind of reliving in HD moments I could do without. It is also the kind of nightmare that makes you wonder, against your will, if working so hard to get stable is worth it. When I thought that, I got so mad. I mean REALLY FUCKING mad. One nightmare and I'm ready to hang 'em up after all that I have regained in the past few weeks?
This just goes to show you how slippery the slope can be and why it is so important to talk to your spouse or friends or anyone who cares about your nightmares and how they make you feel. They don't need to know the details - just how they suck the will to believe in getting better right out of you. I have a few hours until I tell my wife. I want her to enjoy her morning workout and weight training before I throw worry into her mix of emotions. I love her and I told her that I would communicate every little change. This matters. If you are like me and have other people that care about you, don't shut them out. Invite them in - they want to be there to love and support you. This past year, I lost sight of that. Not This Time...
The other night I had a really strange nightmare. I was in a carriage stop talking to this old guy about a 19th century lithograph. He kept on talking to me and was saying how wonderful he thought the work was and that it meant a lot to him. It was 1889 (don't ask me how I know what year it was...) and this guy was really freaking me out. I recognized him from somewhere, but I couldn't place where. I woke up, shook it off and went back to sleep about 20 minutes later. The dream started right back up where it left off. I was lucid in the dream. I knew I was me and I knew that it was the wrong time period. I knew this old man shouldn't be there. Anywhere. I was getting progressively more scared because I couldn't wake up. I felt trapped in my dream. I woke up again and stayed awake until it was time to drag my exhausted butt to work. I remembered the dream, which is really uncommon for me and it stuck with me all day, distracting me and nagging at my mind. I realized the following day why the dream and the old man bothered me so much: The old man was the soldier I witnessed killed in the friendly-fire incident. My mind had imagined him as an old man. This was the first time that he had visited me in this way - normally I would relive the trauma. This really set me off kilter. Anyone else experience something like this?
Two nights ago I had horrible nightmares, complete with nausea and hand washing. It was an exhausting night. What followed was even less fun: Total Apathy. My wife would ask me a question and I would say 'whatever'. I didn't care about anything, couldn't. I was completely empty of any emotion. For a bit, not even my beautiful daughter could evoke an emotional response.
Caley was the one who eventually broke through. She kept on wanting Daddy Cuddles and she looked so miserable that I wasn't paying attention to her that I finally broke down and put her on my lap. We cuddled and I started feeling a sense of well-being again. Her love is so unconditional. I am still feeling emotionally distant today, but I'm getting there. I have today off and will sit down and reflect on this past weekend. Hopefully, that helps.
The day started off great. We went down to her parents' house and I guess, after church, the exertion from the past few days caught up with me and I passed out on the bed with my sleeping daughter. I woke up having partially aspirated bile that came up the back of my throat while I was reliving me most horrendous experiences as nightmares. Needless to say, that set the tone for the rest of my day. Gagging and almost vomiting in the bathroom because of aspirating a little bit of bile didn't help and I felt like I had to puke for the next few hours. I was afraid to draw a full breath because it made me want to gag and vomit all over again. It's the first time in a long time that something like this has happened outside the safety of my home and it really shook me. I also have to deal with feeling guilty because I partially ruined my wife's birthday. How do you explain to your in-laws that you just had a traumatic event and need to get the hell away from everyone and everything? I know that my behavior at their home probably left them feeling clueless and, I wouldn't doubt, insulted and a little concerned. I would be if I was in their shoes.
But, hey. I am home, my wife and my daughter are safe and I am back to some semblance of calm. I now have to worry about what caused this to come out of left field the way it did. Did something trigger this? I am completely lost on this one and it's going to take some time to figure out.
I had a bad moment at work yesterday and the night was followed up with repetitive dreams of the soldier that died...go figure. I never would have seen that one coming. The end result: I slept in really late, screwing up my sleep schedule and I have been grumpy all day. What a way to spend a day off. The worst part is, I know it's the PTSD making me feel this way and I STILL can't stop it from making me feel out of sorts and grumpy. The only two solaces I have had today are the wonderful antics of my wife and daughter. They at least distract me for a little while.
Two nights ago, I night managed for the last time. I started to decompress from all of the stress that I had carried with me, unacknowledged, for months. I came home and had a really hard time falling asleep. When I finally fell asleep, I had nightmares. Here's the worst part: I knew I was dreaming. Every time I tried to wake up and it felt like I was about to break through, I 'felt' something pulling me back down. My wife had left relatively early in the morning to go to work. She tried calling me 6 times and I never answered. She got really worried and came home. She came home to our daughter just starting to wake up. She had a really difficult time waking me up. I thought she had come home and I had neglected Caley's needs. I was a mess. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what the hell caused this 'nightmarathon' to happen in the first place. I finally put two and two together and realized that there were a lot of little things that I couldn't change at work that I couldn't do anything about. I also realized that leaving my current position to start a new one allowed me to start over and all of the pent up frustration and stress was relieved...All at once. I guess I need to figure out how to decompress more effectively...
I had some bad nightmares last night. For the first time in a while, my wife didn't wake up when I woke up. I don't know if I cried out or not. I just know that I had to go wash my hands for a while. It really sucked. I put on a happy face for my wife because she had a really rough day today with Caley and I didn't want to upset her when she was already stressed out. I will tell her before we go to bed, whenever that is. Stupid weather is wreaking havoc on our area again.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.