Mental health

Ugly Truth 028: Restorative Sleep is Essential

“Sleep, those little slices of death — how I loathe them.” 
― Edgar Allan Poe

Dear Readers,

Greetings from the Deskraven blog, where your mental health finds a voice! Today we are going to explore the power of truly restorative sleep because last night I went to bed an hour earlier, and I feel like a new woman. I believe discussing this is worth while since sleep hygiene has everything to do with our over all health, and very little to do with our daily planning as a cultural whole. When we deprioritize sleep, it often trickles down into every area of our life in general, and exacerbates mental illness specifically.

As a fellow insomniac, I feel that beginning with an exploration of my lack of sleep is a great place to start. Insomnia is characterized by the inability to stay asleep, fall asleep, or both. This may be linked to diet, mental health, illness or chronic pain. This may be genetic, circumstantial or environmental. I personally have suffered from an inability to fall asleep and stay asleep, however the inability to stay asleep proves more problematic. Over the years I have found that even if I only manage to gather 4-5 hours of sleep per night, I can function in an acceptable manner if these hours are consecutive. Interestingly, a full 9 hours of sleep is completely useless to me if I wake up 500 times over the course of that time frame, often leaving me even more exhausted and frustrated than before. In order to achieve better sleep, we must first identify what is keeping us up at night.

My inability to properly slumber began in childhood. I was raised in a very stressful environment chock full of abuse, domestic violence, and abandonment. While there are moments of fleeting joy in my memory, my insufficient childhood most certainly contributes to my troubles with sleep as an adult. I was frequently woke to the sound of yelling, breaking glass, loud music or the sight of my mother with bags at her hip urging us out the door before anyone would notice. This lead to a chronic sense of instability and a complete lack of safety, and therefore less sleep. I was told by my second step-father that it was not unusual for me to talk in my sleep. In my lifetime I can recall one incidence of sleepwalking that resulted in me waking up at the bottom of a staircase. How the fall didn’t wake me I will never know. I am grateful to say that this has never happened to me as as an adult. My father is a natural night owl, so it seems at least some part of my restlessness may be genetic.

As the years went by, I was exposed to a number of traumatic events ranging from sexual abuse to medical trauma that resulted in a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder around the age of 24. This illness greatly reduces one’s quality of life, and is certainly not without consequence in terms of quality rest. I found myself juggling the flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and nightmares of PTSD, the racing thoughts, pressured speech, and flight of ideas of Bipolar Disorder, and the draining Panic Attacks of Panic Disorder. Add to that a pair of chronic pain conditions and the joys of entering into motherhood myself. Indeed, this is a fine recipe for little to no real actual sleep.

In the beginning I would often self-medicate with alcohol or over the counter sleep supplements such as Unisom. After being diagnosed with a slew of mental health concerns, my psychiatrist found it pertinent to find a way to get me to sleep above all else. By the time I arrived in his office I was getting so little sleep that is was criminal – and it was keeping me sick with paranoia and in the unruly planning stages of deceitful psychosis. Naturally, he prescribed a sleep aid and off I went to dreamland. Still, there is much to be said for the difference between sedation and true natural restoration, not to mention the side effects. A person with mental illness requires more sleep than the average bear because the mind and body are under constant duress. Stress paired with sleep deprivation is a nasty devil which brings sleep to the very top of my self-care list. So, what are the benefits of sleep?

VeryWellHealth writes,

In the past, sleep was often ignored by doctors and surrounded by myths. Now, though, we are beginning to understand the importance of sleep to overall health and well-being. We’ve learned, for example, that when people get less than 6 to 7 hours of sleep each night, they are at a greater risk of developing diseases.

All the more reason to get some sleep, right? Here are 10 reasons why you should call it an early night.

1.) Sleep Keeps Your Heart Healthy

2.) Sleep May Help Prevent Cancer

3.) Sleep Reduces Stress

4.) Sleep Reduces Inflammation

5.) Sleep Makes You More Alert

6.) Sleep Improves Your Memory

7.) Sleep May Help You Lose Weight

8.) Napping Makes You Smarter

9.) Sleep May Reduce Your Risk of Depression

10.) Sleep Helps the Body Repair Itself

The value of sleep really can not be understated here. As you can see, many of the things on the list above are involved in maintaining a sense of balance to our mental health. Our bodies and minds heal while we sleep, making us less susceptible to illness, mood instability, anxiety or psychosis. Sleep improves cognitive functioning helping us to maintain our wit and humor through out the day. Sleep allows our mind to file our knowledge properly ushering us into greater information retention and planning, not to exclude coping skills and overall physical health.

Over the years I have learned to train myself to keep calm and quiet (even while waking from the gasping tugs of a nightmare) long enough to fall asleep. This way, even if I do not lose consciousness in a timely manner, I am still resting my body. I utilize bubble baths, essential oils, and sleep masks to block out the tiniest of light sources. I try to keep a routine, but I’m not very good at it. I avoid eating before bed, but I’m not very good at that either. I try to yoga more often, but chronic pain has a habit of getting in the way.

The truth is, there are countless reasons to stay awake: meal planning, friends, family, studying, cleaning, children, pets, crisis intervention, intimacy and trying to leave enough time to leisure into our favorite TV show are all just a few things that can knock us out of our sleep patterns. As someone attempting to manage my health in a more holistic way, I can say for certain that quality sleep is the single most important and powerful tool against what ails me.

Maybe it’s time to ask yourself, are you really accomplishing more by staying awake? What helps you get to sleep?

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Mental health

Ugly Truth 024: Medication May Make Things Worse

“The beginning of an attack I always experienced as a swell lurching up from unseen depths, similar to the physical sensation of standing waist-high in the sea when there are no waves but all of a sudden the great body of water heaves itself up as if the planet has shifted a fraction on its axis. That was the signal for me that the nature of reality was about to terrifyingly change.” Glenn Haybittle, The Tree House

Dear Readers,

I have had two panic attacks in three days. This is very unusual, even for me. I suppose if I take into account all the changes in my life recently (or the incredible stress), it makes sense. Still, wisdom is completely useless in the face of clinical grade fear.

Panic Attacks are characterized by severe physical symptoms which may include anxiety. However, Anxiety Attacks and Panic Attacks are not the same.

After doing some digging I realized I was having an adverse reaction to the Trazodone I was taking. Often times I believe the symptoms I experience stem from the natural course of my mental illness, however, it is important to remember that there are many contributing factors that can influence or change your psychology. Choosing pharmaceuticals as a course of intervention is never easy. Aside from the stigma attached to medication, there is the expense, the inconvenience, and the side effects. I was treating my insomnia and depression, but at what cost? I soon found myself increasingly anxious, agitated and angry. If you know me at all you know my demeanor is quite pleasant and bittersweet, so to appear angry and discontent in front of my friends and family was a pretty big indicator that something was off. I didn’t want to believe it because I was experiencing relief, but I had to acknowledge that I was also trembling with a depression-rage so profound that few understand it. While teetering on the edge of full blown panic attacks and heartbreaking impulses, you tend to find yourself faced with a pretty obvious decision. To be sure, I researched the side effects of this medication. It wasn’t until I scrolled to the bottom to the less likely slash call-your-doctor-right-away-if list of side effects that a light bulb turned on. Suddenly there it was, everything I had been feeling, laid out right in front of me. Black Box Label Warnings for Trazodone include:

  • Worsening depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • A severe rash or hives
  • Swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A painful erection that will not go away (priapism)
  • Panic attack
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • Unusual bruising or bleeding
  • Seizure

So, mystery solved. Fortunately, Trazodone has a decent elimination half life so it took only 2-3 days to detox safely from this medication. My insomnia returned, but at least I didn’t want to scratch the face off of everyone I saw or leap from a tall building. The truth is, your diagnosis may not always provide an obvious explanation for your psychological experience. If you or a loved one has a rapid noticeable change in demeanor related to behavior or mental heath, it may be time for a med check.

As always, thank you for reading.

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!

Mental health, Relationships

A Day in the Life of an Agoraphobic

Dear Readers,

In general, I try to balance my publications between personal insight and information. When I can’t quite find the words I tend to shamelessly borrow from others, with due credit of course, and psychology is no exception. Dean Koontz once wrote,

“There is a fine line between a weary recluse and a fearful hermit. Finer still, is the line between hermit and bitter misanthrope.”

So, what is agoraphobia and how does it tie in to all this talk of shut-in isolation?

Agoraphobia is the extreme or irrational fear of being in open or public spaces or – more specifically – an abnormal fear of becoming helpless in a situation from which escape may be difficult or embarrassing. This is characterized by the physical sensation of panic which includes panic attacks associated with Panic Disorder, or anticipatory anxiety of which avoidance is the result.

To simplify, an individual who is diagnosed with Panic Disorder will often develop Agoraphobia as a secondary diagnosis due to the intense fear and trauma associated with past panic attacks in which convictions of harm or death appear imminent to the individual. The mere idea of this occurring outside the comfort of one’s home – or at a location where escape may not seem obvious – urges the individual to stay indoors. Thus begins a behavioral change that is characterized by severe anxiety, fed by fear, and reinforced by avoidance.

What sets Agoraphobia apart from the aforementioned weary recluse or bitter misanthrope is desire. Having lived with this disorder myself for 14 of my 29 years, I can say it is highly complex, relative, and variable among those who have it. Yet, almost unanimously, this population reports a fervent desire to live the lives they were once able to free from the unimaginative loneliness that follows:

To be able to travel with their children.

To chase dreams and self-development.

To do the grocery shopping.

To go on a date with their spouse.

To make a phone call.

To drive a car.

Agoraphobia can be sudden or progressive, entirely depleting of one’s quality of life, and often sends relationships into ruin. The sufferer can find relief with the help of a professional in proper exposure therapy, medication management, or cognitive behavioral practices to retrain their mind on the matter of fear. It is a taxing tear-filled battle with setbacks a-plenty, while some never recover at all.

In my case, every outing is different. Sometimes I go out and about within my comfort zone. Sometimes I go outside my comfort zone for a limited period of time. Sometimes I stay home for days on end. I often experience severe anxiety in the evenings about any obligations I may have the following day. Sometimes, the mere thought of driving alone can send me into a paranoid catastrophizing thought-pattern complete with crying spells, trouble breathing, and disruptive disturbing throughts. I shake, become nauseous, and dissociative. If I have an interaction with someone in public, my mind assumes they will hurt or embarrass me in some way. Naturally, the impulse is to flee this inflamed misrepresentation of complex traumatic events in my past.

As you can see I can rationalize these things, but it doesn’t stop a survivor’s brain from going off-balance. I have learned to practice self-care, coping skills, exit strategies, symptom management, proactivity and the power of “no”. I used to socialize, travel, attend concerts, museums, and school functions regularly. Now I rely on others frequently, and on the hard days – I still fall into extended patterns of avoidance.

If I were on my own I would be a quickly contented cat-lady. Instead, I often grieve for the active partner my significant other deserves, the socially engaging mother my son needs, or my deep longing for nature. My self worth often suffers due to the goals I can’t reach from within the confinement of my home, fluctuating timelines, and functional capacity. For now, it’s something I continue to chip away at.

If you or someone you love suffers from this disorder, please give them compassion. Ask them what they need from you to cope differently. Offer support without enabling. Their fear is founded and help is available, but it’s all for naught if you fail to acknowledge the calamity that has disproportionately swallowed them whole.

**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at contact@deskraven.com!**

For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!

In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!