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 002: Laundry Feels Like an Olympic Sport

Fatigue is what we experience, but it is what a match is to an atomic bomb.” -Laura Hillenbrand Dear Readers, I’ve written about clinical exhaustion before in 7 Truths About Mental Illness Related Fatigue to shed light on the unexpected sources of fatigue. Today I want to talk about what loss of energy feels like. This matters because it can rob you of your most prized possessions, and the ability to build memories. Fatigue is not just feeling tired. It is the inability to exert yourself, even when you most want to. It is the inability to process information properly. It is becoming overstimilated by environmental changes and social courtesies, however routine they may seem. Fatigue is the inability to move even when you’re most motivated, the inability to take in your surroundings, and the inability to respond. Fatigue is feeling trappd in your body, but it is never intentional. My weaknesses come from insomnia exacerbated by episodes of chronic pain and mental illness, but everyone is different. I can fall asleep, but I can’t stay asleep. I often wake anywhere from four to six times per night. This may be from the discomfort from pain, the anxiety from racing throughts, or the hypervigilance and nightmares of PTSD. I explained this during an evaluation with a psychiatrist some time ago, to which he replied, “That’s awful.” I resent sleeplessness because it bleeds into every area of my life. It impacts my relationships, my ability to produce and follow-through, and my ability to work as a typical 29-year-old should. Effective treatment of insomnia almost always requires medication. However, my attempts to approach my health in a natural way has taught me a few good things about sleep hygiene. Sure, the medication will knock you out, but sedation is not the same as restful natural sleep. Sleep is so important because it brings healing and recovery from the day to your muscles and your brain. When these things are left uncared for, it can cause a resurfacing of symptoms related to mental health, and completely drain a possibly already injured body. Therefore, self-care remains my top list priority on a daily basis. This generally consists of hot baths, meditation, stretching, proper nutrition, hydration, and leisure skills. I must also reserve my bed for sleep only, refusing any temptation to eat, work, or play. The trouble is when self-care becomes necessary, it can become time consuming which forces you to prioritize your life differently. The truth is, small victories matter – but they may come at the expense of others. You may fail to return important phone calls, execute daily tasks, or nurture your relationships. Add to that a nasty social stigma attached to fatigue, often being mistaken for a character flaw such as laziness. It’s not something many people understand, but I assure you it’s real. If you suffer from fatigue, may you find hope in balance and returning to the things you love. What keeps you up at night? **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

17 Ways to Cope with PTSD Nightmares

“Even if she be not harmed, her heart may fail her in so much and so many horrors; and hereafter she may suffer–both in waking, from her nerves, and in sleep, from her dreams.”
Bram Stoker, Dracula

Dear Readers,

Insofar as I can tell, daymares and nightmares are not all that dissimilar. Even if our consciousnesses of them changes, the method used to keep the wolf at the door is the same.

For as long as I can remember I have had nightmares. I believe this was a result of intense childhood stress. It wasn’t long before my nightmares would carry over into my days, and I would come to experience the early warning signs of psychosis as a child. In some ways, it is amazing how abuse and abandonment can bend and sway our minds to survive. However, often times those childhood survival skills, dissociation for example, become problematic as an adult.

It wasn’t until Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder manifested itself in me in early 2009, when I lost two family members to suicide in 48 hours that I began having nightmares on a truly horrific scale. I was 19. This was proceeded five years later by the experience of caregiving for a terminally ill family member where I was exposed to a constant state of stress, fear, surgical procedures, poverty, and the monstrous dysfunction that entered my young home.

In the beginning my nightmares consisted of highly detailed apocalyptic themes. I vivdly remember bleeding skies, firey seas, and the demise of loved ones in violent and catastrophic ways. I recall being chased, attacked, or trapped. I would wake up frightened, panicked, crying and trembling – unable to separate myself from the sensation of the dream I was so sure was real. When this happened, it was not unusual for me to drink vodka at 9am, chain smoke on the front steps, and call loved ones. I would journal feverishly in some attempt to connect the dots. I would flail, avoid, and investigate. It would take me hours, sometimes days, to shake it off.

In the following years, I started experiencing full blown flashbacks. Flashes of light, sensations of time travel, reliving of trauma, guilt, remorse, and grief. I cried more. I drank more. I made more 4am phone calls. While my insomnia worsened, I began to notice over a period of time that going outside and sitting in the sunlight offered some relief and perspective, and my need to self medicate lessened. By way of necessity, this is how I came to understand Grounding Techniques.

Grounding Techniques are skills put into practice that ground you in the present moment by exposing the five senses to sensation. These might include:

1. Holding ice in your hands

2. Enjoying a warm cup of tea

3. Going outside to take in nature

4. Listening to music

5. Identifying five things you see in your environment

6. Mindfulness meditation

7. Diaphragm breathing

8. Physical affection from a loved one

9. Taking a warm bath

10. Wearing or diffusing essential oils

11. Exercise

12. Drinking copious amounts of water

13. Tasting something sweet or salty

14. Touching something soft or soothing

15. Engaging with a pet

16. Watching or listening to comedy

17. Checking a clock or calendar

The purpose of using Grounding Techniques is to pluck you from the trauma of a nightmare or flashback, and place you back in the reality of the present moment while also teaching you to self soothe in an unharmful way.

It is ten years later and I still experience nightmares of the same intensity, but with less frequency. I have trained myself to de-escalate upon waking, making my recovery time much shorter. If this helps only one person find a millisecond of relief, then I have accomplished what I set out to.

What is your favorite Grounding Technique?

**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!