Nightmares and night terrors in PTSD are really common and although I’m not too sure on the difference between a nightmare and a night terror, I tend to use my own language when describing what happens.
For me, it is like having a flashback in my sleep with the main difference being the fact that I have no control over it and the first I know is when I have woken up screaming, in tears and sometimes out of bed. They are so bad that I have become fearful of actually going to sleep and so my nights are very much my worst time. It is when, trying to stay awake, I think too much and my mood dips a lot!
So, knowing I don’t have many therapy sessions left, this was an area I knew needed addressing. My main concern was that I would open a can of worms and in the short time left, wouldn’t be able to close it again and would be left with no therapy sessions left and in the middle of something I couldn’t cope with.
Me and my therapist spoke about it at length and we decided we were going to give it a go. We were to use graded exposure to help with them and the plan was for me to write down the nightmare the day before my next therapy session. Then in session I was to read it (either to myself or out loud) and deal with emotions it brought up. Once the emotions settled down, I would read again and again until the fear associated with the nightmare was diminished enough for it not to be a problem.
This was the plan, but firstly the task of writing it down took a lot more effort than I thought! The first week I tried, I failed spectacularly. I just couldn’t get the words on to paper and I ended up dissociating really badly. I did go to therapy that week but only managed to stay for 30 mins as I just felt so unreal, I needed to get back to my apartment to be safe again.
The next week, I managed to write it down but if I’m being honest, part of me was scared of having the conversation with my therapist. I had never spoken about any details that had happened and I didn’t know how to. What language would I use? How would I get over the feeling of being judged? Or the disgust and shame behind my words?
I explained this to my therapist and told her although I knew it was her job not to judge me, I was still scared. On top of that fear was the fear that the actual nightmare made me feel. But we pushed through, with her reading it herself so I didn’t have to say it out loud.
I’m not going to lie, it was one of the hardest things I have done. Reliving a tiny part of my trauma elicited so many emotions I can’t begin to list them. But yet again, in session, I started to become detached and feeling like I wasn’t really sure where I was. I remember looking round the room and there was one of those springy door stops attached to the skirting board and that was all I could see, everything else seemed to just disappear. I am aware that this sounds absolutely ridiculous but it’s the only way I can describe it.
I managed to read through my nightmare 3 times in the session before it got too much. I have therapy tomorrow and already I am really scared. I haven’t looked at the nightmare since and I’m not supposed to but just thinking of reading those words again scares me so much!