24 January 2013

In the arms of Morpheus: not always a comfortable place to rest

Morpheus is the god of dreams. He takes on the form of humans, not animals and birds (he has siblings who specialize in those), acting as a messenger of the gods, carrying their words to humans who have fallen under the spell of Hypnos, the god of sleep.

Hypnos has had little control over me of late. Last night I was awake until after one when I finally began to doze … only to wake quite completely at four. Two or three more hours of dozing and I finally dropped into full sleep, only to be met at the gates of dreamland by Morpheus in all his power.

It was a full-on trauma nightmare.

I was working in a job that carried a fair bit of responsibility, a hospital job of some kind, but I failed to do an important part of my job. My supervisor called my cell phone just after my shift ended, asking me what had happened and why I’d not done as I was supposed to do, and I had no good answer for her. I explained that I’d been distracted by some family troubles which I’d become aware of earlier in the day, I apologized profusely, and listened contritely to the “well, just don’t let it happen again” speech.

The whole time I was on the phone, I kept looking over my shoulder … I’d seen Allister earlier in the day, standing at a railing a couple of floors up, glaring down into the building’s atrium, his eyes burning holes in me where I stood. Somehow I knew that his anger had reached the boiling point and it wasn’t going to be pretty if he caught up with me: I had to run. I already knew where to go – clearly I’d been pondering this for awhile, at some level at least, and I went, constantly checking to see if I was being followed, down staircases, along brightly lit industrial hallways, through walkways and corridors. When I finally reached the door to sanctuary, I pressed the buzzer and peered through the reinforced glass, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the person who might let me through. She came to the door, recognized the look of panic on my face and hurried me in, quickly shutting the door behind me. She scanned my fingerprints so the computer could confirm that I wasn’t known to be a danger to those already in the shelter, and after the light blinked to clear me through security she led me down the hall, out of sight of the door. The office containing the person I needed to see first was already occupied, so I was directed to a spot around the corner where I sat on the floor in the hallway, waiting my turn. From there I could see a group of young people who worked with eight or ten children in some kind of water therapy in a waist-deep pool. The workers encouraged the children to float, to play, to feel safe in the water. I watched them for awhile, eventually realizing that the lady in charge of the shelter had appeared beside me. Apparently her meeting was over. She saw me glance nervously at my cell phone (which was the old black Motorola I carried all those years ago), the worry that it would beep with an incoming text message, or ring, or be used to locate me somehow clear on my face. “Don’t worry,” she said, “the signal in this area is blocked.” Just then, the phone showed three solid bars … then the display blinked back to no signal. Concerned, she went to see why the blocking had failed and my anxiety ramped up further. I knew he would find me. I knew he would be angry. I knew he would be violent. I knew I had to find another place to hide, somewhere he wouldn’t think to look, somewhere I could stay and be safe. I thought about going to a friend’s house, but he’d think to look for me there, and I couldn’t put them in the middle of the mess.

I had the clearest vision of his angry frown again, and I felt despair.

Mercifully, I woke up.

Now that I’m awake, I suppose it’s my job to figure out what message the good Morpheus was trying to convey.

Trauma memories are, it is believed, laid down differently than normal memory. It’s also said that PTSD is a form of ‘emotional indigestion’ – the emotions that go with the experience haven’t been fully processed, because they were too much to swallow all at once. This all makes sense to me. It is almost as though the memory of what happened and the emotions that go with that memory aren’t connected together in the brain’s storage system and neither is filed in the right spot so you can’t retrieve it when you want it, and bits and pieces of it show up randomly when you’re in your memory looking for something else. Until I did the work of writing the book and piecing the story back together, I had lots of missing spots in the narrative of my past. And it certainly seems that I have emotive content that’s still trying to find the way back to it’s origins. If I can get them connected back up again, live the experience and finally digest the feelings I’ve buried for so long, I can move forward.

From an excellent article I found just now:

Trauma nightmares are good.

What???  How could something so terrifying be good? 

Nightmares let you know your brain is working on the problem.  Our brains are marvelous things.  When we get hurt they act like big computers, replaying the event over and over, trying to make sense of it.  Our brains treat traumas as problems to be solved.  In replaying the event over and over your brain is trying to figure out how to avoid getting hurt that way again.  It is trying to make sense of what happened to you.  It can find resolution by pulling those painful memories out, experiencing them, and making sense of them.  Your  brain is also trying to accept what happened to you.  To get used to the idea that something horrible happened.  To get used to the feelings of powerlessness.

Instead of ignoring them, drowning them out with sedatives or alcohol or staying up all night to avoid sleep, treat them as vital information.  The brain remembers that you got hurt once and is trying to give you information about where, how and when that happened so you can avoid it in the future.  It is also trying to give you information about how the trauma affected you.  Dreams about family members getting hurt, or about you getting hurt in a different way let you know what fears you have developed as a result of the trauma.  Instead of viewing the brain as the enemy and trying to fight against it, treat it as an ally.  It is trying to tell you something.

Well, that makes sense.

Today has been declared an Official Recovery Day. I don’t HAVE to do anything except the farm chores and feed myself. Otherwise, my brain is free to wander and I don’t even have to get out of my pj’s (except, of course, to go outside, because getting hay in your jammies is not a good thing).

It’s awful to have to live through all this stuff, but I think it’s like the pain of physiotherapy after an injury: yeah, it hurts like hell, but it’s what you have to do to be able to walk again.

I wanna walk again.

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