I still manage to be surprised how much really good quality sleep matters to my overall quality of life, and the enjoyment of my every day experience. Post traumatic stress can drive an intense cycle of poor sleep and anxiety; nightmares and sleep disturbances of a variety of sorts, decreasing both my ability to sleep, as well as the actual value of any sleep I am able to get. The anxiety gets worse, the longer I go without good sleep. The worse the anxiety is, the worse my sleep is. As the days go by I become more moody, more volatile, more prone to tears, less rational, less coordinated, less able to remember recent conversations or requests for task completion. The headaches become more frequent, and less responsive to treatment.  My emotional foundation begins to shift from one of relative calm and every day satisfaction to one of frustration, hostility and anger. I stop enjoying my relationships and begin to feel confrontational. I become negative, and my experiences begin to be filtered through the most negative possible interpretations and I make assumptions about the motives and intentions of others that are based on my own hostile and unhappy experience-of-the-moment. I hurt inside. I feel on edge and prone to easy tears.

…A few days of that, and I start feeling very disconnected and surreal, and unsure of the validity of my experiences. I get angrier. I feel unimportant and displaced. I feel resentful. If I can’t manage my behavior in spite of my internal experience, eventually I become a living breathing time bomb – a fight just waiting to happen. I can see it coming, in my most lucid moments, and feel helpless to prevent it, fix it, or make it stop.  It’s got to be very hard on people who love me, and who can’t see my internal experience, seeing  only reflections of it in my mood and demeanor, perhaps eventually manifesting in some horrific moment of emotional mistreatment that punishes all of us.

It’s hardest when PTSD intersects with hormonal changes (hello, menopause!), and the remaining consequences of a brain injury (good-bye childhood). Hard to know which element of my experience has it’s source with what particular challenge; is the moodiness of the moment my hormones, this time, or did that news article about that heinous rape set me on the path of a post traumatic stress freak out? Is my frustration and confusion the result of my PTSD being triggered by the neighbors yelling late at night, or the byproduct of cognitive limitations when I’m badly fatigued due to my brain injury? Do the answers to those questions matter? I know I sometimes feel like I’m juggling a number of heavy shards of glass, desperate to keep them all in the air without injury to myself or others, and it feels like more than I can bear.

Then I sleep. If I can manage my sleep in a reliably restful healthy way, everything else seems just a bit easier. The day starts better. My mood is calmer and more easily managed. I’m not overwhelmed by the little stuff.  Sleep is amazing.  (Note to Big Pharm: your pills and potions are of no value to me, the sleep they provide is not healthy, reliable or restful. Thanks, anyway, try again.)

I slept last night. Waking up was hard, but worthwhile, and the leisurely morning over a latte was a calm delight. The day feels good. The nightmares are gone in the chill gray winter morning. Over hours and days even the memories of the fear and pain will dissipate, and life will be joyful and pleasant for a while, until something else sets me off and I go through it all again. For now, I won’t think about it, until I see that fear, that panic, that fatigue in someone else’s eyes, out in the world… because one thing I do know is that I am not alone in this. There are a lot of people who hurt, who cry, who wake breathless and anxious in the night. I hope tonight they all get some sleep.