One of the more frustrating symptoms of PTSD is being able to sleep soundly. I’ve had years of fighting to get to sleep and then to stay asleep. I think I’ve tried every solution listed for managing my sleeplessness! I’ve made a habit of going to bed at the same time every night. I keep my bedroom cool and dark. I don’t drink any caffeinated beverages in the evenings, or eat before bed. I don’t exercise late in the day or drink alcoholic beverages before bed. Nothing worked successfully for me.
It was only as I got older and stopped fighting it that things got better. I know that sounds impossible, but I believe when I stopped getting angry over not being able to sleep, I slept better! I used to be furious knowing that the next day I was going to be struggling to stay awake at work. Now I keep a book and some crossword puzzles by the bed, and when I wake in the night and can’t get back to sleep, I don’t get mad about it at all. I just quietly turn on a low light and do a bit of reading or work a puzzle and soon I’m dozing off again.
Sleeplessness followed me around like a grumpy bear for years making my life miserable. When I stopped fighting it and simply waited for it to pass, I got a handle on it and found a way to live with it.
Most of us like to think we have control over ourselves and our behaviors all the time. We like to think we are in control of our environment and the things that happen to us too…but, unfortunately, that’s often not the case. When stressors build up and we have a lot of difficult items to deal with, we may find things are out of control more than we’d like to admit.
Let’s face it, life is hard at the best of times, and bad things happen to good people. Normally, I just accept this and move forward as best I can thinking if I do my best, I’ll come out okay. Sometimes though things move too fast or the stressors pile up, one on top of another, and I reach the point of just losing it. I don’t like it when that happens.
Because stressors pile up, I find I need an arsenal of items in my emotional toolbox to fall back on. One solution just isn’t going to cut it. I may find I need to take a time out for myself and go for a walk where I can think things through and enjoy nature a bit to regroup. Even that may not be enough if things are especially crazy, so I may have to come back and listen to some upbeat music, or burn some vanilla-scented candles, or lose myself in a good book.
If that doesn’t do the trick and I find I’m still feeling like a cat walking on hot cement, I may resort to deep-breathing exercises, going for a drive out of town, talking things over with a friend, or going for a massage. The thing is, I have to monitor my stress levels and apply whatever solutions I need in order to reach the point where I can cope. Having a large number of items in my toolbox makes it a bit easier as I can apply as many solutions as necessary to reach the point where I can survive the situation.
I’d like to be in control of myself and my environment all the time, but I know that isn’t possible. Life has a habit of throwing some nasty curveballs that I have to deal with. Sometimes a single solution isn’t enough. Sometimes it takes a bit more than that to get through the rough stretches. I’m fortunate in having a lot of ways of relieving stress so it doesn’t get the best of me.
Our brain is a marvelous organ that, in normal circumstances, does amazing things. We take in information, process it, make decisions about it, and act on what we know. But when we have PTSD the chemistry in our brain changes.
In normal circumstances, the different regions in our brain communicate back and forth. The prefrontal cortex allows us to think, plan and make decisions. The amygdala is the center where emotions are processed. The hippocampus is where information about your experiences are processed and stored in long term memory. The cerebellum is responsible for regulating motor control over your muscles. Usually these parts of the brain send messages back and forth constantly and with no problem. However, when we have PTSD, the communication between regions is compromised.
Chemical changes occur when your brain goes into the “flight or fight” survival mode, and with PTSD, it remains in this state. The part of your brain that thinks logically cannot send the message to the amygdala that the danger is past and you are okay. The hippocampus is unable to store information as long-term memory (that’s why you seem to forget everything), and that is also why memories of the trauma stay with you and you feel as if you are in still in danger. Research has revealed that Veterans who have PTSD may have smaller hippocampal volume compared to Veterans who do not have PTSD.
The good news is that research has also shown cognitive behavioral therapy can increase hippocampal volume. We cannot forget that PTSD is founded in chemical changes in the brain. We must not forget that we can reverse those changes with treatment!
Life is all about choices. With PTSD, anger often rules our emotions, but we always have a choice about how we respond to stressors. We can choose to not let things escalate, or we can choose to let our rage go and let it lash out at others. That’s something I don’t want to do. When I’m in a rage, it’s not easy to cage the tiger, but I don’t want to hurt anyone! It’s not just making it easier on my family members, but I don’t even want to hurt the people who are causing me grief. That makes me like them, and that’s something I don’t want to do.
I want to be the stronger person, you know? The one who says just because someone has wronged me doesn’t make it right for me to do something horrible to them. That’s an attitude that never helps, never allows for healing. I want to have the strength to let the rage go and say, “Hey! I’ve done that too.” I’ve cut people off on the road. I’ve stepped on the toes of others without even realizing it at the time it happened. I’ve had others turn on me and scream at me when I didn’t even know what I’d done. I don’t want to do that to anyone.
Expressing my anger towards others is a choice, and I choose to not let my own lack of self-control hurt someone else. That doesn’t make me better than anyone else…it just makes me a better me!