Bad dreams are made of these – Bearded Cop & Mental Health

 

“Soon this will feel like a distant dream. Until then, may you rest in a deep and dreamless slumber” – Dr. Ford, Westworld, 2016

I’m sitting on the edge of a dock watching the sunset. It’s a warm summer day and there’s not a cloud in the sky. I have my feet dangling above the water with my toes occasionally diving beneath the surface feeling the contrast of the cool liquid beneath me. I can hear the knocking of the boat against the dock to my side. What’s that in the water? A hint of red…suddenly the water becomes murky but I can catch a glimpse of fish beneath the surface…not fish, but rotting flesh. Suddenly I realize I’m all alone and no one’s around. It’s no longer sunny, but cloudy and windy. I try to get up but it’s too late! An arm of pale rotting flesh has grabbed me and is pulling me underwater. I kick myself free of the arm…but another grabs me. The nails off the hand fall off as it grips tighter around my leg. I’m now underwater. Everything is gray. I’m no longer being held by a hand but am tied to a chain which is anchored to a cement block. I look around… There’s several rotting corpses around me floating under water.  I know we are under water because I can see their hair rising up and swishing around with the current like weeds. Some have gruesome injuries and have obviously passed away in a violent manner. Their eyes are looking at me with their teeth showing since most of the skin on their faces have rotted away. I try to escape…it’s no use. This chain is keeping me underwater. I struggle violently and with a last ditch effort open my mouth…instead of air, water rushes through my lungs….pain….my heart stops beating….darkness….I have joined the dead.

I wake up screaming. Its 230 am and I’m lying in bed no longer able to sleep. My wife rubs my hair in an attempt to calm me down. Eventually I calm down and lie down with my eyes wide open. She’s not surprised since this is a regular occurrence. My mind is alert and I feel like I can hear every little noise in the house. Even though I realize that I just had a nightmare, I have an impending feeling of death and doom around me until about 4am where I get an hour more of sleep at most before waking up to go to work.

In the past 2 years, I used to have intense violent nightmares at least 2-3 times a week. The dreams are never exactly the same but they always included death and gruesome violence. I often ended up dying either by falling off a building, getting shot, getting stabbed, getting eaten alive by zombies; to name a few. A feeling of helplessness, vulnerability and doom is always present. Some such as the episode in the water with corpses occurred on a repeated basis. Until I sought therapy, I just took those types of dreams for granted. To me they were normal; to a certain degree I was right.

Having reoccurring dreams with similar themes is a form of re-experiencing; a main category of PTSD symptoms.  It seems that dreaming is a way for humans to digest those traumatic events (Brillon, 2013). Having those types of dreams at the frequency, intensity and duration (years) that I have them is not normal and therefore becomes symptomatic of a mental health disorder such as PTSD. The longer those symptoms fester, the deeper into the dark world of Depression and PTSD I got. It isn’t known exactly what causes dreams to re-appear since each individual has different triggers that activate this type of reliving symptom. As I’m actively in therapy, I’m in the process to trying to discover what triggers are present in my life.

I’ll talk about my therapy and healing process in more detail on a later date. However, I wanted to end today’s post on a positive note.  Due to my path towards healing, I am able to recognize when I’ve had a PTSD related dream. Using mindfulness techniques, I am able to acknowledge that dream without judgement and let it float away into nothingness. As an example, I had attended a collision a few weeks ago involving life-threatening injuries where the driver was believed to have died. Finally the driver survived at the hospital with the doctor stating that her survival was nothing short of a miracle. The following night, I had a horrible nightmare involving several mangled bodies stemming from multiple collisions. It seems that something about the collision the previous day, triggered my PTSD. I woke up in a cold sweat but was able to acknowledge that this was a normal and went back to sleep. Furthermore, I followed up and visited the driver at home. Something which I would not have done in the past in order to avoid stressful memories and triggers. This allowed me to put closure on that specific collision.

This is contrary to how I dealt with previous dreams; which was to fixate on the dream, on the emotions, on the feeling of impending doom and thus create more anxiety. I’m still unsure as to how exactly I’m able to let those types of dreams float away. Of course, I still have some reoccurring dreams and a plethora of other symptoms from both my PTSD and Depression. Maybe one day, with practice and therapy, I’ll have eliminated those reoccurring dreams altogether.

Stay tuned and beard on,

Your Bearded Cop

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