This article was inspired by a meme I saw on Facebook (see below). The meme reflected one of the problems that would cause my insomnia, drive my depression, and keep me mentally unwell: intrusive thoughts about my trauma.
I’ve always had trouble sleeping, but as my mental health got worse, so did my ability to sleep: I’d be lucky to sleep more than an hour a night. This isn’t great when you already have to contend with anxiety disorders that can cause you to hallucinate. That’s because a lack of sleep can also cause you to have hallucinations. The reason this isn’t great is that my sleep-induced hallucinations would trigger and escalate my anxiety disorders, which would then trigger their own set of hallucinations. A kind of feedback loop.
At one point I’d gone over 10 days without sleep, leaving my extremely messed up both physically and mentally. I felt like shit.
I use to write a lot about my problems back then, especially in the earlier days of my insomnia. I’d be kept awake by constantly thinking about the things that had happened to me. Sometimes they’d be recent things, other times they’d be stuff from when I was a child. Basically, stuff I couldn’t do anything about or change what happened would now be the focus of my mind to keep me awake.
Writing helped clear my mind so my mind wouldn’t be constantly repeating itself.
I’d write pages and pages of stuff about my past as they bombarded my brain night after night. Other times I’d create poetry (not that any of it is good) instead, as I’d try to sleep, jotting down bits and pieces as they came to mind on a notepad I kept beside my bed. After a few nights of this, I’d then have enough material that they could be turned into some pretty basic poetry.
A lot of the thoughts that would keep me from sleeping were deeply traumatic, reliving all my most painful memories over and over again, and analysing them to the finest detail. I’d even play out a multitude of different ways these events could have gone if I’d done something different. Which is totally pointless because I can’t change the past.
Writing all this stuff down as it flooded my brain helped me to offload a lot of it, and helped me to process a lot of it. This, after some very painful time, ended up removing the emotional trauma I’d suffer every time I thought about them, to the point that nowadays such thoughts have little to no emotional impact on me anymore when they come to mind. This then mean I had a very different experience from then on when I remembered the more painful memories of my past.
It wasn’t always when my mind was keeping me awake and causing my insomnia that I would fall back on writing to process my thoughts. When a previous partner broke up with me (my longest relationship at that point, and still one of the longest I’ve ever had), the whole situation was bouncing around my mind every waking second. I decided to write everything that came to mind down on paper to get this emotional rollercoaster out of me.
Not all of what I wrote was pleasant, as you’d expect from a sudden breakup. It also didn’t help that this was when my psychotic episodes and anxiety disorders had just become a permanent fixture in my life: a lot was going on for me at the time.
Doing all this helped with controlling the worse of my emotional states, leading to a lessening in my suicidal ideation and suicidal behaviours. However, I still couldn’t sleep well, I still had insomnia. I was only getting about four hours a night. The problems with my heart changed that, allowing me to actually sleep at night because I felt tired for a change. Although I now feel tired all the time, which isn’t great.
Another thing that helped me to sleep was that I learned to sleep with the TV on so my mind didn’t feel the need to fill the silence with its own inner voice. So now when I want to try and sleep, I set my TV with an hour timer so it’ll turn off once I’ve fallen asleep. This allows me to sleep without my mind engaging in whatever it has to to fill the silence: my mind and I hate the silence, but for different reasons.
I’m not saying everyone should try what I did in order to overcome their past traumas because everyone’s trauma is different and we all react differently to said traumas. My traumas were traumatic to me, and they might not even register as traumatic to someone else, and vice versa, that’s just how these things work.
Thus, trying to resolve your own traumas on your own by working through it, as I did, might not work for everyone, and might not even be advisable to try for everyone. I chose to work through mine on my own because my mind was already consumed with thinking about my trauma. Even though I self-medicated with alcohol and drugs for other aspects of my mental health, I never used them to run away from my past, because I’d have to use this method constantly. Plus, it doesn’t even work as a coping method, your traumas come flooding back every time your drink and drug tolerance grows or their effects wear off.
I would advise that anyone who believes that they need to work through their past so they can deal with the suffering they get from these memories should seek professional help. For anyone who is suffering like I did, in a similar kind of way, or to a lesser extent, and feel you can handle the pain of working through it on your own, try what I did, but be careful. If it starts to get too much, stop, talk to someone you trust and/or get immediate support and seek professional help so you can overcome your past and become a new version of yourself.
Remember, just because your traumas don’t seem very traumatic when you compare it to the horrible things we see happening in the world, doesn’t mean they’re not important and traumatic thoughts and feelings for you. Don’t compare your personal traumas to what you see around you in the world. The only thing that matters is how these thoughts and experiences affect you as an individual. Such thinking as “other people have it worse than me” only leads to you not getting the help you need to live a better quality of life for yourself. You deserve to live a better life, your best life.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Insomnia And Trauma Support
This Way Up – I Feel Traumatised
NHS – Insomnia