Sleep 2.0 – On Fatigue, Depression and How It Relates to (C-) PTSD

Watched a documentary on sleep research tonight. The link points to a show in German, but I’m sure it’s syndicated from something on Discovery Channel or something. So I have to ask you to dig deep(er) for yourself for an English version of the show. Anyway, here’s the gist of things: The entire show confirmed everything I’ve empirically experienced and analyzed over the past years. Bottomline: Sleep is an essential basic need. As such, it’s non-negotiable, as in: You’ve got to have enough restorative sleep. Period. Even a healthy person does. As soon as sleep deprivation occurs – the reasons are manifold, sleep apnea due to e.g. being overweighed is one -, health and normal functioning deteriorate – and very quickly so!

In the past years, I’ve done a lot of reading and experimenting in regards to improving my overall health situation. That is, after – and even before – I got my diagnosis of (C-) PTSD. I sank my teeth into getting better, into healing, into recovering as much as possible. (Luckily I now know that it can absolutely be done, as amongst others, like. e.g. Amber Lyon, Michele Rosenthal says on her blog and in her upcoming book). That’s the good news.

The other news and aspect I’ve only recently identified as an absolute must-have is healthy sleep. The documentary made this crystal-clear – not only to me. You see, with PTSD and the nightmares and flashbacks and hypervigilance as some of the most pressing symptoms, sleep is a “scarce commodity” as Michele Rosenthal says in her blog entry. And according to above mentioned and linked documentary, sleep deprivation alone brings on a lot of dysfunction like microsleep in your waking hours – which is among the highest ranking reasons for fatal car accidents, b.t.w. and which is also mentioned in the international handbook of war, torture and terrorism as a basic method of torturing detainees….  -, mood swings and – depression. You heard that right: Only a few nights of insufficient sleep increase the risk for developing depression in its aftermath by a factor of 5 to one! (It’s even higher for children and another overlooked side effect is for them to be falsely diagnosed with ADHD – because children become hyperactive from lack of sleep).

Why would I go at lengths of writing a blog about this? You see, in trying to sort out the symptoms that made my life a living hell at times and in making an attempt of tracking them back to their potential cause one by one and then eliminating that cause if possible, I often arrived at the seemingly insurmountable conundrum of fatigue and depression. In simple words: Which came first? Fatigue or depression? Was I feeling tired because the physical aspects of depression had their grip on me? Or was I being depressed because I never found good sleep? Which was it? Which was I supposed to target first?

Above mentioned show seems to have given a very clear answer: (Good) Sleep can’t be rated highly enough! And since the documentary also made a strong point about the correlation of sleep and eating habits, lack of sleep sets off a cascade of other symptoms often manifesting so-called co-morbidities like e.g. eating disorders. To be more specific: If you’re feeling fatigued, chances are you develop food cravings for not exactly healthy foods (like fatty, sugary ones, often resulting in diabetes type II ). There’s also a tendency to binge-eat (overeat) on those foods as you’re dying to replenish your personal energy level. I can personally attest to this vicious cycle totally kicking in if I haven’t gotten enough sleep: The brain’s signals for being hungry are all out of bounds and have you hungry almost all day. When you do eat, the perceived prior craving often results in totally overeating (binge eating) as the consumption of fatty and sugary foods sets of a surge of dopamine in the brain (the “reward” neurotransmitter), which then counters the feeling of being depressed from perceived low energy. And sure enough, eating too much at inappropriate times – ruins your sleep, of course! I had almost arrived at this insight from simply observing myself. And now there’s total affirmation on all these interdependencies from researchers!

So, in closing, my personal conclusing for starting the healing process from (C-) PTSD is this: Make it your top priority to find enough restorative, healthy sleep! (ideally 8 hours, 7 at the very least according to the documentary). You are going to feel totally self-empowered per se after waking up from a good night’s sleep! How do you do that? Move to a quieter place, if you have to. Find CDs, radio channels or recordings with relaxing, meditative music (spoken words or mantras are counterproductive from my experience – make sure, it’s instrumental music only, such as ambient, meditative, sleep inducing music. For some, binaureal beats may work – but maybe only until some time further into the process. And use with caution! If you have e.g. ever suffered from epilepsy or suffered a stroke, binaureal beats may trigger those – ask your doctor first in this case!). Make time for being outdoors as much and as often as you can! (Depending on your personal shape and considering other conditions, I’d suggest a medium- to fast-paced walk for some 30 mins. during your lunch-break and after having had a small, healthy meal; add another 30-60 mins. of moderate workout after work – not in a gym, but outdoors in a park or something! Get appropriate clothing if you have to. Nothing beats working out in a natural environment and a walk does wonders to your body and your psyche!).

Also, see Michele’s blog on nutrition and what works (better) for individuals recovering from (C-)PTSD and what are the “no-no’s” in regards to that. (I’m still working on that… 😉 )

However, the most important thing to keep in mind is this – and I owe it to Michele’s work and the many kind supporters and co-travellers along the way: You can eliminate PTSD-symptoms 100% and you can have a rewarding, meaningful, successful life! (In my darkest hours, I never thought I’d stand a chance to get there. I’m glad I didn’t fold then, because now I know there are people who managed to totally overcome and heal their PTSD).

Another thing: You are strong! If you weren’t – you wouldn’t be here anymore…

P.S. I should mention that I have managed to sleep quite a bit as of late. Eversince I do, I have not experienced depression. Sadness sometimes, maybe, mostly from feeling isolated, but not depression, which I can safely tell apart from other states of mind and heart by now.

P.P.S. This comes with a strong prior trigger warning! However, if you’re a sceptic (like me), you may find it beneficial to read about Amber Lyon’s complete recovery from severe PTSD!

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Self-Empowerment and … Common Sense?

Now that I’ve recovered from the worst outcomes of all that medication (antibiotics) they gave me at the hospital, I seem to find that I’m different from before. I feel stronger. Restored. A little proud. I have overcome one of the worst fears I ever had. This experience restored my self confidence, at least in part. I can do it. I can rise above whatever fear there is. I have done it before, when I had a life, a career, a wife, friends and the freedom to go whereever I wanted to go and do whatever I wanted to do – within the boundaries of our societies, of course. I had empowered myself beyond that ingrained role of the victim and I had been standing on my own feet, providing for myself and later for our small household. I can’t think of anything more powerful along the lines of recovery from trauma and abuse than finding the strength to overcome all these debilitating fears. So I can in part relax and depend on my ability to do this, to rise above. As far as keeping my demons in check, I feel sufficiently equipped to deal with them again. And from all the many failed experiences with therapists and psychotherapy at large, I a) am not comfortable to open up and trust again, to put it mildly, and b) don’t think that there is all that much new information that I haven’t heard, read or otherwise learnt and hadn’t applied all along. In fact – I must have found ways of coping all along, or else I wouldn’t have been able to work or go about life like I did. I may not have had the highest degree of self esteem then, true, and this is what stabbed me in the back in the long run. But I’m different now. I am not ready to take shit from anyone any more! Which is another reason why psychotherapy might not work out for me all that well. I get the feeling I have become “therapy intolerant” of sorts. After all, why would I listen to someone who has – likely – never been to any of the experiences I went through? Who are they to dole out advice? Exactly what quality puts them in a position of telling me anything – in particular, when their knowledge is second-hand? And abstract? Also, I need to feel in control of things – and I am fully aware that having become this OCDed control-freak is a result of the abuse that went on in my later childhood years. I rather see shit coming my way, even if it’s the worst kind of shit – than be “surprised” by it. That hadn’t worked out too well earlier, so chances are it might not end well again. So, I much rather do things on my own again.

However…. (you saw it coming, right? ;-)) – there is still the physical side of things – the body, which never forgets – and mercilessly so. Like for example tonight: On most nights, I stay upstairs and sleep on the couch (only about 30 inches wide), because it’s a tiny bit further removed from where my landlady moves and walks around, like in the mornings, when she is probably using the bathroom one floor above me and the kitchen, both not directly above my modest living room, which softens some of the noises and vibrations – that’s the only reason I mention it, I’m not intentionally “spying” on her or anything). This way, I wake up, but not as hard as in the bedroom, which is in her part of the building and closer to the stairwell. When I’m in the basement, the tiniest of noises wakes me up – and brutally so, as my body goes into a minor shock. I’ve talked about the manifold triggers I respond to and this is one of them. It’s agonizing. It’s torture. It’s brutal. Because once my body has gone into this mode of being alarmed, there is no thinking of going back to sleep any time soon (don’t ask what it was like in the other place, where I lived before, when Mr. Neighbour came home late or got up for bathroom breaks – I’d wake up several times per night and it often took me no less than an hour to snooze off again). Last night I decided to sleep downstairs, where there is a real bed, which I sleep more comfortably in. Also, the mosquitos have been very aggressive here since the major flooding in my country a couple of weeks ago. It’s basically impossible to keep them out, although there are mosquito nets in the windows. So I chose for more comfortable sleep downstairs (took me months to use that room at all given my residual vulnerability to the tiniest of triggers). As I enjoy the quietude of the late evenings, when she has gone to sleep – usually around 9.30 p.m. or 10.00-ish on her part – and as these are the only times I feel all by myself and having some privacy, I returned to a cycle of staying up late(r) and sleeping in. So I went to bed at 1.30 a.m. hoping to get to sleep until 9.30. At 5.50 am I woke up for the first time, went to the bathroom and returned to bed. At around 7 a.m. I wake up again and decide to go upstairs, hoping to snooze for another hour or two. She must have left shortly afterwards as I managed to fall asleep even without meditiation music, which I usually use to be more comfortable and in order to feel safe. I then speak my mantra and usually fall asleep quickly. So now at 7 a.m. I come back upstairs, place myself on the couch and snooze off for a bit. I must have fallen asleep pretty deeply, as I almost overheard the alarm set for 10.00 a.m. There were some dreams, but they were not as vivid and easy to recall as usual. The entire point being: I woke up being toast. Technically and telling from the sum total of hours, I had had more than enough sleep. But it was poor sleep that wasn’t refreshing at all. It’s a little better, when I sleep on the couch, but not really refreshing, either. When I think of it, I can’t think of any time in my adult life that I’ve slept well – except for those times, when I was a touring musician and fell right into a “coma” from being overworked and overexhausted on some nights.

So poor sleep is only because of my body responding brutally to the most delicate of noises or vibrations. This surely is the physically ingrained pattern that must have gotten triggered in my earliest stages of infancy at the hospital. I can imagine that they often woke me up and probably made me subject to painful or otherwise disturbing examinations or otherwise unpleasant, disconcerting physical contact. And my body kept the score of those experiences – to this day. This is a residual huge problem. It is so taxing on my body that I just don’t see how I can ever get to a healthy cycle of eating and sleeping. On most days, I’m too fatigued to go about much physical activity, like riding my bike or even simple household chores. When I force myself to do something, I often overeat in order to feel “energized”. Depending on the amount of overeating, I sometimes then feel too bad to do something at all, which sends me down a tailspin of self-loathing followed by a bout of depression. To break free from this vicious cycle, I need to sleep better! And the latter never happened. Nor is it likely to happen given the current state of things. I don’t have too much confidence in hypno therapy working at this deep a level that my body “forgets” the early ingrained pattern. According to Schore’s article it never does, but there seems to be other scientific findings that roll her conclusion back to an extent. Or modulate it. But I’m not too optimistic, frankly speaking.

Other than that, I’d rather return to a place of “sucking it up” and just trying to blend in as well as possible and becoming rather aggressive with some of my deficiencies I have no way of further squaring away. The physical situation is brutal though. There is no better word for that. Also, I have decided to look for a different place to live in. I simply don’t get the privacy here that I seem to need. The physical proximity with my landlady living this close is anything between annoying to plain petrifying me. It’s not her fault, either. I know it’s me. This was an experiment of sorts: To see, whether I might adapt to such a situation. The experiment failed. I haven’t adapted to it to a degree, where I feel comfortable in my skin. So … trying to find something else – and better suited given my vulnerabilities – has become a top priority again. Feels like I’ve been running for my entire – effin’ – life. “Ugh” don’t even cut it…

P.S. LMDAO! Just found this. That pretty much puts everything in a nutshell 😉

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