I got my first counselor when I was six. She was an anger management counselor. I had a temper at a young age. Results from my home life. I saw anger and violence at an early age. I mimicked that behavior with my peers. The class was cleaning up the room before recess or lunch or something. I was putting a puzzle away. Another kid tried to help. I told him I got it. He helped anyway. I got angry and hit him with a chair. He was trying to be helpful and kind. I don’t even remember his name.
This incident prompted my parents and the school to get me into counseling. I don’t remember anything we spoke about. She gave me a calendar and told me to put a sticker on each day I didn’t get angry. If I went a whole month without anger, she would give me a present. I remember the excitement and anticipation. When the month finished, she gave me a pencil sharpener. It was a dome shape and looked like half a baseball. I remember thinking that present did not live up to my expectations. Regardless, I had that pencil sharpener for several years after.
When I was eight, my whole family went to counseling. My parents met with a couple’s counselor. My two older sisters went to group counseling. They may have had private counselors, but I don’t remember. I had my own counselor. I remember playing games and drawing pictures. We had many conversations, but I have no memories of these. I recall our on our last session she gave me a small ceramic elephant that wore pants and a button up shirt. I liked it and held onto it for several years along with the baseball pencil sharpener.
This counselor also helped me create something I could use when my parents were arguing. Many people refer to this as a survival kit. I don’t remember the name she used. I found an old Maxwell House coffee can. When they were still made of tin or aluminum. During one of my sessions, we used construction paper to cover the can and I decorated it. I don’t remember the instructions she gave me for the can. I put all sorts of things in it including my little elephant. The baseball pencil sharpener could have been in there at one time or another.
I opened this can and played with my toys every time my parents argued. Sometimes I played with those toys even if my parents didn’t argue. It was my escape from school and from home. I realized recently that I’ve spent most of my life trying to escape. I have nightmares once every two weeks. Sometimes every week. I’m always running from some unknown thing. Or I’m chased by a creature of some kind. Always trying to escape something. I had the epiphany that every time I have a new idea for a business or job, I’m only trying to escape my current situation.
I’ve stopped living with roommates because they made me feel trapped. I couldn’t afford to live on my own, but I still left. I’ve held several jobs over the last ten years. A couple I remained at for many years. But I couldn’t move up any higher. I felt trapped at those jobs, so I left. Most people don’t realize that running from something is not the same as escaping. I’ve been running my entire adult life trying to escape. I’ve only succeeded in getting trapped somewhere else. I haven’t faced my real issues. I’m not sure I know what they all are.
I don’t blame the counselor for helping me escape my childhood trauma. At the time, it was the best solution to an inescapable problem. But this solution doesn’t work for adults. Children don’t always have the ability to face a problem or get out of a situation. Adults do. I’ve been overcoming many issues and I’m trying to deal with problems I didn’t know I had. The only way to escape these issues is to face them and heal. I first have to learn the difference between escaping the problem and overcoming it.
Sleep feels like an irrational beast. It’s rare that I get a full night’s sleep. If I do, I sleep more than needed and still feel tired. The number of hours I sleep usually don’t matter. It might be eight hours but broken into segments. Broken by nightmare or waking several times for no reason. This all depends on if I fall asleep to begin with. Some nights I don’t sleep. My body always feels restless like I haven’t done enough work in the day. More often than not, I sleep less than six hours every night.
For a while I took vitamins to help encourage energy and sleep. I took one vitamin pill a day for weeks. I discovered a pattern. I started writing down when I had a nightmare. I only wrote down certain kinds of nightmares. When they involve me running from something or escaping something. Sometimes I would know what was chasing me, other times it was only a feeling of danger. I had these nightmare every two weeks, sometimes every week. I stopped taking the vitamins (magnesium, calcium, and zinc). Then I stopped seeing or remembering the nightmares. I imagine I still have them but never recall.
When I lay in bed, regardless of the time of day, my whole body vibrates from my heart pumping. Sometimes it feels like my chest is pounding when I’ve laid still for hours. This makes it difficult to rest and fall asleep. Along with these physical symptoms, my mind races with negativity. I’ve worked hard to limit this, but I still struggle. The anxiety and depression only add to the restlessness. The more nights I get poor sleep, the more negative I become. This is still nowhere near as negative as I used to be.
I plan to get more vitamins to help me sleep. Part of me doesn’t want to have the nightmares again. It’s a catch 22. Poor sleep without nightmares or better sleep riddled with constant nightmares. My chest is often pounding when I wake from my nightmares. It’s not much different from lying in bed before sleeping. I have fewer negative thoughts when I have the nightmares. It’s likely the better of two evils. My mind wants to work through the trauma but never has the means or an outlet. This must be why I write horror fiction in my spare time.
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You know when you are home alone, and every little noise will freak you out? This was not that. I have had this happen. When I was younger, I couldn’t sleep in a room with a tv because I would tell my mom that there were people dancing on it when it was off. Of course, as a child, I was told monsters aren’t real. We all were. Now that I am an adult, I realize that they are in fact very real. It is a topic I have yet to build up the courage to talk about because I am certain it sounds insane. Those bumps in the night can be very real during a manic episode. (Why do they even call it an episode? Feels more like a full series to me.)
My first apartment I was convinced someone was knocking on my door and then running away. I started dosing on pain medication that I would get from friends just to make myself too exhausted to stay awake. I actually hadn’t thought about how long I had gone without being convinced someone was in my house at least once a month. I hadn’t thought about it until it happened again.
I never considered that this could be a part of my bipolar. I never considered that this wasn’t something everyone did. When I told my friend that I didn’t get much sleep because of bumps in the night, she acted like this happens to her. I realize now that everyone gets scared, but I don’t think it is quite as intense.
I am talking up until 4 AM, hysterical crying to the point that I am sick, calling my mother at 28 years old to pick me up, and sleeping for 13 hours because I am exhausted from myself. I was convinced that someone was in my house. I laid in bed for hours knowing my sister was in the next room of the apartment we shared. I was so convinced that I was upset she was going to die because I could not leave my room to help her. I couldn’t leave my room because every time I would walk to my door and try to tell myself this wasn’t real I would break down and run back into bed.
I have scoured the internet in search of confirmation that this is indeed a part of my diagnosis and not something else I will need to medicate for.
Can’t wait to tell my new doctor this one.
Photo Credit: Eric Ward
Sometimes I don’t know where I get the strength to go out into the world. I have days where it feels like everyone startles me. My chest pounds the whole day and I don’t know the cause of my panic attack. I still have night terrors. They aren’t often but the nightmares are always the same. I’m trapped or paralyzed and some creature, always something different, comes after me. My interpretation is I feel trapped everyday like I’m submerged in quicksand slowly being swallowed and sinking into darkness. Some days nowhere feels safe.
During those day long panics, I try to say busy. Sometimes this helps distract me to get through the day. Other times the distraction is enough to stop the panic. If I don’t have work, I devise projects to stay occupied. I write fiction and poetry, I read, binge watch TV or movies while cooking. I feel accomplished when completing tasks, but then I worry that I’ve run out of things to stay busy. I’ve run out of distractions. So, I have an unending list of projects and ideas. A To-Do List that never ends. Unfortunately, my distractions rarely involve people.
I hear people talk about their best friends they see every week or every day. I’ve only recently started talking to someone regularly and that’s still new for me. The people I see the most are coworkers and roommates, back when I had roommates. Otherwise, it’s like I don’t exist if people don’t see me. Other people usually don’t offer much for distractions. I rarely get invites, and if I do, I often don’t go. Most of my hobbies are solo tasks like reading or writing. I want to share experiences with someone, but most people irritate me or cause panic.
Some days are better than others. On good days, I can be super productive, have a positive attitude, and get a full night’s sleep. Not every day is bad and not every day is good. Most days are somewhere in between. I accomplish some things and sleep more than half the night. The small victories keep me together. Always appreciate the small things. Most days that’s where my strength come from. I have more average days than I used to. Every day that isn’t bad is a small victory. I hope that leads to more good days. Those days where my chest isn’t pounding for unknown reasons.
Photo Credit: rawpixel