Inside the Mind of Someone With PTSD at Night

It’s been over three years since my traumatic event. I’m able to function day-to-day now, but there are still times when I’m triggered and it overwhelms me. When I see anyone wearing a mask (ski masks especially), I usually get triggered for any time between a few seconds to a full day. When I hear a specific song, my mind instantly goes back to the event. When triggered, my mind intrusively replays the event, and conjures up scenarios similar to it but in my current location — I feel so helpless when it happens. I just want to scream at the thoughts to go away. I try. I really, really try but it usually isn’t good enough.

At night, I have to do a few things. I have to stay up long enough so I fall asleep within a few minutes because my mind will play intrusive thoughts if it’s left unchecked for too long. A lot of them are more about personal safety where I am, rather than replaying the event itself. If I don’t get up and physically see that my door is locked, that my windows are locked and that nobody is outside, I will have thoughts of someone breaking in and killing me and it turns into a downward spiral of uncontrollable thoughts.

Even when I’m asleep, I can’t escape the intrusive thoughts. I will have dreams replaying the event. I have dreams of just very violent situations involving me and friends/family and I’ll wake up sweaty with my heart beating out of my chest. Sometimes I just won’t dream. That’s generally what I hope for at night. Sometimes I get woken up by a night terror, fall back asleep and have more violent dreams. If I’m lucky though, I go back to sleep and have no more dreams.

I currently am on an SSRI and a Tricyclic and also take allergy medicine every night to help me sleep. Sometimes even all of those aren’t enough to get my mind quiet enough to sleep at a decent hour. Usually if I can find someone to process with, I can at least put the intrusive thoughts in check and can go back to distracting myself in other ways, but sometimes it really is just me having thoughts for hours until my mind is too tired to stay awake.

I have self-harmed and also snapped myself with rubber bands to help me sleep in the past, and unfortunately it worked. That was honestly hard to break the habit, but with good peer support, I did it.

It’ll happen on nights after I’ve had bad days, and it happens on the nights of good days. Sometimes there isn’t even anything specific I notice that triggers me. Sometimes, I just have to ride out the storm. The thing that gets me through it a lot of the time is that I know I’ve been through worse, and I know it does get better. It’s not easy, but it’s both possible and realistic. I’ve found peace in coloring books, reading with a candle lit or even just listening to and focusing hard on music.

Unsplash photo via Chester Wade

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