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There’s Nothing Scarier Than Being Alone With Your PTSD Thoughts at Night

When you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, I believe there is nothing scarier than being awake and alone with your thoughts in the still and darkness of the night.

The darkness acts as a blindfold, obscuring your view of all those worldly things that would keep you grounded and in the here and now. Your mind runs amok, bouncing from messed-up thought to messed-up thought. much like the ball of a pinball machine bouncing from bumper to bumper. There are no arcade sounds nor an increasing high score, though; just silence. That silence of the night is broken by the collision of thought after bad thought after anxiety-driven thought. Your thoughts are not yours but belong to the invisible puppetmaster holding the strings attached to each thought while you hold space in your temporary reality for them. It’s at this very moment that you realize just how important to you the meds are that help you sleep until morning and questioning, doubting and self-flagellating yourself for not taking them this one specific night.

“Wait, what’s that … where the hell did that thought come from and why?”

As you stare off into the darkness, struggling and straining to see anything, some of those thoughts take on the form of images and short movie scenes. “Holy shit, I can’t see anything and yet right here, right in front of my mind’s eye, that recurrent intrusive memory is as clear as day. Is it in my head or is it real?” You swear it’s real and even reach out as if to touch certain parts of that traumatic event from the past but stop yourself mid-reach, telling yourself it’s not real. You briefly laugh at yourself but then the overwhelming chaos of your thoughts takes hold once again. Damn that invisible puppetmaster. You beg for just a brief break from the chaos just to get some relief.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Up All Night group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Do you have trouble sleeping because of insomnia, painsomnia, anxiety or any other reason? Chat with other night owls when you can't sleep in the Up All Night group. Click to join.

Sitting there, hunched over with your head in your hands, you consider for a moment that those overwhelming chaotic thoughts are actually being held right there by your own two hands. You become painfully aware of just how alone you feel. That’s completely unbelievable because your spouse is asleep in the next room and your dog is blissfully asleep right in front of you and yet the feeling of aloneness is palpable and fills your entire being. You don’t want to wake them for something that’s all in your head. “This is absolutely frickin’ stupid, how can I feel so alone? My PTSD-affected mind is obviously playing tricks on me but it seems so real, how can that be”? The invisible puppetmaster whispers in your ear that it’s true. That aloneness tightens its grip around your mind and your heart, spawning even more chaotic thoughts as you continue to stare down at the floor trying to establish some sense of control.

“How can this be happening, how can a few pills be the only thing separating sleep from chaos? I really must be broken.” The invisible puppetmaster whispers in your ear once again: “There is no hope of it ever getting better.” That deep aloneness is very quickly joined with a profound sense of hopelessness. That puppetmaster pulling on the strings attached to your thoughts and whispering in your ear is, in fact, that PTSD-fueled demon on another quest for your soul. “Oh crap, wait, I’ve been here before and it wasn’t good. I don’t ever want to be there again, I need to really fight that demon and these chaotic thoughts as if my life depends on it. It does.”

“Wait, I’m frickin’ ruminating again. Focus and breathe. Mindfully breathe. Yes, today was a challenging day, but tomorrow is a new day with new opportunities. Breathe. I’ve survived 100% of all of my previous bad days. Mindfully breathe. I’ll survive this one as well. Breathe.” As you slowly get control of your breathing, the slow rise and fall of your abdomen gives you that much-needed physical connection to your body and the here and now. You are now anchored firmly in the present. Your thoughts become less chaotic and much more structured and organized and that sense of aloneness and hopelessness quickly drain from your mind and heart. That soul-eating PTSD demon will be looking elsewhere for its next meal, for its next conquest.

As the sun slowly rises above the treeline and night transforms into day, you can finally see a score on that pinball machine of your mind. It shows: Me 1, Demon 0.

Image Credits: Rob Leathen

Image via Akshar Dave on Unsplash