Vivid nightmares and panic disorders

If you have been following my blog, then you would know that one of the reasons that I write horror fiction (I think) has to do with my childhood home being haunted. Even though those ghosts were not mean or trying to harm anyone, they just wanted to have some fun, the experience as a child was terrifying.

Another experience that I have had my entire life (and still do) is the joy of extremely vivid nightmares. Many times, it feels like I am actually living them. As a child, I would sleepwalk, which I am assuming was as a way to get away from the creatures I saw in my dreams, but maybe that was something involuntary. My parents told me that one time, while sleepwalking, I closed myself into my bedroom closet and then started banging on the doors, screaming. I don’t recall what I was dreaming at the time, so I have no idea why I did it, but given my hundreds of other dreams since then, I am sure it wasn’t good. Another sleepwalking adventure I actually remember, which was walking down to the basement and just standing in my brother’s room. I don’t remember going down there, but I woke up while just standing there in his doorway. I don’t think my brother ever woke up, so he had no idea I was there. It turns out my mother was searching the house, trying to find me, as she had heard movement and found my bed empty.

Now, as an adult, my vivid nightmares tend to end in something else. Now when I jerk myself awake as the zombie or creature or murderer nears me, I am thrown into a panic attack. I have been having these for as long as I can remember, and I have never really talked about them to anyone. The only people that really know about them have been my mother of course, as she used to come into my room to try and calm me down when I had them as a child, and my husband, since I sometimes wake him when they hit. These panic attacks can also hit during the day, but that is rare. Usually they hit around 3 am and it can take me up to 15 minutes before I can come out of them, although sometimes it feels like well over an hour. Now, another thing that I don’t like talking about it that I have thanatophobia, which also can spin me into these panic attacks on a regular basis. So I have a hard time being around cemeteries, funerals, memorials, etc.

As I said, I never talk about these things. I prefer to keep them bottled up inside and not allow anyone to know this about me. This year, however, while trying to redefine success on my own terms and becoming more creative, I realize that I need to spend some time healing these things, or at least learning better coping mechanisms. COVID has been difficult to handle with these pre-existing conditions, as they have worsened over the last year and half. I used to have a panic attack only once every month or two, and now they are waking me up 2 to 3 times a week. I also keep hearing the line “remove the stigma from therapy” (or something like that) and I realize how true that is. We all suffer in silence about something, so if my letting go of my fear of people knowing that I suffer from panic attacks and nightmares can help even one other person reach out for help and have a healing year like me, than it will make my going public about this stuff worth it.

Thankfully, one thing that actually does help is writing. I have started writing down the nightmares as potential book or short story ideas, and I think that has really been helping with them. It definitely doesn’t feel as frightening when you wake up from them and instead of going into a panic attack, you roll over to quickly reach for a notebook to write down the dream as a book idea. It takes some of the power away from the dream, which is definitely helpful.

Now, of course, there are still nights that the panic attack is just too strong, so I’m trying something different for those. I was watching a training by Mel Robbins the other day and she mentioned that during these panic attacks, it’s important to think about something you are really excited about. She said that it can trick your brain into thinking your heart is beating fast because you’re excited and not because you are in a panic attack. It just so happened that last night a panic attack hit, and it wasn’t from a dream that I could write down for a book idea. Thankfully, I recalled this video, so I had enough thinking power still left in me to try it. I also added on her practice of placing both of your hands over my heart and saying out loud “I am safe, I am loved, and I am okay.”

At first, it didn’t feel like it was doing anything. I could still feel the tingling in my arms and the racing heartbeat, my breath was still ragged. But after saying that, I kept my hands on my heart and I thought about our plans during the rest of our holidays and how excited the boys would be to see everything. We are going to see the Lego exhibit and maybe go to a drive-in movie one night, plus we plan on going to the beaches nearby to enjoy the lake. So many great things before I have to go back to work. So I visualized those things and how fun it will be to see the boys immersed into the activities. I think it actually did help! I don’t remember the panic attack disappearing, but I fell back to sleep, as I don’t remember anything happening after that. So hey, I guess it’s worth a try to keep going with it.

Now, of course, I also finally opened up to my family doctor about these things that I have been going through. I have never told a doctor about these things, but given this is my year of healing, I knew it was something I had to do. So I am now in search of a psychologist that will hopefully be able to help me find ways to cope with these things that I have been living with my entire life. If for nothing else, it can help me teach my sons the coping mechanisms if they ever start following the path that I have taken with my anxiety and panic attacks. One of my sons is already close, as he has some of my old tendencies that I had as a child, so I am hoping that a psychologist can help me learn methods of teaching him the right way to cope early on before it takes over his entire life, like it has mine so far. But I am only 36, so there is always time for things to change right?

I hope you all are taking care of your mental health! I know COVID has really hit a lot of people hard. My heart goes out to anyone that has their own mental load to carry through this already difficult time. At least there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel now, although I don’t think I will be able to fully relax until my boys are able to be vaccinated.


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