Trigger Warning: this post may contain content that can trigger a shift in mood, comfort, or mental status. Proceed at your own risk.
I’ve been having the same nightmares for the past sixteen months. I can trace their beginning back to an incident at work that I initially didn’t think much of but that quickly started to gnaw on my nerves. The nightmares came on strong and I found myself waking up in a sweat, heart racing, and sometimes not knowing where I was right away. It quickly got to the point where I was experiencing them multiple times every night.
There are three of them. They all start out the same. Someone is calling the police in a panic, saying that some people are missing in the middle of nowhere and nobody can get ahold of them. The police contact the Search And Rescue (SAR) group and relay the message. The SAR crew tries to get some information but their computers aren’t working. Meanwhile, I’m in a room, surrounded by more computers and panicking because the system is down and I don’t have the parts to get it working again.
The SAR plane takes off and starts searching. This is where the nightmares diverge.
The SAR plane searches for hours and then finally finds a large orange tent in the snow. The plane comes in for a landing and the wind from the propellers ripples the tent fabric before blowing it away, revealing five people who have frozen to death. I can see their faces, the stubble on their chins, and their clothes rustling in the breeze. The SAR people are upset. For some reason, I know deep down that if they had made it there just minutes earlier, they would have been able to save the people. Minutes they wouldn’t have lost if their computers were working. It all ends up being my fault.
The SAR plane searches for hours and then finds small orange dots in the water. The plane descends and finds five people in lifejackets, all drowned or dead from exposure. Again, if they’d made it there just minutes earlier they would’ve been able to save the people in the water. Again, it’s my fault.
The SAR plane searches for hours and then finds an upturned boat. The SAR crew can find no signs of life on the boat – all of the crew has drowned. Again, five minutes would’ve made the difference, and again it’s my fault.
There are significant continuity and factual problems with these nightmares, but it doesn’t matter – that’s how they play out in my head. I’ve left out a lot of detail (mainly because it bothers me to think about it) but that’s pretty much how they go. People dead and it’s my fault. In all three of them I can hear and see everything. I can feel the panic and sweat running down my back as I look around the room with all the computers, knowing that no matter what’s wrong, I don’t have the parts to fix it.
Back when the nightmares were really bad, Dr C took me through an exercise where I recorded myself talking about a nightmare in as much detail as I could. Then I would play it back again and again and build up a tolerance to it. It worked very well. At the same time, Dr W prescribed me prazosin which greatly reduced the number of nightmares I was having.
For a while I was almost nightmare free but recently they’ve been making a bit of a comeback.
So that’s what happens to me at night a lot. Ever since I got home from the hospital the first time, we’ve been leaving some lights on upstairs so when I wake up in a panic, there’s enough light for me to be able to tell where I am. Usually I’ll get out of bed and walk around the house a bit, just to make sure everything’s okay. It makes me feel a little better and I’m usually able to get back to sleep within 15 minutes. If I go from nightmare directly to panic attack, it takes considerably longer.