Tag Archives: insomnia

Night Time Horrors

I love children’s books. When my son was young, I delighted in introducing him to all my favorites, but I especially loved seeing his reaction to Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen.”

The story features young, adventurous Mickey who stirs from his bed and embarks on a strange adventure. Young Mickey is thrown into cake batter, flies across the sky, and ends up right where he started — safe in his own bed.

I always thought fancied myself to be like Mickey: brave and curious, eager for new experiences and unafraid of where they might lead. But during acute withdrawal, the world was filled with monsters. Where I once appreciated Sendak’s idea of an ever-changing landscape over which one had no control, suddenly that lack of control wasn’t fun at all.

One of the monsters I battled was insomnia. Not only was I terrorized while I was awake, but I couldn’t escape my demons even when I closed my eyes. If I was lucky enough to fall asleep, I experienced horrifying vivid nightmares, causing me to jolt awake, my heart pounding in my chest.

Click HERE to see more amazing art by Morgan Huneycutt @behance.com.

Click HERE to see more amazing art by Morgan Huneycutt @behance.com.

One night, I journaled about my nightmares, detailing them in my black and white composition notebook. The next morning, I looked at my scribbles:

A fat, yellow caterpillar with a woman’s face writhes in a thick puddle of mucous in the middle of a dark room.  The creature wears a blonde wig perched crookedly on its head. I open my mouth to scream, but no sound comes out. I try to run, but the stuff on the floor is sticky, so I cannot move. The caterpillar-woman gurgles as she moves in my direction. Her mouth is no longer a mouth; it is a dark swirling cavity. I am surprised when she stabs me, since I hadn’t noticed her huge spiny bristle filled with some kind of clear fluid. Feeling my flesh burn, I realize I’ve been poisoned and, as my clothes melt into my skin, I can do nothing but wait for the creature to devour me.

You know how you feel when you wake up after having a single nightmare? That disoriented, terrified moment when all you want is to hold onto something solid. That moment where you look for reassurance from a person sleeping next to you?

That night, I recounted 9 separate nightmares.

I read about a man with pointy teeth whose fingers turned into knives. About dark, swirling water: the place my son drowned while buckled in his infant carrier. I read about fires and hurricanes and war and plagues and famines.

Each nightmare was darker and more catastrophic than the one that preceded it.

Even scarier? I barely remembered writing about them.

I spoke with my therapist many times while I stayed at my parents’ house, and she reassured me that I was on the path to healing, that my neural pathways had to learn basic things — even things like sleep — again after having been dulled for 7 years. That my healing would take time. She was encouraging, and I was prepared to wait it out.

But after nearly 3 weeks of little to no quality sleep, the exhaustion was killing me. Though I was terrified with the idea of taking any medication to help me rest, my parents convinced me to try some of the pills my doctor had prescribed.

I should have known better.

That night, I had a rare paradoxical experience. Much like the horror in many of my nightmares, I experienced a kind of “locked-in” syndrome, where I was completely awake and yet utterly unable to move or scream. On the outside, my body was still; on the inside, I writhed and buzzed with electricity.

When the effects of the medication wore off the next day, I wandered into the kitchen to find my parents. My father greeted my brightly. “Did you sleep last night?” he asked.

I looked at him with wide eyes. “No more pills!”

• • •

{This week, I express gratitude to Monica Cassani at Beyond Meds. If you or someone you know is hypersensitive to medications, check out her blog. You are not alone! I also need to thank Val Erde, who offered support from across The Pond, and to Marna Meltzer & Michelle Goldstein for offering me hope during my darkest hours.}

What monsters have you been battling recently?

tweet me @rasjacobson

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The Early Days of Benzo Withdrawal

Part III of my account regarding my struggle to survive after weaning off clonazepam, a powerful anti-anxiety medication. To read Part I, click HERE. To read part II, click HERE.

• • •

When it became apparent that I couldn’t take care of my most basic needs, I called my parents and begged them to allow me to heal at their house, sixty miles away from my husband and son.

They agreed, none of us imagining the mess we were getting into.

On the ride to my parents’ house, I laid flat on the backseat, crying and shivering and praying. While they talked quietly in the front of the car, I felt every bump. Every swerve. Squeezing my eyes shut, I braced myself for the wreck.

My brain — off the anti-anxiety medication and in acute withdrawal — perceived everything as a threat. I was certain I was going to die on the ride to Syracuse, and I braced myself for the car accident that I knew would end my life.

I wept with relief when my father pulled into the familiar rectangular driveway. Returning to my childhood home, I saw little had changed since I’d left over 25 years earlier: the house was truly a time capsule. The exterior was still painted gray with white trim.  The bushes – always lumpy and overgrown – had fused together to become lumpier and more unkempt. Inside, the living room featured the same gold couch; in the kitchen, the same green carpet — now splitting at the seams — sprawled before me. Faded curtains covered the windows and dusty figurines stood at attention on the shelves.

During the first few days, my parents were happy to have me home. My mother ran to the store to buy me clothes, and she made me homemade chicken soup. My father rubbed my head, trying to get me to relax.

But I was jacked up.

Stuck in a fear state, my body shook uncontrollably all the time. Unable to sleep for more than an hour or two each day, I prowled around my parents’ house, like a crazed animal.

Historically, sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture during times of war. Going without sleep is intensely stressful — with unpredictable short and long-term effects. When I got to my parents’ house, I was already suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations, but things quickly got worse. Deprived of sleep, I lost the ability to act and think coherently.

I developed new fears.

In the pink and green bedroom of my youth, I noticed tangled extension cords, into which my parents had plugged numerous gadgets — a clock, a fan, a cellphone, a television, a lamp, and stereo components — and I obsessed about dying in a fire that I was positive was going to occur as a result of the overtaxed electrical outlets.

I worried that I would be trapped in my bedroom over the garage. The windows painted shut, I worried how I would escape when the fire started.

My father tried to convince me I wasn’t going to die.

But fear isn’t rational.

One sleepless night, I roamed from room to room, upstairs to downstairs, until finally, I went outside to sit alone in the darkness. The air was thick and hot, and I was the only person outside. I wished for a forest or a desert – someplace I could disappear.

"Moon" on behance.com. To see other work by Gunel Gasanova, click HERE.

“Moon” on behance.com. To see other work by Gunel Gasanova, click HERE.

I looked up at the moon, full and round and white, and thought to myself: I know why crazy people stare at the moon.

Because the moon didn’t burn my skin or my eyes, not like the sun did.

I thought about how I’d always loved summer. How, as a teenager, I waited for the days to unfold like a fan. How, even just one summer prior – while my friends sat in folding chairs in the shade – I’d sprawled out on the newly blacktopped driveway like a weird heat-seeking lizard. I remembered how the asphalt felt hot on against the backs of my legs, how I loved to watch my winter-white skin turn golden brown.

I remembered the days when sleep came easily, how I loved to wake slowly, surrounded by the comfort of warm sheets.

In an effort to mute my despair, I pressed one hand over my mouth and sobbed on my parents’ front step in the middle of the night, in so much physical and emotional pain, I was certain I’d never sleep again. Or see another summer.

I actually can’t believe I survived the initial days of acute withdrawal. I really cannot.

I now know many people commit suicide during withdrawal.

I don’t know why I didn’t.

That’s not true.

Even in the most horrifying depths of acute withdrawal, I had a feeling that everything was happening the way it was supposed to happen. That G-d was with me. That the Universe was supporting me. That my suffering would one day make sense.

{I’m continuing to express appreciation to the people who carried me when I couldn’t walk. These people made me realize angels walk among us; they just happen to be disguised as humans. Today I am grateful for K.B. Owen, Jess Witkins, Rishi Hein & Blanche Fenster.}