Welcome to my nightmare…

I didn’t sleep last night (shocker, right). Actually, I did kind of sleep. I was so dog tired by 11pm that I decided to try going to bed like a normal person. I read for a bit and much to my relief, I fell asleep. For about 45mins.

I was awoken by the first nightmare around midnight. By half three and the fourth nightmare I had given up on the idea of sleeping. Nightmares are the part of PTSD that I don’t really talk much about. Maybe because they are an intermittent problem. Probably also because it’s not something that people (in my experience) take seriously. Responses to my attempts to discuss my nightmares have ranged from vaguely dismissive to full on belittlement.

I think when I say nightmares people hear bad dreams. You’re probably thinking of anxiety dreams (teeth falling out, failing exams, getting fired etc) or standard scary dreams (trapped somewhere, being chased, really bad person creeping around your house horror movie type stuff). Maybe you’re even imaging those childhood bad dreams that are terrifying in ways that are incredibly specific to you. All of which are horrid, but not at all debilitating. I suppose I do understand why folk say things like ‘well, they’re not real’ or ‘as soon as you wake up it’ll be gone’; that’s their experience. Oh, how I wish it were universally true.

Creepy face

PTSD nightmares are a whole other thing. They are related to trauma. For me, they often mirror my flashbacks. Sometimes they’ll get creative and go abstract. I’m trying to get some rest and my mind will just be replaying amplified versions of the most distressing moments of my life. My head is a terrible editor; it just rapidly cuts from one horrendous image to the next. All of which are graphic. Blood and dead babies are the common denominators. They’ll begin in a very realistic & upsetting fashion and degenerate into gruesome bloodbaths (sometimes literally).

Blood splatter

As I mentioned the nightmares are a sporadic problem. They almost always have a trigger. That can be a really tiny thing that I possibly didn’t even pay that much attention to until it starts becoming a pivotal detail in my dreams. It can also be a major life event. My nightmares are usually accompanied by & linked to flashbacks in my waking hours. They always come in clusters. I never have just one upsetting dream. They plague me every time I close my eyes. All of which adds up to a significant disturbance.

The torment doesn’t melt away when I regain consciousness. There’s always more to come and it is real. Every scene is drawn from my reality. I end up scared to sleep and just as scared to be awake. I can’t be alone in this because nightmares are close to the top of every PTSD symptoms list. Any psych evaluation or questionnaire will ask about them. Yet, I don’t see much discussion of the topic. I include myself in that. It’s an aspect of my mental health that I feel really uncomfortable being honest about. I don’t know exactly why we’re all so tight lipped, but I’d bet stigma plays a part.

Sleeping ly

It’s always the messy parts of mental illness that we shy away from. Anything that feels uncontrolled or dark or too close to crazy is glossed over. Those who haven’t experienced it don’t want to think about. Those of us who have don’t want to deal with judgement. Where the nightmares are concerned I think there’s also an element of feeling stupid. Kids get frightened of bad dreams. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that you should be able to handle it. Especially when that’s the message the world is giving you.

I’ve yet to discover anything that’ll chase the dreams away. Sleeping pills aren’t helpful because they make the nightmares more vivid. Thankfully they occur less frequently than they used to. Keeping quiet certainly isn’t helping. Perhaps if people knew what I was referring to when I say nightmares they would be less patronising. A little empathy can go a long way, but you have to understand someone’s experience before you can offer that.

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Truth will mess…

I’ve scaled back my ‘social engagements’ of late for various reasons, meaning note worthy outfits have been sparse. If I’m not in my jammies I’m doing medical nonsense or carry on with the little ones. High fashion has not been my go to.

Upping my #ootd game on my mind I planned something cute, did my hair & painted face. Then I made the stupid mistake of waiting until the end of a baba filled day to take any pictures. The rain wrecked my hair, I look frazzled and I’m really not loving how my arms look. I was going to abandon posting this look, but then it occurred to me that this is life. Flabby scarred arms, crumpled clothes & tired everything are reality. All the things you do to make the mess are worth more than the perfect picture anyway.

ly h KerrBaby playing

Close up eating broccoli ly h KerrBabies lunchingly h kerr rumpled

T- Shirt – Forever 21

Dress – Hearts & Rose

Shoes – Primark

Please don’t wake me…

Today kicks off Sleep Awareness Week, which aims to highlight the importance of good sleep. As a chronic insomniac I am of course acutely aware of how important sleep is. I’m writing this at 4am, so I haven’t found the cure for sleepless nights. I do though have some semi successful strategies.

My relationship with sleep has flipped from one extreme to the other. In my youth I could drop off anytime, anyplace. I loved to snooze and had zero issues dropping off. I was the queen of the long lie. Sleep became a problem when I first experienced mental health problems aged 19. Unfortunately, I have never managed to regain my easy breezy relationship with slumber. Almost twenty years on I have become accustomed to functioning on a few hours a night. Chronic pain has done little to aid a peaceful night, but an inability to calmly shut down is still a major obstacle in my quest for rest.

A decent night’s repose can affect everything from heart health to sex drive. It goes without saying that exhaustion also has a massive impact on mental health. The NHS advises that most of us need around 8hrs sleep to function properly. In fact, lack of sleep can so massively impair cognitive faculties that experts suggest driving after only 5 hours sleep is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Everyone should be mightily relieved that I cannot drive.

The long-term effect of insufficient sleep is grim. The anxiety of going to bed each night knowing achieving sleep will be a battle is wearing. The more you worry about not sleeping the less likely it becomes. Constant fatigue makes getting through daily tasks difficult, which adds to one’s stress levels. This in turn pushes that magical 8 hours even further out of reach. Long sleepless nights are lonely. There’s rarely anyone else awake leaving a busy mind way too much room to mull over worries. Throw pain into mix and you have a recipe for despair. Moving through the world in a worn-out shuffle will grind you down, which is why I offer my extensively tested tips on getting some god damned sleep.
I’m not going to waste your time with milky drinks and lavender under your pillow. Everyone knows the basics and they aren’t going to cure hardcore insomnia. I don’t have a failsafe solution, if I did, I’d snoring now. However, these are the things that I have had some success with over years.

Bedroom Tips

Keep your bedroom cool. Lowering your body temperature helps the body prepare for sleep.

In theory that’s why a hot bath should aid sleep, but I find any sleepiness gained from the temp drop is lost during the process of getting dry and organised for bed. If you do less faffing post bathing it might work better for you.

No tv in the bedroom. This is a definite for me. I find a television to be the opposite of relaxing. I need my bed and bedroom to be a completely chilled out zone. Which sits nicely with my next point.

Try to make your bedroom as pleasant as possible to be in. Obviously, that means different things for different people. For me it’s nice sheets, subtle scents, comfortable mattress.

Black out blinds are your friend. I could not live without mine.

Invest in one of those huge maternity pillows. They give so much support if you have back or joint pain. Plus they’re just super comfortable.

Sound Effects

Rain on window

I use sounds machine apps. I like heavy rain/ thunderstorm type sounds, but experiment and see what works for you. Something about being safe & protected from the elements I’m hearing sometimes helps me drift off.

Soothing music (whatever that means to you) at a low volume can also help. I like to mouth the lyrics and focus on words I enjoy rather than my own thoughts. Getting the volume just right is key for me, so again, you might need to experiment. Select specific songs and make a playlist beforehand. You don’t want anything that unexpectedly bring unpleasant or stimulating associations to mind.

Preparation

I should probably have started here, but lack of sleep melts your brain. So, you’ll have deal with my disjointed thinking.

These are all evident. I’m going over them because sometimes you miss the obvious when you’re knackered.

Don’t eat too close to bedtime.

Don’t watch, read or listen to anything that will bring up stimulating emotions (nothing scary, disturbing, sad, triggering etc).

Avoid arguing or deep conversations right before you hit the hay.

Smoking, caffeine, some meds (check with gp/pharmacist) are no goes before you attempt sleep.

Against Accepted Wisdoms

Sleeping cat

I’ve consulted many Drs, Psych’s and other practitioners over the years and some of the oft repeated advice they’ve given me has turned out to be just plain wrong for me. If you find something that really does or doesn’t help, even if everyone is telling you the opposite, do you. For me this includes:

Looking at my phone in bed. Putting it on night shift mode to alter the light tone to yellowish rather than blue is a must. Otherwise I find aimlessly scrolling can be very helpful in getting me sleepy.

Reading in bed also works for me. I can’t fall asleep without reading. I find that if I just keep going until I literally can’t keep my eyes open, I have a good chance of getting into a proper sleep. I think it’s because my mind is occupied with the content of the book rather than whatever mess is in my head. Clearly, it’s important to choose the reading material with reference to my previous points.

Sharing the bed with pets. So many people have cautioned me against this. I find my petting my cat and hearing his purrs excessively relaxing. Thus, I ignore such warnings.

Hippie Dippie

Constellation lamp

I hate to be that person, but occasionally the esoteric route gets you there.

A constellation lamp in a dark room can offer something uncomplicated to focus your attention on long enough to get to sleep.

Gentle yoga – clears the mind & stretches everything in a pleasing manner.

Desperate Measures

When you’ve been attempting shut eye for hours and are reaching the point of hopelessness; get up. By that point you aren’t going to sleep. Every toss & turn just raises anxiety levels. I find it much more productive to get out of bed and stop forcing it. Do whatever you can manage and if you get drowsy try again.

Medication – You need sleep to operate. There comes a point when discussing medication options with your Gp is the sensible thing to do. I have tried several sleeping pills over the years. Most didn’t work for me. Most are not a suitable for prolonged use due to addictive and/or tolerance building properties. There are some drugs that can be used for longer periods. I have been prescribed one such medication. It doesn’t have a 100% strike rate, but when it does work it knocks me out all night.

Sleep when you can in extreme cases. Often napping is counterproductive when fighting insomnia. However, when you haven’t had more than a couple of consecutive hours sleep in weeks that goes out the window. When my sleeplessness is at its worst, I will get so completely exhausted that my body will crash. That doesn’t always happen at bed time. Take that sleep. You need it. Sleep all day if you must.

Last but Not Least

Oxytocin

Sex and orgasms in general are brilliant for sleep. Sex works on so many fronts. You can tire yourself out, all those feel good hormones chill you out and of course it’s the perfect distraction from any negative bullshit you have going on. Flying solo releases all that lovely oxytocin and melatonin too, so don’t be shy about giving it a try.

Let’s hear it for the girls…

It’s International Women’s Day again and we’re all applauding the amazing women who are soaring in all manner of ways. Whilst I am very much here for that, I also want to give a standing ovation to the women who are just about holding it together. I really want to shine a light on a different kind achievement. So often we overlook the strength it takes to just keep going on the face of adversity.

Neon together we will burn brighter

I want this IWD to be about the women living with chronic illness, mental illness, inequality in the workplace, trying to make ends meet, shitty relationships & everything else that weighs you down. Perhaps you’re not launching your own collection, pulling in 6 figures or living the insta glam life. That does not mean you aren’t striving and succeeding. Every day that you get out of bed despite being wracked with pain, you’re killing it. Every single mother who loves, feeds & inspires her child(ren) every day is changing the world. Forcing yourself out the door when you’d rather curl into a ball & cry, is winning. Steering your own course in a workplace that is designed for the comfort & advancement of men makes you a boss. All the women who have to fight stigma & danger to claim their womanhood, you are queens. Even if you were unable to wash your face or get dressed today the fact that you are still here, still living, still fighting is enough.

We are all Wonder Woman

*

We all know smart, talented women who are doing the best with the hand they’ve been dealt. That may mean that their successes aren’t as big & shiny as those we’ve become accustomed to celebrating, but they count. Those hard won achievements deserve acclaim. This year let’s hear for the women who keep their worlds spinning every day in spite of universe’s attempts to thwart them.

*Wonder women print by SaturnTwinsArtShop.

My week in pictures…

Last week I tried to cheer myself up with a change of scene and mini treats. I had a little work in Edinburgh, so I booked a hotel and mixed business with some pleasure.

I received an exciting offer that included a photo shoot. I wasn’t sure I was up to doing a big scary thing, but pushing myself was a good idea. I definitely needed a reminder that other people recognise my talents. Work aside I took the opportunity to see a couple of my Edinburgh people whilst I was through. I spent an evening each with a couple of my favourite men and even got a tad drunkity two nights in a row. I rarely do much past 6pm these days. It was bloody lovely to get dressed up and have some adult fun. Cocktails & carry on was the perfect distraction.

ly h kerr, rose wine, Edinburgh castle, neon lights Nail art, lingerie selfie, #projectpostit and blurry lights

It was also amazing to relax. Stepping away from my day to day life made it possible for me to temporarily shut off the falling apart portion of my mind. Crisp white sheets, starting my day with a swim and a yummy breakfast (that I didn’t have to make) all did me good.

Tattooed feet in hotel bed

Back in reality I tried to not to kill off my sapling of good cheer. I took my baby nephew swimming, it’s almost impossible not to feel good around that boy. I’ve taught him to say LaLa, what I what I called myself before I could say my name. Believe mewhen I tell you, my heart skips a beat every time he utters those two syllables. I bought myself beautiful flowers and delicious smelling candles. Ruffled the feathers of fuckwits with my radical accessories. Then indulged in some soppy, feel good films, tried Greggs’ yummy vegan sausage roll and attempted to not to stress about the mountain of tasks I didn’t conquer. It’s the little things in life, right?

Fresh flowers Political badges, vegan sausage roll & tulips

Don’t speak…

I’ve talked about the misguided things that people say in the wake of a miscarriage. Although these things can hurt, I understand that no harm is intended. I’ve been hesitant to tackle the other side, the people who say things they know will cause pain. Try as I might I cannot understand what they gain from this. Bear with me, I’m going to do a little blog therapy.

I can’t believe this has to be said, but here goes. A person’s stance on abortion is not relevant if the have a miscarriage. After my most recent loss it was suggested that my pro choice beliefs made my devastation over the miscarriage incongruous. Actually I think they were insinuating that it was hypocritical of me to grieve the loss of a foetus when I support the right of someone else to terminate one. Let me be clear, I support each individual’s right to choose. My experiences of pregnancy and miscarriage have only strengthened my pro choice convictions. Carrying a pregnancy and giving birth is an undertaking of such enormous magnitude that it should only ever be done willingly. My desire to have a child is not in conflict with my refusal to deny others bodily autonomy. I don’t want or need an abortion, but I will fight for those who do. Using that against me at my most vulnerable moment is cruel. Choice is the operative word. I had no choice in losing my wanted pregnancies. My dead babies are not a debating point. Attempting to litigate how upset a person is permitted to be is disgusting.

Choice clouds

Equally repugnant and heartbreaking was the proffering of surprise that I would be hit so hard by a fourth miscarriage. The reasoning being that I should have expected it may happen (I did of course) and that I should have become hardened to it by now. I can’t comprehend the lack of empathy it would take to think such a thing let alone say it loud. I don’t understand how one comes to the conclusion that reliving the worst time of your life over and over would make it easier. I can’t understand how anyone would imagine that having a worst fear realised is any less awful because you knew it could happen. Forcing someone to defend their distress is cruel in a way that must be deliberate.

I also wanted to touch on a group of platitudes that are offered frequently. Variations of ‘everything happens for a reason’, ‘god moves in mysterious ways’ or ‘it’s a blessing in disguise’ are never ok. I have been repeatedly assured that good intentions lie behind these phrases and I’m calling bullshit on that. They’re just lazy and ignorant remarks. Even a moments thought would uncover how inappropriate it is force your religiosity on someone. If you somehow take comfort in believing that ‘god’ purposefully snuffs out specific unborn that’s bizarre, but your business. To impose those ideas on fragile people in the midst of trauma is wilful ignorance. It is choosing to prioritise your own comfort above that of someone who is suffering.

Blurred light

I’m incredulous that I have to say any of this. It hurts to be forced into these unnecessary conversations. These aren’t blunders, they are examples of selfish agenda pushing. There is no kind reason to pursue these topics. It’s callous & inexcusable. Don’t do it.

Ready to roar…

My first non medical related outing in a while coincided with the emergence of spring (I hope I haven’t jinxed it). I took the opportunity of not having to wear winter gear to spruce myself up a tiny bit.

Bright, fresh Sunday mornings are perfect for record shop trawling. I really had no idea how much pleasure getting record player would bring me. Not in a wanky, the sound is amazing way. Although it does sound nice; the delight for me is trawling through old records hoping to find a gem. So far, I almost always do. I used to frequent Missing Records in my teens/early twenties when I had very little money, but a huge desire to play cool music at top volume. In the intervening years we’ve all stopped buying physical music. The resurgence of vinyl has changed that & reunited me with a lost love. Missing has changed locations, but it feels the same. I had forgotten how much I enjoy this kind of music shop. I am so happy to be getting reacquainted.

Old records

This weekend I managed to find a few classics plus some super sentimental and fairly odd choices. I’m going to blame my Granda for Brotherhood of Man. I simply can’t hear Save Your Kisses For Me without being flooded with childhood memories.

The rest of the day was spent vying with my mum and sister for all the baba’s cuddles. I was aided in my attempts to gain his affections by the shark on my t shirt. The boy is a big fan of ‘Baby Shark’ & instantly recognised the toothy creature. He then seized upon a new game in which he would point urgently at the shark & I would sing the song. It’s just as well I adore him because that song gets old pretty quick.

T- Shirt – Gift

Skirt – Lindy Bop

Cardi – Asos

Tights – Snag

My clever little man thought the stripey orange cats on my skirt looked like tigers, so we also got a chorus of roars throughout the day. All of which goes to show that dressing in my demented fashion is a very good idea.