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Archive for October 19th, 2010

I sometimes have what I believe to be night terrors, although I have read online that PTSD can be misdiagnosed as night terrors, so who knows? Whatever you want to call it, they are scary as #$%&, and that is saying something for a person who has nightmares on a regular basis.

When I have a nightmare, it is awful, but it plays out differently in my head than a night terror (or whatever it is). My understanding about night terrors is that they occur during non-REM sleep, which is what this feels like, but my night terror last night happened right before I woke up, which sounds inconsistent with a night terror diagnosis. Whatever it was, I am going to discuss this topic, and feel free to replace “night terror” with whatever term captures this more-than-a-nightmare nightmare.

I still remember my first one vividly. I was in college, and I had an intense dream that I was driving a car down a dark road and saw a man walking alongside of the road. As I passed him (in flashes, not linearly), he reached in, pulled me out, and raped me. I awakened very shaken, breathing hard, with my heart racing. The quality of the dream was different from any that I had ever experienced before.

I have nightmares so frequently that I have learned how to do “lucid dreaming” where I recognize that I am asleep and have a variety of ways for force myself awake, such as screaming at the top of my lungs, which results in silent screams in the dream but will sometimes cause me to make a noise in my sleep, which causes me to wake up. These tools do not work with night terrors. I once had one that cycled around multiple times. I would be sleeping in my bed and a man in a hooded black robe came in my window after me. I used my tools to wake up, only for the story to repeat itself over and over. I could not awaken – I could only restart the dream so I was stuck in a “loop.” It was terrifying because I truly could not tell if I was awake or asleep.

Last night was Night #6 of nightmares, and I am both physically and emotionally drained. I had this quality of dreams last night again where I could not pull out and could not tell whether I was awake or still sleeping. I would try to will myself awake but could not read the clock. Different people kept coming in my bedroom, but I could not see them. One time it was my kid. Another time, it was someone trying to hurt me, so I held on tight so he couldn’t leave (and I could “bust” him), even as he bit me and I bit back.

If these are not night terrors, I don’t know what to call them. They have a very different feel from a regular nightmare, such as the time I “flashed” down the stairs after seeing that the front door had been left unlocked and then was attacked by the door. These dreams are more vivid, and I cannot pull myself out. The sheer terror I feel is indescribable.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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