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orange turtle

Strategies for sleeping through nightmares

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I just gotta ask this because I am at wits' end and I am sure somebody somewhere has some answer or advice. 

Long story short, without going into too much detail: I was sexually harassed last year (propositions for sex; indirect threat of stalking) and then assaulted (non-rape) by TWO different men in / tangentially in my university. Both men tower over me size wise and I only reach their chest level as I am pretty small. One could easily bear hug me.

(I mention the non-rape aspect as I don't want to make it sound like I can understand the trauma of those who have been raped and "hijack" their story and voice.)

In my head, the two men have somehow now kinda amalgamated into one horribly bad person. I get nightmares about this one horrible big person coming out of the shadows and forcing himself on me while I silently scream. 

I am now taking several drugs so I can sleep through the night, including one which I am building tolerance to.

Does anybody have suggestions to sleep without all these drugs?

Does / did anyone have to deal with nightmares and found strategies? 

I have heard anxiety and panic attacks, for example, causes trouble sleeping. I also know people have nightmares about comprehensive exams.

I am seeing a psychiatrist so the nightmares have lessened in intensity somewhat (also could be the drugs). I have not had any panic attacks while awake, thankfully, as my psychiatrist has helped me with strategies like breathing and grounding techniques which I have been very diligently following. 

However, I do need strategies that others have found helpful for sleeping in the meantime as I consciously work through this with my psychiatrist during my waking hours. Academia comes with many forms of nightmares because of the pressures and I'm hopeful people have suggestions.

Help? Please?

 

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2 hours ago, orange turtle said:

Does anybody have suggestions to sleep without all these drugs?

Does / did anyone have to deal with nightmares and found strategies? 

I am seeing a psychiatrist so the nightmares have lessened in intensity somewhat (also could be the drugs). I have not had any panic attacks while awake, thankfully, as my psychiatrist has helped me with strategies like breathing and grounding techniques which I have been very diligently following. 

However, I do need strategies that others have found helpful for sleeping in the meantime as I consciously work through this with my psychiatrist during my waking hours. Academia comes with many forms of nightmares because of the pressures and I'm hopeful people have suggestions.

Help? Please?

I am so sorry to hear about your mishap. You have been very brave to reach out for help. I am glad that you are working with your psychiatrist for treatments. Other than medication, I think you would benefit from counselling. Have you seen a psychologist? Many schools offer counselling services to students for free. It would be good if you can find a therapist that is specialised in trauma. You can also call some national counselling helplines that operate 24 hours. You may need to wait quite a bit before getting connected to someone, but these are helpful contacts in the middle of the nights. 

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I think it's time to start experimenting on yourself. Beyond the good answers already given—and that continuing counseling is a must—I would try a lot of different hacks from the internet/self help circles. Yoga. Exercise. Meditation. Journaling (this one makes things worse for me, personally). I haven't liked plain old meditation, but staring at/near a candle does the trick. Good scents: essential oils, scented candles, etc., near your bed. A nice bath before bedtime? It might take a while for you to find some combination of things that help at all, and maybe there isn't any shortcut to feeling more peaceful, but hopefully a couple of these will help.

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There's a RadioLab episode from 2012 about lucid dreaming - the idea that you can take control of your dreams/nightmares while you're in the middle of them. That may be something to look in to.

http://www.radiolab.org/story/182747-wake-up-dream/

It's great that you've sought professional help and I'm sure that over time you'll see the positive effects increase. 

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11 hours ago, Hope.for.the.best said:

I am so sorry to hear about your mishap. You have been very brave to reach out for help. I am glad that you are working with your psychiatrist for treatments. Other than medication, I think you would benefit from counselling. Have you seen a psychologist? Many schools offer counselling services to students for free. It would be good if you can find a therapist that is specialised in trauma. You can also call some national counselling helplines that operate 24 hours. You may need to wait quite a bit before getting connected to someone, but these are helpful contacts in the middle of the nights. 

@Hope.for.the.best I am seeing a sexual violence counsellor. Still working on the whole "not my fault; didn't ask for it" thing. It is surprisingly hard.

I am afraid I don't know what the difference between a psychologist and counsellor is?

Your suggestion for a 24 help-line was something I didn't think about, nor was it suggested by my psychiatrist and counsellor. Will look into it, thank you.

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5 hours ago, hats said:

I think it's time to start experimenting on yourself. Beyond the good answers already given—and that continuing counseling is a must—I would try a lot of different hacks from the internet/self help circles. Yoga. Exercise. Meditation. Journaling (this one makes things worse for me, personally). I haven't liked plain old meditation, but staring at/near a candle does the trick. Good scents: essential oils, scented candles, etc., near your bed. A nice bath before bedtime? It might take a while for you to find some combination of things that help at all, and maybe there isn't any shortcut to feeling more peaceful, but hopefully a couple of these will help.

I have tried some of these, and am glad others have done so with success, too.

I now sleep with an essential oil diffuser of a mixture of scents I have always found comforting. And I have my childhood bunny. I also have a baseball bat I have on my nightstand.

I exercise quite a bit, and am now contemplating taking up boxing. Will try the bath you mentioned and the self-help circles.

With a combination of techniques, and drugs, I am getting better at falling asleep when it is bedtime. I have tried sleeping with a nightlight, but I realised the shadows cast by the light scare me. My issue is when I have the nightmares and I am jolted awake in the middle of the night in cold sweat. That is when I need something to help. Many nights I end up moving to my couch, turning on all the lights, and turning on cartoons on netflix and eventually dropping off into a fitful sleep.

My psychiatrist gave me Ativan for these "awakenings" as he calls it, but they don't work anymore. I now need about 5mg to feel drowsy and calm. For perspective (I learned from the psychiatrist), neurologists give 1mg tablets to patients for home "rescue" when they have seizures that go on for too long.

 

5 hours ago, St Andrews Lynx said:

There's a RadioLab episode from 2012 about lucid dreaming - the idea that you can take control of your dreams/nightmares while you're in the middle of them. That may be something to look in to.

http://www.radiolab.org/story/182747-wake-up-dream/

It's great that you've sought professional help and I'm sure that over time you'll see the positive effects increase. 

 

Funny you should mention this. I have a baseball bat by my bedside that I have been trying to "use" in my nightmares. I can lucid dream in other instances when I try because I always have the same funny object that will show up that cues me that it is a dream.

Unfortunately, I have not yet been successful at all in these nightmares because what ends up happening is I am paralysed with fear. It's like when you're a child and there is a monster under your bed or in your closet and the room is pitch black and you're taken completely by surprise and squashed from above you by the sheer size of the monster.

I am so frustrated I just want to curl up in a ball and cry. 

 

Thanks, guys. Appreciate the feedback. And like you both mention, it's gonna take time. It's a relief to hear that I am at least on the right-ish path.

 

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p.s., is it only my psychiatrist or do they use drugs a lot to treat everything? I had to persuade her very hard to try other techniques before resorting to medications.

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1 hour ago, orange turtle said:

p.s., is it only my psychiatrist or do they use drugs a lot to treat everything? I had to persuade her very hard to try other techniques before resorting to medications.

That's the main difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist. The former have medical degrees and spend most of their time treating patients through medication. Psychologists will use a variety of other forms of therapy. They might have an MA or PhD, but not an MD, and they won't deal with drugs nearly as much. Other counsellors may be trained as social workers, for example. This all means that these professionals have different trainings and perspectives on how to deal with patients, and you may find that one technique (or therapist) suits you better than another. It's a process of trial and error to find the right combination that works for you. 

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@fuzzylogician thanks for clarifying the differences. Very helpful, and I am now kinda wishing it wasn't a psychiatrist I was seeing (because of the intense focus on drugging me). Probably should look into changing professionals and trying something that doesn't involve meds.

I am probably just naive but I didn't think I would be sitting with sexual violence counsellors and psychiatrists and the like within the first year of my program. I was watching out for signs of depression and anxiety because there is so much out there about how graduate school is perfect breeding ground for them to manifest for the first time. Definitely wasn't prepared to be referred to a psychiatrist for nightmares! 

I also didn't think my first introductions to the bigwigs at my university would be for having "very complex graduate student problems." Nor would I have thought I would be sitting there crying in front of an entire group of them while they all sat there awkwardly.

C'est la vie, eh?

Regardless, I am thankful I have access to free services and online forums such as these. The anonymity certainly helps because I haven't been able to talk to any of my peers about this. 

 

 

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I created an account to answer this topic because I've had a similar experience, and I want you to know that you aren't alone. It's hard, but it gets better. For me it was my undergrad advisor and it totally screwed with my head. I was seventeen when it began and at that age I was insecure and sure I was in the wrong. It can be really difficult to talk about these issues to people in academia. In my experience bringing them up automatically makes people uncomfortable, or at the very least unsure of how to respond. Some people just take it as departmental drama, or maybe they see discussing these things as unprofessional or above their pay grade. So in a way this post isn't just aimed at you, but at everyone out there reading this. I do not believe that any issue can be solved without willingness to discuss it openly. By sweeping this under the rug we're perpetuating a culture that shames and implicates survivors. 

Many people will not understand what you're going through or why it was damaging. Many people will feel uncomfortable acknowledging what happened to you or discussing it. It's important to remember that these are their problems, not yours. You haven't done anything wrong, and it's totally normal to feel traumatized after experiences like this (it does sound to me like you have some form of PTSD -- have you been diagnosed? A psychologist can do that. Psychiatrists/social workers/counselors can't, at least in the US.)

I had nightmares for 2-3 years after getting out of the situation I was in. I'm not sure why they stopped. I have some theories, but I hesitate to proclaim that I have a solution. So I'm just going to list the mess of reasons I think helped me. Some are more easy (and desirable) to recreate than others. 

  1. I found people I could trust to help me in my immediate environment. I think it's really difficult to move on when you're scared that you might be trapped in the same situation again, with no one to help/support you. 
  2. I realized that he (my then-advisor) did not have the power he claimed to have. (Backstory: he actually told me that he would ruin my career if I stopped working with him -- and I believed him. I switched labs/fields anyways, but I never thought I'd be able to get into grad school. I thought he'd sabotage it. Wrong. I got in and I'm working with some fantastic people. I'm pretty underwhelmed by anyone who says things like that now.)
  3. I was harassed by a colleague and was able to deal with it immediately and effectively. That showed me that I could handle things if they came up.
  4. I made friends with a lot of people who had experienced similar things. It gave me space to be myself with people who understood what I was feeling. Actually, my best friend went through something similar at the same time I did (though at a different university). We still talk about it regularly (see #5). 
  5. I have made it part of my personal mission to help eradicate these issues. It's not something I bring up in personal statements or when talking about career goals, but it's always at the back of my mind when I think about what I want to do. I want the power to help and support students who get into these kinds of situations (note: I'm not just talking about sexual harassment but any issues of injustice.)

I'm going to end my monologue, I can't fit it all on my screen anymore :blink: But please feel free to message me if you want to talk. I know how isolating this kind of thing can be. One last resource I'd like to mention is the link below. It's to a crowdsourced survey of sexual harassment in academia -- so it's not methodologically rigorous in the way a research study would be, but it definitely shows that these problems are far from uncommon. 

https://theprofessorisin.com/2017/12/01/a-crowdsourced-survey-of-sexual-harassment-in-the-academy/

Hugs and best of luck! :)

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I'm sorry this happened to you and you're still dealing with the effects of it. I have a friend in grad school that has really bad anxiety, and he got a weighted/gravity blanket to sleep better. He says it helps a lot. I'm in the process of making one for myself (because I didn't want to pay for one and because crafting is therapeutic for me in its own way), I've been having pretty bad insomnia lately and I'm hoping it will do the trick. 

Good luck!

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14 hours ago, wildfireflies said:

I created an account to answer this topic because I've had a similar experience, and I want you to know that you aren't alone. It's hard, but it gets better. For me it was my undergrad advisor and it totally screwed with my head. I was seventeen when it began and at that age I was insecure and sure I was in the wrong. It can be really difficult to talk about these issues to people in academia. In my experience bringing them up automatically makes people uncomfortable, or at the very least unsure of how to respond. Some people just take it as departmental drama, or maybe they see discussing these things as unprofessional or above their pay grade. So in a way this post isn't just aimed at you, but at everyone out there reading this. I do not believe that any issue can be solved without willingness to discuss it openly. By sweeping this under the rug we're perpetuating a culture that shames and implicates survivors. 

Many people will not understand what you're going through or why it was damaging. Many people will feel uncomfortable acknowledging what happened to you or discussing it. It's important to remember that these are their problems, not yours. You haven't done anything wrong, and it's totally normal to feel traumatized after experiences like this (it does sound to me like you have some form of PTSD -- have you been diagnosed? A psychologist can do that. Psychiatrists/social workers/counselors can't, at least in the US.)

Hi @wildfireflies 

"Many people will not understand what you're going through or why it was damaging."

I can't even tell you how you've summarised this so well. Some of my friends know of the harassment, and they're completely incredulous that it could possibly be damaging. They all go "eww, what a creep...eww, eww" but it stops there.

Right now, in my entire university of people who do know, 2 people "get it." The rest (faculty) completely ignore it, and then when we happen to bump into each other during department events, they give this dramatic "OMG. I've been thinking of you. I'm worried about you. You look like death warmed over". And I'm sitting there thinking why didn't you just send an email to ask how I was doing then? I would rather they pretend nothing happened than to do this fake concern.

As for not doing anything wrong, I struggle with this so much. I've played all the versions of "what if I had / hadn't..." scenarios in my head. What if I hadn't answered his questions? What if I just did not smile back when he smiled? What if I had worn more pants?

I have wondered about some form PTSD, and the psychiatrist did bring it up. Nobody has done any official diagnosing though. She went, Oh you must be depressed. Student health is sure it isn't depression though because he said my problems are very situational. I really don't care what they think the problem is, TBH. Just help me. You could call it scary monster syndrome for all I care. 

I read the survey you posted a long time ago. I follow TPII. It feels very defeating when you realise you are another statistic of the many women (and men) who keep having to put up with this crap.

Thank you for reaffirming my concerns. And for letting me know there is a tunnel of fresh air on the end.

 

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You are not alone...I went through it at eighteen.  I still struggle with anxiety and nightmares from time to time, though often about other things.  I've been considering getting a weighted blanket.  A craft shop around the corner makes them and I've been wanting to check them out.  Some of the students I've worked with in the past have had success with them.

 

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