Ask anyone living with PTSD about sleep and I would imagine that you’ll get pretty much the same response: it’s difficult. You either can’t sleep, or you do nothing but. You’re either wrapped in uncaring lethargy, or you’re so anxious and agitated that you can’t contain the jittery nagging of every nerve you have. Sleep, when it comes, brings nightmares, or blessed relief from the vicissitudes of an unpredictable neurological and psychological condition.
Once you’ve finished talking about sleep, then ask them about war-zone instincts. This is the over-delveoped sense of danger which causes every fibre of your being to scream fear at you when a door slams, or when you’re faced with an angry male who you know intellectually will never hurt you, or when you do something which once resulted in punishment (spilling a drink, choosing a table in a cafe rather than allowing the choice to be dictated to you, entering a conversation without invitation, dropping a book…), or any one of a thousand other apparently inconsequential things which trigger a reaction of disproportionate terror. The flip side, of course, is that the war-zone instincts can be useful: you learn to trust those instincts as a matter of life and death, and there may be another time that my acute sensitivity to anyone behind me, or the potential threats that surround me, save my life once more.
Putting these two things together, though, means that it’s virtually impossible to sleep in front of people. I can doze off on a train, but it’s always with one hand on my bag and my war-zone instincts quivering around me, attuned to the sound of movement, the whisper of threat. The idea of abandoning myself to sleep and the mercies of those around me is something akin to the idea of reading a book in the middle of a three-lane highway. Possible, but dangerous.
Today, though, I spent the afternoon with three friends, watching a film. Well, they watched a film (apparently it was very good); I fell asleep. From what I could work out based on their synopsis of the story, I fell asleep about twenty minutes in, and therefore slept for about an hour and a half. I vaguely remember coming to consciousness several times: at a sense of movement around me, or at my friends’ voices in comment; at one point I raised my head at a bang that no one else seemed alarmed by and which I therefore assumed was part of the film. But I slept deeply and comfortably there in a corner of my friend’s couch, and my war-zone instincts – utterly damaged by ten years’ worth of battles – remained quiet.
For as long as humanity has been alive, it has been an act of trust to sleep in front of another: physically, a person cannot be more vulnerable than in the utter helplessness of sleep, something my ex knew only too well – I’ve been slammed out of sleep with a slap or worse too many times to be comfortable exposing myself to the potential for such treatment again. And yet today, my battered and over-sensitive nerves trusted my three friends to allow me to sleep in their presence, in the simple faith of friendship.
I’m bummed I missed the film though. It sounded as though it would have been good.