The Menopause and Bad Dreams

Before the menopause, I’d go to sleep at night and wake up 8 or 9 hours later feeling refreshed and ready for another day’s crap. I’ve slept through storms and earthquakes and that’s despite being over-sensitive to noise in the daytime. It was one of my better points that I could lose myself in my sleep. Nowadays, a cat farting in the next street wakes me, and that’s despite being deaf in one ear.

I’ve always had vivid dreams, but they’ve often been pleasant ones. The kind of dreams where you don’t want to wake up, like the one with Nick Cage, myself and a jacuzzi. However, once I entered into the peri-menopause, my dreams started to get weird, bordering on nightmares. So now I’m convinced that Quentin Tarantino writes my dream scripts because they are so f**ked up. Dreams of headless horses and eight-legged frogs hanging out of my bottom? And those are not the worst ones. Even Freud would shit himself. Trust me.

I naively thought my sleep would go back to how it was once I was post-meno, but that’s not how this thing works because Mother Nature is a COW. So, like any self-respecting autie, I got researching and after a few hours trawling the internet, I found out that bad dreams are a problem for many menopausal women and if I had to take a wild guess at why it happens, I’d say that it’s partly to do with the lack of oestrogen.

To explain it, we need to go back to the scurge of womanhood.

PERIODS!

Oestrogen levels plunge at week four of the monthly cycle and the lower it goes, the more you want to stab people and eat your own weight in chocolate. You get your period and you’re a grumpy bastard for a few days, (especially if you have painful periods). In that case, you live on painkillers and walk around with a hot water bottle permanently strapped to your pelvis area. Once the levels start to rise your sanity is restored and your family can breathe easy again because the beast is back in it’s cage, albeit temporarily.

So, you get the picture that oestrogen is the calming hormone, right?

Well, there is a natural decline in oestrogen during the menopause and once it’s gone, it’s gone, unless it’s replaced with HRT, and even then it’s only a temporary measure.

I remember that my dreams used to turn nasty when I was on my period, so maybe it’s not so surprising that nearly all my dreams are bad now I’m menopausal?

So, what to do about it?

I’ve been back and forth to the doctors desperately trying to find answers for my sleep problems. Gotta be honest here, they don’t have a clue and if I hear the word, ‘anxiety dear’ one more time, I will strangle the offender with their stethoscope.

HRT is no longer an option for me, and even if it was, once I stopped taking it I would go back to having shit dreams. So, I might as well get my head around the fact that bad dreams are my new ‘normal’ and work on what I expose my brain to throughout the day, because, believe me, it’s relative.

So, what can we do to improve our sleep?

Positivity

Negative thoughts find their way into our dreams, especially when ‘good cop’ oestrogen is no longer there to beat the shit out of them them with her truncheon. REM is the part of sleep where we process our emotions, so it stands to reason that negative thoughts throughout the day will manifest as nightmares, yes?

The answer is simple: Be mindful of your thoughts.

The World

The world can be a scary place. The news highlights high mega-shit humans can be and exposing ourselves to these horrors can be detrimental – as can watching disturbing movies and TV. For instance, I like my psychological thrillers, but I can guarantee a crap night’s sleep if I watch them before bed. I try to remind myself to do some light reading or watch a life-affirming movie or comedy. That said, I had the ‘frog up the arse’ dream after watching Victoria Wood – a comedian. I managed to decipher the dream (ish) and remembered her talking about some bloke in the same hospital as her who had ‘accidentally’ sat on top of his Dyson hoover attachment (as you do) So, that explains the arse bit. However, I still can’t explain the frog. Or why it had eight legs. Where is Freud when you need him, eh?

Calcium and Magnesium

Some women swear by taking calcium and magnesium supplements before bed. I’m doing this, but as I have only been taking them for a few days, there’s no improvement as yet. I would recommend taking citrate versions of these supplements as carbonate can be constipating. However, if you have diarrhea based IBS, carbonate might help to dry you up a bit AND help you to sleep. Win and win!

A Sodding Great Big Glass of Gin?

Alas, no.

Alcohol might propel you off into sleepyland quickly enough, but you will have weird dreams and wake up in the early hours with a dry mouth or needing a big wee. Sorry, but no alcohol before bed if you want to improve your dreams and sleep in general.

Eating Late

Eating big meals late at night can cause sleep disturbance and vivid dreams. This is because your digestive system requires a lot of energy to digest food. Your heart-rate will rise for a start. Light snacks (non-sugary) won’t affect you as much. In some cases, it will help to balance blood sugar levels because being hungry also interferes with sleep.

Sleeping Pills

As they are designed for short term use, I don’t recommend them because this isn’t a short-term problem. Sleeping pills are addictive and you might find you can’t sleep without them. If so, you are most likely addicted and that’s not great.

Our bodies play a part in bad dreams, especially with anxiety cases like me. I think our brains respond to stress hormone surges as we sleep. I have noticed that I typically wake up between 4.30 and 5.30. The dreams I have just before I wake (with my heart hammering) start off being fairly boring, but they always take a sinister turn. Just before my eyes fly open, in strolls Tarantino, and my dream turns into Reservoir Dogs. For example, this morning I was screaming in my dream. I was in imminent danger of being harmed by something unseen, but sinister, when I woke up with my heart pounding. Our heart rates naturally speed up during REM (when we dream) and my sensitised brain associates the increase in heart rate as danger and wakes me up. Clever, but annoying as fuck.

If this is you, my advice would be to get up once you wake up. No matter how early that is. It’s tempting to try and go straight back to sleep, but here’s the thing: Adrenalin is surging through your body and even if you manage to fall back to sleep, you will continue to have vivid dreams. It becomes a cycle. Get up, move about a bit and burn some of that adrenalin off!

We worry because it’s our hearts. Surely, all this waking up with rapid heart beats will cause us harm? The reality is that our hearts are designed to withstand adrenaline surges because this natural response keeps us alive. It’s unpleasant, but not dangerous. A few deep breaths and my heart rate is back to normal because I don’t add fear to the mix anymore, so I rarely have full-blown panic attacks. However, if these kind of symptoms are new for you, and are accompanied by chest pain and breathlessness, you should seek medical help.

There are many reasons why we have bad dreams. In being mindful of what we ingest, via our bodies AND minds, we can improve the situation. But I also think we just have to accept that some nights we are going to have crap dreams. So, lets not worry about it too much because that in itself will earn us a bad night’s sleep.

“Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” Stephen King

 

 

 

Mind, Shut Your Mouth

 

Would you like to know what my mind is like at night?

Pull up a chair. Get comfy and we will begin…

**************************

I’m dreaming. Yet another night terror. The third tonight. I try to fall back to sleep but I can’t because the dream was horrible. The harder I try to push the thoughts away, the stronger they become. Then, I notice that my arms and legs are tingling…

Oh my God. I feel weird. Weirder than usual, that is.

You’ve been here a trillion times before. They are just sensations.

But this is different. It feels different.

A wave of nausea sweeps over me and my body feels icy cold. My rational mind is fighting with the fear and somewhere in-between is a song with it’s verse stuck on repeat.

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

You know the GP has told you that the tingling is Spondylosis. You’re catastrophising!

Yeah BUT I’ve had no tests. It could be a brain tumour or MS. I’m partly deaf in one ear. What if it’s not normal hearing loss. What if it’s a tumour?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

I see myself in a wheelchair and feel the surge of stress hormones as they perceive the imagery as a real threat.

This is unhelpful. Breathe!

I remind myself to breathe from my tummy and I feel calmer for a minute.

BUT the tingling is STILL THERE!

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

How would I cope with a brain tumour?

It has to be a brain tumour because I keep forgetting stuff.

That’s part of the menopause, you loon.

Yes, BUT…

But what?

It COULD be?

I force myself to remember things. Things I know I should remember, like my name, my kids names and what I had for tea.

I can’t remember what I had for tea! I CAN’T REMEMBER!!!

See! It IS a brain tumour!

No, it’s not!

I have migraines!

Yeah, since you were 23!

How would OH cope with me having a brain tumour?

The Boy wouldn’t cope without me.

HOW WOULD HE COPE WITHOUT ME?

How would I tell my lads?

I start to cry and my breathing becomes shallow. So shallow that it physically hurts to breathe. Then my entire body shakes uncontrollably..

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Oh this MOTHERFUNGLING SONG!!

It’s ear-worm because it was the last song you heard on the radio. Think yourself lucky it wasn’t Justin Bieber, eh?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Use your distraction techniques, you KNOW what to do!

OK, I’ll think of countries and go through the alphabet.

Atta girl!

A Australia

B Brain Tumour

Oh ffs

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

What if OH has a crash on the way to work. I’d be on my own. I COULDN’T COPE OMG!!

What if he didn’t have a crash?

YES BUT..

Or what if he had one but wasn’t hurt at all?

YES BUT..

What is it with you always killing people off?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Mind shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

PLEASE.

JUST STOP!

They are just thoughts, fruitcake.

They can’t hurt you.

It’s 3.30am. The stress hormones have gone feral. You know this. Fear is LOUDEST when the world is at it’s quietest. You know this. BREATHE!

I’M TRYING TO F**KING BREATHE!

Try harder!

Keep trying. Keep doing it over and over and over. These sensations will pass. They always do.

Yeah, but this time it’s different. THIS time, I’m REALLY ill.

Mind shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!

****************************

Dawn approaches and the room gets lighter. Oh the RELIEF that night has passed. The thought clouds my mind that the days will start to get shorter soon and I will have to endure this crap for longer..

Daytime is easier because there are distractions. At night, it’s just me and my mind. I glance over to OH and resent the fact that he is sleeping soundly. I feel like elbowing him in the ribs to wake him up but I don’t. Instead, I look at him and whisper ‘You lucky git’. Because I am aware of EVERYTHING. This is when I feel that I am the ONLY person on the planet. Yet I know that I am not because there are thousands of us fighting with our minds. I want to put my arms round each and every one of you because I know how hard it is.

Exhausted, I fall into a dream, so fragmented and bizarre you’d think I was on some kind of hallucinogenic drug trip. Yet I’m not on any drugs. It’s because the stress hormones are flooding my body. I know why it’s happening. I’m a bloody expert when it comes to anxiety. It’s just that fear overrides rationality.

Sleep brings little respite for me unless I manage to get those magical two hours in before midnight but anybody with insomnia knows that a nighttime hour feels more like two, three or even four. Night time is different to day time. No distractions, see, and the silence only amplifies the mind chatter.

My mind is tired. After five years of panic disorder, it’s exhausted. My instinct is to fight but I have to accept all this for what it is. Just thoughts. My thoughts are NOT reality. If they were, I’d be in deep shit. My body is reacting as if they are but it’s up to me to change that by changing how I think. For a few months, my sleep was better. Not great but bearable so I know I can achieve it. It will just take time and instead of fearing another night, I need to accept whatever comes. You drown faster when you struggle, right? If you float, you have a better chance of surviving. That’s what I need to do. Float.

I have done my best to describe what happens to me at night and this is by no means a one off. Nor is it the worst case. I’ve gone for somewhere in the middle. But this is only about half an hours worth. Can you imagine hours of this shit? I hope you can’t because anxiety disorder is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. If you can identify with any of it, I feel for you and you need to know that you are not alone. There are thousands of us in the insomnia club.

“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.”Poppy Z Brite

 

Coping With Anxiety Relapse

GUESS WHO’S BACK.

BACK AGAIN.

So, after a few months of relative peace from my ‘hardcore’ symptoms of anxiety disorder, I’m back on the wheel of fear. I have relapsed, again.

We’ve just done the holiday thing and my anxiety has been gathering momentum over the past few weeks. One, because I am autistic and change makes me cranky and, well, hols are ALL about change. Two, my unhelpful brain was reminding me that I was mentally unwell during last years holiday and I ended up in A&E the week we came back.

Yes, me old mate, Fear, showed up and was constantly reminding me of how bad I was and, ‘You know what, Trace? This time will be EVEN WORSE!

This time. YOU GONNA DIE! MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

He’s a right vile git, is Fear. He’s like a really shit relative who you would like to get arse-probed by hostile aliens. Did I say that out loud? Anyway, as I was packing our suitcases, Fear spotted his chance and flung himself back into my mind…

Didn’t I send you packing a few months ago, you little arsewipe?

Yeaaaaah but I told ya I’d be back to bugger your life up again.

So it’s fair to say that I was ramping up the stress hormones BEFORE I inflicted myself on Northumberland. Then I started with some tingling in my arms and legs but I didn’t Google it. Nor did I log onto any anxiety forums. Been there. Done that. Had the breakdown. There was NO WAY I was going down THAT wormhole! I’m used to tingling in my hands and feet but not entire limbs so I made an appointment to get checked out. GP checked my heart out and said my blood pressure etc was fine. Seemingly I wasn’t about to keel over. Then she asked me to turn my neck to the left and right and noticed that it sounded like a pepper grinder. Yep, it really does sound like that.

‘I’d say the tingling is due to a touch of spondylosis.’

Spondywhatus?

‘Wear and tear, Dear.

Great. I’ll just add it to the ever increasing list of old codger ailments I already have ffs!

This comforted me for all of about half a day because to my deranged mind it was a new symptom to deal with and Fear lost no time in reminding me that doctors can get things wrong and it’s actually a brain tumour. Of all my imaginary illnesses, I’ve yet to do brain tumour in any great depth and the little arsebiscuit knows it…

The holiday started off well enough but as the week wore on sleep became an issue with night terrors and waking up at hourly intervals only to fall into yet another Stephen King/Quentin Tarantino inspired dream. Wednesday night was the worst with NO sleep at all. I lay there and could feel the cortisol surging over me. Wave after wave. I felt sick and my bowels were playing up so I was plonked on the loo at 4am. This and I was MILES away from home, although, I did happen to know where the nearest hospital was. You know that your life is particularly shit when instead of admiring the beauty of the surrounding area, you are hanging your head out the car window looking for the nearest A&E!

By Thursday morning I could take no more and I asked, no, BEGGED to go home. OH didn’t argue. We just packed and left. As soon as I was on my way home, I started to feel better and guilt hit me harder than a right hook off Rocky Balboa. Only we couldn’t go back because that would have totally sent The Boy’s brain into a twizz and that would have made things SO much worse.

So I felt the familiar feelings of despair.

I had ruined the holiday with my shit mind.

At that moment, I hated anxiety with EVERY ounce of my being.

For the next few days, I lay in my pit and moaned (to dead people, mostly) that life is shit and what’s the effing point if all there is for me now is this?

Relapse is like crawling your way up the mountain. You can see the summit. It’s within touching distance. Then some git swipes your feet from under you and you fall back down, taking a few head shots along the way. You lie there in a tangled heap wondering how you will EVER find the energy to start climbing again?

BUT YOU DO.

Relapse is about learning.

It’s part of recovery.

What I’ve done is to work out what I’ve done differently. It’s about taking back control, innit?

When I had my nervous breakdown, I lost a lot of weight. I looked like a walking bone, if you can imagine a bone wearing Converse boots? So to get the weight back on, I ate chocolate. A LOT of chocolate. I also started having a beer. Only a couple of pints at the weekend. Real ale, mind, none of your poncy lager..

The symptoms started to creep back in but I IGNORED THEM.

On my holibobs, I went from a couple of pints at a weekend to one and a half pints EVERY night. Also, by now, I was eating enough chocolate to put myself into a coma.

Here’s the thing…

Chocolate contains CAFFEINE and CAFFEINE is a humongous NO when it comes to anxiety. Especially when you are SO sensitised that someone farting two streets away can trigger a panic attack. Chocolate (and all foods high in unrefined sugar) leads to a greater release of cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine – giving you ‘sugar spikes’. You are INCREASING the stress hormones, therefore, increasing your anxiety symptoms and their severity.

Alcohol also raises levels of cortisol and I downed seven and half pints in a few days! Way to go, fool!

Recovery from panic disorder takes a LONG time and even though I was feeling better, the stress hormone levels were still raised – just not high enough for them to be a major problem like they were before. Because I felt OK, I stopped doing what had helped me to get better.

I DID THIS. *smacks wrist*

So I’m back off the chocolate and the alcohol. I’m listening to my body and I will slowly make my way back up the mountain. It might take a few months but I have faith that I’ll get there and instead of looking at what happened on holiday as a negative, I choose to see the positive side and not beat myself up about it. After all, it was only a few months ago that I struggled to leave the house unless it was for a trip to the doctors or hospital.  I think I did well to manage four days in a strange place, no?

If you are struggling with anxiety, SCRUTINISE your lifestyle and see if you are adding fuel to the fire. Write everything down and see if you can eliminate the triggers. Sometimes, relapse just happens but it’s certainly worth looking at what you are eating, drinking and doing and by doing I mean social media, TV and adrenaline boosting activities.

Once you start to feel better, you’re not recovered. That’s where I made my mistake. You need to manage your condition and that means to keep doing the things that make you feel better, so diet, relaxation, meditation and staying away from the world’s drama. This doesn’t mean that you can never have caffeine or alcohol again as once your body becomes desensitized, the odd drinky-poo won’t hurt you. For now, listen to your body. It really is trying to tell you what it needs and doesn’t need.

When it comes to sleep, aim to be asleep at 10pm because any sleep you get before 12pm is worth four hours as it’s the restorative phase of sleep. I have been making sure I’m in bed for 9pm and asleep by 10pm all this week and I do feel better for it.

Most importantly, try not to see relapse as failure. Negative self-talk like, ‘I’m never going to beat this’ and ‘What’s the point’ will only help to keep you in a funk because depression and anxiety go hand in hand. I know how hard it is to try and think positively when you’re flaying around on the floor but think of Rocky who took an absolute battering from Apollo Creed but REFUSED TO STAY DOWN. Anxiety will try to go for the knockout but it’s up to us how we respond to it’s punches. Ultimately, WE have to take back control.

Keep going. I promise, you WILL get there.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising every time we fall. ~ Confucius

I Dream of Sleep

I don’t remember when I last had a good night’s sleep. You know, the kind of sleep where you close your eyes and the next thing you know it’s morning?

I go off to sleep well enough, providing I don’t do anything too stimulating in the evening. For instance, I have found that if I write a blog post after 6pm, I am unable to switch off. I can lie in bed for three hours or more before I finally fall into an anxiety-filled sleep. Then I wake up at 4am, then 5, then six…

Sleep is vital to our well-being. We know that much and if our sleep is crap, we feel like crap. It’s that simple.

Anxiety sufferers know that a good night’s sleep is hard to come by. Medication may help in the short-term but it isn’t the long-term answer because it doesn’t address what is causing the insomnia in the first place.

When we have an anxiety disorder, we are in fight or flight mode 24/7. Adrenalin floods the body, mostly when we don’t want it to, like when we are trying to sleep or relax. The saber-toothed tiger is always there – ready to rip our throat out.

IT GONNA EAT YOU AND YOU GONNA DIE!!!!

Under these circumstances, maybe you can understand why a good night’s sleep is so elusive?

I dream but my dreams are funked up. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino lives in my head with creative input from Tim Burton and Alfred Hitchcock. However, there are a few things that we can do to improve our sleep.

Routine

Keep to a routine and try to be in bed the same time every night. Do like the old people do and be in bed by 10pm with a Horlicks and a copy of People’s Friend. OK, maybe not People’s Friend but some gentle reading. Remember, what you think about before you go to sleepyland, will affect your dreams…

Temperature

Try not to have your bedroom too warm or too cold.

For the menopausal insomniacs, you’ll just have to do your best, m’dears. Dangle a leg out of the bedclothes if you’re too hot and shove it back in when you get too cold. If your other half is emitting too much body heat in summer – roll the motherfungler off the bed and throw a pillow over his face to muffle his snores.

Exercise

Go for a run or walk the dog. Any exercise is better than nothing at all. However, it’s not a good idea to exercise in the evening because it’s too STIMULATING. Maybe a bit of gentle stretching?

Light

Try and have your boudoir as dark as is possible. Use blackout blinds if needs be. If all else fails, use a sleep mask.

Noise

If sounds annoy you, shove some earplugs in. If the silence annoys you, listen to some relaxation apps, like a nice calming waterfall. Just make sure to have a big wee before you go to bed, or you’ll be up and down to the toilet, which kind of defeats the object of getting a good night’s sleep.

Gadgets

Don’t take your phones. iPad’s, laptops and other electronic paraphernalia to bed with you. They all emit a blue light which tricks your brain into thinking it’s awake. Read a book or have a shag. If you live alone, shag yourself.

Sex is good because it releases relaxing hormones called endorphins, which is why blokes are snoring like warthogs within five minutes of eliminating their ‘man-milk’. You get me?

Diet

Drink six cans of Cola a day if you must but don’t complain when you’re buzzing like a frenzied bee at 3 o clock in the morning. Ditch the caffeine or make sure you only have one or two cups, max, and AVOID AVOID AVOID after about 3pm. There are some decent decaf options around. Fair dos, some taste like camel barf but if you shop around you are bound to find something that you can live with. I recommend a nice decaf Earl Grey.

Relaxation

Breathing exercises, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, listening to classical music. It’s good practice to set aside some ‘you time’ each day.

Worrying

Don’t lie in bed worrying about paying bills or shit stuff like that. You’ll just drive yourself nuts. Tell yourself you will worry about them in the morning instead. Fill your frazzled mind with thoughts of stars, unicorns and moonbeams or just take yourself off for a walk along an imaginary beach. Imagine the waves gently rolling in and out. Then a sun-lounger magically appears in front of you. You throw yourself on it and doze off. THOSE are the kind of thoughts you want before bed. Not. ‘OMG, I DIDN’T PUT THE BINS OUT!!!’

If any of these tips work for you, let me know. Or maybe you have one or two of your own you’d like to share?

For a couple of months, I actually got my anxiety under control enough to be sleeping through. My dreams were still, er, weird, but I wasn’t waking up at silly-o-clock. But I’m a person who stops doing stuff as soon as I am feeling better. Mrs Knobhead, right?

Some people dream of holidays in the sun or winning the lottery. Me? I dream of having a good night’s sleep.

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.” ~ David Benioff, City of Thieves

Creative Commons Image Via Pixabay