Thursday, April 16, 2009

PTSD and dreams

One of the most difficult things for me about PTSD is my dreams. I don't remember the last time I had a good dream, and more often then not there is a fire in them. Now that Kellen is sleeping through the night, I am still sleep challenged and wake up from fear. It's one thing to work on your conscious thoughts during the day and try to shape them. It's quite another to be able to control your dreams.

Last night we were making dinner, and Dan was cooking chicken. He used to work in a kitchen, so he uses pan flipping techniques instead of a spatula. We have a gas stove, which causes me stress pretty much every time it's on, and I wish that we would have thought of this before and gotten an electric one. Everyone has told me they are so much better, and I am hoping that once I am through this, I can appreciate my stove for what it is. Anyhow... Dan was flipping the pan, and he dropped a piece of chicken into the fire, and it causes the flames to grow. To me, it looked like it was bad enough to start a fire, and I suppose if a piece of paper were nearby, it would have. I had Kellen and we were running out the door. Apparently it wasn't that big of a deal. I was pretty shaken though, and Dan's stoic response makes me think that he doesn't really understand this fear I am experiencing.

My first dream last night was of the stove getting out of control and causing a major fire. I don't know what I'm supposed to do to stop having these dreams, but they are absolutely horrible.

Grey's Anatomy has been doing some episodes on PTSD (and the nightmares associated with it), and I have read that they are going to explore it more in coming episodes. I'm thinking of doing something about PTSD along with that because I think it's important to understand. I also think it's important to differentiate post-traumatic stress, which so many of us have endured, and PTSD, which takes on a much more debilitating grip on life.


  1. Old post, I know, but I came across your blog just now looking to see if anyone else suffered from PTSD from a house fire (whenever I talk about it, people act as if my experience wasn't that traumatic -- perhaps it seems too personal to discuss?)

    My home caught on fire when I was 17, in late 2006. I was living with my mother, younger sister and younger brother. I've always had troubles getting to sleep and so was the only one up around 11 PM. I very vaguely smelled smoke, and since I'm so dramatic (I always think of the worst things that could happen) I merely wandered around the downstairs for a bit, sniffing, before returning to my room. I then heard what sounded like heavy falling rain -- it had been raining for days but had stopped earlier. I moved my curtains aside to peek outside to see if it was raining again. Instead, I realized our house was on fire. After getting everyone out, I could see the entire left house of our house was i in flames. Luckily we all sleep on the right half. Quickly, the flames crept over the remaining bits. I couldn't believe how big that fire was.

    We lived in a small temporary home for months while our house was rebuilt (the right side survived for the most part) but I noticed effects immediately. Any glow, and I mean any, during any time of the day, in the distance, or my periphery, my heart would start immediately, same panic, fire! This occurred even if the red/orange/yellow glow was very far away. When we moved back home, the first few months were torturous. I had these horrible experiences: I would dream the night again. I would go to my window, look out, and see the horrible orange sky. My heart would pound, I'd turn to dash out so I could wake my family up and then I'd wake up -- sure enough standing in the middle of my room, having just looked out the window, terrified. Looking again, of course, there was nothing.

    It's been years now, of course. Since then I've lived in different places. I'm not the best sleeper anyway, but it's become obvious to me that this house makes it impossible for me to sleep. Being still in college, I come and go. Right now, I'm staying at home. Not getting much sleep. Every night, I think there is a fire again. And no matter how much I know there's not, I have a reaction. I always think I'm smelling smoke, think I'm hearing that rain-like crackle and roar, I shake and my throat goes dry and I always wonder, "What if I didn't see? What if I'd gone to sleep?" I remember when we moved back in, after weeks of being distraught and having those horrible dreams, I would lay in bed and think, "I don't care. If the house catches on fire again, I will just lay here and die. I can't go through that again. It can have me."

    Like I said, when I tell people my house burnt down four years ago, they don't have much of a reaction. I suppose it's a bit personal, or maybe they just don't know what to say, but it always seems like they don't realize what a horrible, sad and terrifying thing to go through it was, and also, that it can continue to have effects. I don't think any of my family has these problems. I feel it's my responsibility to stay up, I suppose. I was the one that discovered it the first time. If it were to happen again, it would need to be me, again.

    I'm sorry this comment is so long. Every time I try to discuss this, it's with people rather unsympathetic and uninterested. This seems like the right sort of place to share this. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. If you ever need to talk more, my email is in the sidebar. Are you seeing a counselor? I know many colleges have free counseling services, so I hope that you can tap into those. They have some incredible therapies for PTSD (they have learned a lot from Iraq) including something called rapid eye therapy.

    My PTSD goes beyond fires, and I have a hard time in confined spaces (like movie theaters). It's a strange thing.

    Your family is lucky that you were so vigilant that night. I hope that they recognize that.

    Again, please let me know if there is anything I can do.