An Occasional Entry in a Dream Diary: Change, Maps and Attack

I don’t often recall my dreams these days, blessed be the drugs. When I do, I haven’t slept well, and they’ve been exhausting. Since last night was unusually intact, even hours later, I guess I should release it, or what I can remember, in the order it seemed to be in…

Waking up, finding that I’m not quite person I thought I was. There is now a small chest of drawers between me and my other half’s beds. She looks disappointed that I am awake. I shamble, barely capable of walking, to the shower. I can hear her telephone conversation as I slump and drag myself across the floor tiles.

“He’s not what he used to be,” she says. I haul myself up to where I can see myself in the mirror, and I am a half-formed, or half-deformed version of myself, features spreading out, as if being averaged across my face.

We attempt breakfast, and take our plates to sit in the narrow corridor where everyone else has found a space to hunch and eat in near-silence. Inevitably, the plateful of gravy spills (despite my best efforts) and spatters my t-shirt and trousers. We head off back to the room, via the delivery warehouse. I complain that my section of ‘exclusives’ has been taken away, so we take some extra time to traipse up and down the endless aisles until we discover that it is in exactly the same place it always was, but the sign with my name on has fallen behind a shelf. There is a stack of new t-shirts with cute designs, a range of bookmarks and unopened boxes. I take a shirt.

Paris is exhausting. The roads slope steeply up and down. We’re trying to find a place to eat, but the maps app on my phone is constantly steering us off course. With a lurch the app takes hold of my mind and I’m compelled to follow its directions, while traveling at high speed. The world takes a sepia tone and is stretched taut in all dimensions; the world is almost spherical, balanced atop a pinnacle of rock. A whirlwind of motion is coming, drawing me up into it, smashing my body into other forms and shapes. I do not want this, and in a vast stormy cloud we disperse; below me the ruined shape of Thundercracker (yup, from Transformers) crashes to earth, and the immense warping shape of Devastator (yup, also Transformers) screams like a wave across a mirror, while I remain on the very edge of the curb.

I fight off the map’s influence and find myself in a backstreet, lined with ancient bricks and half-boarded windows. There is no exit to the alley, so I open the door at the top of a fire escape. Inside are tables in cabaret layout occupied by women in something very like beekeeper’s hats and veils. They are all knitting or crocheting tiny figures. They speak constantly in a hushed whisper so it sounds like the sea.

The map reasserts control, dragging me though a fancy restaurant pavilion where a man is threatening the crowd with a gun. The speed I’m moving at when I strike him hurls him through the brass and glass walls and into the adjoining train station. A blur of glass.

I climb out of the overturned double-decker bus which I’d commandeered and rammed through the streets. I descend into the cellar where my compatriots are carefully arranging their windows, each a different shape with complex frames, all giving different views of the bright and cheerful street outside.

“It’s time.”

We all sit before our windows and they slice away from the reality around them, and we fly outwards, this thin screen before us and nothing behind. We circle up into the sky and join thousands of others whose screens are slotting into the vast battle grid we’ll be using to assault the enemy.

Slightly Broken – The Old Switcheroo Part 2

All Change Please And Go Back The Way You Came

I’ve stopped taking the new stuff. Trazodone, which sounds satisfyingly like ‘taser-dome’ and conjures joyous imaginings of Mad Max III gladiators duking it out while doped up with SSRIs and Tina Turner in bondage gear just ain’t for me.

It all seemed pretty bad on Monday morning after not sleeping and enduring awesome waves of anxiety, but I was up for giving it a whirl. You never know quite how any batch of chemicals is going to slap up your noggin so you can’t make snap judgements. But it was pretty bad. It’s difficult to reflect properly on the effects a drug might be having, partly because it’s tricky to step back but also because the drug is actively having an impact on how I think and feel. Also, not sleeping is one of the most mentally debilitating things a person can experience. It has a more immediate effect than alcohol annihilating attention span, coordination, memory formation, common sense and emotional control. I needed assistance.


Review, Reflect, Reject

So in the evening I was talking it through with my other half (god bless her [should I believe in such a concept… I suppose I really mean to bestow, or have her self-bestow some form of benediction in an entirely secular way in recognition of my endless gratitude in a deeper way than “ta” implies]) and she suggested the wholly alien notion of reviewing the notes that came with the Trazodone. I’d skimmed ’em when I got them and did some light internet reading because I feel you should always know something about what you’re taking; really hard to do with illegal drugs so may as well take advantage of the regulated industry when you can. But I have to confess to taking the document less seriously because it was just photocopied by the pharmacist to jam into the funny little half-packet box she gave me. Presentation has an effect.

Turns out that I’d already nailed about a third of the ‘other side effects’ and 2 of the 7 ‘talk to your doctor now’ effects. Score! The dizziness (and clumsiness that results), sweating, high temperatures and nausea may not have been the mild cold I thought I had (could be plague I suppose). The weird skin sensations of shivering fingertips running up my arms might not be ghosts and the nightmares not a karmic punishment for laughing about Innerspace. The massive ramp up in anxiety was probably the lack of Amitriptyline, but is also a possible side-effect (like everything) of most anti-depressant / sedative type drugs. So that’s a whole bunch of waving flags right there. I got back in touch with the doc and canned the new stuff. I’m back on my old pal tripty and already feel much better and am sleeping fine, although I’ll have to get used to the morning fuzziness again.

Setting Fire To Clouds

Despite the side-effects I think it’s been a useful experience (and I am not a silver lining person, I tend to feel that the silver lining merely masks the awful darkness within). Having taken tripty for about two years now I’ve actually forgotten what the sensation of anxiety is like. Sure, I’ve had bad moments and days since then, but that’s had to be exceptional to punch through my tripty mask. Fuck me though, it’s awful. I’d lost the memory of what it’s like having anxiety crawling up the very marrow of my bones, spiralling and gnawing in an endless seething wave of ants. It’s paralysing, frightening and very hard to ignore – its lack of a cause (that’s stress when there’s a clear cause) makes it all harder to deal with. I’d forgotten, and for that I’m grateful, but it’s good to have been reminded. Why hadn’t I felt like that for two years? Well, that’d be the tripty. Duh.

It’s definitely worth trying something different, because who knows – it might be better. But for now, for me, the old fashioned broad-spectrum of side-effects Amitriptyline is the right choice. But, starting Trazodone helped me feel like things were different and I could change some of my habits – returning to swimming after sixteen years for example. That’ll do. Plus I’ve got a box of sedatives should I ever need to be sedated: bonus.

Slightly Broken – The Old Switcheroo

Hello Sun, You Vicious Bastard

I’m writing this at 5am on Monday morning. That’s not a good thing. That’s not a good thing at all. That means I haven’t slept – in tonight’s case – at all. Grr. It’s really annoying. I’ve become used to sleeping – for y’know seven or eight hours at a time, without waking up. Without waking up in the middle I mean, obviously I wake up eventually, usually when prompted by my ancient radio alarm clock that can only play a blend of static and glimpses of awful radio music. This is an excellent state of affairs, being quite alien to me from the age of 14 through to 30 something (save for the loving sleepy embrace of alcohol and other cheery brain-numbing drugs). To have reversed this awesome new state of normal is deplorable. Surely I’ve done nothing wrong…

So what the fuck? I mean, what the fuck?

Weeeeeell. I’ve been taking amitriptyline (or “tripty” as I like to call it) for going on two years now (more or less). Generally it’s been ace – I have literally never slept like that before. It’s a boon for the anxiety that blooms in me during the evening and gently puts my worries to sleep. In May I had a bit of a spaz out and got prescribed daytime tripty as well. Seemed to be alright but then I found anxiety actually increasing during the day. In fairness it’s accompanied a hideous phase of work, so that’s perhaps not surprising.

But along with that it became clearer that I was finding it much harder to do creative things in the evening (and sometimes really struggle to do much first thing in the morning), in particular to be able to take me tripty and still be able to improvise, or write, or socialise. If I took the dose I needed to later get to sleep I’d be dulled into dullness and be unable to properly participate. That’s damned inconvenient, especially when performance is linked so closely to self-esteem, satisfaction and all that important jazz. So I’d not take the stuff till later. That might mean it takes longer to kick in, pushing the evening back later without hope of reclaiming those hours in the morning, which shunts ya into an even more awkward bumbling around while under the influence and not really waking up and feeling more removed from the situation etc. etc… But it’s taken me a while to notice, or become concerned enough about the impact I felt it was having.

Change Is As Good As A Good Night’s Sleep

So a fortnight ago I went off to my lovely doctors (with whom I have an excellent and frank relationship), explained what I thought was going wrong and asked to switch drugs. I spent the last week and a bit tapering off tripty while taking my new drug Trazodone. The idea with this stuff is that it kicks in faster, so I can take it later in the evening after doing some stuff and maybe get that balance back. Of course you never stop dead with a brain drug so I gradually reduced the tripty dose and munched the taserdome.

Out cold the first couple of nights of course since that’s more or less just a double-dose. After that it got a bit weird, with some really heightened anxiety and awful bleak valley moments. I was waking up early and struggling to get back to sleep. It felt hideous, a shock, but not especially surprising – transition between anything and especially stopping something familiar is bound to have some consequences. So that’s horrid, but manageable and fine. Well, y’know. I am blessed with a loving and supportive partner, a wonderful cat and pretty damn supportive and reasonable boss.

This is the second night without any tripty at all. The first night it took an age to get to sleep (at least relative to my new normal) and I woke up from vivid dreams about killing an endless swarm of monsters with a lightsaber. One of the nicest things about tripty is to remember dreams so rarely… Last night, well. I’d been fairly anxious all day but a combination of regular hugs, Lego, the new Doctor Who and the magnificently odd Murder By Death (1976) made it all look like bedtime was going to be fine.

Lies, all lies! I thought I was prepped for sleep – the doziness and bumbling that I’m beginning to associate with Trazodone (my god – the number of things I blunder into dizzily!) feels a bit like being sleepy. And yet no. I realised at about one o’clock that this wasn’t going anywhere. I know better than to lie in bed being frustrated so I pinball downstairs, trying to be quiet and dropping everything and smashing into the edge of the kitchen table. Sigh. Initiate self-pity matrix… now. It didn’t get any better. I went back to bed for half an hour. It was nice and warm and there were cuddlable things. But no sleep.

So What To Do Next?

On the plus side I’ve written this post, and the ‘This Week’ post that I’ve failed to write for the last fortnight. And, fuck it – I’m still going swimming in a minute as planned.

So let’s attempt reason: I’m barely into a new cycle of drug use, so really I have no idea what effect it’s going to have. A crap night doesn’t actually tell me anything about Trazodone. I’ve got a prescription for a month’s use, then review. That makes sense. It doesn’t stop me wanting to run back to amitriptyline crying “all is forgiven”. It does make me wonder if I’d correctly assessed the factors in how I was feeling that lead to me choosing to switch drugs. But – I should give it a chance, surely. Or should I?

Autofiction: Morning Horrors

Panic FlowerThe Ghastly Future

There’s something about the morning that just feels rich with the potential for horror. For a start I don’t like the morning. It seems an unnecessary part of the day that, given a choice, I will usually skip. It’s perfectly normal for us to wake up at eleven or so over the weekend. It feels better. I know there’s a slice of the day where no one is around very early on, but I’d rather experience that same peace at say, two in the morning. I certainly perk up again in the evening, or quite late at night. It’s a kind of alertness that I rarely experience before the sun’s at its zenith.
As far as I can recall I’ve always been a night owl rather than an, well I don’t know – morning pigeon? Bloody things hooing down our chimney. I’m grateful for sleeping tablets to shade out that sort of distraction to an irrelevance. As a very small child I was apparently quite prepared to sleep through the night. I never saw that much Saturday morning TV either, and despite the rosy-hued nostalgia they were probably fairly awful. It also means that Operation Yewtree isn’t haunting my memories of childhood as badly. There’s nothing that happens in the morning that couldn’t just as well take place in the afternoon or night. I used to endlessly reset my alarm in the mornings and after showering would huddle in a comatose heap next to a radiator. Thinking about it I had the same problem with swimming, but maybe that was the sheer exhaustion of the activity followed by being suddenly cold and then hot again. It’s a transition that I still despise – again, I can see no good reason why it can’t be pleasantly cool all the time. Bleedin’ world.

Sleep and Drugs and Belly-Aches

Maybe it’s that my mind gets neatly closed up by amitriptyline in the evening, so that even if I go to bed with that unsettled internal sensation of tension it’s only a few minutes until I’m asleep, but when I wake up it can come rushing back. I think it’s the prospect of the future – night and sleep are an end (in my mind); conclusions to the day with no prospect of further waking. I’ve always liked the idea of simply dying in my sleep – slipping from one state of non-existence into another. Before taking the delightful drugs I was plagued for years by awful sleep and heavily involving semi-lucid dreams; I’m grateful to be presently spared those exhausting experiences. It’s possible then that the waking is the awful part that I dreaded most after an abysmal night’s sleep – all that potential for refreshment and rest is now gone and we’re cruelly injected into another endless day.
Of late I’m waking with a gnarl of tension in my belly that I recognise as a vague but very real concern about future events. They don’t need to be serious prospects or problematic ones to generate that tension. It’s something I’ve never managed to resolve. For a long time I wasn’t able to distinguish that sensation from hunger, which seems weird now. Maybe eating can be sufficiently engaging to distract the mind from other worries. Not a good road to go down though. It makes the day hard to look forwards to. If I have responsibilities, places to be – fun, nightmarish or mundane – they all generate that same sense of boding tension. Eventually routine activities do become anxiety free, but I don’t know how to cleanse myself of that. For example, next week I’m going to a five day residential improv course – that’s good right? Nonetheless it’s burning a hole inside me that won’t be assuaged until at least the third train transfer on the way, and probably not until I’m arranging junk in my room. It makes it very difficult to want to do new things or to go to different places.

Autofiction: Tasty Tasty Amitriptyline

Slightly BrokenWaiting To Sleep

Thirteen was when I first remember being unable to sleep. I suppose it coincided with the onset of puberty and all the biochemical hell that our ridiculous genetic heritage unleashes on us. If there were any doubt about the truth of evolution, suffering through adolescence should be the final nail in the doubter’s coffin. So yeah, thirteen-ish, and sleep began to elude me. I don’t recall doing anything differently. I’d already been at ‘big school’ (or secondary school as we used to call it, just before they renumbered the school years – first year secondary school became Year Seven… which was the eighth year someone would have spent at school. I never got it.) for a few years, so the grind of occasional study and the hassle of being near other humans was well established. My parents had been divorced for two and a half years which was admittedly stressful but normal.

Then I stopped being able to get to sleep. I know that’s a cliche for teenagers but I found it brutal. I would go to bed and it would take two to five hours to get to sleep. After a few days I’d get tired enough to crash out and get a full night, but it never compensated for the loss. I’d read, in hopes that it would somehow wear me out (that’s when I picked up my lifelong couple of books a week habit): it didn’t. Maybe the radio would help. Nah, I just listened to it. I became familiar with the Shipping Forecast. The music from Desert Island Discs makes me angry to this very day – its aural existence in my life meant that I still wasn’t asleep. Exercise – nil effect (I played rugby and hockey back then).

That went on for years…

Life Pillows

It’s hard to recall the full period leading up to going to university. It’s a time that overlaps with drink, drugs and abuse. I’ve no idea which, or what combination of factors might have perpetually fucked my memories, but whichever it is, I do struggle to remember. Never mind – I like to live in the present anyway. Or rather, I live in the present and have chosen mostly to like it. Some things helped with sleep over the years:

Drinking. You can always black out, it’s a bit like sleep. It’s a traditional recourse for not sleeping, but not a very good one. The relaxing aspect of it is great and it can definitely take the edge off. Sadly I needed more and more to get dopey enough to sleep. And then I tend to wake up in the night or really early. Not a great fix but a very easy one to acquire.

Weed. The wonder drug. Definitely not addictive (just a very hard habit to break, y’know- like an addiction). This I liked much more and was indeed extremely hard to kick the stuff. I realise now that it made me more tense and less likely to sleep, but I didn’t care and so wasn’t worrying so much about not sleeping. Aaagh.

The first two were easily combined at university after my sleep got even worse. I partly blame the incredibly noisy doors in the halls of residence. I could have killed people over that. I should have killed people over that. They got even worse after I started reobsessing over the abuse and all that bullshit.

Thinking seems to be the problem overall. Information gets me twitchy, and sets off that familiar mouse mind in a pointless maze. Any stress or anxiety in the evenings usually destroys a night of sleep, or at least makes it much more difficult to nod off.

Progress and Punching Sheep

Naturally I learned to live with it. My coping mechanisms of getting up at three in the morning rather than lying bed to have some whiskey and codeine in hopes of then being relaxed enough to doze off were not great. That’s all they were though – coping mechanisms. You do get used to having very little sleep and it’s amazing how much you can do without really being conscious or having time to refresh your skull sack. There does appear to be a lot of research into how badly insomnia, and the anxiety that may help encourage it are really very damaging. Memory seems to be one of the things hit hardest. Oh well.

Eventually, after more than twenty years of terrible sleep I went to the doctor’s about it and got referred to a cognitive behavioural therapy course. I have despised/feared psychiatry for many years – this is an excellent avoidance strategy. It was helpful, I learned a lot – about myself, about anxiety and depression which are likely one of the causes or strands in my sleep disorder. From that I developed a structure for the evenings – everything goes off at ten. In theory that gives me an hour of information-free downtime to read and potter about. That structure, along with getting up at the same time every day and trying to make space for scribbling or exercise in the morning was very effective for a few months.

The routine gave shape to my sleeping habits – sleep was the thing that fits into the gap between going to bed and getting up in the morning. It sounds silly to write it like that, but really that’s one of the most significant things I’ve learned. I also learned not to get frustrated when I couldn’t sleep. I was always aware that the anger, the sheer burning rage I get when something costs me sleep, also compounds the problem. I know I can survive for a fortnight on three hours a night; I just don’t want to.

Pushing It To The Next Level

The routine worked for a while, but life is busy and requires adjustment of routines. After the CBT sessions ended I referred myself on for some more serious counselling – I had realised or accepted that I had some deeper issues to resolve or figure out. That was a rollercoaster of brain-fuck-adocus. Somewhere in the middle of the CBT I got prescribed Amitriptyline as a relaxant – the counselling was stirring up too much (inevitably) and I was self-medicating cheerfully. I just added Amitriptyline to the mix. It goes down well with whiskey…

There’s no doubt that this is a bad cocktail, and it was making me really sludgy in the mornings and had trouble with affect (it’s so hard to care sometimes) which was scarily like the weed had become. After I finished my counselling in January I found my brain quite clean but I was having trouble sleeping again. So I went back to the doc and went back on Amitriptyline. I negotiated a deal – I’d stop drinking entirely for six weeks in exchange for taking a larger dose.

Well, that was a bitch. It was however and excellent opportunity to taste test a load of alcohol free drinks. It was also very good for me. The higher dose of Amitriptyline (50-75mg) taken at about seven in the evening has me relaxed and starting to feel a bit sleepy round about ten thirty. I’ve adapted to it – as long as I get between seven and a half and eight hours sleep that dosage works fine. If I get too little sleep, or take the higher dose later in the evening, or if I have an alcoholic drink before I take the early evening dose then I’ll find waking up tough. If I’m smart though, and space these things out it works really well. Most nights I don’t drink alcohol at all. Maybe a late evening whiskey and certainly a pint in the pub after improv jam, but generally my routine has changed, and for the better.

Something else that’s good – a cat. Having a cat sleeping on my bed is delightful. I find the little monsters ever so relaxing. So, a cat and drugs. And being generally happy with other things in your life. I’m happy with my partner, I’ve got stuff to do, and after twenty-two years I am finally getting more than seven hours sleep a night, almost every night. It is amazing.

Autofiction: Anxiety Weaving

I Am In Control


Imperfect Reflection (Frog)

Odd title, I know. It was just a term that occurred to me when I was thinking about what to write this week. I wanted to write something personal, again. I enjoyed writing about things I loved, and I frequently write about how I feel – always in the negative mind – with poetry. What I rarely commit to is why I feel how I do. It’s much easier to deal with the outcomes of feelings, and sometimes (where clearly identifiable) to deal with the causes, preferably loudly and with many swear words. I do believe that process of expression is one of the most important ways of dealing with that ghastly human complex of emotion. At heart we are not in control of ourselves. There are many fascinating arguments about free will and determinism but it seems to me that the conclusion of determinism and at best the illusion of free will are inescapable.

You Know I Know You Know You, Or I

I think it’s the seeming inescapability of that which hurts the most. I want to believe that I am a free agent, that I act on my will alone (taking into account whatever details or information I have that leads me to act), that I could, admittedly with some trouble, explain my actions to myself and possibly to others. There’s no particular reason why our actions should be readily explicable to others – they aren’t privy to our internal cogs and grinding. One of my favourite things to hear is when we describe others as “acting out of character”. The assumption that we know each other well enough to make that assessment is amazing. All we ever get is the outward signs of internal sentience (and frankly I think those are misleading signs of intelligence in many people), and then only in those contexts that we have had dealings with those individuals. So to say someone is acting out of character presumes so much.

How Well Do You Know Yourself?

It interests me even more to think about whether I would ever describe myself as acting out of character. To do that I need to have a keen awareness of my behaviour, and I guess, some way of evaluating whether my actions are in keeping with the expectations and predictions I would make based on that past behaviour. It immediately begs the question ‘what do I think is my usual behaviour?’ What would I base an answer to that on? It’s difficult to analyse my own actions – I’m aware of external and internal influences on my activity, but can I draw straight lines between feelings and the resulting actions (or vice versa for that matter)? I’m not sure.

Unplaceable Anxiety

I suffer from a species of anxiety; I feel it grow in intensity throughout the evening if I am not entirely occupied in some engrossing and demanding activity. I genuinely am unable to determine the cause of that anxiety. It can follow a good or bad day, with the prospect of tomorrow being bright or dark; at a time when I am otherwise happy and content, or equally enraged and miserable. The anxiety does not appear to follow my mood; it does not seem related directly to the world outside either. So what does generate it? A lack of activity? Perhaps, though it also follows the successful conclusion of activity. It’s fucked up. An unhelpful summary!
I do not know what motivates my actions and decisions. In part I can synthesise a trail of logic in retrospect, but the presence of my anxiety serves only to undermine my faith in that analysis. Tonight proves to be a good example. I have had a disappointing day – just one of those days which started off with a surprisingly bright early awakening (as required for a slightly earlier start), a fairly gay jaunt off to work before it was punctured by the grim, resentful and uninterested faces I was thrilled to spend the day with (that’s somewhat unfair, but fuck ’em; this is about me). So I was a bit dispirited, but then left work to go into town for a little diversion, a spot of writing and to meet up with a friend before planning and enacting the evening’s improv class. That was all excellent. A pleasant drink in the pub, head home which was lovely; a bite to eat, a whiskey. Off to bed.

Failure And The Inevitable Failure of Will

It is now quarter to two: I am awake and possessed of that nervous anxiety which allows my mind to drift and busy itself with irrelevance and considerations I would mock during the daytime. I have of course spent many hundreds of nights like this, but since earlier this year I’ve been taking sleeping tablets (anti-depressants) which are frankly miraculous in their general ability to eradicate that anxiety and permit me to sleep. Having had a pint tonight I decided not to take them (I have “wisely” concluded that mixing these things is not a great idea)… so now I am awake, explaining my anxiety to the word processor and taking a late night dose in the hope of knocking myself out. I know that I can survive for weeks on very little sleep, but I’ve grown used to getting a lot more, and I like it.
So where is my agency in this? It seems limited to deciding whether or not to comply with medication – a literal prescription in itself. Am I just choosing the least worst of alternatives? I still cannot tell you from where this anxiety arises. Perhaps I ought to conclude it is the work of some external daemon who dwells in the space between mind and ceiling, working inexorably to stress and frustrate me. Better not – that’s the kind of thinking that sticks.