Becoming afraid of the dark

bellbird

Sponsor
As the title states, I'm becoming afraid of the dark. Or perhaps rather, I'm already there.

This is a new thing, more recent than PTSD. In fact in the beginning, I used to go for spontaneous walks at night as a coping mechanism. At some point, I would feel the occasional twinge of fear on my walks, which I decided was probably a good and normal thing, as opposed to the contrary.

That was a fair while ago, I stopped going for walks in the dark as I've been working on developing healthier coping mechanisms.

Now I feel afraid in my own house at night, even when all the windows and doors are locked and checked.

I think it may be partly due to a recurring nightmare recently of being hunted, general danger theme. Other than that, I don't really understand it. I've never really had a fear of the dark, before this, and now it is very strong.

I've talked to my T about it.
The two ideas we have for coping so far are internal dialogue reminding myself I'm safe, and recalling happy/funny moments to take the power away.

But it's still there, strongly. Hence me lying awake in the middle of the night after having got up to use the bathroom, and feeling scared enough to finally push myself to write this post.

It's worse when I am up and moving around the house, compared with just being in bed, but still not great here. Which is quite inconvenient as I often get up to use the bathroom after a nightmare, and as I said they're often about people trying to hurt me.

I can't really sleep with a night light on as it's too bright for me, and I don't like to turn lights on when I get up in the night else I wake myself up completely.

I wondered if anyone else has any experience with similar, or any advice? I'd really appreciate it.
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
I think it may be partly due to a recurring nightmare recently of being hunted, g
Hey! No fair!! That's MY recurring nightmare!!! (It is, one of them anyway, but that's an attempt at humor,)

I wonder if the dreams and the fear might be coming from the same place. No idea what that place is, mind you. But it seems like there must be something going on somewhere beneath the surface that's stirring things up. Any ideas? Because, as my T would probably say, it IS your brain, you're the one who would know. Think about it. Maybe brain storm a bit on what might be causing your brain to send out some warnings.

On a more practical level..... When I'm having trouble sleeping, one of the weird things that helps is to get up and walk around the house for awhile. My T originally suggested that as a way to calm the brain by letting it do an actual threat assessment. You check out the perimeter, see that things are safe and secure, then it's easier to fall asleep. And it is. But now and then, before I get up, there's the serious feeling that I'd better not roll over because there's something awful behind me..... The fear is totally real, even though the threat is a little nuts. The thing is, I have 2 dogs. If there was a monster in the kitchen, they would totally let me know. I've got those guys as a real world reality check and that helps. They can sense things I couldn't. Without something like that I guess you'd just have to wrestle with that "there be monsters there" part of your brain alone. Not fun!
 

Freida

MyPTSD Pro
e. My T originally suggested that as a way to calm the brain by letting it do an actual threat assessment. You check out the perimeter, see that things are safe and secure, then it's easier to fall asleep.
Yep...guru taught me the same thing. Get up and look for the threat
Hed say,, "Don't bother checking windows and doors more than once, because you believe the threat is already inside. So, go look for it. When you can't find it you can safely go back to bed"

There were nights where I did it 5,10 15 times. But the more times I couldn't find it, the more I could sleep, if that makes sense?
 
I understand this feeling. I can sleep in the dark, but only if my bedroom and closet doors are closed. I can't walk through the dark, I can't even cross my dark bedroom to get from the light switch to my bed, I have to have my bedside lamp on or I'll get really scared and have the feeling that Scout mentioned that something is right behind me.

Unfortunately I don't have much in the way of advice, maybe leaving a hall light on outside your closed bedroom door would give you enough light under the door crack to be reassured by, but not so much that it keeps you awake?
 

Sideways

Moderator
I used to fall to sleep with chillout music playing in the background for years. Eventually I just didn't need it anymore. But for years it was absolutely necessary if I was to have any chance of getting the nightbrain thoughts under control enough to sleep.

With fears generally, I shrink them down by comparing them to worse things. Thr cognitive process there is something like: okay, this is frightening. But it's definitely not as frightening as when I'm driving and a Huntsman spider walks across the windscreen, and I manage to deal that when it happens, so I can definitely deal with this.

I like that particular cognitive game because it's not leaning in to the fear at all. I'm not checking and re-checking the locks (thereby feeding the anxiety pathway that's firing up in my brain). Instead, I'm acknowledging "yes I'm afraid", but diffusing it with a new neural pathway. One that, with enough repetition, will become a normal and natural response. There's quite a few terrifying things that you've managed to overcome, so you have a selection to try it out with.

Another trick might be to have something set up that will set off the reward-response in your brain at times when you know this fear is triggered. For example, splurge on some really nice smelling hand cream. When you take that midnight toilet break, take a moment to rub some handcream in before curling back up under the covers. Make a point of noticing how nice it is (grounding, midnfulness, self-soothing - total winner!), so that when this fear is being triggered, you're disrupting it by deliberately setting off the reward response in your brain. Fearful moment becomes, neurologically, a pleasant moment.

Different ideas, maybe one might help a little. I personally love walking in the evenings. I used to walk in the early hours of the morning as well, and got lectured about the safety issues with that regularly. But walking at dusk is still one of my best self-soothers. Maybe reintroducing an evening walk (as opposed to a late at night walk) might help? Idk about whether that would be safe where you're living, because you've had a couple of nasty encounters on the street recently, so you'd have to assess that based on whether it really would be safe where you are.
 

Teasel

MyPTSD Pro
No useful advice, am sorry you are struggling with this. I have some inexpensive motion sensor stick on lights inside my wardrobe. You could put a few about places you're likely to walk about at night. They only stay on for a short while then go out.

Hope you find something that helps 🌸
 

Defaultxlove

MyPTSD Pro
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When I was a kid I got over the fear by facing it in a way I guess.
When you're feeling good during the day. Close your eyes and slowly move around the room. Or like I called it as a kid pretending to be blind. It cured my fear because I felt more at peace within my own skininthe dark, from the repetitive exploration of my room inthe dark. I hope the made sense. That's just one tool. Others said great answers
 

Freddyt

MyPTSD Pro
More mindf*ck stuff. So. The bed is blameless. Nothing that happens there is its fault. Stress and anxiety go to my safe spot (not bed, but blankets, pillow, kindle etc. in a safe place.) and get mitigated. Then if I can, bed again. Never nightmare, bathroom, back to bed. That level of dysregulation needs to be mitigated consciously until fear is gone. Just like when you went for a walk, but different.

It's a constant fight to not let fear and anxiety get in bed with me. I take them to my safe spot and deal with them there. If I take it back to bed in a dysregulated state after a nightmare the brain squirrels get loose and there is no sleep just rumination and fear. So, off to the safe spot, deal with it and no bed until there's no anxiety there.
 

Rosebud

Not Active
I too used to walk as a coping mechanism. not so inclined to do it at night now, but our climate is awful. And now my hip hurts if I walk too fast too far. 🙄 And, I don't feel so inclined anymore, without trying to replace it.

If I think I hear something I do listen again, then force myself to get up despite the fear, since I figure it's worse to be a sitting duck and I know my own house better than a stranger. If I can figure out the sound it helps.

The presence/ absence of dog(s) as @scout86 said makes a huge difference IMHO.

Oddly, notwithstanding hypervigilance and what's stirred up inside, I always find myself coming back to a short quiz my sister gave me as a child from her psych class. I can only remember 2 out of 4 questions: one was, what is your favorite animal and how would you describe them/ qualities they possess. And the other was how do you feel when awake in a dark room? And the latter (they seemed to think) revealed what a person felt about death/ dying. So maybe worth noting whether you've had losses lately, or the like?

It's a miserable feeling though. Though from my experiences sometimes it feels safer/ more peaceful to be alone, sometimes not. Hugs to you. 🫂
 

bellbird

Sponsor
Thank you all for taking the time to respond, it's been very helpful to read through your ideas and advice.
I'd been meaning to write specific responses to each post, but I'm having one of those weeks where I started the post and then it just sat in drafts.

I'll get there, but just wanted to say thank you for now. :)
 

Friday

Moderator
Physiology Check… Since this is brand new…

- Do you have an ear infection, or a sinus/tooth infection that may be draining intro your ears?

Even with no pain, swelling/pressure/congestion in or around the cochlea/inner ear causes an anxiety response in mammals. When people are lucky there’s screaming pain &/or massive vertigo that sends them to the doctor, so the infection gets sorted pronto. When a person is unlucky, the exponentially increasing terror turns them into “agoraphobes” (not really, it’s a mimicking misdiagnosis) who only maintain a sense of being okay by visually recognizing where they are in space, which is only possible in small, enclosed, and familiar surroundings. Some uncommon antibiotics later? Poof. Their terror associated with anything they can’t see (the dark, the outside, big spaces) *poof* magically vanishes in about 10 days.

- Started or changed any meds recently?
 
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whiteraven

MyPTSD Pro
I also used to walk at night - sometimes 2 or 3 in the morning - and did a lot of stuff outside at night alone. I don't even like to run out to my car at night now, and I have a horrible time actually going in my bedroom and turning off the light. I do have a nightlight which used to help, but not even that helps anymore. I have to use either a sound machine or the radio to be able to go to bed, and this all started as a fairly new thing a couple of years ago.

For me, I think it has to do (at least in part) with a bettering of my dissociation. It's kind of like with being cold. My dad used to say that no one needed a coat in the winter--that feeling cold was a psychological thing--so would not let me wear one. Even in seriously cold weather, I never was cold. Then, after a couple of years of therapy, I started wearing a coat in the winter because...shit, it was COLD! I think it changed because I was not able to dissociate anymore like I did when I was younger. I was feeling a lot of things, cold being one of them.

Being able to walk at night was similar. The fear I have now in the dark is, in part, due to the fact that I'm much more aware. That said, I suspect some of it has to do with the PTSD. I don't have nightmares, but I can't imagine that NOT contributing to your fears. I like the idea of looking for any potential dangers, if you are able to do that without additional fears.
 
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