I’m glad it’s Friday again because even though this week wasn’t inherently much more tiring than most weeks, I feel so ready for the leisurely pace of a weekend and more recreational time. Because of the snow storm in Wednesday and Ben’s early return home, I truncated my work day. Consequently, yesterday I made up the time so it felt especially long on the heels of a shorter day.

The clocks change Sunday for the end of Daylight Savings Time so we “spring forward.” This is the direction I prefer less because I’m a morning person and have greatly enjoyed the early sunrises in the past few weeks. After Sunday, we’ll go back to long, dark mornings that lack enough natural light to see until after 7am. When you get up at 3am, that seems late. The only positive spin I can put on this is that at least now, unlike in the autumn when Daylight Savings Time begins, it’ll be just a few weeks until the sun is again rising perceptibly earlier and gifting up with light morning skies.

For quite some time now, I’ve wondered if getting a sleep study would be medically-justifiable. It’s obvious to me that most of my sleep issues are related to PTSD and SPD; however, when I’m actually asleep, I frequently have the recurring sensation that I’m choking. I wake up suddenly, gasping for breath or coughing. It only ever happens when I’m on my back, which isn’t a position I ever intently select because I find it uncomfortable. That said, I do seem to unconsciously roll on to my back for a portion of some sleep cycles some nights. It seems that when I do, invariably I have the choking problem.

For a while, I thought it might be acid reflux, but I’ve ruled that out. I don’t know if it’s some sort of apnea issue, which is why I’m thinking a sleep study may be helpful. I’m told I don’t snore, but you don’t have to snore to necessarily have apnea issues, and they tend to be the worst when lying supine, the way I am when I wake up distressed. The reason I think there’s a potential medical issue to uncover through a sleep test is that sleeping on my back always causes this problem, which is to say I don’t ever wake up on my back feeling fine (though like I said, the sample size is certainly smaller than in either side for instance, since I don’t choose to sleep on my back).

While a sleep apnea issue could explain a physiological cause for this disturbance I’m often experiencing, I’d be ignoring the big elephant in the room (as they say) if I didn’t hypothesize at least a degree of psychological involvement at the root of this issue. Without fail, every time I wake up with the sensation of choking and gasping for breath, I’ve been roused from a nightmare on which I’m being physically choked by someone. I can’t remember a single exception, where I’ve woken up on my back feeling breathless without an immediate preceding nightmare. Moreover, I don’t ever wake up from a dream where I’m choking on something; I’m always being choked by a perpetrator.

I’m lucky to have never been the victim of a violent choking, so I’m not entirely sure why I so often have this reoccurring nightmare. (For the sake of clarity, when I use the qualitative, subjective terms “frequently” and “so often,” I mean roughly once per night, though sometimes two or three times, and once in a while, not at all. I should note that I have many short bouts of sleep per night, so this nightmare course takes place in one or more of these.) The only potential genesis I can deduce about my apparent subconscious fear of getting choked is that when I was raped, the attacker drew a knife from his pocket when I started screaming and he pressed the blade right up to my jugular, threatening me to not utter another peep. He did not lace his fingers around my neck or physically prevent me from breathing, so I definitely wasn’t choked. But I was on my back on the hard floor, his body on top of me strapping me down. As my lowered eyes fixated on the knife blade, the saliva pooled in the back of my throat, my swallow reflex stunned into paralysis. Although he probably had no intention of slicing my neck, my primal fear brain kicked in and forced me into silent submission, barely permitting even quiet shallow breaths. When he saw that I had submitted to his demands and would remain silent, he withdrew the knife; however, the memory of the coolness of the blade along my sweaty summer skin is forever tattooed into my brain and essentially forced away my brain-mouth connection during the duration of the attack such that I probably couldn’t have remembered how or willed myself to speak had he suddenly demanded me to do so. It was like the actual knife on my throat was attached to an invisible knife in my brain that severed the neuronal pathways that had existed since I first started talking. I guess this was a protective survival measure; the awareness that speaking or screaming could end my life coerced my volitional will to audibly fight back so far that I felt detached from the physical ability to do so. (Thankfully, this returned a day or so later.)

I’m not sure if this traumatic event is linked to the choking nightmares since it’s not the same thing. The argument that it might is strengthened by the fact that I never had choking nightmares or conscious choking fears prior to the attack nor did I have this back sleeping/nightmare/gasping issue. So there’s definitely a correlation but I don’t have enough evidence to assert there’s a causation, especially because I’ve never been choked. I have not ever mentioned the choking nightmares and gasping upon waking on my back to any of my doctors. I have not requested a sleep study nor addressed my curiosity about whether I have an organic physiological problem like sleep apnea or just some crazy, irrational subconscious fear that continually surfaces in nightmares and disrupts my sleep nightly. I’m seeing my doctor in a month or so, and I think I’ll try to explain my problem then and defer to his advice.

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