Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Depression and Night Terrors

I had my first night terror not long after the onset of severe depression. It was a horrific experience that reminded me of when I had been delirious as a child while running a very high fever. The difference here was that it occured as I was falling asleep, and I was not sick.

A night terror is an extremely unpleasant form of nightmare, differing greatly in intensity. Night terrors either develop from a nightmare during deep sleep, or trigger while falling asleep.

From my experiences, night terrors differ from nightmares in two areas. Firstly, a night terror would continue even after I woke up. Somehow, although I was completely conscious and able to talk, my subconscious mind continued dreaming, overlaying the horror of the dream upon consciousness, like two overhead transparencies, one laid upon the other, distorting both.

But the worst aspect of night terrors was the terror aspect itself. The night terror would establish a set of rational, logical rules, and would then break them completely, so that would could not be, was; so that what could not happen, happened. And the rational, logical part of my mind completely rebelled in horror as the rational and logical rules of the dream world were warped and twisted into something impossible, inconceivable - that defied all reason.

I suffered a few night terrors during depression, never knowing what they were. As I slowly recovered from depression, their frequency reduced until they ceased almost altogether. I did notice that times of extreme stress were a common trigger.

Here is an example of a night terror. While still recovering from depression, I had to go to the USA by myself to attend a trade fair. I arrived at the hotel late at night, only to find that my friend who was supposed to meet me was not there, and had left no message. Going to the arranged hotel room, I found that all of my friend's co-workers were asleep. There was a makeshift bed was in the middle of the room, so I got in and went to sleep.

Due to that stressful environment, a night terror hit me that night. I dreamed that upon checking out of the hotel, I had to pay $10,000 instead of $300. My mind completely rebelled at this impossible scenario, and though I tore myself awake, the night terror simply kept on going...

After I got married, my wife witnessed me having a night terror in the middle of the night, and seeing the dream continue after I woke up, she wondered if it was related to my complex partial epilepsy. So the next time I saw my neurologist, I told him about them, fearing I was having seizures again, although on medication. But the neurologist just laughed, and said, 'Oh, you were having a night terror.' And he proceeded to explain that they were just really bad nightmares, and nothing to worry about at all.

That knowledge brought relief, and the truth that they were nothing to fear set me free from worrying about them. I also found some techniques to deal with them. As they often trigger while drifting off to sleep, I learned how to recognise when one was developing, and how to immediately force my dream into an entirely different direction, stopping it becoming a night terror. Waking myself at that stage was another way of stopping them developing.

If a night terror triggered during deep sleep, I would wake myself up, and although the night terror continued while I was conscious, I would turn on my bedlamp, stare at it, sit up for a while, and then I would turn the light off and lay back down to sleep. Even though the night terror was still going, I would press into the Lord and take refuge in Him, and reassure myself that it was nothing to fear and would stop soon. Before long, it would stop and I would fall back asleep.

Psalm 91:1-6 (NIV)
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.


  1. This is a great example of how to deal with everything. Fear is still there, but God sees you through. I only had what I would consider to be a night terror once. I will never ever forget it. It was so very real. Be blessed today.

  2. Hiya Peter,

    Thanks so much for sharing so many very parts to the depression you were stuck in and experienced because as you have shared this has helped me in more ways than you will ever know. Thanks for your vulnerability and open heart and more so for honoring God is sharing the deep parts of struggles you've faced...your obedience to Him has blessed me and I don't doubt for moment that it has blessed so many, many of others too, whether they are fighting depression themselves or has somebody in their family or life that is dealing with it.

    Blessings my friend,

  3. Wow, Peter! Thank you for explaining the difference between night terror and nightmare. I am so very sorry that you suffer from this. But, also relieved you found a good grounding tool to combat the night terrors when they come! Wow, I learned something new here. Blessings to you dear one, and thank you always for your support!

  4. Hi Peter!
    Thank you for stopping by my blog. I am glad that you did because it led me to this very inspirational one that you have been writing. :)

    I never realized the difference between a dream and a night terror. Now that I know what they are I can say that I've had them a few times...but in the morning while trying to wake up. They feel SO real!

    Blessings to you!

  5. Peter,
    You were one of those who critiqued my writing on Faithwriters site. I want to first thank you for your help. I am taking my short stories and creating a devotional and your help with moving the paragraph of driving to the facility first was something I had considered. You just really helped me there.

    Said all that to say I found your work and realized you wrote tons on depression and especially night terrors. I also had night terrors and had a difficult childhood. I am assuming you are a Christian. We sure do need Our Creator when we experience these things. I then had my younger son who had them as frequently as I did.

    This may seem strange to you but I realized that in my childhood I would know things before they happened. In the church today it is known as Prophetic and I knew my son also could see things I could not see. The emeny of our soul does let us see things to torment us many times and the gift we have is to help others and pray for them.

    I still see things to this day but I can interpret them better. My son, (now 23), can still see things but the torment is gone. I had prayed for him and over his room when he was around 6. It took that long for me to see what was happening to him. I asked the Lord to cover his eyes with the wings of angels and to protect his visions and bring him peace as his gift kicks in. No more night terrors and he flows in his gift better now. When one is only 23 they are busy with their lives so he does not see as much as he used to. Hardships may change that but at least he does not see horrors any more.

    About depression I had clinical depression for about 5 years but could not take the medications. I wrote a story about it called, "Cracks in My Ceiling"

    The Lord has brought me out of that season with great joy. Fear has torment for sure. And shipwrecked faith can trigger events.

    So friend, I pray for you and what a joy to find a sojorner going through the same roads I once traveled. I know you will find your joy also for HaShem is faithful to bring you to your rest and release you from exile. He has covenant with you and He will do it. You will be complete and whole wanting nothing, and that's the truth.
    Celeste Duckworth