“As a doctor, a part of my training included learning to sleep well so that it rejuvenates us. So far, in my 13 years of medical practice, I’ve managed my sleep well.
But that was until COVID struck. And I volunteered for the COVID team in my hospital.
The constant sound of sirens, distress noises, rushes of people started giving me nightmares--of COVID. What started as seeing myself afflicted my COVID, soon gained intensity and I had nightmares of seeing myself being shoved into an incinerator while I am trying to tell everyone that I am still alive and not dead; hands choking my throat; my mother falling into a deep abyss calling out to me to save her; the city burning and everyone running here and there in complete chaos with ambulances blaring their sirens...the nightmares started to become so profound that I did not want to sleep...I was scared of sleeping.
Within a few weeks of these COVID dreams--which I am sure a lot of us are having--I went from anxiety, to severe insomnia, delusions and to a mental health disorder that required diagnosis and medication--the journey has been painful for me both mentally and physically.
From feeling anxious all the time about catching the virus since I was a healthcare worker, and seeing so many people lose their battle to it, the nightmares started soon enough. Initially they were one or two episodes of it, but soon they became so distressing and horrifying that I developed a fear of sleep. I would not sleep. Inspite of being aware of the need for sleep, I decided that it was better to stay awake than sleep and expose myself to those horrible dreams. I would drink coffee, sneak pills from the hospital stock that would stimulate me and keep me awake, play video games through the night...do anything to keep me awake.
It started to show on my health, concentration and conduct but I still did not sleep...and then the delusions happened.
I started seeing people wanting to kill one another...sometimes I ducked under a table fearing that the attendant there was wanting to stab me or someone else with a knife...I heard ambulance sounds even when they weren’t happening...I heard people cry when they were quite...I felt an insect crawl up my neck when it wasn’t there and I would scratch like crazy because of this imagined insect bite...all sorts of things that indicated I was suffering from a psychosis.
IT WASN’T EASY FOR ME TO ACCEPT THAT SOMETHING WAS WRONG ..IT HAPPENED SO GRADUALLY AND NATURALLY...THAT IS THE POWER OF MIND.
I fought all suggestions for diagnosis till the day when I refused to step out of my room because of my hallucinations.
I was put on therapy and medication.
I still have the nightmares, I still wake up, I still break into cold sweat, I still hallucinate...I am still anxious...but now I have support.
I KNOW I AM ILL AND THAT MY THERAPIST IS MY DOCTOR.
I will let her treat me." says Dr Neha Agarwal, Delhi.