Nightmares.

How do you describe a nightmare?

Unimaginable terror?

Inconsolable sorrow?

Devastating loss?

Paralyzing indecision?

Unquenchable thirst?

Unavoidable doom?

Irreparable damage?

Shocking revelations?

Shameful regret?

Irreversible harm?

Prolonged suffering?

Gripping fear?

Unconscionable evil?

Endless longing?

Infinite emptiness?

 

All of the above.

 

– RLP 9-6-14

 

 

photo credit r.nial.bradshaw

Tossing and Turning: Dreaming is Hard Work.

Like a Bad Dream

The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to their dream.
~Joan Didion

 

I don’t know about anyone else, but I dream a lot.  All the time.

Many years ago, when I was a teen, my friend Jon suggested I keep a pad of paper next to the bed so I could write my dreams down immediately after I woke.  Eventually I got so practiced at it that I could barely wake, not even open my eyes, and jot down words and phrases that would evoke the dream later.  For years, I faithfully wrote down my dreams.  Most were odd, at least in comparison to Mr. Stuck’s, which are usually about hunting or fishing or something normal.  Nightmares were infrequent and most often the result of a television show or movie I had watched.

As expected, when my life went sideways, so did my dreams.  I was miserable and shattered during the day, and I began having nightmares nearly every night.  I dreamed that certain family members would die in spectacularly gruesome fashions.  I dreamed that I saw my grandfather tumble down some cellar stairs to his death.  I dreamed that I had blood on my hands as I rubbed my face, but when I looked in the mirror there was no blood.  My therapist, who used the Jungian style of analysis and dream interpretation, would discuss my dreams and nightmares with me quite frequently and ascribe them to the ‘mind work’ my brain was doing while I slept.  My dreams were manifestations of my subconscious struggles.

Right or wrong, I must admit that many of my dreams certainly seemed to be exactly that.

Those few that weren’t nightmares were often strange dreams of futility.  One dream was that my siblings and I were trying to raise my mother’s chair to get her in and out easier.  The others were using plastic plant pots, magazines and old cardboard boxes, but I used a stool and it worked.  In another dream, my mother and sister were walking arm in arm, just a few feet from me.  They didn’t see me at all, and they didn’t hear me when I yelled out to them.  I would say that most of the ‘good’ dreams had a theme of vehicles or a journey of some kind.  I was on the move — by ferry, by motorcycle, by bus, by plane.

Apparently, I was going somewhere, but in my dreams, I never knew where.  They always seemed to have an element of peril; I was lost, or falling overboard, or being chased, or stumbling into a scary situation.  I came to think of these dreams as my path through the fire.  I wrote down those I remembered and tried to make sense of them.

I have to keep moving, I thought.

The nightmares continued for weeks, then months, with similar frequency.  I would stay awake as long as possible so that I didn’t have to go to sleep and have another nightmare.  I would keep Mr. Stuck awake by talking, crying, and shouting in my sleep.  When it got to be too much, I went to the doctor for sleeping pills.  When I took them, I slept so hard that I didn’t dream, or if I did, I didn’t recall them, thankfully.  The pills left me groggy, so I reserved them for weekends only.

Rest was non-existent.  Sleep was merely a way to pass the hours of the night. Either I tossed and turned restlessly and woke in terror without the pills, or I was passed out cold for 8 hours and woke dazed with them.  But no rest.  I would wake up drenched in sour sweat.  The stress level was so high that I was always on edge.  It felt as if I was on the rim of an abyss with a mad compulsion to step off.

I wondered if this is what it felt like to go crazy.  I had known people from work who seemed to be a little ‘off,’ and some would talk to themselves or hear voices.  Was this what was happening to me?  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t rest.  I was exhausted all the time, and not sleeping was not helping.  I felt leaden; everything was heavy.  My brain felt heavy, too.

I missed a lot of work during those days.  I felt as if I existed in a place between living and dead, asleep and awake.  It took a couple years for my nightmares to subside; they never really went away, but they came less and less frequently and they were more subdued.  I think it was important for me to go through that period; I do believe that those dreams came from whatever my psyche was working through at the time.

Looking back at the dreams I jotted down, I can see the journey I was on.

photo credit Keoni Cabral