Image by Susannah Conway. This is the first time that I have ever used another photographer’s work on this blog, which I hope speaks to how much I respect her work. Please visit her site here.
I used to have chronic nightmares. Correction: I go through phases of chronic nightmares. At times, I have nightmares every night.
Part of the problem of having nightmares is that you wake up. This is also the saving grace of nightmares. In the light, the dreadful feelings from the terrible dream I had stay with me for an hour or two at the most before I settle into ordinary life again. I don’t try to remember my worst nightmares. Why would I? I don’t write them down, and before long, they flutter and fade.
Recently I had a terrible dream, and woke up hyperventilating. In my groggy daze I had the distinct thought that if I were to have these sorts of nightmares every night, I would never want to go to sleep, and would, in fact, avoid sleeping at all costs. But then the day came, and I forgot how bad it was. I grew tired. I welcomed sleep that night.
I had a medication adjustment recently that, fortunately, eliminated most of the troubling symptoms that had been affecting my illness. And, unsurprisingly, I quickly found that I was forgetting how bad it had been. I found myself wondering if it was “really so important” to take that morning dose when I was rushing out the door to work, or, if I’d climbed into bed without remembering to take my nighttime dose, if I really needed to climb out of bed, in my pajamas, and go get the water, grab the three bottles, etc. etc. I was also annoyed by the side effects of the medication adjustment, which included an increased level of morning grogginess — a grogginess that prevented me, on most days, from waking up at 6 the way I normally did in order to work on the novel for a few hours before commuting to the office.
Here, the problem is obviously forgetting the — and forgive me for the melodrama of this word — nightmare. Conversely, in the thick of the nightmare, it’s hard to remember anything but.
But in recognizing the fact of “phase blindness” — the inability to feel one phase when in another — helps me to remember that, yes, it is important to take that nighttime dose, and, yes, it is good to bring your medication to work so that you don’t have to remember before you go to work. The other side of phase blindness is harder. To see that the phase will pass when it’s nightmarish is, in my opinion, often impossible.
I marveled at the evolutionary adaptiveness of forgetting nightmares. If I actually remembered how terrible my chronic nightmares were, I wouldn’t be able to function, let alone attempt to sleep the next night. I imagine that it’s a self-protective mechanism.
I’m doing much better, thank you. I’m back in the swing of working on the novel, concentrating on my job, and boiling eggs at night for my partner to eat in the morning. But — how easy it is, to feel grateful for things, when things don’t feel like they are endlessly hurting. I’m learning to feel grateful even when they do hurt. A goal for 2011.