The Danger of Nightmares is Sometimes Waking Up: Nightmares, Illness, and Medication

mental health & illness

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.

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Finding My Way In: More Thoughts on Blogging Post-LiveJournal & Grappling With Fiction Writing

mental health & illness, the art of writing

Susannah Conway posted an intriguing piece about being tired of the Shiny Happy Factor of many blogs — to which I’ll add that I’m tired of not only the Shiny Happy Factor, but also the marketing, the Lessons Learned approach, and the blogging-as-science shenanigans that have been rolling around in my universe lately. (I touched upon this in my Remembering Livejournal post, to which I received many a comment from LJ veterans who felt similarly, as in, Where do we go from here?) What her post, which I partially related to — but only partially, as we come from very different Internet backgrounds, and she has a much larger, and one could even say, “cult” following, than I do — reminded me of is that this is my space. And you (yes, you) are a part of my audience, but I want to sound like myself and not like a performing monkey.

& it saddens me that I even have to remind myself to “Be Myself” and “Be Authentic” and all of that tripe, but it’s true: the Internet has changed and is changing all of the time.


On the mental health front, things have been a mixed bag around here lately. The last two months have been a bit of a struggle and a slog, with a few high points here and there — right now my body’s old patterns of stress reactivity have been arising, to my dismay, and I keep thinking about my old therapist’s maxim: “Accept it and do the work anyway.” He was an ACT therapist; he believed in Acceptance and Commitment. I liked him, and I think that radical acceptance is an interesting idea, but ACT can be a brutal method of responding to traumatic forms of mental illness (i.e. psychosis). At present, I still don’t regret quitting therapy, and not having that appointment weekly or semi-weekly is a weight off my shoulders. I’m stepping gently into working with a life coach at the moment, and though at least one friend has expressed nervousness about life coaches potentially being charlatans, I’ve had largely positive experiences so far with the coaches that I’ve worked with — you can see the ones I love most in my Resources page — and so I’d like to work with someone around the issues of decreasing phase blindness, actively working on healing from old trauma, and reducing escapism/increasing distress tolerance — which are all things that I’ve tried with therapists, but never made much headway in.


It pleases me to see the development of The Long Work as I’ve been chronicling it here, so here’s an update: it’s 400 pages (double-spaced, 12 pt Times New Roman; much longer in Courier, of course) and 126,000 words. Structurally, I’m in the last leg of Part Two, which leaves Part Three as the final section of the book — then I’ll have a full, sprawling, disarmingly tidy draft, at which point I’ll have to dismantle and rework for at least a year, maybe two.

The end of Part Two is giving me a headache, though — TLW has been leading me around by the nose, and I’ve tossed in salient elements that are a bitch to research, including Liberation Theology, piano-making in the 1940s, Greenpoint in the first half of the 20th century, and charismatic Christianity in rural Northern California. I suspect that the hard part about writing the final chapter of Part Two is that so much of it is based outside of my so-called realm; the book is very un-autobiographical, but extrapolation helps, and living in a ministry-slash-commune is. Um. Way out of my depth. I decided to break the ice by “planting a bomb” in the chapter, i.e., deliberately inserting heated autobiographical content in a foreign scenario. I did a major Find/Replace and used Real Names for characters. We’ll see if it works.

I’m also paring down an excerpt into a short story, which instinct tells me will have to go through many more drafts before I let it near this particular solicitation. I have a tendency to, in a jolt and flurry of anxiety, shove my babies out the door to school before they’ve got their pants on.

So, the Rapture, huh?

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