I'm Having a Serious Nighttime Issue
I've never been what you might call a "great sleeper." Here's why:
a) I'm very much a night owl, always have been.
b) I frequently get caught up in a great book and end up reading until my eyes bleed. Even then I try to persevere only to repeatedly drift off and whack myself in the face with my Kindle.
c) I enjoy the quiet stillness of the house after everyone's gone to bed, a pleasure I like to prolong as long as possible.
d) Even when I do finally succumb to the inevitable, I'm a supernaturally light sleeper. Good for detecting intruders, horrible for getting through long stretches of uninterrupted slumber.
Needless to say, the last thing I need is yet another factor making sleep elusive, but to my dismay I've recently been suffering from a spate of horrific nightmares...nightmares that are so vivid, so realistic, and so upsetting that I lurch back into consciousness a trembling, sweaty wreck.
This isn't the first time I've gone through a period plagued by disturbing dreams. I remember having a recurring one in middle school in which I was running from a dinosaur stampede. I could barely keep my balance as the ground shook and my head filled with the deafening sound of their powerful legs thundering just a few yards behind me. I would wake up with the sensation of dust still choking my lungs. I had the nightmare nearly every night for weeks, until they were over as suddenly as they had started.
Then in college, I had a variation of one crazy-ass dream for close to a year. Those tripped me out because they were these very Inception-esque, sleep-within-sleep scenarios: I would dream that I was asleep, only to wake up to the realization that I was stark naked in bed with someone mortifying like my sister or my boss or my elderly landlord, and I was literally paralyzed with shame. The other person was always asleep but I knew that at any second they could wake up to find me bizarrely and inappropriately in the buff, a fact to which I would have no discernible explanation for. What was even more discomfiting about those dreams was that every single time, I would wake up in real life crouched next to my bed (fully clothed). HOW WEIRD IS THAT. My physical self was obeying my subconscious mind telling it to hide, cover itself, avoid discovery. *cue spine-tingling music*
Unfortunately, this latest slew of nightmares are a hundred times more sinister and unsettling than any I've had before, because I keep dreaming about the death of my husband and children.
The most recent one was about Mike. In it, we were at the beach and there was a giant weather balloon tethered to some instruments nearby. Suddenly it came loose and Mike instinctively grabbed at the rope. Before he could react, the massive balloon had quickly pulled him several stories high. I lunged for the rope but I wasn't fast enough, because as the balloon rose it was also moving sideways in the wind and the rope was slithering away from me like a serpent. A couple of strangers were finally able to grab the end of it and they began hauling Mike down when the rope snapped, and I watched in horror as he rapidly rose into the sky. I could see him nearing the clouds, his familiar body growing smaller and smaller, and I knew I would never see him again.
A few weeks before that one, the subject of my nightmare was Luna. I dreamed I went out to my car to retrieve something but discovered that I hadn't brought the car key out with me. I turned around to get it and watched from across the street as our front door was flung open and Luna came running out yelling, "Mama, your key!" She bounded down our front steps grinning and waving the key, heading straight for me and not noticing a car speeding down from the top of our hill. I screamed, "LUNA STOP!!" but she had already left the curb and I knew she wouldn't avoid being hit.
A few weeks before that one, I dreamt I was in a boat in the middle of nowhere with both Luna and Gioia. The sea was eerily calm and there was no motion or sound for miles around us. The only movement was the water that was rapidly filling the boat as it sunk. I flailed through the knee-deep water searching for a raft, a life preserver, anything buoyant for us to hold on to, but there was absolutely nothing in the boat but us three. As the water rose up to my chest the boat fell away and disappeared into the depths, and I clutched my girls in my hands, pushing them over my shoulders with all my strength as my head went repeatedly under. But I knew it was no use, that I would eventually tire, and that my daughters' fate was sealed.
And on and on. Every week, without fail, I'm forced to live through some fresh hell as I dream up new scenes where I don't directly witness the death of my family, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's imminent.
To say that these nightmares have been distressing would be a gross understatement. Several times I've woken from them thinking I had a bloody nose, only to find that my face and pillow were not slick with blood but with tears as I wept in my sleep. On the days after I've had one I move through the hours in a funk, feeling alternately despondent, angry, fearful, and frustrated. My body aches from tensing itself into rigidity as I lie unconscious in bed. When I woke from the dream about the boat, my jaw was clenched so tightly I couldn't even take a sip of water. I had to wait for what felt like an eternity before my breathing slowed, before my blood stopped pounding in my ears, and before the muscles in my face relaxed enough to allow me to drink & swallow.
I don't know what the hell is going on with me. I realize we all fear the death of a loved one and that fear can manifest itself in your dreams, but this doesn't seem reasonable or healthy. Many nights I dread going to sleep, knowing I might have to suffer through some terrifying hallucination and the panic & helplessness of losing the people I hold dearest to me. Between the dreams themselves and the emotional aftermath, I'm exhausted and depleted.
I've told several people about what's been happening and the advice varies. My close girlfriend (a clinical psychologist) urged me to see a therapist. My mother-in-law (one of the most intuitive & superstitious women I know) urged me to be careful - and tell Mike & the kids to be careful as well - because dreams of this nature can be premonitory. Another close girlfriend (one of the least intuitive & superstitious women I know, and therefore one of the most pragmatic) brushed them off as the overactive imagination of a lifelong worrywart (guilty as charged). She assured me that as soon as I'm able to relinquish my anxiety about having the dreams, the dreams themselves will stop.
So who's right? All of the above? None of the above?
Anyone out there who's experienced anything similar, your sage wisdom re. coping mechanisms would be very much appreciated right about now. Either way, until I figure it out, I'll be applying all the tried & true techniques for dodging sleep that Johnny Depp employs in his illustrious 1984 film debut, A Nightmare on Elm Street*.
*If you haven't seen the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, do. Not only is it a Wes Craven classic, Freddy Krueger provides some very unlikely fashion inspo in the form of a boho stripy sweater and perfectly-weathered fedora. Bye.