One of the not awesome things my brain does to me when I’m stressed out is give me paralyzing, terrifying, cold sweat, hallucinatory night terrors. Tornadoes. Losing all my teeth. Being stalked by a vaguely French floating demon while the Eiffel Tower burns to the ground. Horrific car crashes. Aliens. Roaches and spiders. Something evil living deep in space. John Lennon’s ghost. End of days level civilization destruction type shit.
Sometimes I wake up and can’t move, but I can see and feel the shadow of the force that’s determined to end me. I’ve been known to have conversations with the art on my walls. I’m dreaming, but even when I wake up, I don’t really know I’m dreaming right away. Three days ago, I was awake for five minutes before I was lucid enough to understand I didn’t need to call the emergency room because I HAD NO FUCKING TEETH AND I WAS BLEEDING TO DEATH FROM THE MOUTH.
I have had vivid nightmares and nighttime hallucinations as long as I can remember. When I was a little kid, I used to sleepwalk. I would wake up in the dark hallway of our house, heart pounding, not knowing why I was out of bed, scared out of my fucking mind. Pure terror.
When I was six, I had this recurring dream about the earth from space. I’d think very intently, as six-year-olds do, about that serene blue image we all imagine when we think of “Planet Earth,” our collective stock photo memory. I started thinking about the logic of how things that are alive die, and all the people who had lived and already died. Like, where did they even go, right? It occurred to me then that the world did not commence her turning upon the occasion of my existence. Which was immediately followed by the unequal terror of realizing you are going to die and the world will keep turning, just the same. I understood that I was not ancient, but that death was. What a total mind fuck, life. I was six.
I was a rather dramatic child, as you can imagine.
As I’ve gotten older, the anxiety of night has spilled outside the lines into daytime. For the first time (maybe ever?) this past weekend, I had a full blown anxiety-driven panic attack. I thought I was actually going to pass out or throw up or bleed from the ears or have a seizure or, I don’t know, die very messily on the carpets. It was not fun, and it really brought home the importance of keeping up with that mental maintenance. We all know we should care for ourselves in better ways – more exercise, more sleep, less stress, more fun with people we like, eating healthy food, not too much, etc. But man, that mind space, that is number one. And it’s the first thing to go when we’re busy.
Modern society has made it nearly impossible to disengage from media consumption and electronic communications for any significant amount of time without making what feels like a heroic effort. We are all addicted – to our phones and laptops and apps and social media and chats and dopamine drip that we get from tiny micro-attentions that we pay and are paid to us in return. It’s exhausting and, oddly enough, being available at a touch, being so connected is utterly isolating.
For my left-brained side, the constant tracking of data, logging, staying on top of notifications, filing, deleting, checking off items on a list, organizing, planning, being productive, getting work done, calendaring, and the anticipation that comes with what comes next runs my day from the moment I get up. Organization is how I manage chaos. I’m good at it, and generally this system works and everything is dandy. However, if I don’t take the time each day to meditate, practice yoga, go on long walks, read books, write, bike, go outside, and just BE, even for a week, I will apparently devolve into an irrational, overemotional, anxious, nightmare having child. All my impulse control issues rise up and demand attention, and threaten to act out in ways I don’t like. The old chemical band-aid ways. My brain is like, if you don’t fucking pay attention to me, I am going to break some shit in here. And just, fuck that nonsense.
Luckily, I have another side that helps. A soft, calm, rational, compassionate, loving, creative, feminine mystique that has taught me to be gentle when I am about to be crushed by a massive wave. When I am being crushed, this side reminds me of all the outlets I have to help me swim. She reminds me I know how to swim. When I am in the riptide and drowning. Part of being open and vulnerable and brave with your heart and mind means you get hurt and knocked down and pummeled over and over. Those waves are big. They are endlessly tall. And they just keep coming, busting you up, pulling you under, until you think you might really drown this time. Until you think, I cannot take any more of this without…something or someone to soften the blow.
With anxiety, and depression and anger and jealousy and all the emotions and feelings and states of being that we perceive as negative, there is that urge to escape from our water torture. There’s an overwhelming need to get out from under it, to stop it, to feel anything else, even when we know that there might be worse consequences from engaging in our coping mechanisms, especially if those border on self harm or self abuse. We are that afraid of our true feelings. We’d sooner drink until we black out every weekend than actually have to feel rejected or desolate or come to grips with our worst fears about our lives.
My worst fear is that someone will break me and I will slip into apathy. I’m afraid a wave will knock the hope out of me and leave me unable to breathe, face down, surrendered. That I will go back to sleep and sedate myself forever and give up on human connection and love and friendship and creation. Because what the fuck is even the point of anything? True love doesn’t exist. Everyone is the worst. We’re all totally fucked.
I am six again, standing in the hallway, cursing the universe for making it so that we have to die. Knowing that we are all hurtling toward our demise should make us love each other, but it doesn’t. We can’t see past our own terror and fear of not being good enough to realize we are all on the goddamn Titanic together. No one gets out alive. No one. But all we do is burn it down.
But we don’t have to do it like that. Not at all. We can learn to ride the waves. We can pull ourselves up and reach for the light and climb on top of them and surf those motherfuckers like Poseidon, because our fears and our old habits do not own our present. We do not have to be controlled by our past behaviors. We can teach ourselves new ways to react and we can go through those bed feelings and not do anything. We can look them in the eye and say, “You have no power over me.” Our nightmares are just dreams we can wake up from. We have a choice. We can drown, or we can surf and swim and fucking live and love another day.
Ride the waves, y’all.