"Nightmares" - A Half-Memoir

It's funny. When I sat down to write about this, I pictured it all happening much earlier. But it actually started later in high school, around my senior year.

I was going through kind of a rough patch. The first inklings of the problems between Dad and I were starting to rear their ugly heads [which would, eventually lead to our short falling out while I was off at school], while at home, my step-father and I really weren't clicking like we used to. "Wearing out my welcome" might be the best way to put it. Which makes sense, of course -- I was a moody teenager, who wanted to spend the bulk of my time avoiding any sort of responsibility to save time for more moodiness. Other things were going on too -- I'd recently had one of my first real relationships fall apart, quite unexpectedly, and as in most cases with me and women, it hadn't quite lasted long enough for me to be properly prepared for the separation [funny, as I'm not sure I'm ever ready in those cases, even when it's quite clear the party is over]. I had probably just abandoned my journalistic dreams, as I was quickly realizing the only thing I really liked was having a soapbox, and being able to editorialize. News wasn't for me. And the choir, my sole extracurricular activity [think more "Glee" than church... and no, I don't believe for a minute that the distinction is any less embarrassing], was pretty much the most unpleasant part of my day, every day, and I'd soon be quitting.

God I was lame.

Anyway. It was around this time I started having these... nightmares. I guess it could have been a little earlier -- I do have a penchant for tweaking dates a little, to make things better lineup in my own head, and yes, sadly, even I can't always parse through my own bullshit anymore. But nightmares. Maybe it was because all of this stress, maybe it was just the constant grind of high school, that feeling that I imagine they recreate pretty well in hell -- not suffering, per se, but the doldrums, that sinking realization that today is just like yesterday, is just like the day before, and that the weekend, the supposed "freedom" of the week, is just like the weekend before that. Routine, nothing ever necessarily unpleasant, but nothing all that good either. Schedule, contentedness, absolutely no thought of any sort of future. Because how could there be? You had lived this same day for three years.

As a teenager, three years was a lifetime.

I didn't... cope well. I guess that's the big theme of my life, huh? But I didn't really feel like I had anyone to talk to about it, and in most cases, people don't really care what your dreams are about anyway. And solving the problem seemed... entirely simple to me. If I was going to have bad dreams, I just wasn't going to sleep. And though it took some doing [Mom could be something of a hammer], it wasn't like there hadn't been other times in my life when I'd waited for people to head to bed, and then got up to mouse around in the dark in secret. Pillow under the door muffled most sound. Soda under the bed got me the caffeine I needed.

Really all that was left was something to fill the time.

Reading was out. One of the few things that relaxes me, so it couldn't be that. And even if I was in that insomniatic state where sleep wasn't coming no matter what I did, comprehension would dip, and make reading pretty much useless to me. And I don't care for useless reading. There was television, and sometimes that was enough [in my early stages, I found a lot of late-night comedy programs that were usually truly awful -- though occasionally there'd be a diamond shine through, like a certain about to arrive star in the late Mitch Hedberg], but I didn't quite have the amount of engagement I needed, and I could still nod off. And that was no good. Typing tended to get the job done [plus it was hard to sleep at keyboard - boy do I miss those days], but the computer wasn't in my room, and that meant possibly getting caught, and having to sleep.

What can I say? I have always preferred to be quietly rebellious. I'm sort of... ashamed of it.

Video games ended up being my saving grace. For eight or ten months before graduation, the bulk of my nights were spent sitting at the foot of my bed, playing my PlayStation, specifically, Final Fantasy 7, or the re-released Final Fantasy 6. Over and over again, in perpetuity, alternating as I beat one or the other. Now, mind you, I wasn't doing anything so outstanding here... never took the time to put down Emerald Weapon, never found that Seventh Dragon [respectively], though occasionally I'd make the games harder by denying myself certain things, or going wildly off-path, just to see if the game had some way for me to get back. Of course, they always did. Neither RPG ever gave me the dead-end I was looking for.

Not even sure why I was looking for it.

It was remarkably easy to do all this, of course. I was young, my body didn't really care if the energy it was getting was coming from food or sleep, and I had the appetite of a teenage boy to pick up the slack. There was also all the caffeine, in just about any form I wanted it, from soda, to pills, to coffee, and it was easy to give myself a boost if there was something during the day I needed to be awake for. But honestly... I didn't need to stay awake most days anyway. My rural high school was not so demanding in its curriculum as to command my full attention. I remember a lot of times in class having time to read, play Game Boy, listen to music, and... if I felt desperate for a couple of hours, throw my head down on the desk and catch a quick nap. Oh, and the poetry. All those little notebooks full of my bad word play with meticulous spacing. I even remember a couple of them were from the Smithsonian, and had these... rubber covers. And glossy pages.

Practically water-proof. So perfect for all that angst.

I don't remember it ever getting to me, the lack of sleep. It probably did, but it's odd I can't recall it. I remember being weary. I think I was weary most of the time back then, everything always feeling so... heavy. But that was just school. No exhaustion though. No desperate need for a nap here, or there. Maybe a couple of days sleeping until noon, sure -- but again, teenager. Wasn't odd. It integrated pretty quickly into my everyday life, and if it ever caught up to me [which occasionally, it did], I was single, very little was expected of me, and I did such a good job staying out of the way that no one really noticed or cared if I needed to pass out for a day.

And this continued more or less into college.

Classes in college made it harder to keep up. The sleeplessness, I mean. Of course, at this point, a lot of it was happening naturally, I'd just... not think about sleep, and not really need as much of it. The haze wasn't as common either -- that thing that kept me from reading, kept me from understanding what I reading, it was something I'd figured out how to work around. And the time, mostly, went to good use, papers and studying and all that collegiate stuff. Now, naturally, m recall wasn't great. I really needed to look more closely at what I was studying, to get a better handle on it. It definitely wasn't always me at 100%. But I think I took a lot of pride in how close to 100% it was, when it wasn't.

I also started taking a lot of naps.

One or two terms in college, they became almost a daily thing. And there was a lot more sleeping in, not usually a problem, but occasionally, with an early class, a real killer. I overslept a few times. Not as embarrassing as not oversleeping, but waking up after just a couple hours in bed, thinking I had, and stumbling to where ever I thought I was expected to be, only to have said destination have a different class in it, or less embarrassing, but still head-slap-worthy, nobody there at all. And I'd forget things. Get headaches. One professor actually noticed, the only one who ever did, which isn't odd exactly, because Bennington profs tended to be pretty on the ball. But like with a lot of things in my life, I had gotten really good at hiding the little terrors I put myself through. And I certainly wasn't used to being asked about them, so when confronted, I just said exactly what it was. Probably one of the first times I'd ever just leveled with someone about it.

I didn't like sleeping. I had nightmares.

Sure. Give me the statistics. Tell me no one can have nightmares every night. Tell me no one can remember their dreams every night. Tell me I'm crazy. That last one I might concede to. But these were always awful -- maybe I wasn't Homer Simpson, maybe I wasn't kicking and screaming about cobras during them, but these were bad. These made me not want to sleep at night. They more or less made me wish I never had to sleep again, and took on a sort of... presence, you know? Like they were an enemy, just waiting for me to slip up, just waiting for me to nod off. So as I kept denying them the long-sleep [which I really didn't do... I was always caving to the long-sleep, to the regular sleep, and in those cases, I did my best just to deal], they'd find ways to sneak up on me. A nap in the stairwell of the art building would end 15 minutes later when I'd think there were hands around my throat. Couple hours sleep in the room would be interrupted when a perfectly average dream would end with a friend or family member shooting me in the back. A night where I'd just decide the hell with it, I needed my rest, would be a night where I was chased around my dorm, by whatever that was sitting at the foot of my bed.

I preferred those. The ones with the tangible scary, even the gore.

Yeah, they were awful. But my mind -- the enemy -- it got smart. Figured out how to really make a nightmare hang around, how to really hurt me not just while I slept, but in the waking hours too. Those were the ones I hated, the nightmares that would choose to exhaust me, that would show me the dead, alive again. That would give me back a girl I'd lost, or would never have, and give me everything else I wanted too, just as long as I knew I'd be waking up soon -- that it wasn't real. Make me happier than I could ever be in real life, and take it all away. Offer me answers to those big questions but, oh, no, you have to go. Next time. Somewhere downright cliché about it, and if, say, I had a rough week ahead? I'd dream my way through that entire week, Monday through Friday, only to wake up, exhausted, and realize just hours before Sunday night had just ended. The whole week was still ahead. Cruel. And as much as I blamed an outside force, I wasn't a moron, I knew it was self-inflicted. It was always just me.

No one knows how to hurt you quite like "me."

I didn't tell anyone this, but a little over a year ago, just before I decided I was going to do something about all these anxiety problems, my nightmares had more or less stopped. I don't know why. Things weren't any better when they did. The argument could be made they were much worse. Certainly had plenty of other things that kept me up at night. And sure, occasionally, they would come back, and they could be quite severe, but hey, not having them every time my head hit the pillow? I'd take that. And when they would rear their ugly heads, they would always be sure to make up for lost time [or maybe my skin just wasn't as thick... or maybe seeing Dad was just... a little too much], but again, it wasn't every night, and I could handle that.

I have no problem beating myself up like a normal person does.

Of course, a lot of the damage had already been done. My sleep schedule's a mess, and bouts of insomnia still hit me hard. But without the nightmares, there was this feeling of... normalcy, and occasionally it all would self-adjust.
I even got sort of complacent about it, you know? Like you realize you get about being well when you're sick for a long time. You just take it for granted, not feeling like garbage, so when the day does come that you do, when you feel awful and can hardly stand or keep down food, you say to yourself "No! No, when I get better, I will remember this, and I will appreciate not feeling like this, for as long as I can."

But of course, you don't. Why would you?

It is shame the nightmares are back. I'd have done well to not be reminded of all this. And though they're not as bad now [at least I don't think], and while it's only been for a couple weeks, thus making it entirely possible I'm just going through a rough spell, I could have done without them popping up again. And sure, there's that urge, still, to just sit up with them like people used to do with the dead, but it's not really healthy, and as I said, already I miss so much sleep from these little bouts of insomnia, or worse, from my own doing, when I have something I'm working on, when I'm pushing myself towards some finish. "Doing the writer thing" as a friend put it -- typing, or scribbling, and forgetting that I might need a little sleep, a little something to eat, while I wonder why the hell I feel like crap.

So yeah, this can stop. I've got other reasons to stay up. I don't need this any more.

2 comments :: "Nightmares" - A Half-Memoir

  1. I used to have bad dreams during my naps at Bennington; exclusively during naps actually.

    I do remember something that would sit at the foot of my bed but it never chased me. I think I realized it was me.

    Or maybe something less profound.

    This makes me think I should write a dream post as well. Maybe it was an age thing but I had a dream thing happening around the same time that yours. It was quite different though.

    As always, love reading your work.



  2. I really appreciate that, Andrew. Always nice to hear someone enjoys it, that I'm not just flailing in the dark out here.

    I don't know if it's an age thing. The fact mine are coming back... I don't know. I'd definitely be interested in hear about yours. It's been difficult to put into words, but I've felt some... parallels with some of the things you've written about on your blog lately, and just not been sure what to say.