Engineering My Nightmares

March 12, 2010 at 12:24 pm (general life, Mental illness)

Sometimes I have nightmares. Often, they’re pretty good stories (one inspired me to write a full-size young adult book – in two weeks). Other times they come with real emotions, and that’s not good. I’ve had more nightmares than usual lately – the kind where I wake up frightened and/or grieving – which is either part of my Flagyl allergy, or a more direct side effect of simply being sick for so long. That, and being a mental.

But lately I’ve developed bizarre strategies for “solving” my nightmares.

I recently dreamed I was somewhere in Africa, doing charity work, when a natural disaster destroyed the whole area and everyone had to flee for their lives. I was already emotionally close to a number of children, and had a vehicle big enough to (just) fit them all. Everything was chaos as the nearby lake flooded, and people were so desperate to survive they didn’t care for anything but themselves. Many of the children I cared for went into shock, and no-one was looking after them. I wasted a lot of time searching for a particular girl who was wearing a faded floral dress (the kind someone would have thrown into an op-shop bin in Australia twenty years earlier). She was so terrified she hid inside an abandoned (and doomed) house.

Finally I found her, loaded my vehicle with all the children (all extremely docile, and unable to even understand me yelling for them to move across the seats inside the car so they’d all fit), and was about to drive away. All around me people yelled at one another in a desperate traffic jam as everyone but me drove uphill to safety. As I grabbed the last of the children, the girl in the floral dress snapped and jumped out of the car. She ran back down the road to her swamped village. I’ve never seen someone so frightened. She was like an animal. The other children simply stared, not even understanding what was happening.

Then I woke up – filled with horror, grief, and an overwhelming sense of futility and failure. It was about 2:00am.

That’s when a brilliant thing happened. I came up with a cunning plan. The emotions were with me because I wasn’t truly awake. Rationality wouldn’t help. But I could use my non-waking state to manipulate my subjective reality.

So I physically got out of bed and walked to the door – telling myself I was chasing the girl. Then I told myself I was carrying her back to the car, getting in, and holding her on my lap – as I went back into bed. I wrapped my arm around my husband’s real-life warmth and closed my eyes, telling myself the warmth was the rescued girl. She didn’t escape to drown: she was right here, in my arms.

And I fell back into sleep and drove all the children to safety.

It worked.

A few nights later I had what I think of as an anime-style nightmare, in which a black amorphous evil mass threatened to KILL EVERYTHING. This also, in my addled 3am state, was truly frightening. So once again, I used the real world to defeat the problem.

“You’re nothing but an amorphous mass,” I said – aloud. “You’re not even written well.”

This worked just fine. It also made my husband laugh in his sleep (not that he remembered anything later).

I like to think of this skill as a new-found superpower.

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1 Comment

  1. Ben (Crispin) said,

    Have I ever told you that you are a strange, strange person…?

    Yes. Yes, I have.
    However, I would like to take this moment to reaffirm that observation.

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