I have this Fitbit thing on my wrist to remind me to get up off my ass periodically and move. When your work involves sitting in front of a computer and putting words in a row, an activity tracker is pretty handy. It’s set up to keep track of all sorts of stuff, most of which I don’t keep track of — how much liquid I drink, how much food I eat, how many calories I burn.
It also keeps track of how much sleep I get. Which isn’t much. On average, around five and half hours a night. On average, that’s the key. Sometimes it’s less than five hours, occasionally as much as six and a half. Last night, according my Fitbit thing, I topped out at four hours and five minutes.
Nightmares. Everybody has them. I had them last night. Not the standard nightmares. You know — being chased, being trapped, being stalked, falling from a height, the universal nightmares everybody shares. Last night I had the sort of nightmares that you earn. The nightmares that grow out of stuff you’ve seen, stuff you’ve done, stuff you were afraid to do but did anyway, stuff you don’t really think about but is always there lurking in…I don’t know what it lurks in. Your subconscious, I guess. Doesn’t really matter what it’s lurking in; it’s the lurking that matters.
Sometimes the nightmares are weird replays of stuff you’ve done or seen. More often they’re about the moments leading up to the stuff you did, the stuff you saw. Those are the worst. It’s the awareness of what’s coming and the inability to halt it or turn away.
I don’t have those nightmares very often anymore. Three, maybe four times a year. A long time ago I had them weekly. They’ve gradually abated. I’ve also gotten better at interrupting them, which sounds a wee bit crazy. Somehow, when I’m asleep and the nightmare begins, it’s like I can tell myself “Dude, this is that nightmare…you know, that one where you have to break the transom over the door and crawl through and then after you fall there’s that awful bit with struggling and the jagged, broken bit of metal and all that hot slippery blood…you know this nightmare and you can skip it tonight,” and then I usually wake up and everything is okay.
But every so often one gets away from you. When you finally wake up and turn on a light, all you can do is reassure yourself that it’s just a nightmare. Sometimes you can go back to sleep. More often, though, you don’t. It’s not that you can’t go back to sleep; it’s more that you’re afraid to. If you go back to sleep, it might happen again.
But here’s the really crazy part. I’m okay with that. Like I said earlier, I earned those nightmares. My life now is quiet and calm and peaceful. Most days my biggest concern is what I’m going to prepare for supper. But I spent about fifteen years doing really interesting stuff, stuff that was intense and demanding, stuff that mattered. If I think about the stuff I’ve seen and done that could figure into nightmares, I feel I’m getting off fairly light. So if the cost for all that is the occasional nightmare, then I’m okay with that.
Note: I started to title this post ‘Uncomfortable Confessional Crap’ because…well, it’s uncomfortable for me to talk about, it’s confessional, and really who gives a crap about it? But the title sounded familiar, so I checked and found I’d used the same title almost exactly three years ago. So, part 2. I may do another uncomfortable confessional thing three years from now.