Have you ever had one of those dreams that seems to happen somewhere halfway between waking and sleeping? It comes to you in a hazy dreamlike state, but strangely in it, you find yourself in your own room, in your own bed, and convinced that what you are experiencing in the dream is really happening in real life.
I had one of these dreams a couple of nights ago. It was so very strange. In it, my husband Ryan was lying awake beside me and saying something to me. I don’t remember what he was saying, or what was going on around me, but I do remember that I couldn’t move and I couldn’t talk. I was mentally aware, but it was like my body was still asleep. And no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to wake up! I fought it and fought it, desperately trying to respond to whatever Ryan was trying to say to me, but I was completely incapable. I was screaming on the inside, but outside I appeared to be dead to the world.
I’ve had variations of this dream many times, and each time I find it to be so unsettling. There is a distinct feeling that I associate with these dreams. I don’t know how to explain it, other than that I seem to experience a very real disconnect between my body and my mind. Somehow, in this dream, my mind has absolutely no control over my physical state. In fact, sometimes in the dream, my body will actually take on a mind of its own and start floating around or vibrating, all against my will. I will try to fight it, and try to resist, but there is often nothing I can do to get my body back under the control of my mind.
Eventually I wake up and realize that none of it was real. Even still, I find myself in a strange place of discomfort. Though I have made it back into the realm of reality—and this in itself is reassuring at times—I fear that falling asleep again might cause me to drift back into this curiously ominous dreamlike state. And I’m not sure I can handle that again!
Sometimes I think this is what living with anxiety feels like. It produces these intense physical symptoms in your body that you seem to have absolutely no control over. As illogical as the thoughts flowing through your mind may be, you are convinced that they are real. It renders you completely immobile—not able to think straight, not able to speak coherently, not able to command your body or your senses to respond in a logical fashion. No amount of fighting or resistance seems to work, and you are utterly at the mercy of your symptoms.
But dreams don’t last forever, and neither does anxiety. It comes and it goes—sometimes more often, and more fiercely, than others. But in the “waking” moments, you can see it for what it is—illogical, irrational, and unnecessary. And yet, you are still left with an unsettling feeling of discomfort, silently fearing the return of the beast. It can easily become a self-sustaining cycle. Fearing anxiety creates the anxiety you fear.
Last night I had a series of bothersome dreams. I kept waking up in between, only to fall asleep again and slip into a new, yet equally strange, storyline. Each time I awoke, I wondered if I should just get on with the inevitable—get out of bed already and start a new day. Perhaps this would have been more productive. Because really, this is the only way to end the dream cycle of the night. You wake up, you move on, and you forge a new pathway for your mind.
I’m starting to think this is what it takes to escape the endless cycle of fear and anxiety in life. Eventually it comes to the point where you’ve had enough, and you know its time to put yourself out of your misery. And goodness no, I don’t mean by ending it all. I mean by deciding that it’s time to wake up already—to get out of “bed”, so to speak, move on with your day, and forge a new pathway for your mind.
This is where I am at right now in my journey. I’ve decided that it’s time to wake up. I’ve lived in this body for 30 years, and many of those years as a slave to mental illness. Sometimes it has been an all-consuming battle, taking over every aspect of my life. Other times it has been much more subtle—tucked away in the back of my subconscious, secretly manipulating my thoughts and actions and maintaining control from afar. But in either case it has been there, causing me to uncontrollably flutter in and out of this dreamlike state that keeps my mind entrapped while my body falls prey to its power, finally allowing the symptoms to take over.
But enough is enough. I have been talking to my psychologist about this idea of “forging new pathways” in my brain, and it is so liberating to know that this is actually possible! It is not easy, and it is not comfortable. But then, neither is reaching out your hand in a dark room to flick on a lamp after you’ve awoken from a nightmare. But if you want to get on with your day, you do it. And I want to get on with my life. I want to discover what life is like beyond the nightmare.
See, I genuinely believe that there is life beyond the nightmare. I genuinely believe that total recovery is possible. And I will keep on clinging to that belief until one day I see it materialize, or until the day that the good Lord takes me home. Either way, freedom is coming. And that is enough to motivate me to get out of bed, meet the dawn, and start a brand new day.
Do you believe there is life beyond the nightmare?