Plagued by Nightmares
I woke up at 4am this morning. I can't remember the specifics of the dream, the terror long replaced by something real.
Lying there in the darkness, I could feel something heavy against the back of my legs. It was alive, moving, wriggling.
It was two crabs, following me out of my dream, waiting for their chance to strike.
I could feel their legs scratching the back of my legs, their pincers sweeping around. I could hear their noises, the click-clack of their pincers. I could sense their malice, their intent to cause harm, to strike at me at the earliest opportunity, waiting for me to fall back asleep.
It took me five minutes for the logical part of my brain to cut through the waking dream. It was just Ted, finding warmth and comfort against me, and fidgeting around as normal.
Still, it took ten minutes for the fear to truly give into logic, and even longer before I could sleep again. Then I repeat the sequence about 6am.
Ever since I can remember, I've been cursed with vivid dreams. On an almost nightly basis, I go through the loop of incredibly clear sights, smells, and sounds, to then waking up convinced it was real to the point of feeling more like a memory than a made up story.
I can still remember some of my earliest nightmares, the scariest ones usually involving mum trying to kill me and/or my brother and sister in some strange way. In one, she was a robot in disguise, slowly walking towards us through th garden (I don't remember if I'd seen Terminator by this point, but I'd definitely seen the Robocop TV series, so that might have something to do with it).
In another, my siblings and I were sitting on top of this giant slide, like the ones you get in adventure parks. Mum was slowly but surely climbing up the sheer plastic surface, determined to get us. Specifically, she was going to kill us by putting the positive end of a battery on one side of our head, and the negative end on the direct opposite side. The idea apparently being that the circuit would be complete, and the batteries would electrocute us to death. I have no idea where that came from.
It was pretty hard to hide the emotional toll dreaming that your only parent was trying to kill you all night. I mostly tried to blame it on Captain Scarlet, the old puppet show I used to be obsessed with. Other times I just said I was tired, an excuse that followed me through to adulthood. Mum got sick of this one to the point where she took me to the GP, who made a show of making me pee in a tube and declaring that nothing was wrong.
Most people grow out of these night terrors, but mine just got more inventive and bold, presumably because as I grew older my brain had more material to work with. Of course, more material led to crazier scenarios, and an older awareness meant that it became easier to tell when I was dreaming. One that came up in my teens was a flood. The water was high enough to come just under my window on the second floor. Amongst the floating driftwood and peoples belongs though were sharks, of the stereotypical great white variety. As real as it felt, it took the dream equivalent of a few minutes to sarcastically say 'Sharks? Really?' and wake up.
On the hand, the new and wider range of material meant that when my brain struck gold, it could stick through past waking me up. There was the dream where my brother had killed a bus driver and hid the body in our shared wardrobe. I had no idea who the driver was, or why my brother had felt he had to die. No answers were forth coming, but when I woke up I was not only convinced it had happened but trying to work out the plan to move on. Do I call the police? What if there's more? What if they can tie me to it, or he pins it on me like the dream version of him was implying? I managed to get back to sleep after convincing myself that I was in no state to deal with it then and there; best to try again after a solid night's sleep.
My wife's seen her fair share of reactions from me. Last year, I was convinced a snake was crawling against my leg (it was actually her leg). In response, I launched my 10kg weight blanket across the bedroom using my legs, and flung myself up out of bed and on to my feet, looking and searching for the snake. Fortunately, Ted wasn't lying next to me that night.
Another time more recently, I woke up convinced I was alone in the room with a spider the size of my face crawling on wall opposite, where the old fireplace used to be. I shot out of bed, turned the light on, and picked up a book to go find the nightmarish thing and bring an end to it. It took a while for her to snap me out of it, made all the harder by the fact that I couldn't see or here her, trapped in my waking dream. Eventually, she calmed me down, convincing me that we were safe, and shushing me asleep.
Then there was the time I woke up screaming and cried myself to sleep, burying my face in her shoulder.
At some point in all of this, I discovered I had a certain amount of control if I could just realise it was a dream. It wasn't as complete a control as true lucid dreaming; I wasn't able to reshape the world at will. But I could do something, even if that something was simply to force myself awake.
One such example was a stereotypical 'monsters chasing me in the dark' type dream. I remember being at the end of a dark alleyway, the lights around me going out, and the noises coming from the darkness. Eventually through the fear I realised that the whole scenario was insane, it just couldn't be real. The noises got louder in response, moving closer and closer as I beg myself to just wake up until I finally did, sitting bolt upright, gasping for breath.
Of course, it's not all nightmares all the time. There was the dream where I'm walking around a supermarket, trying to find orange juice, and it turns out there were zombies down the refrigerated aisle. Worked that one out pretty quickly, and went back to trying to find my OJ, even going so far as to get annoyed with the zombies blocking my way. That's one way to bore your brain out of a dream.
A favourite though was a bit more cartoony. I was running along a country road, and an American friend I met at the time on Gaia Online rode up beside me in a convertible. We were racing and laughing up a hill until I reached the top and leapt in the air. From my place in the sky, the world looked like something out of a Ghibli movie. I got to about 30-40 feet in the air before I realised I would eventually have to fall, and falling meant hitting the ground. Hard.
As I hurtled towards the Earth, the momentum of the fall hit my gut. But it wasn't long before I put two plus two together, realised what was going on, and smiled. As I hit the ground feet first I bounced back up, jumping over the hills like Superman. Eventually I came foul of a thorny bush but again, realising it was a dream, I just landed in it like it was just string. I don't remember all my dreams, but that one has stuck with me for the past 10 years.
Despite being plagued with these vivid and real feeling dreams all my life, I've never been one to try and find hidden meaning them. Sure, the odd one has clear psychological causes. Like being dealthy afraid of mum as a kid, for example, or the time my best friend and her boyfriend at the time literally stabbed me in the back. Repeatedly. Every time I went to sleep that night. But jumping through the sky, falling? Monsters in the dark, zombies near my orange juice, or sharks swimming in a flood outside my bedroom?
Images. Hallucinations. Mind tricks. Nothing more.
That doesn't mean much those first few minutes though. At best, I just feel like I've gone through a bit of a scary time. At worst, it feels more like a concrete memory than a dream, and I go through the motions of convincing myself otherwise. There's still a few things buried in my mind that I'm not entirely certain were real or not, a fact that plays on me frequently.
I've looked into prevention or treatment of them before, but gave up trying. There's no one theme behind them, no unifying image to train myself to think differently of. I've got a good sleep routine going, and have played around with 'no phone time' periods but to no consistent result. The weighted blanket sometimes worked, except for the time I flung it across the room in terror. My mirtazapine could be making them worse, but given that they've been a factor in my life since I can remember, it's not a cause. Or at least, not the cause.
At one point out of desperation I looked up non-scientific methods to reduce them or rid myself of dreams entirely. Suggestions included various oils which my wife hates the smell of, and washing the floors with salt water before bed to purify the area, but felt that might be a step too far.
Instead, I've resigned myself to acceptance. I can't control when they come, how they come, or what they do. I can just try to see them for what they are and remind myself.
It's just a dream.
Word count: 1,697 Running total - 7,473/50,000 (14.95%, 805 words ahead of target)
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