One of the great gifts of “these trying times” is the realization that depression isn’t my primary problem.
Anxiety is my primary problem.
The scientific method tells us that now probably isn’t the best time to consider that a hard conclusion given the amount of generalized anxiety in 2020 what with the pandemic and the possibility of a second Trump term. There are some leading indicators that it’s a strong candidate though.
I haven’t been a good sleeper for decades. Where other people see sleep as mechanical restoration or as a respite from the world, sleep for me is a challenge. It’s something I can never do right where right is defined as “coming out feeling rested, refreshed, and ready to take on a new day’s challenges.” Menopause has only made this worse.
It started a couple of years ago with the hot flashes, which were fine as long as they were only happening during the day. When they started happening regularly at 03:00 they got more than a little inconvenient. At least they were predictable, I told myself.
Somewhen during that initial year I reformed my attitude on sleep. The idea that we should be sleeping 8 hours right through is misguided at best and farcical at worst.
Waking up at night is normal, according to WebMD. And while this is one of the few WebMD articles that doesn’t immediately lead to “You have cancer,” waking up can be an indicator of something serious.
What matters, most experts says, is how quickly you get back to sleep. Which is a comfort when you wake up multiple times during the night.
The thing is, removing the pressure to “get good sleep” combined with other good sleep hygiene habits – consistent bed time, avoiding sugar, caffeine, and digital screens at night – has actually improved my sleep. Sure, I still wake up multiple times but if I’m back to sleep in under 15 minutes, I’m usually going to wake up rested.
Then the pandemic happened.
My usual level of anxiety – around a 4 on most days – rocketed up to about an average of 7 on a scale of 0 to 10. And that’s when the dreams started.
I don’t remember all of them. But they’re intense and weird.
In one memorable one this summer I was part of an outlaw gang hiding in the mountains. While the gang played board games I had to figure out in a wintertime mountain environment how they could go surfing. Shades of Point Break perhaps?
Then there was the house with bleeding walls. That was a fun one. Strangely, it was the house from How to Get Away with Murder.
And my brain is susceptible to influence. Fuck The Mandalorian and ice cave spiders. Fuck it right in the ear with a chainsaw.
These nightmares have gotten so frequent that even though I have the physical reaction – the terror, the sweating, the awakening, the aftermath – when I have what I’ve started to think of as the basic COVID-19 nightmare I can pretty much shrug it off because I know what it means because the dream is always the same.
Last night my two favorite grocery store chains had decided to open a location that was just one big megastore. Instead of having to go to one store for these items – special treats all because the closest outlet of this chain is not easy to park at and the next closest while easy to park at isn’t all that close – and this other store for the regular groceries, I could now go one single place to get all the yummy things I want to have in the house.
The problem was it was grand opening day and everyone was there. And I do mean everyone. It felt like an aerial photo of JFK Stadium in Philadelphia during the Live Aid concert in 1985.
And no one was wearing a mask.
Sometimes in these dreams I’m not wearing a mask, which adds an extra layer of anxiety and yet another way for my brain to beat me up. Last night I was.
Anxiety expressed is so commonplace it’s become a trope of film, TV, and novels.
No matter what form the actions take, what happens, or what you do, the dream is always the same.