Living each day much muchier
I fight zombies in my sleep. Relentless, gnashing, hungry zombies. I’m not afraid of them but I’m constantly on high alert. Behind closed eyes in the theatre of my brain, I jab, hack, run, kick, deflect. I fight hard.
I outrun tsunamis in my sleep. I know it’s coming long before anyone else does and I run for higher ground. I see it rushing toward me. I see the debris and the bodies of people who weren’t quick enough. That will be me any second now. I wake up before it hits.
For a long time, this nocturnal horror was a mystery. They aren’t cheese dreams or tv shows or alcohol related. I’ve had them since I was a teenager. When it’s really bad, my partner takes pity. When I reach a desperate pitch, he gently shakes me out of the story I’m trapped in and helps me realise I’m safe. Then I go back under, hopefully to a nicer place or at least the static of dreamless sleep.
Recently, I think that the monsters and waves might be anxieties. During the day, I hold them at bay. I know they’re not real, so I pretend they’re not there. They don’t go away. They come back in my dreams for a proper confrontation. Fears. Insecurities. Generalised anxieties. They are faceless legion. I hack off their heads.
There are a lot of things on the internet about how to manage anxiety so it doesn’t control your life, but my life is perfectly under control. I want the answer to a different problem. How do I redefine my relationship to the world and just relax, let go, breathe, be well?
For example, the last week or so I’ve been absolutely riddled with anxiety about what a bad friend I am. I don’t see them as often as I should. I don’t do the polite follow ups. What on earth have I ever done to warrant the affection people seem to show me? I should stop wasting everyone’s time. Yet as I sat having brunch with three of my girlfriends on Saturday morning I thought, hang on a minute. This is solid. This is functioning. This is perfectly fine. So why do I always feel like I’m fighting to barely hold it together?
I recently managed to secure a permanent placement at work doing a role that I basically carved out for myself. I saw a need and filled it. I proved my value. There are few greater compliments in the workplace than that. What more evidence could I possibly need that I do good work and it’s enough? Yet I feel like a complete fraud who has managed somehow to trick people and I am constantly anxious that I’m inches away from trouble. When something isn’t quite right, I take it hard, like it’s proof everything is about to crumble.
I live, balancing on this tenuous wire. It’s stressful and unnecessary, but I don’t know any other way. In fact, the worst bit is understanding perfectly well that everything is fine. I can’t trust my feelings. I keep running and fighting.
Pretending not to be anxious is like pretending not to be drunk. It’s hard work to be so deliberately purposeful, to hold yourself up and keep going. Every now and again it gets too much and I have broken days. Gone days. Can’t face the world days.
I know that for some people, broken days are so debilitating that they can’t get out of bed. I know for others that a day in their jammies is a silly luxury and they power on through. Mine are somewhere in between. If someone’s life depended on it, I could probably get out of bed but on broken days, it feels like my own life depends on retreating to the expectationless safety of four walls and a cat who doesn’t understand these things.
Every now and then, I break. I give up on the world. I die, just for a day. It’s the only way I know that lets me pick up the fight again tomorrow. It’s not often enough to be disruptive. It allows me to stay high functioning, to pursue excellence in work, artistic passions, friendships and love. I am superbly lucky to hold it all together as tenuously as it sometimes feels I do.
I don’t know where to go from here. Is it totally normal? Is there a better way? All I know is that it doesn’t feel like wellness and I think, probably, there is more to life than fighting endless monsters in my sleep.
“How does one kill fear, I wonder? How do you shoot a spectre through the heart, slash off its spectral head, take it by its spectral throat?”
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
“Nothing is impossible to kill. It’s just that sometimes after you kill something you have to keep shooting it until it stops moving”
Mira Grant, Feed