Nighttime is when I live my other lives.
It’s not a time of rest — at least not mentally. I’ve always been a bit mystified by people who wake up fresh and new in the morning. The first time I encountered someone who said they hardly ever dream, I was astonished. I do nothing but dream all night. I wake up exhausted. And that’s when I sleep at all.
Most nights it takes an hour or two to fall asleep. My mind turns over conversations I’ve had during the day. I re-examine every interaction, turning them over in my mind. I question my choices. I see myself through other people’s eyes in those interactions and paranoia sets in. And the only way to calm the anxiety that builds is to continue to play those moments over and over in my head.
Of course there are nights when sleep doesn’t come at all. It’s not an unpleasant experience, necessarily; since my mind is abuzz with ideas and sensations and for the most part I don’t feel tired at all. I have grandiose ideas. I write long novels and poems and play movies in my head. I look back on these times with regret that I didn’t get up and write them down and preserve them, but I doubt very much that I would be able to transcribe them effectively. The visions flow faster than speech or thought and I don’t want to get up in the middle of the experience lest I disturb that feeling and lose my place.
It’s very tempting to stay in that place. Around 6 years ago, when in the midst of a very serious manic phase, this is how I spent most of my nights. An anti-depressant I’d been prescribed combined with a walloping 30 mg a day of hydromorphone (Dilaudid) for pain (and a diet that consisted most of coffee) left me sleepless and occasionally even hallucinatory. I felt brilliant and sleep was largely a waste of time.
But I know the ensuing crash is inevitable, so when I get those days now, I know it’s a warning sign. I take note. If I get more than one or two of those days in a row, I know I will need to take steps and tell someone. And so far, I don’t seem to get to that point. Within 24-48 hours, I do sleep, even if it’s not terribly restful. And so I figure at least I’m probably staying on this side of danger.
My dream life is just a variation on consciousness. I know that it holds far too great a position of status in my perception of reality. I know this because I get them confused sometimes. Much in the same way that I hold odd beliefs that combine both reality and delusion, events that occur in my dreams spill over into my waking life. Arguments that I have in that world cause resentment, anger and hurt to build within me towards loved ones because of slights they have committed towards me. Because even if I can rationalize that the events weren’t real, I am still left with the feelings and emotions that they have elicited in me. Those are harder to dismiss. To dismiss them, I have to at first acknowledge them. Then I have to search within myself to determine what insecurity seeded the thought that sprouted into the dream. It’s possible to do, certainly, but it requires a lot of mental work and introspection. Multiply that by several dreams a night and combine it with all the other mental work I need to do every day just to keep an even keel and it’s exhausting.
While other people believe in God and heaven because they fear the black nothingness of death, there has always been that part of me that finds that kind of finality reassuring and comforting. It’s not healthy, I know. But when you live a life haunted by unwanted thoughts and memories, the absence of thought and the end of being is alluring.
I can count on one hand the number of times in my life where I have slept without dreaming. While undergoing surgery, for example. It is a strange sensation and I’m not sure how to relate to people who experience this type restful sleep on a regular basis. Waking up feeling rested and energized is fantastic. But without the dreams, there is no sensation of the passage of time. I find that odd. But maybe that is why I feel so old and worn so much of the time.
I am living a thousand lives. It wears on the mind and body.