I am sitting in my home office / studio where I do all the things except cook and sleep. I take endless online calls here during the work week. One stacking on top of another – each with fear pockets – the pocket when I try to recall whether the person I am meeting with prefers camera or not. The pocket of whether I am prepared for the conversation. The pocket of what amount of work will be assigned to me during the meeting. The pocket of how I am going to get all the work done when I have to attend all the calls. The type, attendees, content of the call flexes how big the fear pocket is – from tiny to breath- stopping.
I have lived through the worst calls I could imagine. And I am ok – it was ok. But I am hard-wired for anxiety.
Today there is no fear. A day off. No meetings. A new year. Some hope folded in. Resolutions to start.
But last night was rough. In the early morning I had a shaking night terror – the strength of which I haven’t felt in more than a decade. Every time I drifted off, I felt myself being lifted to the top corner of a giant room and dangled. Screaming and no one could hear. My anxiety down to its basest – my life being threatened.
I have bad dreams all the time. As I age, increasingly they are about rows of toilets and not a clean one to use and I have to really, really pee. A strange addition to middle life – amid so many strange additions.
But this was not a bad dream. This was a terror. I remember them. The feeling of death and loss in an instant as soon as I close my eyes. Blech. I remember my training. Training from surviving these terrors in a too-large portion of my 20s. I wake up. That is the first step. And then I remind myself that it isn’t a real threat. And then I spiral about how easy it would be for me to end up homeless with nothing. And then I explain to myself how that it isn’t a real possibility. (I am most likely not going to get fired, and even if I was, I have friends and family who would take me in, etc. – also known as reality.)
The worst possible thing that is happening to me is that I cannot sleep. That is all. That is not that bad. I watch local news – I remember that the same stories on repeat have a soothing effect. And I don’t expect anything of myself other than to live in that moment. Exist. Breathe. That is all I have to do right now. And then I list things that I am grateful for. The first to come to mind is that I live in an age where local news starts at 4 am. When I was living the darkest part of night terrors, the news didn’t start until 5:30 or 6:00 am. Imagine.
I am old. And yet I still approach each new year with the hope of a teenage girl. That this will be the year I change. I always have – and I have given up the expectation that I will ever change. A start to the year with long-gone night terrors is not a good omen. But then maybe it is. I got to list what I am grateful for. I got to see intrepid local reporters report on the state of ice on pavement.
I got to be reminded of how essential my marriage is. Later this morning I told my husband about what happened (he who sleeps blissfully through the night – like a superpower). He told me that it is ok that I didn’t get sleep. That there was nothing I had to do today other than relax. That it is ok to not get anything else done today except exist. And breathe. Those who know how to love me know that it is always best practice to take away expectations, whenever possible – especially arbitrary ones I have set for myself. It is like giving me a gold ring.
Happy new year, from my corner office. The snow is falling. And the absolute worst thing happening to me is that I cannot sleep. Not bad.