There is a fantastic book written by notable Neurologist, Guy Leschziner, that gave me an even deeper appreciation for what we know and don’t know about the human mind, called The Nocturnal Brain: Tales of Nightmares and Neuroscience. It has been almost a year since I have closed the covers, so I sadly cannot recount many details, but one particular section hit me a little heavier than others: Circadian Rhythm. This subject revealed to me the revelation that opened a new door to my understanding of my own nocturnal mind- my circadian rhythm was attuned to a different universe from the time I reached puberty to well into my late twenties.
During that extremely complex period of my life, my body naturally wanted sleep from FOUR AM to NOON. But school, the workplace, church, and the world in general is not built for this particular time slot. One cannot be expected to live the average life of a single parent, being responsible daily as the hardworking adult you are, when you run on those fumes from a natural occurring alignment of your natural sleeping rhythm which is comparable to, say, that of an owl’s. Rather than researching this topic and learning ways to make adjustments and cope, I instead would slightly alter the pattern, usually falling asleep around 2 a.m. and getting up around 7 but still snoozing until 7:15 and then waking up in a panic to unrealistically rush through the preparation of my day, which includes taking my daughter to school. Rather than being a normal, alert- “Oh everything is just great, yes! I have already had my cup of coffee!” type of successful person, I was groggy, unhappy (I hate rushing and feeling late/unprepared), and working on my coffee while doing five things at once in order to leave the house with just enough time to speed across town and barely make it to work on time. Not the best way to engage in a delightful, encouraging, pre-activity filled day pep talk with your elementary school aged child. Sorry, child. (This is something we have both actively worked on and majorly improved upon since, so… hooray.)
The problem is, we spent years like this. I would say I suffered greatly in high school because of this. I slept on my desk through many classes when I had grown up being a model student. To everyone else, people assumed a lot of this had to do with my depression. On one hand, this is exactly correct. But even the big bad wolf that is depression was not actually the underlying cause. This issue affected job performance in my twenties as well. I always work giving an insane percentage. I have a very hard work ethic and because I feel things intensely, customer service can sometimes be a very daunting task. Sensitivity to tone is something that, with a lot of practice for a long period of time, you can manage to cope with and even deflect using your skills. Until you reach that level of ability, however, managing your emotions (especially when tired), can be extremely challenging. I have worked customer service jobs that awarded me with outstanding praise and titles and two years later find myself at the point where I just can’t take anymore. While, yes, part of it is the collective assholes’ fault, the major part of it is how I manage my OWN DAMN SELF.
AAAAASHLEEEEEEY!!! BED TIIIIIIIIIIME!!!
Being empathic and autistic and experiencing multiple body traumas means that when my brain decides I’m tired, sleep comes incredibly fast, and I welcome this sleep thing with arms wide open. Naps are extremely rare for me, and I have things to do which occupy my time, but it is still important for me to participate in some kind of wind down ritual. This typically includes getting clean using very hot water, some aromatherapy, music, and reading until my brain hints that it is time to shut her down. I sleep very consistently the entire night through without any (known to me) interruptions. I really, really hate waking up to an alarm. I prefer waking early these days in order to better prepare my day and be fully alert by the time I clock in, but I would love to just naturally wake with the sun without the catastrophic interruption that is necessary to push my brain’s power button.
I feel like Ren when Stimpy is so tempted to push the shiny, candy-like red buttom and the cartoon chihuahua screams “DON’T TOUCH IT!”
I do NOT enjoy exiting hard left from the insanely vivid dream worlds I have worked so hard to engineer. I have become conscious from a dream so vivid that I immediately began crying upon waking. Like I was generally devastated to miss out on whatever insanely awesome thing was next. Or I had lost that person who I had made contact with in my dream (an example would be my deceased grandmother).
When I was a youngin’, my mom would loudly yell “Aaaashleeeyyyy!!! Naaaaap tiiiiime!” or, even better, “Aaaaaaashleeeeeyyy!!! Bed tiiiiiiime!” and I would stop playing with whatever toy or video game that had all of my intense attention, grab my baby blanket, and crawl into my small bed without one single objection. This type of thing would also apply to days of my youth when friends and I would be playing in the neighborhood creek and my mom would yell from the porch, “Aaaaaaashleeeeey!!! Supper tiiiiiiime”, and the whole gang of neighborhood hoodlums I called friends would retreat to their own hiding spaces until the following morn.
As a kid, I remember my mom (also a young mother) being rushed every single morning. She would top the seventy mile per hour rate, weaving in and out of unsuspecting traffic to barely make the bell. And she was usually substitute teaching or volunteering in the lunch room on any given day. Looking back, she would have been in the same age range as I was while my rhythm was set to another world’s standards. It wasn’t until many years later when this was no longer an issue for her, either. And in retrospect, I can see the mistakes she made and view them from my own, imperfect perspective, so I can now say with absolute certainty that I am happy it eventually worked to her favor. I find myself in the sluggish transitional phase as I type this.
There are so many examples of vivid dreams in my catalog but it becomes increasingly difficult to recount them, including the central themes or plots. So while my mind is still sharp enough to say anything that could be somewhat valuable to recount some day, I thought I’d spell it out.
Some dreams of mine have been etched into my “forever root”- this generous bean that allows me to tap into a time in history that everything still contained magic to me. My dreams were usually pleasant. I have had vivid nightmares many times, and the scariest dreams I’ve ever had involve saving people I love who are heavily distressed. This type of sleep and dreaming is something I prefer not experience, but the fact I can dream anything makes me feel lucky- though these nightmares do not usually allow for that feeling of total refreshment to shape the following morning upon awakening.
One interesting thing about some dreams I have experienced remain an enigma as they involve predicting future events. An example of this occurred the week of my birthday, April 21, in the year 2011. The night after I had turned a quarter century old, I had one of the most vivid dreams of my life. I was on this cliff overlooking the ocean, the sky was clear and sunny and there was a gentle breeze. My daughter was standing in a glass house several yards away. Seemingly in an instant, the winds picked up and the sky became dark and overcast- a chill surrounding me. I looked back to the house to see my child when I spotted a black tornado hurling towards us. I ran towards the house to fetch my child and we barely escaped as the tornado crashed the house of glass and pressed on towards the sea. We curled up together behind some great boulders while shards of glass danced all around us. I was cut severely but she was safe inside of my arms, and I looked up after the winds died down and watched the tail of the tornado dissipating over a raging but quickly, calming stone gray sea.
One week later, on a day that I would eventually come to know as my boyfriend’s birthday, I was chasing a tornado with my camera, documenting the horrifying damage that had restructured my hometown. I was working for our local paper and was on an assignment to photo document damage done the night before to the neighboring town, and as I was exiting my home, I spotted the F-4 tornado coming right towards my neighborhood. I spent the better majority of the following week taking photographs and interviewing and writing. My daughter was with her dad at the time in an area that had also received tornadic activity and damage. I had not been able to make contact with any of them for at least a couple of extremely uncertain, tense hours. But somehow, the dream reassured me she was safe and okay. And in that department, all was right as… a light rain.
Another example that is burned into my memory bank is the dream about my ‘first son’. I was attending The Art Institute in Ft. Lauderdale, and had a dream that I had just given birth to a beautiful, dark haired, dark eyed, and olive skinned son soon after starting my new school. I was so proud of this perfect boy and brought him to class to introduce him to my classmates. Everyone looked on adoringly. He was so peaceful and angelic and soft. Then I woke up and mourned the loss of what felt like an actual, real child. I had not yet become pregnant or had even met my child’s father. I was just starting school (just as I had dreamed), but was not even involved with anyone at that time and had no intentions to be. In my mind, I was on my way to study photography and become a photographer for National Geographic to make a name for myself like Paul Nicklen. This of course was not to be my fate, and two and a half years later, I was giving birth to my beautiful, blonde haired, blue eyed, light skinned daughter. It was shocking to even her paternal side of the family that she was born with these features since they were most rare on either side of her bloodline. How bizarre is real life?
Another interesting concept to think about involving the predictive dream world incorporates sequence dreaming. I have never in my life experienced the raw wonders of Egypt first hand, but Egypt is and always has been super fascinating to me. I remember being extremely excited to see The Mummy in theaters. (Of all the other examples, this is what I choose. Classic.) Anyway, my sequence dreams feel like lifelike experiences. I feel as though after those dreams, the dreams that took place in Egypt- I was actually there. The scene was futuristic, but not too far off into the future. The first dream was simple and lasted ages. I was staring at this crisp, totally magnetic night sky, star gazing. I spotted some stars moving slightly. I then noticed these stars were forming shapes and patterns- very similar to a type of alphabet my daughter came up with to send me notes. I have no idea what the messages were- this was encrypted and I had no key. I unfortuntely have yet to find it, but I did later experience four more dreams, each one similar and becoming more elaborate with more details, revealing and building a story, picking right back up where my brain had once logged off.
The dreams included the night sky, stars, Egypt, the pyramids, an entrance, a chosen population, a line of those people, the pyramids levitating and staying suspended in the night sky, meteors appearing, and my poor ass, still looking up to the fiery night sky… feet planted on the earth. I remember thinking, “Why wasn’t I chosen?” I also remember more, but I have a private diary and some things are probably best kept that way.
So, things around us are mysterious. And things inside of us are even more mysterious. Dreams are a way of us working some things out, or a way of showing us some things we may need revealed, or a way of reminding us we have work to do.
I know I do.
My latest series involves a very close loved one. This person and I are so close that if I detail any specifics, people who know me personally will know who I am referring to immediately. This person, like all of us at some point, is facing a number of challenges that are so gut wrenching, I had to back away in order to preserve the little sanity and shred of dignity I might still possess. Even so, it kills me and it has been an ongoing issue that I simply could not provide any more energy towards and had no choice but to do what every mental health provider I personally know would suggest: set your boundary.
It took years, but I finally did and firstly, this isn’t an easy task to initiate, and it is even more difficult to maintain- especially when you want nothing more than to see this person who you love with all your being to become that success story you literally pray about.
I had to type the words: “Starve your distraction, feed your focus” on to a piece of paper, cut it out, tape it to the top of my work desktop monitor, just above eye level, and look at it every so often to help remind myself to focus on the task at hand rather than attempting to fix all the other things that were out of my hands. This helps while I am awake, and I am actually proud of myself for the level of self control I’ve been able to maintain even though I have resorted to taking extra measures. I have more energy during the day and this has definitely helped me personally.
But I’m fucking dreaming about this person I have pushed from my conscious space. I am forgiving, hugging, re-engaging, fully supporting, and laughing with this special person in my life while I am unconscious. Thank you, dream world, for reminding me of what HEAVEN ON EARTH could actually look like as opposed to the SHIT REALITY THAT I BRACE FOR UPON WAKING EVERY MORNING.
Which reminds me, one day I will write a post solely dedicated to my long history of loving a good cup of the best part of waking up…
“I love you, sweet dreams, good night.”