Night Terrors: A Halloween Special
I've spent the past year and a half living with a partner for the first time in my life. Permanently sharing a bed with someone was always something that terrified me because... I mean, come on! Having a whole bed to yourself, where you can starfish and roll around and fart and masturbate and turn lights on and off without a care in the world? Letting go of those last remnants of my bachelorhood was difficult.
That's not all, though. Over the years, I've had girlfriends complain about my sometimes-snoring. Fine. Whatever. I'm human. Humans do that. Others weren't a fan of waking up to no blanket. But biggest gripe they've had, the most common one in the exit interview, was the unpredictability of something else:
Today's blog post is about waking up screaming.
Ironically, as I began gearing up to write this, Weezer's "Only in Dreams" just came on my playlist.
As I kid, I would sleepwalk. My parents would catch me walking around near the front door, windows, different points around the house, talking to things. I'd call out the window to people, have conversations with plants. It was all relatively cute and harmless.
As I got older and experienced a little more trauma, those cute little quirky sleep dances got darker. I can only assume it was due to trauma. One day I'm playing bongos with the cast of Sesame Street, the next I'm sprinting into the shower because there's a swarm of imaginary bees attacking me. It could be because in-between that, the neighborhood kids hog-tied me and dropped me in front of a random person's house, rang the bell, then took off?
An aside to that - I ran into one of those kids at a bar a couple of years ago. It was a memory I blocked out, but he brought it up to a group with such wonderful nostalgia. "Remember when we hog-tied you and left you in front of that lady's house on Wardwell?" My response was, "I do now. Do you honestly think I look back fondly on that?" He dumbass, cocaine-cake-nosed face was completely befuddled." He then apologized.
Anywho. As I got older, the nightmares got worse. In college, I woke up to my girlfriend, terrified, cowering at the foot of my bed. I had apparently started flailing my arms and tried to kick her. This horrified me, because not only did I not have any recollection of this happening, I had no recollection of whatever dream I had to trigger such a thing. She never felt safe sleeping in the bed with me, and I didn't blame her.
What was so troubling about that, was I didn't know what to do from there. This was pre-smart phones and social media, so it wasn't like I could chalk it up to over-stimulating on a screen before bed, like what almost every sleep study I see these days suggests eliminating. I tried to stop eating heavy meals close to bedtime. It was college, and I was drinking a lot, which could very-well have been the thing. It could have been the stress of school. I was beginning to really dive into acting for the first time, so taking on triggering thoughts and letting them linger for extending periods of time may have confused my body.
I don't fucking know.
I still don't fucking know. I'm 37, and while I post the occasional cutesy video of my girlfriend capturing me sleep-taking through what sounds like an executive board meeting with The Addams Family - "Mr Gomez, Mr Addams, please start a new club without me. You, transfer the little bacon grease so we could get some clarity" - I still, very often, wake up drenched and screaming.
Most of the time, I don't remember anything about the dream. I just remember the action that wakes me up - sometimes it's a knife coming down on me, a dark figure standing next to my bed. Oh yeah, I hallucinate when I wake up, too. Isn't this fun? Why take acid when you can just have night terrors amiright?!?
Sometimes, I do remember the dream. When that happens, it's almost always super pleasant leading up. There might be a fun party happening at the house, some karaoke, cooking something delicious and weird like a dodo bird stuffed with popcorn. Then a knock on my door - and it's my dad trying to kill me. I don't know why. I love my dad and we have an amazing relationship. But here he is, with his hands around my throat squeezing the life out of me. Cut to me in the bedroom, screaming and terrified and confused as fuck at 4am.
That's the bitch of it all. I don't have elongated nightmares. I don't sit in hell or my old middle school gym, getting spooked by all sorts of horrible memories or images. I don't spend a shitload of time in a Saw trap, racing against time and facing death, fighting to get out of whatever I'm in. My night terrors are one big jump scare. And you know what, as someone who LOVES the horror genre, my least favorite spooky move is the cheap jump scare. Don't get me wrong, I fucking love a good jump scare when it's earned. But you have to earn it by creating the atmosphere of dread.
The director of my dreams has zero concept of doing that. As a filmmaker myself, I am offended by his work. He's a fucking hack.
So that brings me to horror. Why do I love voluntarily bring scared when I have a potential free ticket to a horrifying experience every night? Why is the Resident Evil video game franchise the only world I like to play in? Why am I obsessed with films like It Follows, Hereditary, and The Babadook? Because the video games are expertly crafted with wonderful stories and animation? Because those horror films and rooted in trauma, with the overarching monster being some metaphor that I get to soak up?
Yes. All of those things. Why should I deprive myself of a genre that I am in love with?
Alright, let's talk solutions. Things I've tried:
- De-screening before bed. Keeping my cell phone out of the room when I go to sleep, then not returning to it until I finish my morning pages.
- Reduce alcohol consumption.
- Meditate before bed.
- Avoid eating heavy meals after 8pm.
- Curb playing Resident Evil and watching stressful movies till 3am.
Welp, it all sounds simple, right? Yeah... I'm human. I try things, they work for a bit, then I miss a day. I cheat. I fall off. I get inspired by it for a week, then get bored quickly. Some of them worked for a bit, then one night terror will send me into a tailspin. That's another thing - once I have one, it's like the fucking hack filmmaker of my sub-conscious gets inspired to write more garbage endings to otherwise good stories. Fucking hack.
So... new tactic starting today, I upped my Prozac. Because why not? It slows down the adrenaline that causes my anxiety attacks. Maybe that works in my sleep as well?
That's the life of someone who lives with mental health issues. Lots of trial and error.
In terms of curbing night terrors, I'm open to suggestions from anyone who has had success using a method I haven't listed. If you feel comfortable sharing, shoot me a message or leave it in the social media comments!
If you are struggling with your mental health, there is no shame in getting help:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 160 crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 1-800-273-8255. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.