Nightmares

Weird Mystical Fear Nightmare Horror Creepy

I had a dream this morning that my brother fell off a cliff into a raging river, and I couldn’t save him. It was a “screamer,” my affectionate term for a night terror. I woke my husband crying for help. He had to basically hold me down until I stopped shaking. I couldn’t breathe. Once I realized where I was, I clung to him and sobbed.

I’ve had nightmares my entire life, but screamers have become rarer and rarer over the years. That doesn’t mean they’re gone. Very few aspects of my mental illness are ever gone; they just take breaks. For instance, I’ve been waking up feeling okay lately. I don’t feel okay today. I feel sad and panicky. Scared.

Nightmares don’t just happen in our beds. Mine, at least, tend to follow me throughout the day. I will be seeing the image of my brother being sucked underwater for at least twenty-four hours, maybe longer. I’m a writer. I’m great at visualizing things. When I write, I even visualize scenes like movie storyboards.

This is why I’m careful about what I consume. I’m not talking about pizza toppings. I mean I’m careful about what I watch. For instance, Jake and I started watching a movie called Polar recently because we both love Mads Mikkelsen. As soon as his character drilled a, well, drill into a villain’s forehead (extreme gore, folks), I told Jake, “Turn this shit off.” I knew that image would haunt me, and I didn’t want to know what other images would eventually be warped by my too-creative subconscious into a screamer.

Same with the news. I stopped watching the news years ago. I apologize for my ignorance over some current affairs, but it’s either I sound informed in political debates or I sleep better at night.

Nightmares often make their way into my fictional works, probably because they’re such a big part of my life. Real life tends to pour into my fiction–an exorcism of sorts. Get the poison out by putting it on the page. (Actually, more on that later today. I’m making an announcement on my writing blog in a bit in direct relation to this.)

I know I’ve been dealing with nightmares my entire life, but it never gets easier after screamer nights. Right now, I feel disoriented, unfocused, with a curious lump of dread in my chest as if my stupid dream portends some future event. No, my nightmares have never come true, but they feel true in the moment, and this moment is all we have.

The PMS problem

cryFor one week out of every month, some women lose their damn minds. I am one of those women. PMS. Premenstrual syndrome, otherwise known as “Sara is a psycho.” (Feel free to insert your own name here.)

The week leading up to Aunt Flow’s arrival, my mental health takes a nosedive. The depression is practically crippling. My temper FLARES. (Flames basically shoot from my eyes.) I feel fatty fat fat. I make bad decisions or I am incapable of making decisions. I want to scream at everyone and then, cry about it.

This shit happens every month.

My husband, Jake, has a radar for its arrival. He claims he gets more annoying whenever I’m PMSing, like he needs to annoy me on a deep, hormonal level. (The man has no sense of self-preservation, considering PMS time is the time when I am most capable of homicide.) He’ll suddenly realize he’s acting super annoying and say, “Wait, you’re PMSing, aren’t you?” It’s uncanny.

The problem with PMS (other than the obvious emotional turmoil) is the difficulty in treating it. I’ve talked to my doctor about this. Many doctors, honestly. They all suggest going on antidepressants … to treat one week of the month. No, thank you. Then, they say maybe I could just take antidepressants for a week of every month, but that doesn’t make any damn sense because, in order to work, antidepressants need to build up in your system … which is when side effects show up … which is exactly what I do not want.

There are the “natural cures:” take more B vitamins. Chaste Tree. Ashwagandha. Physical activity. Eat healthier. Drink more water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine around the PMS time.

Far as I can tell, nothing works.

So, dear reader, I implore YOU. I know I’m not the only woman who goes possible-serial-killer once a month for seven entire days. For the women out there who’ve found a way to manage their PMS, what do you do? For the husbands whose wives are not Pennywise with better makeup during PMS time, what have your wives done as treatment?

SEND HELP!!!!

Bad reviews

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There’s a book reviewer who goes out of her way to say mean things about my work. She spends her own hard-earned cash in order to buy my novels and then, rip me apart online.

I find this all very confusing.

I’m not only a writer but also a reader, which means I’m reading all the time. If I start reading a book and don’t like it, I put it down because I don’t have time to read a book I don’t like. There are too many other wonderful, beautiful books out there waiting for me. They scream my name in dreams. (“Read us, Sara. Reeeeead us!”) Why waste time on a book that doesn’t tickle your fancy when there are so many books that might?

Beyond the time spent reading, she takes thoughtful time to write terrible things about me as a writer and as a person, and it all just seems like so much work. Why does she punish herself with negativity? Why does she upset herself on purpose?

I say I think this is confusing, but maybe I don’t.

Isn’t this what we’re looking for when we scan through Twitter or the national news? There is so much annoying shit out there; it’s like we actively go looking for it. We can’t wait to respond with a scathing comment to something that annoys us, angers us, offends us …

Isn’t this what we do when we gossip? Especially as a woman, I know I love a good gossip fest. It’s fun digging into other people—pointing out their flaws—because then, I can avoid my own.

“I might not be perfect, but look at her.”

“My marriage is tough sometimes, but we’re better than that couple.”

“Did you see the article he posted on Facebook? I can’t believe he thinks like that.”

It’s so easy to fixate on the negative. My therapist says it’s easy to be depressed; getting better is difficult. She also likes to remind me (especially when I tumble into negative self-talk), “We all think we aren’t good enough.” And that emotion manifests itself in many ways, whether through our online presence or day-to-day conversations or even our own internal monologues.

I made a promise to myself years ago: don’t read bad reviews. They don’t do anything but bring me down. They make the work suffer, because bad reviews make me question myself and if I’m worthy of creating. I am aware of the book reviewer who hates my work (and seemingly hates me by proxy), but I don’t actually read her reviews. Friends have read them and shout their frustrations, but I won’t allow myself a detailed study of everything that’s “wrong” with me.

It’s easy to avoid the one-star reviews on Goodreads. It’s not so easy to do in real life. It’s difficult to avoid the gossip, comparisons, and negative self-talk. If only a warning light blinked right before an annoying tweet or a destructive conversation. I’m not suggesting blinders; I am suggesting we all act a little nicer to other people and ourselves.

Cold season

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My brother and I sometimes joke about how nice it would be to have the emotional sensitivity of a sociopath. It’s a joke—mostly. However, it would honestly be nice to just not care and not worry about what other people think and not worry about emotions and blah blah blah …

Let me be Sherlock Holmes for a day and just. Not. Give. A. Shit.

Currently, I have a cold. A terrible, stupid cold that doesn’t let me sleep and makes my brain all fuzzy. And honestly? I feel nothing. I’m like the honey badger. (“Honey badger don’t give AF!”)

In physical therapy recently, my doc talked about how that one joke is true. You know the joke, goes like this:
Person one: My stomach hurts.
Person two: Want me to punch you in the face?

The distraction of pain is actually a real thing. When people get into car accidents, their bodies are often only capable of reacting to the worst pain. Usually, that pain is whiplash. They get the whiplash treated without realizing they have a broken wrist until two days later.

That’s what it’s like being physically ill right now. I have all this work and house cleaning. My husband is traveling. I could be stressing, but I’m not. I float in a cold medicine haze. I do not clench my jaw as I type. The faulty, injured rib in my chest is forgotten. My sickness has made me a momentary sociopath, replacing emotional duress with a pile of snotty tissues.

It’s sort of nice really. Alarming but nice, so long as my emotions do eventually come back. (Even bad emotions are better than no emotions.) Today, my body is too sick for my brain to be depressed. Maybe it’s the cold; maybe it’s the Mucinex. Whatever, I’ll take it. It’s a relief giving my emotions a break.

On meditation

meditation

I tried meditating before bed last night. Usually, this is the time when I make up “stories.” They are often horrible stories that never see the light of day, but I tell them to myself, like a small child with a half-drawn picture book. But maybe telling stories isn’t that great of an idea, because sometimes, I actually tell GOOD stories that end up as novels, which means I’m awake and scribbling notes at 11 PM and my husband is like “Sara, WTF?”

So anyway, meditation.

There’s this meditation guy that’s really popular: Jason Stephenson. He’s Australian, which I admit did add a little je ne sais quoi to the experience. I used a guided meditation exercise where the guy talks at you and tells you to breathe and relax above a massage parlor soundtrack.

Traditional meditation as I’ve tried it in the past is worthless to me. I can’t sit there and think of “nothing.” My brain is infuriatingly loud, so telling me to think of nothing is like telling me DON’T THINK ABOUT PIZZA.

See? Now, you’re thinking about pizza. I’m thinking about pizza. We are all thinking about pizza, preferably with mushrooms, sausage, and black olives and this white garlic sauce they make at the parlor down the street. This is why the “think about nothing” meditation has never worked.

Last night, I let Australian Jason guide me through a 15 minute meditation, and all it did was make me remember I’d left the front door unlocked.

It’s not Jason’s fault I couldn’t relax. I’m pretty sure meditation is a skill that takes practice, so I’ll try it again tonight … and the night after that. It’s a re-training of the brain. It’s not often that I’m fully relaxed. Even while sitting still, watching TV, I’m usually making a list of some kind in my head.

The coloring book has helped with that because I’m a perfectionist and refuse to color outside the lines. Yoga helps the most, though, because if you zone out in the middle of a hot yoga flow class, you’re gonna end up on your face.

I promise, I’ll try meditation again … and again. Maybe this is something I could eventually get into? Not sure. Do you meditate? If so, got any tips for the newbie over here?

Stressors

journl

My therapist asked me to write my daily stressors in a journal, but I feel like “my dogs barking” is trite when there are things like school shootings and walls being built out there. But I am me, and my world is small. Therefore, “my dogs barking” is indeed a stressor. My girlfriend says, “To each their own.” She says this in reference to my fixation on actor Timothee Chalamet. He’s too skinny for her.

To each their own.

My dogs BARKING.

What else is on my stressor list? I’m not ready to tell you the big ones, I don’t think. We’ve only just met. Maybe a couple little ones. Hmm…

Therapy. Therapy stresses me out, which is funny because it’s supposed to help–and it does really. I’ve only been in therapy for about three weeks now. It was my last resort because I’ve been severely depressed for two months and don’t want to go back on medication. In regards to mental health, I’ve been doing the right things. My “witchy” friend in Arizona (who’s not actually a witch, but I like calling her that) suggests making tinctures and teas with ingredients like St. John’s Wort, catnip, and ginkgo. I use my sun lamp in the morning. I binge Letterkenny and Seinfeld on Hulu. I write smutty fan fiction and make myself laugh. I even bought an adult coloring book with cuss words to add some color. Nothing helps. I’m not getting better. So therapy. I’m trying, really, so I don’t have to go back on meds. And even if I love my therapist (she’s awesome with funky hair and a nose ring), I still get stressed about therapy because I know I’ll be tired after. I’ll probably cry. I’m tired of crying.

My body stresses me out. I pulled a rib/muscle (the exact prognosis is up for debate) in the center of my chest in October, which means I had to cut way back on my yoga. Yoga is like a religion to me, and I’ve missed it. I just started going back, but it stresses me out that I can’t do the moves I used to. It stressed me out that I can’t challenge my body. I’m a China doll under the radiant heat of hot yoga. I’m trying to go slow, but I’ve never been good at that before. It’s hard to break old habits … which I’m learning in therapy.

No matter how much they bark, I stress over my dogs. Maybe I accidentally leave a candle lit and my house burns down and my dogs are trapped inside. Maybe they run away. Maybe they get hurt. Maybe I won’t survive their loss.

Sometimes, I stress about drinking. Am I doing it to numb myself? Adversely, am I doing it to be able to talk to people? I’m an introvert with an anxiety disorder, but I’m actually good at talking to people—unless I’m depressed. However, add alcohol, and I’m the life of the party. I worry, though. It’s very easy to make myself numb; what if I start needing to live that way?

I stress because I don’t dream anymore. All my life, my dream was to be a published author, and now, I am. I thought it would make everything okay, like “Once I get published, I’ll never be depressed again.” Lie. Huge lie. I don’t know what to dream about anymore. What do you dream about?

I stress over mistakes I made ten years ago. Those mistakes keep me up at night.

I stress over dumb stuff, too. I was sad for a week after Timothee Chalamet didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his role in the addiction drama Beautiful Boy. How dumb is that? I don’t even know the guy.

But ah, we’re back to the dogs barking.

Just because a stressor is dumb doesn’t mean it isn’t a stressor—doesn’t mean that stressors don’t affect your mental health. No matter how trivial, stress is stress, and I’m trying to find patterns. I’m trying to see what ruins my day so I can make the days better. I’d suggest you do the same. You’d be surprised.

Let’s Talk About Cutting

I want to cut my wrists. Don’t panic; it’s not a serious thing. I don’t want to kill myself, but sometimes, when I’m daydreaming, I like to think about cutting myself.

I’ve been doing it off and on in secret since eighth grade. Once I hit my upper twenties, I stopped caring if anyone noticed. Now, in my thirties, good friends know how things are going based on my Band-Aids.

Again, this isn’t a suicide thing. It’s not a “cry for help.” I don’t cut for attention. I don’t cut because I mean myself any harm. I cut because it feels good. Physical pain is better than emotional pain any day. But it very rarely comes to that anymore. Mostly, it’s just in my head. I fantasize about cutting because it calms me down.

Say I’m in a crowded room, and people are small talking around me and I’m just feeling … anxious. I zone out and picture a knife against my skin. Not cutting into my skin—just lingering above it, like a playful tickle. This is my meditation, my visualization, my Power Animal. This image calms me down and always has.

I considered getting a tattoo on my left wrist. That way, I wouldn’t cut my left wrist anymore because I wouldn’t want to ruin the ink. But then I thought, “How does ink hold up on scar tissue?”

I spoke to a group of troubled teens a couple months ago. I admitted to a room full of strangers (who possibly had more in common with me than most “adults”) that I’d been cutting for years. One of the girls asked, “How did you stop?”

Well, I didn’t want to tell her I hadn’t. Instead, I lied. I told her I channeled the yearning to cut into something else—my writing, for instance, or yoga.

But being a cutter is like being a smoker. You quit … but you never really quit.

I’m not saying this to freak out my mother or make you uncomfortable. I’m saying this to be honest. I often question God’s intentions: Why did You give me this stupid disease? Why did You do this to me? What kind of a loving god are You anyway?

See, I get sad, then I get mad. Once I’ve calmed down, I usually realize I wouldn’t be “me” without the depression. I wouldn’t be as weird or funny or oddly charming. I wouldn’t be an artist. I also wouldn’t be able to speak to troubled teen girls or write blog posts that hopefully help other people—make them feel not so alone.

Recently, when I opened up about self-harm, I brought it up, nonchalantly, with a friend of mine who shocked me by saying, “Yeah, I’ve been trying so hard not to cut lately.” Who knew? Now, I do, and now, we talk about it.

We need to talk about this stuff. In college, I hid my mental health problems. No one would ever have thought, “Wow, Sara’s a real downer.”

The older I get, the more I have learned to embrace “me,” even the psycho side of me who wants to stay in bed, never eat again, and play with knives. If anyone needs a hug, it’s her!

So seriously, I’m not trying to freak you out. I just want you to know me, and maybe someday, we can help each other. Isn’t that why we’re here anyway?