When I was a kid I had vivid and crazy dreams, and when I was under stress I had the most frightening nightmares. It’s been a long time since I had a real nightmare, but this week has brought me a good one.
I was asleep.
Of course, you were!
No, I mean I was asleep in my dream, snuggled down in my bed next to my lightly (this time) snoring husband, feather blanket pulled up around me, teddy bear tucked under my arm. Don’t start with me about Edward Tiberius. He’s not going anywhere and you can’t shame me. I have a right to sleep however I feel most comfortable!
I was sleeping soundly when an alarm clock went off and woke me up (in my dream). I couldn’t figure out what the noise was at first. We have an alarm clock in our bedroom but we’ve never used it. I looked around in confusion until I saw the clock lying on the bathroom floor.
Now, I’m not aware I’m dreaming at this point. I just think it’s rather odd to be jarred awake by an alarm clock we never set laying on the bathroom floor where we do not keep it. I casually pull my blankets back and swing my feet out onto the floor. It’s cold.
I stand in my pajamas and take the two or three steps toward the door of my bathroom. It’s one of those pocket ones, you know? The door pulls shut out of a pocket in the wall. It’s to save space and it does. I can have my laundry basket just inside and the door doesn’t swing into it and mar the old wooden dresser that sits beside it.
I’m standing in the doorway, annoyed by the braying sound of the alarm, but when I reach down to the floor to pick it up, the door quickly slides shut on my arm, trapping me. The light wood of the door shocks me but doesn’t hurt. In typical dreamlike fashion, I’m not scared by it, just confused, but when I try to open it and pull my arm out, it shuts harder and I can’t escape.
Now I’m scared. I turn away from it and call to my sleeping husband across the room. In reality, this man sleeps like the dead. I’m certain nothing will wake him. I’m envious of it. In my dream, I call him over and over again, yelling at him to wake up and help me but he doesn’t budge.
I turn to the door and try again to pull my arm out, the alarm blaring on, but it’s no use. I am stuck and trying to force my arm out is starting to hurt. I keep struggling to get free and calling for help but no one came.
I was crying when I woke up but the feeling didn’t stick and in a few moments, I was falling asleep again hoping I’d remember the dream so I could retell it in the morning.
You have probably already noticed that this was clearly an anxiety dream. I’ve always had them. My dreams typically center around no one coming to help, calling 911 and nothing happens or trying to tell someone something important only to have them turn away or not recognize me. They are always unsettling. Having them again reminds me that I’m struggling now. From the outside, maybe it seems I have my shit together, I may even be fooling myself about my state of mind, but my dreams tell me something different. It’s like a window to a part of me I close off.
We all know where the anxiety is coming from right now and we’re all dealing with it in our own ways. I’m not sure how I’m dealing with it really. One moment I’m a practiced Stoic, like Spock in a crisis. In the next, I’m a blubbering mess and need a hug.
Side note: I meant to type “need a hug” but “need a gun” is what came out. Subconscious slip? Maybe.
I’ve learned over the last twenty years that the best thing to do is wait and see what happens. Making decisions from a panicked state of mind never ends well. It’s not my nature though. I like routine. I feel more comfortable knowing what next week will most likely bring. This “wait and see” shit is not my cup of tea.
My dreams reflect my desire for someone to help me, fix it for me, and return things to normal. I know that won’t happen. I panicked in my dream the same way I feel like I’m holding back panic in real life. If I could dream it again, I’d take a breath and think about what was happening. Nothing was hurting. I was only surprised and scared. I didn’t need help. I could have fixed it myself.
In my meditation tonight, I’ll go back to it and do it again. I’ll visualize the same scene but this time, instead of panicking, I’ll take a deep breath and see what the problem is. I’ll look to my sleeping husband and use his calm state of mind. I’ll push the door back open, pick up the clock and stop the alarm. I’ll set it back on the shelf where it belongs and get back in my bed.
Regardless of what happens, the trick is not to panic. There’s always a way to respond, even if it changes nothing about the situation, it will change me and that’s all I have control over.
The story goes that my Grandpa Roy, my Dad’s Dad, gave me this bear. The oldest picture I have of him is from 1980, but I think I got him before that, probably around 1978 because I remember being around five or six years old when I got him for Christmas.
He was under the tree at my Grandpa’s house in Anaheim, the house with the huge Magnolia tree in the front yard that always seemed to have one flower at the very top. When we came into the house on Christmas Day, I saw him under the tree and secretly hoped he was for me instead of my little brother.
We ate cookies and played with the dogs for what seemed like an eternity. Why do adults make children wait to open presents on holidays? Is it to torture them or teach them patience? All I know is that it’s a practice I gave up the moment I became a parent. In fact, I did it before that. Any time I had the chance to get a gift for a kid, I’d always find some way to let them open it as soon as they saw it much to the dismay of the parents I knew. I just never could see the point of delaying the inevitable and besides, I never couldn’t wait to see their joy when they opened them.
We had finally gathered around my Grandpa’s Christmas tree to exchange and open gifts and I made a bee line to that bear with the big red ribbon around his neck. My Grandpa, that great big man with jet black hair, soft smile, and giant hands, took me in his arms and told me quietly that teddy bears were invented to guard children from nightmares. He explained that this one was a “pot-bellied bear” and was especially good at it. He was trained to sleep all day long so that he could stay up all night and make sure nightmares never came near his friends. I remember taking it very seriously and I named him Edward. He hasn’t spent a night away from me since that day.
As a child, I always had very vivid nightmares. They ranged from vague feelings of abandonment to horribly detailed graphic dreams of death and fear. Dreams have a way of being so terrifying when you’re wrapped in the darkness of a quiet bedroom but seem rather silly when described out loud in the daylight, but I’ll do my best to describe the one recurring nightmare that has always terrified me. It even comes around today from time to time.
I wasn’t sure what triggered it, but I could always tell I’d have this nightmare before I went to sleep. I’d get ready for bed with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Once I was snuggled into my bed, my Mom would come and tuck me in with a kiss and turn off my light and that’s where it would start to snowball into night terrors.
I’d do everything a kid could do to stay awake, talk to my animals, sing to myself, get up for water and a trip to the bathroom. Sometimes I’d even spur myself to walk out into the livingroom and to talk to my mom. I’d ask for a snack or maybe another kiss goodnight.
I never could understand why my parents were so angry and frustrated about my nocturnal wanderings. I swore to myself that when I became a parent, I’d always be understanding about why a kid wouldn’t want to go to sleep. But then once I was a parent myself, I found out it wasn’t that easy. I could easily understand my children’s nighttime fears, but I was so tired myself that it was hard to consistently respond in sympathy. These are the things we learn as we experience life!
After numerous attempts to get out of going to sleep, including sleeping in my little brother’s bed, I’d reluctantly climb back into my single bed, pull my Raggedy Ann and Andy sheets up to my neck, put my back against the wall an attempt to keep my eyes open until sunrise.
It was always in vain. Eventually, that nervous feeling would grow and fill my throat and ears. My room walls would fade and my bedroom furniture would push away from the center of the room. I’d find myself walking a circle around the middle of my bedroom floor with my dresser and writing desk growing beside me “Wonderland” style. The stark fear I felt was maddening.
I can’t say what I was afraid of. There was nothing overtly frightening in this dream, just a feeling of dread that overwhelmed me. I’d begin to take a few more steps around my room when the floor in the middle would drop out into darkness and I’d fall into it in slow motion. That’s when the terror would hit me and I’d wake up in my bed shaking. That was the end of it. You’d think I’d sit up the rest of night or call out for my parents, but I never did. After I woke, the fear would be gone. I’d roll over in my bed and go right to sleep wondering what in the world was so wrong.
My Grandpa must have been told about these nightmares and had thought to give me the bear in the hope of helping. It worked most nights. Most nights, I’d get into my bed and face the wall, Edward the Bear would face the room, and I’d fall asleep easily. Some nights, though, the nightmares would come back, and I’d wake up and scold him for sleeping on the job. He always looked so remorseful that I forgave him. I’m sure he had perfectly reasonable excuses, though he never tried to explain them to me.
That bear has never left my side. I remember my mother asking me if I’d keep him even when I grew up and got married. I proudly told her I’d never marry anyone that didn’t love Edward as much as me. He’s even went on camping trips with me when I was kid, including “Outdoor Education” camp when I was a sixth grader.
I’m in my forties now and these days I rarely have nightmares like I used to, but sometimes they come back. I’ve learned what triggers them though, anxiety. When events and worries overwhelm me, the nightmares return. I’ve even had that same falling down dream a few times in recent years, but Edward has always been there. I’m a side sleeper and I’ve grown accustomed to having him under my arm for support.
His name was changed from Edward the Bear to Edward T. Bear in my twenties but years later, when my young sons asked what the “T” stood for, I quickly renamed him Tiberius after Captain Kirk. They approved heartily. There was a time when I thought I would share that bear with my boys, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. He’s a part of me.
The past few years, he’s really started to show his wear. He has no mouth at all any more. His neck is wobbly from all the stuffing he’s lost from holes I sewed up with needle and thread. His ears no longer stand up and his eyes are scratched and dull. I considered putting him up on a shelf instead of sleeping with him under my arm to protect him, but I can’t. Ever since the Toy Story movies, I can’t bear to put him up no matter how threadbare he becomes. I tired to think of a way to reinforce his skin a bit and came up with patches. Every time he gets a hole, I put on a new patch. Each patch is sewn over the side of another patch, since he original fabric is so thin. It’s working. He’s beginning to look like a patchwork quilt.
I love that stinky bear. We’ve been through a lot. Growing up. Boyfriends. Break-ups. New jobs. Marriage. Babies. And now my babies growing up. He’s been covered in my tears, listens attentively, and never judges or gives bad advice. It’s crazy, I know, but that bear goes with me when I die. I can’t leave him behind.