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The Fears That Surface at Night for Someone With Anxiety

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Groggy eyes snapping open, heart pounding, adrenaline pumping. I’ve just been brutally woken up by another nightmare, which in the last year has become all too common. Even if I gradually forget the content of the nightmare (I actively try to), it’s jarring enough to negatively impact the rest of the day. Sleep, which oftentimes seems to be the only respite I have from my turbulent life, ceases to be a rest and just becomes another opportunity for terror and uncertainty.

As someone who has been diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder over Christmas break, it’s been a rough year. It’s hard to get used to a new, unpredictable and often quite uncontrollable life. My therapist suggested I could have somatic symptom disorder, which is strong anxiety over physical symptoms, pain and poor health. I don’t deny the possibility of the idea; most of the time though, I just consider myself being realistic with myself instead of running from it.

As someone who also has very strong symptoms of borderline personality disorder, social situations are just stressful in general and even the idea of being social (or, God forbid, fixing a “people-problem”) is enough to cause anxiety just by itself. I don’t really consider myself as having the most well-grounded friendships, although there are one or two currently which are keeping me going. But there’s always that voice in the back of my head that whispers, “It’s only a matter of time before they betray you, just like everyone else you once knew and loved.” Simply put, any socialization requires me to push aside those thoughts of inevitable betrayal. It’s exhausting, and it takes a toll on me when I already have so much else to worry about.

If my fear doesn’t spill out during the day — if I am successful at adequately hiding it and going about my day like a normal human being — it’s sure to come out at night. My roommate has told me on several occasions (once after I asked, following a remarkably terrible dream) that I talk in my sleep a lot. Other people I know, whether it’s family or old camping buddies, say the same. This only adds to my distress. “What do they know about me that they aren’t saying? What have I revealed to them in my sleep?” When I talk in my sleep, I don’t babble nonsense. I speak, for the most part, coherent thoughts. And when I have nightmares where my worst fears surface, I worry that I reveal everything. For all I know, people next door and can hear me yell, because the doors aren’t very thick. The only way I can block out the noise of outside is through a fan and air conditioner right next to my bed, but not everyone has that.

Nightmares introduce fears and worries: some are realistic, some are nonsense. Some are of current issues; some are of old, once long-forgotten memories that I’ve forcefully tried to forget. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why both my long-term and short-term memory is so shockingly poor. But I don’t have nightmares about monsters and zombies and tornadoes, although sometimes I wish I did.

No — mine are about people. All of them. I remember having a dream when I was about 8 or 9 years old in which my whole family, except for me, was killed by terrorists in the darkness of our cellar, just so that I would be left alone. I had an almost exact duplicate of this dream a couple months ago, perhaps in more vivid detail this time. I’ve had dreams of my mom dying of cancer before I could say goodbye. I’ve had dreams of losing all my siblings without healing wounds from past wrongdoings or misunderstandings. Just last night I had a dream that right after attending church — sometimes the only stable thing in my life — all my family except for my sister and I were killed in a car accident.

That’s the worst thing about it all. When you’re living that reality — and it is a reality when you’re living it and for at least an hour after you wake up — you’ve lost everything. You wish you were dead, just like the rest of your family in that twisted fantasy. When you wake up, and it’s dark, you don’t know what’s real and what’s not. Are my family and friends still alive? I don’t know — it’s night, and I’m half the United States away from my immediate family. There’s really no way of convincing someone like me in that delirious state that everything is OK — my heart still hurts from the tragic loss.

And sometimes, like last night, my mind likes to play out cruel variations to “spice things up.” For instance, after my one sister and I were left alive, we were in the car on the run. From what, I can’t even remember. I do remember the feeling of running… running… always running. Maybe this is typical for people who have mental illness like me. If so, my heart truly goes out to you for it’s a long and hard battle.

The best and worst part of the dream came near the end when I broke down in tears and hugged my sister, and reunited in a very real sense. This was the best because it’s what I’ve longed to do for so long now; it’s the worst because I know it isn’t real, it probably won’t happen, and it has happened. Here again, my mind mixes truth with fiction, past with present and present with future. During a rough period of my life during a praise and worship conference over the summer with other youth from our parish church, I broke down publicly at the worst time possible of one of the talks and loudly cried for probably 15 minutes straight. And I’m not talking about a soft, pretty cry. I’m talking about basically wailing out of control, pools of tears on the floor. I’m not a crier — I almost never cry, even when I want to. It became so bad that I became temporarily incapacitated from the waist down and had to have a wheelchair cart me into a recovery room. It took hours (arguably, days) for me to fully recover, however.

I want reunion with my family and friends. I want to tell my sister that I love her and miss her dearly and couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. I want to know I am loved and accepted, and deep down inside perhaps I already know that I am. How could I not, after all they have put up with. But anxiety, depression and this borderline personality that I so strongly believe I have refuse to let me accept that. I basically have to be told I am loved on a daily basis, or else I don’t believe any of it is true. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what is said, I refuse to believe I can really be loved.

Sometimes you find yourself on the road to recovery, and things seem to be getting more “normal” again. All it takes is one incident, or one nightmare, to reopen that gaping wound. And once it starts, it can take weeks, or even months, to close it again. And the vicious cycle continues.

I know my situation is unique, not everyone has the same battles. However, I know that there are people out there who need to hear this message, even if it does just seem like a random, unstable guy on the internet spilling his thoughts. Just know that you are not alone (as I type, I am telling myself this just as much as I am telling you). I both sympathize and empathize with you, my fellow warriors, and I truly love you to death and back for our common struggle. I wish I could meet you all face to face, and perhaps someday I will. Until then, take care of yourselves and don’t let your fantasy become your reality!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure

Originally published: May 21, 2017
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