We all like sleep. Sleep is good. Naps? Phawrrr, I could go for a nap right now! A much-needed escape from the plethora of stress encountered on a daily basis. As someone with chronic pain and anxiety it doesn’t necessarily come naturally and it can sometimes make things much worse. I warn you now that the middle part of this does real a little like a horror story.
I often have bad dreams, they come as an unwanted side effect when I am in pain. I wanted to share an experience however of what happened to me when I fell asleep during an anxiety attack and why you should never do it. I don’t talk about this much and if I’m honest the whole situation still makes me very uncomfortable but I learnt the hard way how not to deal with anxiety attacks.
I remember the day being bright. This was when I was in my first year of university in a house of strangers. There was a dog barking outside, sound is my trigger for an attack when I feel one coming on. I think I was already in bed trying to nap (because we all love a good nap). I pulled the duvet over my head and curled up into a ball. I always do this; the bed becomes a cosy womb and I feel safe and comforted. The dog was still barking and every time it did felt like it was getting closer and closer.
That’s when I fell asleep. I don’t remember falling asleep and the whole scenario played out as if it were one continuous event. It was warm so I emerged from my comfort-cocoon and stared at the sunlight reflecting off of my door. I turned my head to my desk and someone was sat at it. I felt a lump in throat. The figure was entirely blacked out. Like a void. The head turned and looked at me with no distinct features. I pulled the covers back over my head.
I stayed there for a bit. There were no sounds. The dog’s barking had faded into nothing. I peered back out and the figure was now stood at the end of my bed. I shut my eyes. I couldn’t move. When I opened them again the figure was no longer stood there. As I looked to my left it was sat next to me in the bed.
There were no words exchanged, no violent gestures and nothing menacing other than the presence of this figure and the nature of its appearance. I turned away from it pulling the duvet back over my head. Still the figure did nothing, but then, a banging started on my door. So loud and so clear with a voice shouting questions and responding to them immediately after as if I had called a response. This woke me up.
I hadn’t realised that I had been dreaming until that point. I couldn’t move though and didn’t leave the house for the next day or so. Of all the fear I have ever felt nothing comes close to that, nothing has ever seemed so real.
So what’s my point? Other than showcasing my budding talent as the new Stephen King, I feel like this says a lot about how you should be dealing with anxiety and any problems you have. Not until I started working with my problems instead of against them did I start to get better. Any problem you are experiencing is your body trying to tell you something. My anxiety can be explained as a perfectly normal response to my chronic pain but I still need to listen to what it is saying to be able to deal with the issue.
Suppressing feelings like this will not help you deal with them. What actually happens is you will create a conflict between you and your problems. The Buddhists describe this as “the second arrow”. Experience the discomfort without reacting to it. This will stop further pain and anguish for you beyond the actual issue. This is where being accepting of your issues and facing them head on will benefit you.
Going to sleep in this instance was my second arrow. It just so happened to hit my right between the fucking eyes. Sleeping can seem like an escape but often you should not be trying to escape from the problem, you need to face it, listen to your body, and if you need it, seek further help. Don’t try and sleep away your problems. Definitely not if it is an anxiety attack.
Be kind to yourself.