Author’s Note: I generally don’t like author’s note, but in this case I thought it was necessary to apply a trigger warning for terrorism, guns and violence in the second section of this piece, especially since it contains an upsetting description of someone dying (a nightmare character, though, not a real person). If you think that might be triggering in any way, go on to the third part. Additionally, this whole post has to do with grief, depression and anxiety.
RIP 15/02/1963 – 20/03/2016
The first time I was kidnapped.
I wasn’t the only one, there was a group of us that were kidnapped and dropped on an island. All the colours were too bright and it felt like there should be generic, upbeat, techno music playing in the background as if I were playing a video game. Maybe there was, because the reason they’d kidnapped us was to broadcast us on live television. It was a new concept of a reality show. Pick out five real people, put them on a real abandoned island, find out if they can really survive. And if they don’t, they really die.
That’s what’s missing from reality shows. The idea that if everything goes wrong you fucking die.
I saved us. My subconscious has a heroic streak that I lack the strength to display in my waking life. In this case, I also lack the physical strength: I went to the dangerous parts of the island. Fought the monsters, both lifelike and not. I gathered food and supplies. Delegated easy and safe jobs for the rest of my companions. We survived. And I managed to obtain enough supplies that our continued survival was all but guaranteed. I felt victorious.
The victory was short lived, have you guessed why? All but guaranteed isn’t actually guaranteed. And the producers thought that we were too safe for there to be any real excitement. They flew jets over the islands, dropped bombs on the supplies and shelters. As I watched the supplies burn I felt failure of the horrifying variety.
“We can…we can do it again,” I said weakly. My optimism isn’t an act, it’s so deep rooted it even appears in my subconscious mind.
“No, you can. We can’t all survive, but you can.”
The suggestion I live without them was enough to wake me, guilt pooling in my stomach as I rushed to turn on my computer and play music. Trying to forget because I felt disturbed.
ii. Terrorist Attack
“I can’t sleep anymore, I’m too scared to sleep.”
I was sobbing into the phone because I meant it. My life had become a nightmare overnight and now my dreams were trying to contest the horror, battering every part of my psyche with guilt that was so senseless I didn’t want to admit it. But the dream I had the night after the kidnapping dream had broken the dam. It would have broken anyone.
We were on a train that stopped in the middle of a tunnel. I glanced at a small boy, nine years old, defenseless and angelic enough to force anyone to feel protective. When the doors were forced open with a crowbar, I forced the gun from the terrorist’s hand. It was so vivid that I remember pulling back the security. Remember the trembling of my hand when my finger found the trigger as he crowded into me trying to wrestle his way back to the gun. Remember the heat of his blood as it poured over my hands and down my wrists like a faucet.
I gagged, dropped the gun and somebody else, better adept with guns, grabbed it. Two people forced the doors closed correctly guessing that the one that entered our carriage wasn’t the only one in the tunnels. They’d just gotten the doors closed when we heard the gunshots from the rest of the train. Then the ones still outside the train opened fire on us. I practically lunged over to the nine year old, covering his body with my own. He cried as the one who had grabbed the gun I dropped started returning fire and I prayed for the train to start operating again.
Those still alive in the carriage felt relief when the train started moving, sure we were returning to safety. Somebody called my phone, saying that there was a bomb set to go off the moment we reached our station. I felt cold all over and I looked at the nine year old. The last thought I had before I was wrenched from my dream was that I hadn’t only failed him. I’d failed everyone.
iii. Repressed Anxiety
My doctor diagnosed me with a case of repressed anxiety.
“It’s normal for people to feel like this after someone in their family has died. That’s why you had a dream of being kidnapped and being part of a terrorist attack, your subconscious mind is afraid you’re going to die,” the doctor said.
I stared at him not knowing how to verbalise what I was feeling, what I was thinking. Not sure that he’d even listen if I figured it out. All I knew was that the suggestion that I was afraid of my own death made me angry. Because he was wrong. I’d been scared of my own mortality since I was eight, since my mom was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and, while I knew people outside of my family could be sick, the reality had permeated itself into my life forcing me to face it. She’d started controlling my own sugar intake and people kept telling me that I had diabetes on both my mother and father’s side of the family like there was ticking time bomb inside my pancreas.
When I was 13 I’d had a premonition like dream of my mom dying which replayed in real life a few months later, except the doctors had brought her back from the brink of death. I still remember the doctor telling us that the only way to get my mom stable was to put her into a coma. He hadn’t said she was facing almost certain death, but I just kept thinking. “He brought us into a silent room for a reason.” I was a child, but I wasn’t stupid; most people didn’t wake up from comas and I had no reason to believe she would until she actually did.
Ever since her near death, I’ve dreamed of her dying every way imaginable. I’ve dreamed of myself dying zero times. Not to mention, I’d told my doctor that my mom had died six weeks prior to my visit because I knew the nightmares were related in some way, but that hadn’t been the whole story. My grandmother had died seventeen months before my mom, followed by my grandfather a couple months later. I’d woken up one morning later that summer to a text from my brother telling me our great-aunt was dead. And as I laid in bed, unable to drag myself out of the intense loss of too many deaths in too little time I told myself that at least that was it. That everyone else was much too young to die. Even my maternal grandparents still had a good decade to go as far as I could tell.
And then seven months later my mom died a month after her 53rd birthday. Her heart stopped in the middle of the night. It gave up only a few months after telling my mom that when I found a job I’d fly her out to Spain under the only condition that she went to the doctor so that what happened wouldn’t happen. But I was too late.
“That’s my daughter,” my mom had told her doctor when I eighteen and I visited her at the hospital a day before she was discharged. “She saved my life. Twice.” I’d ducked my head, feeling the burden of too much responsibility wrap its coils around my chest.
Young people lucky enough to be healthy are arrogant enough to think themselves invincible. My own arrogance took it one step further ever since then; the only way my mom could actually die was if I allowed it to happen.
I hadn’t been the only one on the island. I hadn’t been the only one on that train. I was scared of death, yes, but only because in eighteen months it had brutally shown me how entirely inconsequential I was. It would take lives away no matter how much a little girl with delusions of grandeur thought she could stop it. And my arrogance was such that despite my feelings of grief for four of my family members and suffering from repressed anxiety that the rest of my family could drop dead at any second, my psyche had chosen to plague me with the irrational guilt I felt at not being able to stave off death.
I was on a beach in Australia surfing with two friends who I’d never met in my waking life. The sun was sunburn hot but didn’t blister my skin, the sand felt soft and didn’t sting or slip in between my toes and the sea was picture-paradise blue. It was all too vivid to not be a nightmare but it didn’t start out as one. At least, not until the storm came. My friends wouldn’t let me convince them to join me in the ocean before the storm really hit, they said the winds were already too strong. They were right, but I still went by myself. I felt a bit too restless in my dream not to go, much like in my waking life, I’m just not as pre-emptive at searching for disaster in reality.
The first fall from my board and the feeling of the water crashing painfully over me should have sent me back to the beach but it didn’t, I got back on. I had a lust filled desire to ride one of those insurmountable waves that was too strong to just give up. By that time, I was lucid enough to know I was dreaming but not lucid enough to control the dream. The second time a wave knocked me down the surfboard snapped. I tried to cling onto the front half of the board to float back but it struggled to hold my weight and I couldn’t even see the beach anymore. Finally, another wave knocked me under.
I plunged into the water and held my breath, feeling my body sink in the thrashing water as my feet kicked and my arms reached upward trying to break the surface of the water that was just beyond the tips of my fingers. It was too far, though, and I was getting too tired to fight the water. The drugs the doctor had prescribed me for the insomnia hadn’t succeeded in giving me a dreamless sleep, but they succeeded in keeping me under as my consciousness tried to wake me before I could watch myself drown. However, as I started to feel panic, two people had grabbed each of my hands and pulled my head above water. My friends were wearing wetsuits as they determinedly swam me back to the shore – they’d come to the beach to make sure I hadn’t gone out without them and seen me fall off my board.
“You can’t just keep surfing to ignore everything else. You need our help,” my girl friend said once I was sitting up and breathing normally again.
The boy friend nodded in agreement. “You can’t do it alone.”
The first reaction I had upon finally waking up from the dream and interpreting it was disgust at the idea that I needed help from anyone, especially from the fear of drowning under my own grief, depression and sense of impotence. Those were my feelings and I didn’t want to share them with anyone. After all, I was supposed to be the “strong” one in the family. If everyone needs help then I was intent on being the exception. But still, I knew that disgust was the wrong thing to feel. It certainly wasn’t the reaction an emotionally stable person would have.
I didn’t reach out for help, though, I didn’t really believe anyone would want to help. It felt like sympathy had a faster expiration date than grief, especially when it’s related to death; people try not to think about death too much if they can help it. I just didn’t have that option anymore. Ever since then I’ve had a nightmare of every single one of my family members and close friends dying in my dreams. I reached out for my phone the second I woke from every one of those, terrified and knowing the terror wouldn’t actually go away until I found out they were definitely still alive. But I never actually called any of them.
I still wanted no one to worry about me more than I wanted their help.