Mental Health

Six Cats and a Black Dog: Hello Nightmares, My Old Friends…

Donna Brown682 views
Nightmare scene
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Blog for Mental HealthLast year I made a Blog For Mental Health pledge. Sadly, there is no pledge in 2016 and the Blog for Mental Health site is no longer being curated, though it is currently still accessible. However, this was a wonderful project (and it ran for several years) and I’m truly glad it got me blogging about this subject, albeit less regularly than I’d like!

Hello Nightmares, My Old Friends…

Nightmare interiorIf it seems like a strange title for a blog post – why would nightmares ever be your friends? – bear with me. The nightmares are back. I never really stop having nightmares but over summer they decreased dramatically. In fact, I can’t remember having more than one. About three weeks ago they came back in force. First one every few days and now every night. Sometimes more than one a night. And they are awful.

It’s a warning sign, I know that – hence the ‘friends’ because at least they are helpful in some way. Life is challenging at the moment in some of the biggest ways it has been in the last decade, some of which I have little/no control over. Forgive me for not going into more detail. I am not being cryptic or vague to add mystery, I just don’t want to delve into it here. There is upheaval and change. I am also back in the classroom and it is so much harder this year. There is a multitude of reasons, some interwoven with other challenges, and I won’t start listing them all, but the reserves that got me through difficult lessons, days or even weeks last year don’t seem to be there.

Keep going Duracell bunny

NightmaresWhen I messaged my mum and told her they were back and every night no less, I received a succinct and spot on reply: “Stress”. It strikes me that we underestimate the effect of stress, just as we underestimate the effect of sleep disruption. Instead, we live in a busy world that encourages a head down, shoulders back, keep smiling approach. Push on through. Keep swimming. Actually, when someone acknowledges your pain – for whatever reason you feel it – it is much more helpful. The equivalent of “I can’t fix it but I’m listening” meant the world to me this week. Yet still the nightmares came.

I don’t like to think I’m in a dark place at the moment because I’m getting a lot of joy out of things. Books, music, art and the theatre bring some incredible light to shadowed days (not to mention, as ever, my beautiful cats). Yet still the dreams come. It is telling to me that they subsided so much over summer when, although still working and still facing a lot of difficult change, I was away from teaching. How sad when I loved teaching so much last year.

I actually thought last year was one of the best of my life until I realised the cost. Barely seeing family or reading a book, spending most hours working or asleep (and too few doing the latter). By the end of that first year, I was having a regular eye twitch, confusing my words, losing coordination. In other words, I was utterly exhausted – “dangerously exhausted” my mum worried – but I was riding high on the thrill of helping students and learning so much myself. As they went and I wasn’t needed and suddenly my daytimes were my own again (I work late hours Sunday to Friday) I rediscovered a lot of things.

After the summer…

Nightmare sceneThen I went back for year two and, even though I am doing a much reduced placement and have much more time (and more sleep), the twitch is back and the dreams are back. And these old friends tell me that something isn’t right. It isn’t long until half term and time to think about what I want to do. One of the things I have become particularly aware of over the last 18 years is that when we become acquainted with the ins and outs of our own mental health it becomes possible to sometimes (though not always by any means) spot warning signs when things begin to ‘wobble’. It is important not to ignore them.

The difficulty is that it is hard to make good decisions when you’re not sleeping well but whatever I decide, with all I’ve realised over the last couple of months and all that has changed, perhaps any decision won’t be such a rush decision after all.

In the meantime, I will walk and read and visit things and work hard and do my best and hope for better sleep, undisturbed. I don’t think I need a doctor’s visit this time because I know what the issues are. I just need to decide on the approach to fixing them. Then hopefully my old friends can leave me in peace for a few months, at the very least…

Lao Tzu

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Donna Brown
Avid reader/audiobook listener, fan of podcasts, prone to the odd Netflix binge. Mum to six crazy and incredible rescue cats. Occasional writer of short stories and poetry.