Saturday, 2 October 2010

The stuff of Nightmares

Insomnia and I are long acquainted. He sat, perched on the edge of my bed until after 1am this morning. 'So, too much coffee today honey?' he asks. 'I don't think so', I reply, 'I only had a couple of cups and that was over 12 hours ago'. 'Must be an overactive mind, would you like to talk about it?' he enquires. And so, for the next few hours we discuss my worries, and my excited expectations for the beginning of term today. Despite his soothing approach, and its catharthic effect, sleep is afraid to intrude and so I have no choice but to resort to chemicals. Two paracetamol and a little light reading later, and I'm finally drifting into oblivion.

Insomnia is an adult domain. Nightmares, I have always believed, belong to childhood. But as usual, I am wrong. The thing with adult nightmares is that they don't feature monsters or serial killers but confusion, loneliness, abandonment and crisis. Freud would have a field day with my imagination. In these filmlike narratives, I have been to hell (where in fact, I was a child and had to survive for 9 days in order to be allowed to enter whatever the alternative to hell was), I have faced death (my own and that of those I love), isolation or disruption in my work environment, and my particular favourite, revisits to my childhood with a distinctly Tim Burton feel to them. In literature, sleep represents peace, the place to which we can escape the day's troubles. But when nightmares intrude, we are stuck in that overheated room in Sartre's disturbing play 'Huis Clos'.

And, what prompts these disturbances in my psyche? Well, as I've got older I have discovered that very little at all is needed. An argument, a worry over something small, a particularly nasty television programme or movie. With age comes experience, but also the ready ability to return to places of darkness in an instant. What twenty years ago I would have brushed off definantly, now hovers around me like a bad smell. Meditation and yoga take on a new appreciative air as a defence against these 'dark arts'. Eventually, the nightmares will retreat, as will the insomnia, and my equilibrium will be restored. For now.

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