I’m so happy to be home tonight. I trudged through the day, exhausted and haunted by a nightmare from last night. The DJ’s on the local talk radio station complained about the the day which was windy and much colder. I disagreed. I welcomed the brisk, chilling wind. It woke me up and blew the stink of the nightmare from my skin.
I am drained of energy, but that seems to be a constant state recently. Last night I had accidentally fallen into an exhausted sleep on the couch. When I woke up after midnight, I left T laying on the couch. I shuffled off to bed hoping to maintain my state of semi-slumber, but by the time I stripped off my work clothes and crawled between the blankets, I was wide awake. Eventually, I fell into a fitful slumber keeping one ear alert in case Emily needed me.
Last night when I had gotten home from work, Emily looked worse than the previous day. She was in obvious pain, and she still couldn’t eat a thing. Thankfully, she has been able to drink plenty of fluids. She has been sick for over a week now, and while she is making progress, it is apparent that this is going to be a long haul. The doctor had suggested that it may be necessary to hospitalize her, but Emily’s horror had caused him to allow her to go home with several prescriptions instead of admitting her. He had warned, “I want to see you back here if you haven’t improved in three days.” Underneath it all, she and I both worry that this is the beginning of a disease that has claimed other members of our family. I can’t relax until she is well, yet the world keeps spinning. I don’t want to leave her side, yet I have other responsibilities that demand my time and energy.
After about an hour of fitful sleep, I was awake again. A nightmare had intruded on these few quiet moments reserved for reviving my mind and body. I was shaking and sweating. I was gasping for breath from the images in my dream. I had seen things that even as they frightened me, I could imagine that they were, or could be, the truth. The nightmare was full of terror, horror, and the confusion of one well-loved who in the end has had absolutely no love, affection, or respect for you as a human being. It was a dream of complete betrayal. I laid in the darkness panting to catch my breath, trying to distinguish the dream from reality. At 3:00 a.m., the lines between dreams and reality are blurred, and the lines remained blurred for most of the day.
“Nightmare – A dream occurring during sleep that results in feelings of strong terror, fear, distress, or extreme anxiety. This phenomenon tends to occur in the latter part of the night and oftentimes awakens the sleeper, who is likely to recall the content of the dream. Most nightmares may be a normal reaction to stress, and some clinicians believe they aid people in working through traumatic events.”
All morning, I could recall the details of my dream. I hate that. It doesn’t seem fair to be haunted by things during the day that are better off hidden away in the subconscious.
I drove home at lunchtime to try to tempt Emily with some food. I thought of the dream again while I drove. I brought Em some mashed potatoes at her request, but she only ate one small bite. I sat at the table and watched her with tears in my eyes. Why won’t she eat? What is going on? I lost it when it was time to leave her and go back to work. “Why won’t you at least try to eat? If you can take one bite, why can’t you take two more? You need to help your body get better!” She just looked at me from her spot under the blanket on the couch. Her big green eyes looked even bigger in her quickly thinning face. She said, “I’ll be OK, Mom. Try not to worry.”
About an hour later, Emily called me. “Mom, I ate all of the potatoes.” A small thing, but I felt an immense amount of relief. Logically, I believe that Emily will be fine. I’m just worried. I’m stressed out to the point that one more thing is one thing too many.
The list of things I need to settle in my mind is a long one. Too many things are going on. Too many things have changed or become unsettled. I’m taking care of too many things, and I feel like I am failing in all areas. Taking care of myself feels selfish, yet no one is forcing these obligations upon me. I am to blame. I try to remind myself of the good things.
Over the past few years, we have established a pattern of going from one bad thing to the next bad thing. We react to the emergencies or the things that are most pressing. When things are smooth, we don’t make the most of those times. We don’t treasure the good times or make memories that are stronger than the memories of the bad times. Instead of anticipating the good, we are simply thankful for the absence of bad. We retreat. We hibernate or withdraw. We do “our own things.” We waste precious time.
We need to change our pattern. But this is not just about us, or our family, or anyone else. This is mostly about me. No one else is responsible for my happiness, or my stress level, or anything about me, but me. I need to change my own pattern. I have been taking care of too much, internalizing too much, and not enjoying much at all about my life.
As I was writing this, a mental list of Pam’s Shortcomings began to form in my mind. No! That isn’t what is needed. I’m stressed out, and I need to take care of myself. I need to be kind to myself and to those around me. I need more gentleness, and affection, and joy. Focusing on what is wrong won’t help at all. I will endure and be strong until the nightmares pass, until Emily is well again, and then I will find a reason to celebrate.