I had a terrifying experience whilst I was waking this morning. Recently my flashbacks and intense dreads have blended with nightmares so that the flashback will first work its way into the dream, then I’ll be locked for a long time into a state where I feel I’m conscious (and I’m aware of physical sensations in the real world like the feel of the mattress under me or noise outside) but the flashback continues all around me and I can’t move and often can’t open my eyes from it. In my hallucination / dream I’m screaming and panicking to move and get free but for a long time I can’t. Usually when it eventually ends I’ll be able to move and full consciousness returns and I’ll be very upset. Occasionally I go back into sleep for a time.
Today’s experience has left a peculiraly lasting fear with me although it was bizarre and did not involve explicitly reexperiencing a past event or threat. Afterwards my anxiety was really high, I was shaking, crying and for about 4 hours I felt as if I was bordering on a panic attack. I spoke on the phone to a family member, about what had happened but also about other nice things like how they were decorating for Christmas, to ground me and draw me back to the real world. A little later I forced myself to go out, pushing through the panic and feeling so dizzy and faint. This also helped and I was rewarded with beautiful gentle afternoon sunlight. Ducks and gulls were circling over the river and the sunlight in the trees through the mist gave a delicate pastel glow. I went into town and got the last couple of Christmas gifts on my list. Somehow, reality became a little firmer and safer.
I apologise that the rest of this post may not be terribly interesting to anyone but me. Reading about my dream or hallucination probably isn’t very appealing! I have written about what I experienced as a way of processing it and accepting that it happened, facing it and hopefully making it a bit less scary. Also, I think what I experienced tells me about ways I am feeling (in the real world) trapped, scared and dissociated from a couple of identities within me which I don’t allow to speak or feel and one of which doesn’t really dare be heard. I think it may be useful for me to come back to this later.
In one of these bizarre conscious-but-trapped states (is this the horror people with Locked In Syndrome feel?), I was panicking desperately trying to fully awake, open my eyes and get off the bed, when a woman I couldn’t see came to me and told me that my friend A was very sick and going to die. She had not asked for me and wouldn’t, but I must go to see her.
In real life I lost touch with A several years ago. We were never very closest friends but we connected over various work and discussions at church and spent some time together and I felt somehow that A, an extremely private person who very rarely spoke of herself at all and shrank away from any time spent on her, struggled deeply inside with fights I could somehow empathise with.
In my hallucination this morning, I decided immediately that yes, I must go to her, and so I stopped screaming and panicking about not being able to force myself up off the bed. I started to go with the woman I couldn’t see to A’s house. I asked her, what about A’s husband G (in real life A is married). The woman told me G was overcome with sadness for A and couldn’t any longer reach her. He didn’t know what to do but he wanted me to come. The woman I couldn’t see and I went to some kind of building I don’t remember, except that there was lots of wood and it had lots of rooms or passages. The woman I couldn’t see was gone suddenly and I wondered how would I know where A was. But then suddenly I found myself in A’s room. I was aware that her husband G was in the room but further away in the corner not able to come closer, though he wished he could. At the same time my terror resurfaced and came to its peak and I remembered again how I was trapped and couldn’t move. I was being crushed by terror and dread. A was in her bed; she was really sick; she was dying; though I was really afraid I absolutely had to look at her without fear. Despite the fear I was longing to look and be with her.
So, with all my courage and in so much pain I looked. Suddenly I was right by her bed kneeling on the floor wanting to take her in my arms and hug her. Then the utter terror returned because at first I couldn’t see her. Then I realised with horror she was all covered over with these richly embroidered sheets and cloths – like altar cloths or priests’ vestments, I thought – and her hair was covered as though she were a nun… but somehow she had become fused or blended with the bed. It was surreal and frightening. Then she looked straight at me and I remembered the pain she was in and how her husband was hurting so much but couldn’t reach her anymore and couldn’t go on. She smiled at me and told me I do not need to be afraid.
Then suddenly she was in intense pain. It gripped her. She was no longer fused to the bed but sat up then fell forwards near the foot of the bed. She was no longer covered up by the sheets or dressed as a nun; instead her hair was loose and she wore a childlike flowery dress. I reached out to soothe her and rub her back and cried out, what should I do, all her muscles were rigid with pain. Was she going to die? Panic cosumed me. I started to pray the Hail Mary, but part way through I suddenly could not remember the words even though I pray that prayer many times a day. I was looking right at her hurting, and completely helpless.
Then suddenly the bed and room was gone. She was taking me through corridors I didn’t know. Where was G, I thought. Where were we going? I wanted to get out and get away. I couldn’t even say one simple prayer. I must be going to go to hell. That must be where she’s taking me. I’ve run out of time. Again, I was fighting and crying so hard to move and get off the bed and open my eyes and make it stop. Still I was totally frozen.
Then somehow, we were in an elevator going up through different floors. My friend A was in front of me now. She was still wearing the flowery dress. She was going to heaven, I thought, and I wished I could go too. A wasn’t ill anymore. She was happy. As the elevator went on I got more and more scared and kept trying to move though I still could not. Each time we stopped at a floor I was sure this was my punishment and damnation. I was going to be thrown out of the elevator doors. I couldn’t see or don’t remember what was on the floors we stopped at. I was scared but eventually A was smiling and telling me not to be afraid. We were on the way up.
Eventually we stopped and the doors opened. You see, A said. It’s all alright. We walked out into a room full of tables and there were people I somehow knew to be A’s family members, as well as her husband who was no longer separated far away and could now reach her, and the woman who I couldn’t see when she had led me earlier. Don’t be afraid, it’s the way to heaven, said the woman.
Then the hallucination ended and suddenly, at long last I could move and stand up. I was in intense pain through all my joints and in my muscles, as though they had been cramped or under exertion for a long time. Despite having felt so frozen still, actually at some point during the night I had moved a lot because I had kicked covers off the bed and knocked booklets off the bedside table. Waking, I felt unengaged from the real world for a few minutes, then dread and anxiety boiled up inside me and it became terrifying how I had been unable to move and unable to step out of the hallucination. I was intensely afraid for a short time that something had happened to A, yet then I saw clearly that what I’d seen did not mean that, this time. Sometimes I do have thoughts and dreams about people that tell me something isn’t right with them, but this was not one of those times.
I think this is all to show me important things but I have not yet figured out how to express them.