For weeks sleep has been problematic. It’s strange. I love to sleep. I sleep well.
But not this summer. I fall asleep. That step is fine. But then the dreams come.
They don’t stay. I can’t recall a single one of them. Even in the middle of the night as I jerk awake, the dream is already gone leaving only the sweaty outline of tumult.
They are not scary dreams. They are bizarre dreams. And in the absence of details I’m left with the distinct aftertaste of tension. People are in trouble. People are hurting. And I cannot help. Not in the dream. Not in reality.
Some nights I stay awake trying to remember. Because maybe if I remember, I can understand. Some nights I roll back into the troubled waters and let them toss me. Either way the morning comes without peace. The inside of my eyelids burn. My neck and shoulder ache. I feel the day has beaten me before the starting bell rings.
I can’t control my sleeping, so I alter my waking. No television after 8 p.m., and nothing suspenseful or graphic. I turn off electronic devices. I read for at least an hour—theology, Psalms and Proverbs. I haven’t picked up a piece of fiction in months. I fall asleep to lines of hymns and liturgies in a cool, dark room.
It doesn’t matter. The dreams keep coming.
The only time I’ve experienced this kind of restlessness—this agitated sleep—was when I was under tremendous stress, in survival mode, unable to rally the resources to meet the overwhelming needs of each day. But I’m not there now.
Or am I?
I don’t remember the dream in the earliest hours Wednesday morning. But I knew upon waking it was connected to a meeting later that day. I knew I felt unprepared. I knew I was afraid of being unable to find the right words and tone. I was afraid I would drive wedges deeper instead of offering hope. I feared the perception of casting blame without owning my faults. I felt frustration straining against the lid of logic I’d slammed over it.
But in the dream’s aftermath I saw an angle to the problem I’d not yet examined. Once at work I dug through the data and built a new spreadsheet. There in the formulas was an opening for hope. An inroad to the conversation. Gloves of grace to grasp the hot truth.
It was a hard meeting. But it was good. People spoke and were heard. People listened. People paused and rephrased. We filtered. We clarified. We recognized successes and stresses. We laid out new routes to avoid past pitfalls. We named the hazards without throwing anyone into them.
And when it ended, we were still standing. In fact, we were on the same side staring the problem in the face as a team. The problem remains, but we’re not whispering around it. We’re addressing it as one.
The weight—the oppressive, suffocating angst—is gone. I hadn’t noticed how constricting the anxiety had become until I felt it release.
That night I followed my recent routine. TV and gadgets off, meditative reading, a liturgy. When I woke from the dream it was okay . . . I was okay. The dream was gone, but there was no trail of disquietude in its place. I walked into the day with renewed energy from a place of rest.
Has easy sleep returned? I don’t know. But there is a new recognition of soul-stifling dread. And if in the dark of night I can see the glowing nametag of anxiety on my chest, I hope I will remember it has no right to stay.