5 Sides Short of a Coffin

Never mind basic insomnia–have you ever woke up in the middle of the night with a full-out panic attack, maybe in a cold sweat, or feeling like you’re trapped in the bed and you have to get up and out of that bed? You have? Wow, what a fucking nut job. Might want to, um, see somebody about that.

Seriously, my friends, there’s nothing wrong, or I think even all that odd, about having a bit of a freakout in the middle of the night. Many, many people, while they should be sleeping, stew over things that are bothering them, things that might still bother them in the daylight, but that seem insurmountable in the middle of the night.

My middle-of-the-night freakouts aren’t about daytime worries. Luckily they only happen maybe 4-6 times a year, perhaps in little mini-streaks where I have them two nights in a row, or a couple nights apart. Thank goodness they don’t happen every damn night.

What happens is that I wake up, maybe from a dream, maybe not. I can’t really tell you if it’s some particularly scary dream, but I do know that I sometimes have dreams where I’m trapped in narrow spaces, and that freaks me the fuck out. In any case, dream or no dream, when these panic attacks happen, I feel trapped just laying in my bed. I mean trapped to the point where I can’t be lying there any more. I have to, no that’s not right, I HAVE TO, get up out my bed. Or, more accurately, BOLT out of bed, like someone who’s late for work. I have to go out to the living room, turn the tv on for a little distraction, till I’m tired enough to try to go lie down again. I can kinda lounge on the couch at those times, but not fully lie down. I guess a person could do the typical things people do at bedtime–eat a bowl of cereal, have a drink, smoke a little weed, do something sexual, read a little. All at the same time, of course.

No, wait, this was supposed to be a serious post. The bush that I’m beating around is that I physically cannot be lying down right then. I HAVE to get up and move around. Maybe the shallow night-breathing that our bodies naturally do is too little and I don’t feel alive enough. Maybe, in my little warped brain, I’m flashing forward to nursing home days, when I’ll be physically helpless somehow, and will feel the need to get up and can’t by myself. Maybe it’s a vertigo thing; maybe I’ve got too much ear wax built up so that I’m actually feeling dizzy and I need to just straighten up. Maybe I need a Kraftmatic bed, so that I can have my upper half way up in the air. Lots of people with breathing issues have to sleep in chairs and such, so I should count my lucky stars that I can be in a bed at all. But the overriding feeling right then, when I’m having these attacks, is an overwhelming feeling of utter terrified panic, that I am trapped in that bed.

Which is where the idea came to my mind one time, several years back, after it had happened a few times, that a bed is really just “5 sides short of a coffin.” Now, I’ve never been one who has to run till he drops like puppies do; I can be a couch potato with the best of them. I can delightedly “melt” into a bed and fall deep asleep on my side or on my face and feel like there’s nowhere better to be in the world. A woman there would be a nice distraction again sometime before I die, but still, the bed’s my friend. Usually.

But during freakout times, the bed feels like a coffin. Just that no one’s quite yet nailed on the sides and the lid yet. I suppose the average couch with high sides and back is only 2 sides short of being a coffin. I physically, and psychologically, cannot lie there in that damn bed right then. I think it generally happens more often in cold weather, because I think part of the panic is the realization that I can’t just (comfortably) walk out on my back deck and stand there and take a good breath of air, and realize that I’m on a big round ball called Earth, full of wide-open spaces with plenty of oxygen, that I’m still alive, that it’s okay to get a good night’s sleep and then be fully alive the next morning. But it’s too damn cold around here for that in the typical South Dakota January frozen horror, so I’m trapped in my little house right then.

I’d assumed that it “was just me” who had these wacky ideas, but I mentioned them to a co-worker one time, someone I’d call “boringly normal,” and she completely agreed with me about the concept of a bed being just a few sides short of a coffin. My God, are we all nuts?

I have a good neighbor, a close friend, who drinks, every night. A fair amount. Though he is not boring, has a wicked sense of humor, somewhat twisted actually, and there are other unique things about him, I would describe him as one of the most normal people I know, a married dad who loves his wife, kid, dogs, his rum, his overtime at his construction-oriented job. But, one time, not sure why the subject came up, maybe I was telling him that I couldn’t sleep sometimes, or maybe I told him about my loathing of winter, and he told me about his “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” which, as you probably know, is a condition that a lot of people have in winter when the days are short, nights are long, light is lacking. He said he gets bad panic attacks at times. He said it takes about 4 stiff drinks to overwhelm them. Now, of course, he manages them with medication. Xanax or something.

I have often thought of taking “happy pills,” anti-anxiety pills or anti-depressants, but I don’t feel like I always need them. The main reason, though, for not taking them is that I worry about dependence on them, that if I ever had to go off them, that everyday life would be screaming terror. I’ve also noticed that I have no such problems on drinking nights. And, being that I live in a state where it’s illegal to smoke weed, I would never claim to smoke any, but I strongly advocate the legalization of it and believe it helps people to relax and sleep better. I don’t think high school or middle school kids should smoke it, and I don’t think people should drive on copious amounts of it any more than they should drive after 8 beers, but it should be available to any adult who wishes to do it, same as southern sour mash whiskey is available to adults. Use it, not abuse it, and sleep like a baby.

Or wake up sometimes to a full-out freakout.

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2 Responses to 5 Sides Short of a Coffin

  1. You could probably eat ‘happy food’. Works much the same as the drugs but without the dependence. Hang on..that’s called comfort food? Well anyway, it sounds horrible, what you’re experiencing. A dog or a cat in bed, that would make you feel better!

    • Thank goodness it doesn’t happen all that often. I feel about dogs the same way that people who, voluntarily, don’t have kids but are nice to other people’s kids feel–I like dogs when they belong to other people. I could easily be the sole emotional support for my kid if there were no other parents, but a dog?–way too needy. And cats-no. Whenever I tease her that I’m gonna get a girlfriend, my daughter tells me to get a dog instead so that I won’t be lonely when she’s not here, but no, I just can’t.
      And yes, it’s comfort food here in the States.

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