Something peculiar has been happening to me lately and I feel compelled to share. Two nights ago, I fell asleep almost instantly upon lying in bed (a rarity for me) and immediately started having a nightmare. It was so terrifying that I somehow tried to wake myself up in the middle of it. I recall reassuring myself that I was only dreaming and that the moment I woke up the terror would stop. However, I got "stuck" in the dream and could not awaken. My eyes had to have opened because I was conscious enough to realize that Jeff had not yet gone to bed. I was facing the door and could see that the family room light was still on and I desperately tried to get his attention. I attempted to get out of bed but I couldn't move; I tried to scream, but I couldn't find my voice. At one point, which was obviously while dreaming, I reached for my cell phone which lay on my nightstand and struggled to call his phone, but it wouldn't work - some foreign screen popped up and I was unable to get past it. I tried and tried, as if my life depended on it, to fully awaken, but for several minutes at least, I remained caught somewhere in between the dream world and the waking world. It was as if I was in a coma; fully-conscious yet unable to move.
This is the second time this sleep paralysis has happened to me in the last couple of weeks, except the previous time I had an out-of-body experience with it. In my dream, I could visualize myself (or perhaps more accurately, my self) lying on my bed, unable to wake up. It was as if "I" was hovering over "me," helplessly witnessing myself desperately seeking wakefulness. The biggest difference about this episode from the other, however, was that it occurred immediately before waking up. I had awoken when Jeff left at about 6:45, fell back asleep, began to (lucid) dream, and then couldn't wake up around 7:30 when I heard Sophie babbling on the baby monitor.
Aside from the lucid dreaming aspect, which I do experience every now and again, the only other time in my life something similar occurred was when I was a young child. I have vivid memories of sleep-walking, recurring nightmares, and "night terrors" from when I was approximately 3-5 years old. During one such incident, I was having a nightmare about being lost in a jungle and when I "awoke," my bedroom was transformed into the dream, itself, complete with tropical plants and trees, monkeys, brightly-colored birds and spiders that fell from the ceiling, landing in my hair and covering my body and bed. Unlike the more recent occurrences, where I was unable to utter a sound, I screamed bloody murder until my mother came in to comfort me. She described me as wild-eyed and inconsolable, obviously not fully awake, but not fully asleep, either. I couldn't have been more than four-years old.
So, why now? Why, more than 25 years later, am I suddenly having similar, terrifying episodes? Am I really so stifled by this loss of self that I've been blogging about that even my dreams are paralyzed, or could there be other, more innocent reasons? And are there any other ways in which I am betwixt and between this and that?
Well, I literally finished writing the previous sentence last night and had a bit of an epiphany today. Jeff, Sophie and I (Jeff "called in sick" from work so we could get some things accomplished that can only be done on weekdays) had a "date" this morning with our dear friend Natalie ("Mommy Natalie," as Sophie calls her) and her 2-year-old son, Julian, at our local arboretum where we were supposed to take the children to their "Wee Naturalist" class. Much to our chagrin, we discovered that the class is on a bit of a hiatus for the next several weeks. Natalie pointed out that our other winter outing spot, The Health Adventure (a children's museum downtown) was also partially closed down for a bit while its upstairs changing exhibit was in transition. We made the most out of our morning and let the kids run around through the muddy pathways and trails of the arboretum's seasonally flowerless gardens and dry water features. We attempted to stroll through the new Education Center, but we were turned away because (you guessed it!) a new exhibit was being constructed. Afterwards, we set out to dine at the 12 Bones Smokehouse, a local bbq hotspot, and learned that it was closed for several weeks. Our next attempt, a popular Mexican restaurant, was also closed. Famished and exhausted, we ended up at an antiquated, kitschy, German restaurant, complete with Cuckoo clocks and Oom-pah music (why we didn't skip the bratwurst and opt for the beer after such an ordeal is beyond me!).
I supposed this is how it is this time of year, during the throws of winter. Everyone and everything are on a bit of a break for now, while they regroup and reinvent themselves for warmer times to come. I guess the same is true for me. Although I can't quite explain the cause of my recent bout of sleep paralysis, I'll take it as yet another sign that this is a time for reflection and renewal; a time to integrate aspects of sleep and reflection with wakefulness and regeneration. As much as we may dread the stark, cold, lonely aspects of winter, this is when our real work should get done; work from within. We need this time, as trees bare themselves and animals slumber, to rebuild ourselves so that we are ready to truly live when buds finally swell on naked stems and flowers emerge from thawing earth.
So, here's to winter, with all of its interruptions! I would much rather be a cleaned-out exhibit space waiting for a new display than a faded mural in an outdated restaurant. The true gift, I suppose, is being able to recognize this and to be grateful for this serene, albeit a bit boring, season of cabin fever and reflection.