I Thought Nightmares Were Supposed to Leave When You Wake

I’m sure we’ve all had that moment, that moment when you awake from a nightmare and it takes your brain the briefest of moments to realize that it was all in your head, that none of it was real. Then your heart rate slowly returns to normal and if you’re lucky you can settle back down and fall back asleep. I of course have had those too, but they so often linger for days or weeks after, as the nightmare that is mental illness whispers that these dark tales are true, you just haven’t realized it yet.

They can drag me down, feeding into a negative feedback loop as my depression lies and tells me that these terrible things will come to pass, that no one likes me, that everyone will leave me. And on my not so good days I believe that, and find myself trapped in a true nightmare as I doubt everyone around me, as I feel like nothing but a burden to them.

Growing up, we’re taught that nightmares are supposed to leave when you wake. That they have no power over you. And that is how it might work on my good days, but there are plenty of times that they linger. Rather than being chased away by the daylight they lurk in the shadows, morphing into more horrible visions to play in my head when the depression becomes too hard to ignore.

The latest assignment from my therapist is to look for evidence to support positive beliefs and positive thoughts, while looking for evidence to reject the negative ones. It should be easy for me, someone who has spent so much time working in logical fields like science and law, to find the evidence to reject something as insubstantial as a nightmare, but when depression shifts your reality with its deceit the darkness of those nightmares following you, tormenting you alongside the everyday darkness of depression, seems incontrovertible.

Eventually, this passes, and the nightmares that triggered these feelings fade away like the wisps of nothingness that they are, and a new day starts. Because the strongest evidence I can tell myself is that my story isn’t over yet, and the depths of my depression won’t be where my story ends. I can keep telling myself that until I wake from my depression, and the nightmares are left behind, just like I was taught when I was young.

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