The first time I questioned my sanity I was eight years old. My older sister and I were sharing the small, dark-wood paneled bedroom at the top of the stairs, to the right. The room to the right had a plastered ceiling with swirling designs that you could stare at for hours and find almost any scene imaginable, shape, and animal in if you squinted hard enough. It was the only room in the house that was this ugly. It had previously been an office to the former homeowner. The carpet was a multi-colored shag rug of maroons, pea soup green, and maize and it smelled of stale shoe prints… dusty and earthy. I know this to be true because we used to bury our face in the fraying yarn and take deep breaths, I don’t know why, but we were weird, we were kids.
That night I had woken up completely and totally wet. Soaked. It must have been very, very early, or really, really late depending on how you read time, because it was dark and everyone was still sleeping. I thought maybe I had peed the bed. But if I had peed the bed, why was the whole bed wet and my hair damp… is it possible to pee all the way up to your hair? It didn’t occur to me at this age to sniff for urine.
My heart was racing. I was afraid of the quiet and the dark and when I realized everyone was asleep but me, I also realized this was the same as being all alone… in the dark… at night… a witching hour leaving me susceptible to anything lurking in the house. I let out an inaudible squeal as I jerked my comforter over my head and begged myself to go back to sleep, but this just resulted in making me overly heated and severely sweaty, and by default more damp and the bed more unbearably wet.
I made a deal with myself: if I could rip the comforter off and I could make it to the light switch and flip it on, I’d be okay, even if it did wake up my sister, which wouldn’t be so bad because then I wouldn’t be alone in the middle of the night – even if she did get really irritated at being woken up; I mean downright angry. On the count of three (obviously) I would go. I must have counted to three a million times, because the wetness forming around me was about as deep as the kiddie pool. Finally, unable to even breathe, I worked up the courage to bolt for the light switch, all of three feet from my bed, but at that point it might as well have been a mile. I screamed all the way to the light and heaved a sigh of relief once it was on. Nothing bad happens in the light, I had convinced myself some time ago.
Since no one stirred from my screams of panic or the bright light that flooded the room, I alone began to strip my soggy sheets, then peeled off my sopping pajamas and wrapped my soaked hair into a knot on the top of my head. Then I crawled onto my naked mattress and pulled the comforter over me – light still shining brightly above – and drifted back to sleep with ease.
Before we jump to conclusions on why I was so afraid, and worried, and panicked with fear of the dark I’ll let you know that no one bad thing had happened to me, per se. No, I have anxiety; genetic, chemical imbalance, run of the mill anxiety. It’s fairly ordinary and shows up in the dark usually, which is better than a lot of folks who suffer theirs in broad daylight, in crowds of people, and all the time.
If you’re a person that didn’t witness anxiety through a parent or sibling and are the first to be diagnosed, you may feel pretty relieved to find out that you’re not crazy, and that it’s fairly common, and you shouldn’t feel stigmatized by it. Maybe you’ll take beta-blockers, or anti-anxiety meds… forever. Maybe you’ll start a blog and channel lots of those fear driven stories into the blog to connect with others.
BUT if you’re like, just the next generation to get it handed down in your DNA, your reaction tends to be less enthusiastic and sound more like, “yup, cool, thought it skipped me – not. Ugh. No, I prefer to stay unmedicated based on the many examples of over-medicated people in my life, but thanks. I’ll just keep up the cardio and magnesium rich foods, and maybe take a few more personal days than I should, and yeah, I’ll go back to therapy because I do not want another anxiety attack under the artificial daylight inside Costco.”
I still sleep with the lights on when I’m alone and the television on when I’m not (because it has a timer). And before Jason Beeber and I became lifelong roommates I booby-trapped the hell out of my bedroom to keep the night prowlers at bay. And it works for me. It mostly, really does. You don’t need to analyze it. We all know I’m projecting a lot since that night when I was eight and had the first attack I can remember. But the light soothed me then, and it still does now (minus that one time in Costco recently), so I let it be that.
AND now that I share a bed with a large, hairy man – I don’t actually know if I’m sweating out my anxiety, or he’s over-heating us both, or someone has peed the bed. It gets very weird and uncomfortable.