“Some parts of the fairy tale are all too real, all too true. There might not be a Red Riding Hood, but there is a Big Bad Wolf. No Snow White, but definitely an evil queen. No obnoxiously cute blonde tots, but a child-eating witch…yeah. Oh yeah.” — Nightlife, Rob Thurman
I think one of my biggest pet peeves in fiction, be it books, films, even fanfiction, is the moment where a character is startled from their nightmare by jerking upright in bed, jumping to consciousness from sheer terror yet as soon as they take in their surroundings, they breathe deeply, turn around, and go right back to sleep.
I could count on one hand the nightmares I’ve had in recent years where all I had to do upon waking was just plop back down and, BAM, we’re back to sleep.
Where’s that cold, creeping dread as you awaken, the nightmare technically over yet the sensation lingering on as you play it over in your mind and slowly consider the implications of what you just dreamt? A feeling of retroactive concern, I tend to be more scared once I’m awake, my breath quickening, my heart pounding furiously now that I can process what I went through in there.
I read once that moving or turning to another position from the one you woke up in will make the dream seem less vivid in your mind. Yet some nights I can’t move. I’m paralyzed by the dream and staying still feels like the only thing keeping my sanity tethered to firm ground. If I move, everything will break into chaos, like the violent wobble of a spinning top as it falls over.
This is why, at times, I’ve described my nightmares as more psychological thrillers than horror stories.
There’s something mortifying about growing up and acquiring fears that can’t be contained under the bed, or be easily disregarded as “It’s all in my head.”
TV Tropes lists a writing device called Adult Fear:
“Adult Fears are about the things mature, well-adjusted adults generally are concerned about, as opposed to supernatural, petty, or far-fetched fears.”
Essentially, the concerns plaguing an adult mind as opposed to the imaginary fears of a child. Much like the jump from thinking turbulence during a flight is a tad fun if not scary to the knowledge of plane crashes and how sudden shifts in temperature can lead that turbulence straight into disaster.
One time I sat down, like an idiot, to watch a couple of YouTubers play Five Nights at Freddy’s. I couldn’t sleep that night. Or the next five nights. I kept going over and over and over the images in my head, the implications of being locked inside a food establishment in the middle of the night, the unnerving use of blurry security cameras as horror devices, and the lovely view of the Glasgow Necropolis, one of the most haunted places in the UK, looming just outside my window. There came a point during the last night when I forced my eyes closed (as though keeping them awake would prevent murderous animatronics from tearing me limb from limb), and thought to myself: It’s not real. It’s not real. Nothing’s going to happen because it’s not real.
I somehow managed to convince myself to just go to sleep because it wasn’t a situation within the realm of my reality, but rather 100% imaginary.
But then, how do you convince yourself that real fears aren’t real? That these actual, tangible scenarios won’t ever happen to you?
I can be a bit of a hypochondriac but it’s also true that I know my body, and I know when something feels off. Is this pain a tumor or just a stress-induced headache? If I get it checked will I be wasting money on a paranoid diagnosis or will I be told I have a few months to live? How can I put off whatever’s wrong with me when it keeps hurting?
The world is boiling alive and not only do we have twelve years left of a barely hospitable planet but perhaps only two years to actually do something before the damage becomes irreparable. We’ve been given a death sentence where I may not even make it to my forties. How do I stop the panic from knowing that our world is ending? How can I pat myself on the back for buying almond milk rather than regular milk when the 100 corporations out there who can do something about it are just grinding our very lives into the dirt?
I do believe in the power of prayer; sometimes it’s the only thing I can do when I can’t vote, when I can’t donate, when I can’t even make a blip of noise by sharing an email. But how can I not feel impotent and powerless when most of my prayers end with, “Please, inspire the people who can do something to do something?” How far can my faith stretch when all evidence points to a man-made apocalypse?
I remember the months leading up to the November 2016 elections. One day I was visiting family and while my aunt and uncle sat watching the news, I hung back in the kitchen, absolute dread in the pit of my stomach as I watched my toddler of a cousin run back and forth on uncoordinated legs, and I thought: “He has no idea. What must it feel like to be so clueless as to what’s happening around him?” Give or take a few years and he’ll be more than aware of the social and political environment he’s grown up in, but at that moment, I took comfort in his blessed ignorance.
So what do we do? What can we do when we’re all tiny, seemingly insignificant people whose good actions are barely noticeable? What do we do when day after day the bad news never stops, at all times knowing that someone killed, someone died, and it’s a matter of time before it happens to you?
It’s no surprise that this year, on top of an already crushing depression, my anxiety has spiked and overdeveloped. I possess real fears no amount of tranquilizers and sedatives can erase. Despite my best efforts to calm down, to breathe, to remind myself that the alarm bells ringing in the pit of my stomach aren’t real, there are actual causes for concern out there, from my dog’s slowly debilitating health to global warming and mass murder.
Is it any wonder, then, that I spend my days watching meta musicals online, listening to four idiots play Dungeons and Dragons, taking in the smell of an afternoon rain as a small measure of joy in a world that consistently gets worse?
So, what do we do?
Soldier on, I guess.
And love recklessly and shamelessly.
Mika is a Mexican writer and translator, pretender, pet-lover, and a mess at 1 in the morning. Follow her on Twitter @frequencymika.