I can’t nap anymore. I don’t remember if I ever actually could, but I can’t now. Just on a primal level, my body knows it’s supposed to be awake, and it twitches and spasms me awake. And on a deeper, subconscious level, disturbing images flash through my brain. They aren’t just externalized monsters and demons, either—these are specific traumatic thoughts and memories that my brain probably usually likes to process when I’m asleep, but there’s nowhere for them to go when I’m half-awake.
Someone once asked if my aversion to naps had anything to do with the amount of time I spent confined to bed when I was depressed. I really think they were on to something with that. Being in bed too much when I shouldn’t be, when I’m not actually sleeping, now has a bad connotation for me. It makes me feel like I’m not in control and that I’m about to let my emotions take over, even if I’m really just giving in to a biological response to being really exhausted.
The past few days I’ve had a really bad cold and have been forced to spend a lot of time in bed due to fatigue. I felt so fatigued that sometimes I found myself having a hard time even paying attention to the TV shows I was trying to binge-watch, and I had to just give in to my worst nightmare and lay there with my eyes closed and nothing to keep me company but my thoughts, which are often my worst enemy.
I’ve never been very good at either cognitive behavioral therapy techniques or meditation. It’s always been super hard for me to re-direct my automatic negative thoughts or to challenge them. I’ve also never been much of an outdoorsy person, so picturing a babbling brook or sunset has never been a great help to me. What I can do to some extent, and what I try to do when falling asleep, is visualize the good. When a traumatic memory surfaces, I try my best to counter it by visualizing something good that happened to me. I try to picture every smell or color in that scene, from the flavor of gelato I was eating in the park with a friend to the way the sunlight slanted down when we were sitting together to the clothes we were wearing. I’ll think that for all the things I’ve done to hurt people, I’ve done other things to help them, and that is just the messy nature of being human for most people. It’s not always successful, but it’s the technique that’s worked the best for me personally, and like most techniques of this sort it’s become easier to do with practice.
Another factor in my beridden sickness is I’m just coming off my finals, which is the time period where I obsessively study and just let everything else go, including household chores, thinking I’ll do them all when it’s over. Now is the “over.” So I’m also lying in my bed piled with dirty laundry, and my sink is loaded with dirty dishes when I go to try to wash some silverware to eat. This completes the set design for recreating one of my depression-motivated days in bed.
It didn’t feel great. I had to keep reminding myself, as a few of my friends did, that I had to give myself a break because I was sick. And it occurred to me, maybe I needed to give that other version of myself a break for having a hard time getting out of bed for depression—a different form of sickness. A friend of mine also recently sent me a Megan Devine quote about grief: “Some things cannot be fixed; they can only be carried.” We all have things that must be carried, and, sadly, we can’t always out-work or out-run them. Sometimes we just have to sit still with them and let them be.