Friday, February 15, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Sleep (and/or Teeth)

One of the reasons I love going to the gym, though I hate actually getting out of bed to go there, is that the trainers give back massages. And ever since my trainer put his hands on the bucket of marbles that is known as my neck and shoulders, he’s given me a hard time about my stress and tension levels.

I’ve moved out of the slum; there are no more late night explosions near my windows or fears of getting shot on my way home. I’m still a little freaked out about being assaulted, but that’s pretty normal for this city and I’m prepared to hand over my valuables if necessary. I have good outlets for all my stress: I vent, rant and rave in both English and Portuguese…and joining the gym? That was specifically FOR my stress levels. Spinning class purges more than just excess calories. It’s a great way to forget bad relationships, upcoming deadlines, frustrating people and situations we all encounter on a regular basis. So why am I so tense? Why can I never relax? And why do I fall asleep at the drop of the hat during the day, be that on the bus or on the kitchen floor? Why is it so difficult to fall asleep when the sun goes down?

The answers have been surfacing for some weeks now.

I have an overactive imagination.

Now, anyone who knows me would be able to tell you this, though I don’t know that they could really gauge the full extent of my imaginative powers. Until the past few nights, neither could I. But then I started reading some of my morning pages...

Dream Fragment

…I am in a car. Someone extremely evil and extremely good-looking and very manipulative is sitting next to me and I know that this is our last chance. Whoever “we” are. It has been a long and exhausting journey to get to where I am at this point in the dream, and before I know it, I am pointing a handgun at his temple. All the common sense inside of me is telling me to pull the trigger…but I can’t. The next thing I know, he has the gun, and I am hostage to a cruel person who despises weaklings. There is torture involved, on a farm with dirt roads and horses. After I have been sufficiently beaten and had other not nice things done to me, this masochist makes me lie down in the middle of the road. He forces my mouth open. And his invisible partner brings over a horse with a taste for blood, whom they proceed to try to anger enough to get him to stomp in my mouth. The idea, repeated over and over and over again, is that they are going to break all my teeth. Specifically the back molars. With the horse’s hooves. This proves too much for my unconscious, which screams out for God to please DO SOMETHING! HAVE MERCY! And so I wake up…

There are no words for the relief that came when I ran my tongue around every precious, whole tooth that morning.

I have these dreams nearly every night. Most are a hodgepodge of chases and plot twists, treasonous actions and bizarre events. They are bi-lingual and frequently in color. Sometimes I am in so much pain in my dreams that when sleep finally breaks, I am confused as to why I feel so normal. Why my legs are still recognizable, why I’m not bleeding profusely from some mortal wound. I wish I could record these dreams, because this is fodder for Hollywood suspense and horror movies. But as anyone who has tried writing down their dreams knows, memory evanesces faster than cockroaches scatter at the sound of a light switch.

Writing them down doesn’t matter so much; what concerns me is that when one is running from enemies and fighting off rapists in the dreamworld, it becomes difficult for the body to rest. And so I wake exhausted and wondering why I’m falling asleep again in the daytime. So far, the only remedy that works against the dream demons has been Tylenol PM, and I can’t do that forever!

I wonder if this isn't some kind of Post-Post-Post-Traumatic-Shock. Maybe the effects of living in the favela were minimized as long as I was living on edge. But now that my life is calmer and I worry about more mundane things than whether that leaky black trash bag on the sidewalk contains human remains...well, maybe all those horrific events are coming back up, to be processed. Maybe. This is certainly cheaper than therapy. But I'm not sure it's doing such a good job...

At any rate, by the time I get to the gym, I'm ready to exorcise away the events of the past evening, ready for those knots to be painfully kneaded away...ready for another day which "com certeza" (certainly) will be less stressful and less dangerous than the imaginary world I have just left.

God willing, that is...


ladybug12 said...

What a wodnerful post. It is often true that stress effects can manifest themselves after you are done being stressed - at least it works that way about 100% of the time for me. I wrote about sleeps and dreams this week as well. I really enjoyed your blog.

Jen said...

Sadly enough, I think it's just a part of living in this crazy city (which I love). I have never lived in a favela, and I still don't sleep well. Crazy dreams are at a minimum, but the overactive imagination is going strong.... Glad it's not just me!

Rachel said...


i'm an insomniac too and occasionally get addicted to tylenol pm. thankfully, i don't have those terrible dreams, but i think you're right that it's some post traumatic stress. and some current stress, too. this city is always stressful, not ever knowing what could happen. a couple weeks ago a gas pipe exploded two blocks from my apartment and sent a car flying (amazingly, the driver was unharmed).

besides exercise, i find food is good for de stressing!

keith hillman said...

A terrific piece, and having read the comments thus far I'm so glad I live in a sleepy little town by the sea!

paisley said...

i lead myself thru a peculiar series of traumatic events,, and i have thus far found,, that since i have lived out all my wildest fears,, i do not have night mares... very interesting piece....

Carrie B said...

don't know what you think of spiritual warfare, but i've lived in Rio, and I know how heavy darkness can rest on places in that city. I think that your dreams are totally some spiritual warfare and it might help to have some people that you respect and trust pray over that stuff.

tumblewords said...

Interesting post - well written and with terrific descriptions/images. I'd not like to have nightmares like that - maybe that's why I mostly stay awake!

solsamba said...

I just read your blog tonight, almost the entire thing. It took me back to Rio. I lived in Rio from 1992 until 2000, then in Salvador, then in Chapada Diamantina and came back to the US in 2001.
You are an excellent writer!
It's inspiring and humbling to read about someone who dives in life the way you do.
I miss Brazil: dancing, walking the streets of Rio, acai, agua de coco, speaking portuguese, the way Brazilians touch you when they talk to you, how they talk to each other all of the time. I loved your story about waiting for the buses that never stopped, the boring lectures,
always being told the wrong information....somehow I had forgotten about that part.
Obrigada pela viagem!
Um grande abraco,

--jenna said...

ladybug and tumblewords: stress definitely seems to "work that way 100% of the time" for me too! maybe writing about this stuff during the daytime helps to chase it away at night?? thank you both for stopping by and for the encouraging comments!

jen and rachel: i have to seems like everywhere we turn here, there's the potential for some crazy stressful thing to happen. good to hear the flying car driver was alright!

keith: rio isn't a "sleepy little town" but she does have her charms! even though i complain, i couldn't imagine living anywhere else. i'm sure you feel the same way about your city! :)

paisley: i'd rather not live out my wildest fears...but good for you that you were able to!

carrie b: advice duly noted. i put a good friend on good-night's-sleep prayer duty and last night was a welcome relief from the last few months! thanks!

solsamba: reading the whole blog, wow. that's a night's worth of reading, at least! i am honored. i've saved your email; maybe we can chat about rio sometime and you can matar saudades! bjs

Ali la Loca said...

Girl, I have these dreams, too. They are awful. I can't even bring myself to journal about some of them...stress is expressed in odd ways, sometimes.

You need a big glass of suco de maracuj√°, and a hammock, and a borrowed airconditioner!