I suddenly feel as if my body is rushing forward, racing out of a tunnel of trees toward the distant light ahead that will take me out of the forest. Something, or someone is chasing me, and I feel my legs begin to give out. The imagery that is playing out in my mind is so vivid, the fear that it generates is so palpable…. How could this not be real?
The last moment of the nightmare stays with me as my eyes open suddenly and I gasp for air. Each breath I take seems to take me further away from the images, that just a moment ago, made me feel as if I were living in a Stephen King novel. I feel cold, but I am sweating. It takes a few moments in the dark room before my eyes begin to adjust, and the familiar outline of furniture begins to take form. I am relieved to find that I really am in my own room with my spouse sleeping peacefully beside me. My whole being begins to relax as I realize that it was just another nightmare.
The nightmares have been coming more frequently over the past few months, waking me in the middle of the night, robbing me of sleep. As my brain tries to make sense of all that is happening in the world during these extraordinary times, it feeds on my anxiety to create fantastical beasts and dangerous situations from which I can find no escape. The images from these dreams fade quickly, and I often have difficulty recalling the details once I am fully awake. However, as much as my body longs to return to a state of sleep and rest, my mind resists the idea of returning to a dream state in which I might find myself caught up, once again, in a bizarre and scary alter reality. Instead, my mind seeks a distraction from the nightmare it just created. Unfortunately, that distraction often leads me back to a state of being fully awake and to the realities of the world that I so much need a break from.
It only takes a fleeting thought upon waking, some vague worry that crosses my mind, to make it virtually impossible for me to go back to sleep again. When this happens, I often spend hours awake before sleep once again takes over. Many nights I count down the clock, keeping tabs on how many more hours remain before the alarm will go off, an alarm that is supposed to rouse me from sleep, yet may find me still wide awake. I used to find myself panicking as I worried about how I could be fresh and productive if there are only two more hours of possible sleep. Of course, the more I panicked, the less inclined I would be to fall back asleep.
There are nights when I have wrestled with my thoughts for hours, forgoing precious sleep time to worry instead about any number of anxiety provoking events occurring in my life. Other nights, out of sheer frustration, I have gotten out of bed and tried to do something productive with my time. On those nights, I have simply given up on the possibility of rest, and instead have tried to find other avenues for passing the time.
However, recently I have tried a different approach that seems to be helpful. I stay in bed, close my eyes, and begin a conversation with God. I have found that God is always wide awake and ready to listen. These conversations have allowed me to release those thoughts that are creating my anxiety and begin to relax, finding sleep once more. God’s enduring presence is comforting and provides me the hope that I need to wake refreshed again in the morning. Just like in my recent nightmare, there is light at the end of the forest guiding me forward. As I fall asleep tonight, it will be the light that is God’s loving presence that will help me find a more restful and peaceful night sleep. Good night!
Rev. Lisa LeSueur
Rev. Lisa LeSueur is the Pastor of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She serves as the UCC Florida Conference WISE Mental Health Coordinator and the Suicide Prevention Initiative Coordinator for Nami Miami. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her wife and their two children.