Saturday, December 19, 2020

Texas Notes: Things That Go Bump In The Night

    Into the realm of darkness with Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey. 

     Early one morning I heard something running around my tiny house as I slept. It knocked a few small things down on the cedar chest that I use as my bedside table. I was slightly startled but more than that I was tired, so I told myself not to worry and I fell right back asleep. I forgot about it until the next day when I saw a bright green anole lizard clinging to the screen of an open window in the bathroom. I wasted no time and moved quickly. I caught him gently under a jar and brought him outside where he belongs.
     A few days later in the wee hours before dawn, I heard something drop onto my bed with a thud. Little feet scampered past my ears at a furious pace. Like the last time, I forgot about it until the next day when I felt somebody watching me. Another lizard—this one staring at me while perched frozen on a kalanchoe plant. After some hilarious cartoon-like running around on both of our parts, I finally caught him under a Tupperware container. He tried desperately to contort his way out. Despite his acrobatics I was able to slide a piece of cardboard over the lid and escort him out to the yard. His poor little tail was caught between the cardboard and the plastic and I was worried I may have hurt him. Later, a friend told me that their tails can regenerate. What a relief.
     Sleep has been a bit of an adventure for me lately—much more so than I’d prefer. I’m usually a very good sleeper. I’m serious about habits that lend to a solid night of rest. I teach classes that promote sleep, including one called Beditation. Lately I get into bed between 8 and 10pm, and am out like a light for 8 or 9 hours, sometimes more.
     That’s why the past couple of weeks have been difficult. One night while deep in REM sleep I woke up with a dream fresh in my mind. I noticed that the bottom of my bed was shifting around. It seemed that someone was sitting there and my legs rolled towards the indentation. I was half-asleep and didn’t even bother taking my big silk eye mask off. In and out of awareness, I thought “did the opossum that lives under the house get inside?” I realized that was probably not possible, and I was too tired to really care. The bed kept moving.
     I thought, “Is it June? Is she visiting me?” June is the elderly lady who lived in this house until she died last year, I’m assuming in this bed. I don’t really believe in ghosts but in my half-dream state I decided to let her know that she is welcome here. I thought “If it’s you June, that’s OK. You can stay.” I drifted off. Then the bed started moving again, and I imagined a scary demonic ghost of June hovering over me, unhappy that I was in her bed. I felt terrified for a moment, but then reminded myself that there was nothing to be afraid of. I finally fell asleep again.
     I was woken up every half hour or so for the rest of the night. The bed kept shifting. I actually thought “maybe some lizards have hatched in the mattress.”
     The next night it happened again, and then again on the the third night. I finally thought to Google “side effects of SSRIs.” I had started taking an SSRI, aka an antidepressant, to boost my mood a month or two earlier. Sure enough, tactile hallucinations, as well as tremors and night terrors are all possible side-effects of this class of medication.
     I immediately consulted with my doctor and stopped taking it. As soon as I did, the next night was slightly better. I was awoken by the magical moving mattress, but remembered that it was a side effect, nothing more. I noticed that my legs seemed to be vibrating from the inside, another known side effect. Over the next few days I was woken up before it was time. Armed with knowledge, and also from the effects of weaning off of the medication, I was able to simply notice what was happening, and put myself back to sleep.
     It’s been two weeks since I’ve been off the SSRI. Luckily my mood is fine, though my energy seems lower. The unwelcome nighttime activity has almost ceased.
     On top of all of this, I’ve also had a few nightmares that seem to be COVID related phenomena many are experiencing. Collectively, people are reporting an increase of vivid dreams and nightmares. This indicates increased central image intensity, the central image considered the emotional focus of a dream, according to Yale Medicine’s website.
     This Fall I’ve been telling myself “this too shall pass,” and it will be 2021 soon. Now I am starting to see that we are a long way from how things used to be. I am preparing myself for the inevitable truth that it will be years before things seem normal, and even then some things will never be the same again.


  1. I'm surprised that Caren would take what my Korean wife would call "calm-down pills." My impression was that alternative therapies such as meditation, exercise and aromatic teas would be Caren's first line of defense against anxiety and depression. Of course, I am somewhat of a philistine in these matters, finding it difficult to understand people, even or perhaps especially with those closely related, who suffer from mental disorders. Various fears and obsessions may keep me awake from time to time, but I pride myself in not doing anything about them. Not very close to enlightenment, I'm sure. However, I do sympathize with those who suffer ailments foreign to me, even though I admit to a lack of empathy, which may indeed be a defense mechanism of sorts. At any rate, I'm sure I will not be the only one to inquire into the reasoning behind relying on medicine to calm ourselves down.



    1. The thought that you can think yourself to wellness when battling depression and anxiety is borderline insulting. Can you think yourself out of a broken arm? Out of leukemia? Remarkable medications exist to ease these illnesses when a compromised cognitive apparatus can't heal itself. Imagine telling someone who has had a stroke "hey, just meditate you way out of it with a cup of herbal tea". Just because you don't suffer from it doesn't mean you can exercise your way out of it. Wise up for heaven's sake.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comment John.

    Walt Whitman has been quoted to say "be curious, not judgmental." (Though apparently no one can find where he may have said this). I am on a journey of moving away from judgment of others and into compassionate acceptance. I feel I have no choice, and it's easier than fighting against things I do not like or understand.

    We all have vastly different make-ups and life experiences. We are like snowflakes, and we are all on this one earth together for now, in our unique packages. It just feels better to me to accept what others tell me is their truth, as far as I can. This witnessing helps their brains grow, in fact. Arguing and defending ourselves makes them shrink.

    We read a book in grad school called Metaphors We Live By that speaks to the power of allowing others to live within their own realities; being curious and not judgmental.

    Just as I cannot know what's best for you or your wife, others cannot know what's best for me.

    Among the Multitude
    Walt Whitman - 1819-1892

    Among the men and women the multitude,
    I perceive one picking me out by secret and divine signs,
    Acknowledging none else, not parent, wife, husband, brother, child, any nearer than I am,
    Some are baffled, but that one is not—that one knows me.

    Ah lover and perfect equal,
    I meant that you should discover me so by my faint indirections,
    And I when I meet you mean to discover you by the like in you.

    Peace to you today and every day,

  3. Apparently, a number of creatures can regenerate their body parts. If you cut a starfish into five easy pieces and throw them back into the sea, all you've done is to make five new starfish.

    If you try to catch a lizard by the tail, it will break off, and they will skitter away, as I learned first-hand (pun intended) when I lived in Florida. They hung out in the shrubbery near the pool and were quite small, only a few inches long. So they may have been skinks, which are easy prey for cats, dogs, raccoons, and hawks. Looks like Texas is home to some BIG lizards!

    Yes, it will be years before things seem normal, and even then, some things will never be the same again. We are living through a watershed moment in American history, if not world history. It will be a marker and a turning point in the days of our lives. People will one day say "before the Plague" or "after the Plague" (and they'll capitalize it, as well)--much as earlier generations said "Before the Depression..." or "after the war" (WWII, Korea, Vietnam...take your pick).

    Twenty-twenty will take its place alongside years like 1929, 1941, 1945, 1968, and 2001. A lot of things will be forever changed, a lot of things will be gone forever, and the "new" normal will not be the "old" normal. The word "trump" will change, too. Its meaning will transform from "beating (someone or something) by saying or doing something BETTER" "something WORSE." Much worse.

    Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Caren. Will next year mean our troubles will be out of sight? Nope. Highly unlikely. There will only be new ones. Even with Joe in charge. It's the way of the world.

  4. Thanks for sharing your bumps in the night. Mental well being is often a challenge that goes on without us knowing about it. We get caught up in the moment and forget to ask a critical question,"what has changed?"
    This year of Covid is not over, and it's not going to be over even if we get the vaccine. A friend of mine has Covid, is now well but gets vertigo frequently. I'm afraid this is the new normal, but taking about it helps us all.

  5. So glad it was a lizard and not a rodent. So glad it was ssri side effects and not a possum. "It's okay, Jane, you can stay" made me chuckle. Great post!

    1. Thanks for reading, Bad Poet. And great you got a laugh.

  6. Thanks Grizz & John for reading, and your commiseration.


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