I am about to drown. There’s a tidal wave. I am in someone’s house or apartment, and the ocean is rushing through windows and walls. There’s water rising. The fear is imminent. I am about to die.
I wake up. Sometimes I am soaked from sweating in my sleep, and sometimes I am upright in my bed as if I’d never even laid down to begin with a few hours prior, as if I simply sat in bed with closed eyes and let the water come charging at me. As if I said, “I don’t need to lie down to drown.”
Sometimes I wake shivering. When you sweat in your sleep, you wake up freezing. A wet dog.
Maybe the water wasn’t actually my sweat. Maybe my dreams are so powerful that they sneak through whatever dream barrier exits and enter my body like a thief. I taste it to double check. It’s salty. Sea water? Sweat? Who’s to say?
I wake up before I die each time. I remember those old myths I would hear as a kid. You can’t die in your dreams. I don’t know. Who’s to say? I am mostly drowning in them.
The cliché gets to me. How can I have such an uninteresting clichéd recurring nightmare? I am ashamed of my mind’s lack of creativity when it comes to this.
I’ve had this dream, or a version of this dream, for as long as I can remember. I’m drowning.
I don’t understand where all this water is coming from or how I can stop it from swallowing me. I don’t understand the sky or the sea or which is which in these dreams. I look up and down, but there are no clues as to which is the sky and which is not. It doesn’t matter. It’s after me.
Last night, as my husband kissed me, I started to have a panic attack. “Babe!” I snapped, “Are you trying to suffocate me?” My heart started beating, and I felt the water rising. I was dying, and he wouldn’t stop until I pushed him away. I felt horrible immediately, but the drowning was real. I am not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t pushed him away.
His best friend and cousin died last week, the same day as Ronan. Ronan was two and a half and Amir was in his fifties. Ronan had been suffering, and his parents had been watching him die for two years. Amir was driving a tow truck and had a heart attack. He died before he crashed it into a parked car. His wife, in St. Louis, sat waiting for him to text her back.
I wasn’t there for my husband (or for Ronan’s mother Emily Rapp) as I was leading my retreat in Maui, but I know it was incredibly hard for him. The wife flew out and wailed in his arms as he drove them around the city and to the coroner’s office and to eat Persian sandwiches in Westwood.
So last night, when he was kissing me, I got that he was expressing his relief that I was still a person in the world. That I had not gone and he would prove it by smothering me. I felt bad for saying that to him, and he said, “Well, I was smothering you a bit.”
The thing is, I always have a problem with kissing. I used to think it was an intimacy thing, but it’s not. I don’t know what I believe in when it comes to past lives, but I feel like I can’t breathe when someone’s mouth is on mine. I am dying. Water is rushing at me, and I am falling into a pillow, or there is a pillow on my face, and, finally, Oh My God! I can’t breathe!
Don’t read into it too much. I wasn’t sexually abused or anything like that. I have to be kissed in just the right most perfect way so that I don’t feel like I am drowning.
Hugging makes me feel safe, and kissing makes me feel like dying most of the time.
I woke up feeling so guilty this morning. Apologizing over coffee. Hugging my husband. Kissing his face. My husband understands me and hopefully didn’t take it personally, but it was a purely unadulterated panic attack last night. The seawater was in my throat. My lungs collapsed. I was gone.
Why do we take on so much all the time? So many things that don’t belong to us. So many oceans.
That ocean rushing at my business, that’s my life. I think it’s going to eat me sometimes. Or sometimes I think I am trying to swallow it all at once, and you absolutely cannot do that. It’s too much. You have to pause and breathe.
So maybe there is no past life drowning and no claustrophobia. Maybe there is just I am not breathing because if I breathe, this will all go away, or if I breathe, this will all come so fast, and I won’t be able to control it.
You cannot control the ocean.
I save myself in my tidal waves dream, but oftentimes I can’t save my sister or my mom. My dad is never in them. I don’t know if it means I have forgotten him or that he doesn’t need saving. Regardless, he is absent. I save myself, but I cannot save my family from the ocean.
You cannot control the ocean or the life or the family.
You cannot save anyone.
I shoot up in my bed and feel my arms, and they are there and my husband’s body, and he is awake because I am awake. I’ve had a nightmare. Everyone is drowning. I can’t save anyone.
The magic words: “I love you. You are not drowning. You are safe. Do not worry about anything. You are safe,” he says.
Yesterday I sent out a newsletter, which wasn’t really a newsletter but rather my essay I had written on the plane Friday night called “What Will Never Go up in Smoke.” It went viral on Facebook, and I thought I would share it with my mailing list. I got some heartfelt and beautiful responses. One woman said that my writing always made her want to do better. (Wow!) Then, I got an email from someone in the spiritual community that simply said one word: “Unsubscribe.” (Wow!)
And there it is. I am about to drown. There’s a tidal wave. I am in someone’s house or apartment, and the ocean is rushing through windows and walls. There’s water rising. The fear is imminent. I am about to die. I can’t wake up because I am awake.
I am awake.
I breathe. I breathe, and after a while, the fear is gone. The hurt is there, but the fear is gone. It didn’t kill me, that one little word. It felt mean and hurtful, but I didn’t die. I sat staring at my phone feeling embarrassed, but I didn’t die. I pinched myself a little, and it was as it always was: I was human. I was still there on my bed, my messy blankets and pillows and books, and I was still human. I hadn’t been turned to stone by that word nor had it suffocated me.
The fear must have gotten trapped in my body as it was looking for a way out. Last night when my husband was kissing me and I felt like I was drowning, it was because the fear had nowhere to go.
My body was afraid it would always know that fear.
But then he is saying, “You are safe.”
And I was. I was in my bed, safe. And the word unsubscribe was just a word, and the ocean was nine blocks away, and anyone I love has to save themselves, and fear is a goddamn bastard.
The imminent fear. Of drowning. Of people not surviving. Of what others think. Of breathing. Of living. Of dying. It’s everywhere, really. If you look.
It’s as big as the ocean and beyond, and it will get you if you stop paying attention.
Listen: that is your breath. Listen: that is my breath. Listen: that is the wind.
Listen. This is your life.
Jennifer Pastiloff was recently featured on Good Morning America. She is a yoga teacher, writer, and advocate for children with special needs based in L.A. She is also the creator of Manifestation Yoga® and leads retreats and workshops all over the world. Jennifer is currently writing a book and has a popular daily blog called Manifestation Station. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and take one of her yoga classes online at Yogis Anonymous.
Jen will be leading a Manifestation Writing/Yoga® week long retreat in Tuscany July 2013 as well as a writing/yoga retreat with best selling author Emily Rapp (whom TIME magazine voted as having one of the best twenty-five blogs of 2012).