The sharp click of the breaker box was what woke me up.
As my eyes came into focus, I snatched my hands away from the fuses and looked in horror as I wondered which ones I’d already flipped in my sleepy panic.
I was in my garage. And I was sleepwalking again.
Being a chronic sleepwalker is truly bizarre. Sleepwalking has a distinct undead quality. You wander around in a subconscious fog, unaware of surroundings but somehow functioning, albeit on a low level. Being in this limbo between sleep and wake feels both fascinating and terrifying. If you can get a little distance from it, it’s pretty damn funny. It’d be even funnier if it were not an offshoot of my anxiety and panic attacks.
I’ve been sleepwalking since I was a child. It’s something most people grow out of, but I never did. I’ve walked out of my house, I’ve wandered around like a creepy little zombie while staying at other people’s houses, I’ve rearranged everything in my kitchen and have written myself desperately important notes – like “salad dressing singing.” I walked out of my dorm room when I was studying for a summer at Oxford, franticly stumbling around the ancient halls like the ghost of Percy Shelley.
But eventually, the whole thing became less of an amusing quirk and more like it could lead to my unintentional death. My sleepwalking could be more appropriately called sleep running. Which, thanks to my inherent clumsiness and the fact that I’m not actually conscious, often means that I fall down. Falling down stairs and playing with electricity while in a undead state is just not good.
When my grandmother noticed the bruises on my arm, I explained that I had fallen down the stairs again while sleepwalking. She nodded knowingly; sleepwalking is a family trait. My grandma reported that her twin sisters used to sleepwalk — together. (Yeah. I thought of The Shining, too.)
“You should try hypnosis,” my Grandma said.
I had been to many doctors, who all claimed that sleepwalking is only manageable with drugs. The idea of knocking myself into oblivion every night didn’t sound appealing. Also unappealing is the way comedian Mike Birbiglia deals with it, which involves a highly restrictive sleeping bag and wearing mittens so he can’t undo the zipper.
But I had never been hypnotized before, and it sounded…out of control. It sounded like handing over my subconscious to be splayed open for judgment and manipulation, while I napped.
My poor, sleep deprived husband was building elaborate structures with chairs and sheets, topped with precariously placed bells, in his attempt to safely cage me in our bedroom. I still escaped every night like a sleepy Houdini. Something needed to change.
I went to a hypnotist who came highly recommended and was not one of those people who had a neon hand flashing in the window. Her office had a large bowl with one of those beautiful Siamese fighting fish in it, something that I found inexplicably comforting. It seemed to indicate permanence. Who would abscond in the night after training my brain to cluck like a chicken at the mention of the word “eggs” – if they had a fancy fish to care for? Fish are not easily transported, and who would leave a nice-looking fish like that to die of starvation?
The fish convinced me.
When I explained my almost-nightly routine, along with the graphic and detailed nightmares that involved violent acts with much blood and torment, she said,
“Okay, this session, we’ll get to know each other, because I can’t hypnotise you if you don’t trust me. Next time we’ll go into deep trace, then we’ll have one last clean up session.”
“That’s it?” I asked. She was so calm and confident and didn’t seem unnerved by my 30 years of undead behavior at all.
“Well, trance is difficult and exhausting work. But yes, three sessions ought to take care of it.”
Know what else is exhausting? Waking your husband up with your screaming twice a night. That’s tiring, too. For a couple of people.
I decided to trust her.
Hypnosis is strange. It feels like being half-awake, like in those moments right before you fall asleep. I remember everything that went on. I never felt out of control or scared. I saw some really wild stuff way down there in my subconscious. Memories and thoughts and images float around. I told stories about things I hadn’t thought about in years. I saw scenes play out that and I have no idea what they were. Was it all just my imagination? What is imagination, anyway? She walked me through my own brain, told me to visualize things and categorize them in my mind.
And since my sessions with her, four years ago, I’m pretty much cured. I’ve had a couple of relapses, which were largely margarita-induced.
Even after all this time, I can’t really explain why it worked. Even though I don’t run screaming through my house anymore, I still think of myself as a sleepwalker. It’s kind of like being an alcoholic, you always hold on to that label of yourself.
It’s strange to realize that you don’t always know what is going on in your own mind. It’s scary to admit that you don’t totally understand. But eventually, you might need to surrender a little control and trust someone who is worthy of your trust. Sometimes you can find help in unusual places, and sometimes when you get there, there’s a really nice fish.
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