I live in monochrome. I dream in multicolour.
This is obviously a ridiculously overblown statement which I’m mostly saying for effect and to make you read this blog. However, there is some element of truth to it. My life is not all monochrome, not by any many of means – I’m far too much of a drama queen to allow that. However, my depression, such as it is, when it manifests itself, is definitely grey. I’ve read about other people describing depression as being black – was it Winston Churchill who talked about his black dog? – but mine is grey. Sepia. Like black and white TV. It is the exact nothing colour of the sky when that vast emptiness above us is bleached out with clouds and looks hollow and bleak. When I look at the sky and it is that blank, I always think of a Sylvia Plath quote – I talk to God, but the sky is empty. How can anyone be happy under a sky like that? I don’t understand it. And when I’m depressed and it’s bad enough to seep into even sunny days, I feel like I’m carrying that grey sky in a big, dense, heavy lump in my chest, a lump that drags me down and makes it hard for me to lift my head to look at the blue skies anyway.
(Now there’s a cheerful opening statement for you!)
My dreams, however, are a totally different matter. I never dream in tones of grey – or if I do, it’s a cine camera, stop motion, Film Noir kind of grey, like at the beginning of Moulin Rouge, not the hopeless void of colour that fills the sky and sucks out my soul on down days. Let me put it this way – I’ve just come back from a wonderful psytrance festival in Hungary, full of sunshine and crazy hippies floating about with face paint smeared all over their happy little fizzogs, and yet the most colourful thing I’ve seen in a month is the lion that mauled my parents’ next door neighbour a few nights ago.
My parents live in Southgate, north London, not in the African bush. This was, natch, part of my dream some nights ago. I was watching the lion from my old bedroom in my parents’ house, with them, out of the window. We were amazed at first, as we’d never seen a lion up close, and one doesn’t expect to see such a creature strolling down a suburban Southgate street – especially one so dazzlingly golden, with such a bright, flowing mane. It walked very calmly and confidently down the road, and we were more than a little thrilled. I assumed it had escaped from a zoo – you read these stories sometimes, don’t you, about big cats living in the most unexpected locations, having escaped from this place or that place – and felt lucky to be looking at him. It didn’t feel so lucky when he tore down Rita (the next door neighbour’s) door and started mauling someone he had found in there, flaying the skin from this poor man’s back as he screamed and cried, still alive even as he was swiftly being torn, quite literally, in two.
I woke up from this dream needing a drink – water, not the stiff gin one might assume, I hasten to add. Generally, I’ve been sleeping so much better lately, but some of my good habits are starting to slip a little bit, and the occasion of this dream, some nights ago, was one of those times that I woke up during the night. The dream (I won’t bore you with all the details) (or maybe, as it turns out, I will) had already transmuted into my brother having been taken over by another being and being about to kill me… and yet I still found myself trying to get back inside the dream as I got back into bed, mouthing the words I’d been saying when I’d awoken, trying to get back to the scene I had just left.
All the signs would point to that having been a nightmare, right? I mean, seeing the lion in the street was pretty damn cool, but then the flaying alive, and the eerie creepiness of someone else in my brother’s body (I knew it wasn’t him because he had an upside down tattoo of some script across his shoulder blades, and my brother would NEVER get a tattoo, let alone a creepy upside down, Satan-ish looking number) accusing me of killing the neighbour, when I could see in his eyes that this was part of his elaborate plan to kill me – this shouldn’t be something I want to get back to, right? And yet, and yet… the simple truth of the matter is that sleep is so prized to me, so cherished, so tied up with my mental health in ways both good and bad that I would almost always rather be asleep than awake.
Sleep is good for me because when I don’t get enough of it, I lose a layer of skin – things affect me way too much and I cry and crumble way too easily. If I’ve not had enough sleep, a broken nail seems like front page news, and the actual front page news (lying politicians, house fires, murder victims, starving children, orphaned baby tigers) is enough to completely dissolve me. The ups and downs of relationships (romantic and other) that most people seem to take in their stride completely confound me when I’m not sleeping well. I dwell and dwell and dwell on slights and rows and treatment that has made me feel small, and something within the sleep-starved version of my soul is a greenhouse for these things, making them grow rich and lush and all-entangling, like a creeper weed choking a rose. This is why I mustn’t lose too much sleep.
Sleep is bad for me because when I have too much of it, it’s all I want. Not that I would know, but it’s like heroin. It’s all I want – to return to the world of my dreams, where I swim with crocodiles (last night) or talk to ponies (the night before) or perform onstage with Madonna (over and over and over again). When I wake up from too much sleep, I feel drugged. My mouth is fuzzy and dry, my head is thick and suety, I can’t think anything through or get anything done. It’s the same thing that happens to me when I watch too much television, but if anything, it’s even more addictive.
In fact, my most deadly entrapment of all is a combination of these two things – sleeping with the television on. There’s something about the recorded voices of people talking, with the occasional laughter track or incidental music thrown in, that is a totally soporific lullaby for me. A DVD would get me to sleep better than a valium – until it finished, at which point I’d be spewed back into the real world, which mostly consisted of that black and red screen in all the different languages telling you not to show this DVD on oil rigs. Hence why I always slept with one hand clutched tightly around the remote control, so that I could press play and sink back into my paddling pool shallow sleep once again. I can’t really do this any more since getting rid of the television from my room so that I would sleep better.
As a brief aside – I was SO confident that, although it was painful doing it, I wouldn’t miss the television from my room at all, and that I would become one of those annoying people who say they would never dream of having a TV in their room in the first place, and who point out what a lowly slacker anyone who does harbour such a filthy secret must be. Turns out, I was wrong. I know it was the right thing to do, as I do sleep better, but godDAMN I miss my bedroom TV. I use audio books now instead, but it’s like switching heroin for methadone. It does the same job, but it’s nowhere near as good.
The sensible thing, one would think, on waking up from too much sleep and finding oneself in this impaired state, would be to go swimming or do some yoga, or at the very least some star jumps – anything that’s going to wake myself up so that I can come home to my fully operational brain and get on with my day. Right? Wrong! That’s the problem with impaired states after all… you don’t think right. At the time that this is going on for me, the only thing I can think of that will solve the lopsided hardship of being alive is going back for some more of that delicious sleep. It’s like a mini-suicide to which you don’t have to commit, is sleep. And what could be more tempting than that? Left to my own devices, it’s possible that I would spend the rest of my days slumbering to old episodes of Gilmore Girls, only waking up to change DVDs and eat the occasional bit of cheese.
I don’t suppose I’m unique in these feelings. After all, who doesn’t love a good slumber party? The party where, ultimately, you’re the only guest and your dreams are your own personal cinema. What could be better? My dreams are bigger, and fuller, and bolder, more colourful and linear and complex than those of anyone else I’ve ever met, with the possible exceptions of my friends Rosch and Adam. I don’t know if my dreams really are as linear and novel-esque as they so often seem, or if it’s the writer monkey in my head editing story lines together as I wake up, but it doesn’t really matter – they keep me entertained either way.
The one downside of having made my sleep so much healthier (apart from having to get rid of the TV) is that I don’t remember my dreams as much. For the first month or so that I was sleeping right, I don’t think I remembered more than a wisp of a dream for the entire four weeks, something that had never happened to me before in my life. I was bereft! This was something that was so puzzling about my insomnia days. I was convinced I hadn’t slept for more than, say, seven minutes the entire night, spread out over several hours, and yet my dreams had seemed to go on for millennia. Of course, this is because the dreams we remember are the ones we have as we’re coming up to the surface of sleep – as we’re about to wake up. So I was asleep, but never very well.
I’ve started to remember my dreams more again. I know this is because I’ve stopped doing everything Paul McKenna tells me… I never leave three hours between food and sleep any more, I sometimes sit on my bed to fold my washing, I sometimes try to sleep before I’m tired. But like a manic depressive skipping out on my medication, hoping to tempt just a tiny bit of the temptress of mania back into my life, I’m not doing anything about it just yet. Stop dreaming? People who say that are blaspheming, as Mike Skinner once said. I don’t think he meant the literal dreams that I do, but still. If I can twist someone else’s clever words and use them as my defence, you can’t stop me. Even if you try it with both hands (Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll).