There are three different aspects to what makes a nightmare literally a nightmare:
1. You don’t have control
2. There’s no end in sight
3. There’s some pain or some discomfort
There are nightmares we have in our sleep, and then there are those “human nightmares” we live through in our (awake) life.
Let’s look at two examples of “real life” / “not-sleeping” nightmares, and how they can play out in different scenarios::
- I’m in pain and I see my doctor who doesn’t know what’s wrong with me and doesn’t know when my pain will subside.
- I’m in pain and I see my doctor who doesn’t know what’s wrong with me, but I am assured me the pain will subside in 72 hours.
What a difference! If I know that I only have to endure the pain for three days, I can bear it. Just that simple knowledge keeps my reality from being a nightmare.
Once, when I severely had too much on my plate – going to graduate school, my daughter Annie was about to be born, and I was starting a new teaching job – I was told by my therapist to give it six weeks till I felt better. While it seemed like an inordinate amount of time to wait, it turns out, he was right. I adapted, the stress subsided.
It’s our sense of control (or at least an illusion of the sense of control) that keeps life from being a nightmare. Even if it doesn’t feel like there’s an end or the pain is too great to bear, as long as we think we have control, it is no longer a nightmare. Similarly if we have no control and there’s pain, but we know it will end, we can grin and bear it.
Former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell keep going.” Similarly, the poet Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.”
This week’s spiritual advice:
We may not be in control, the pain may be to much too bear, but as long as we keep going we’ll be able to make it through (hopefully with no nightmares).