In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream.”
I have never been a normal sleeper and probably not a normal waker, either. As a child, we lived in a big, Edwardian house and from the age of 3 my mum would often find me in a completely different bedroom in the morning. One night, I woke up in the basement crouched on top of a commercial fridge. I must have slept walked there, possibly in total darkness; I have no idea. Spookily, in the day time I was unable to get up there unaided.
From the age of 8, I began to have recurring dreams which were highly disturbing. In one, my dad is being kept prisoner underneath the fake grass of a fruit and veg stall in the market. The two men holding him are sinister gangster types. In the other, my mum is being hung on wooden gallows on the green outside the Cathedral. In both these dreams, I am unable to speak or move.
Whilst experiencing a bad dream, my screams are theatrical in nature, scaring family and friends, and on one occasion, waking an entire hotel floor. Stress tended to trigger these dreams and one night I was heard to shout ‘Get the King out of here!’ I had been revising for a history exam and had learned that Henry 11 was a big chap and I kid you not, there he was, standing at the foot of my bed. Another time, the tall figure of an elderly man, dressed, undertaker-like, in a black top hat and long black coat was again standing at the foot of my bed and about to fall on top of me. He said his name was Uncle Charlie. No doubt today such dreams would have sexual abuse connotations.
In my teens, I shared a bedroom for a time with my older sister. I used to get up in the night and wander down the corridor in the darkness. If the door had swung to on my return, I apparently scratched at it to be let back in. Then, there was the time, when staying with relatives, I woke up right inside the big wardrobe and realised that I had been going round and round the walls, searching for the light switch.
The sleep talking/walking continued after I was married in my 20s. One night, I dreamed that my husband was locked out of our second floor flat and I needed to throw the keys down to him. Scarily, I woke up hanging right out of the window. Another time, when living in an old farmhouse, I dreamed that there was a fire and someone was telling me to jump. Again, I woke up crouched on the wide windowsill, about to jump. My then husband claimed it wasn’t him issuing the instruction to jump!
Shortly after this, I dreamed that our bed was about to be run over by a lorry so I bodily hauled my husband across me and onto the floor. When he tried to struggle free, I pinned him down. I was saving his life but he was not at all grateful.
Around this time, I actually went to my GP for advice. He duly listened to my tales and labelled it nocturnal aggression – oh well that’s alright then!
My sleep talking continued and others around me learned not to challenge what I said but to just go along with it. One time, I was on a yacht in the middle of the Bay of Biscay when I frightened the crew with one of my screams.
‘Have you been throwing doughnuts at me?’ I accuse.
‘Yes,’ replies my quick witted brother-in-law. ‘Can I have them back please?’
Whereupon I merely grunt and go back to sleep. Had he asked me what I was talking about or denied the accusation no doubt it would have been hotly debated. I am nocturnally aggressive you see.
After my first child was born and with all the hormonal disturbances that brings, things got worse for a time. I would often wake in the middle of the night frantically grabbing handfuls of duvet, shouting that I can’t find the baby. If I needed to go downstairs to the loo in the night I would see dead babies draped all up the stairs. It was a horrible and frightening time.
My daughter has inherited these tendencies. As a child, she would often appear in the lounge, seemingly awake but talking complete gibberish. I would take her by the hand and gently lead her back to bed. Other times, in the middle of a terrifying nightmare, she would trash her bedroom in her sleep.
Nowadays, she’s got a fascinating App on her mobile phone which records her sleep talking. Listening back to it is proper scary as she’s constantly asking for help and is clearly not alone. It’s as if she’s talking to someone else and in some weird way answers her own statements with comments such as ‘I don’t like this.’ No, nor do I.’ Other times, she can be heard rearranging the furniture or noisily munching food.
‘Doughnuts’ she sighs contentedly.
As for myself, I went for years without walking or talking in my sleep but these days I do have extraordinarily vivid and complicated dreams which fortunately are not usually scary. Occasionally, I have dreamed the plots of entire novels. Would that I could recapture these next morning. When the dreams are frightening, I wake up to find my heart is pounding violently and I feel distinctly unsettled.
Recently, in a dream, I am walking through a busy London street. I notice a newspaper placard with the headline ‘Mother jailed for murdering daughter claiming she was sleep walking at the time’.
When I wake up I am troubled by the notion that this scenario could indeed be possible, which is truly frightening.