A surreal experience – any ideas?

It´s late at night, and I´m sitting in our living room. My girlfriend is sleeping on the couch next to me. I allow my thoughts to drift where ever they want to. I reflect on my feelings about sex, and how conflicted I feel about it (this is not what this post will be all about, though). I dig up some weird childhood memories about me playing some variant of Spin the Bottle with the neighbor´s kids when we were five or six. I suddenly find it very strange that we 1) knew what we were doing was somehow inappropriate (won´t go into details, but yes, it was) and that 2) we did it anyway in a somewhat nonchalant fashion. My thoughts drift towards more childhood memories. They are just fragments that randomly pop up inside my head. I feel myself pushing forward, digging deeper into the past, inviting them in. I feel like I´m on the way to solve the riddle that is my life. I feel like I´m trying to put my finger on something that is constantly shying away from me, and I feel like it is very important that I capture it. I am extremely focused. I barely notice my surroundings.

And then a slight uncanniness sneaks up on me. I am familiar with this kind of experience from earlier occasions. I know the uncanniness can turn into full-blown terror. I know it is time to stop this cascade of memories. The memories themselves are never frightening. There is just this underlying uneasiness that inevitably accompanies this state of mind. I decide that I´ll pick up a book. I read a bit, I even get absorbed in the book, and then I suddenly have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I guess the uncanniness is still there. If I ignore it, it will turn somatic and I´ll have an attack of nausea again. So I put away the book.

Immediately I´m immensely focused again, and I don´t notice my surroundings  anymore. The memories go on and the uneasiness increases. Then suddenly my eyes are glued to the picture on the wall opposite to me. The picture seems threatening in an abstract way. The picture is not actually frightening. It shows a goddamn Tuscan landscape or something. I feel like picture is staring at me. Taxing me. Lurking. I realize that I´ve frozen like deer in the headlights. My eyes shift to the closet next to the picture. There are windows in the closet doors, and I feel the same sense of threat emanating from the corners of the windows, where they meet the frame. This, too, is something I know very well.

The cascade of memories go on. I remember old fears of mine, like my fear of a house fire. It seems incredibly meaningful. “What is that fear like?” I ask myself. “What is it really about? I know all of my specific fears, all of my phobias, are just ideas that my actual, nameless, deep-rooted, overwhelming terror attached itself to. So – let´s get a little closer to that terror. Let´s try.”

I get closer, I let it build up in my mind so I can finally get a good look at it – and then shy away again as if I had burnt myself. I do this a couple of times, and then, bit by bit, the tables turn. Little bouts of horror leak into my mind, and I try to block them, stop them, do anything apart from sitting on the couch in terrorized stupor. And each little noise, each little movement, each little shadow increases the panic. I duck (just mentally or also for real, I´m not sure) to avoid the blows. “Calm, calm, calm!” I frantically scream in my head, until I become aware of the absurdity of that.

I decide that I must remove myself from the situation. I must break my paralysis, go upstairs and do something. But moving is difficult, because even my own movements freak me out.  It probably takes me fifteen minutes to sink down to the floor and put on my socks. I´m constantly hit by new bouts of terror, and I freeze up again every time. Still, memories are flooding my brain. By now I don´t even remember which ones, but when it happened they all seemed to make sense. I saw a million connections between them. It drives me crazy how unaccessible it is now.

Well, then I turned towards the door, which was locked. I felt a terrible threat emanating from the door (great, so you can become phobic of large, flat, rectangular objects which have frames? Wow.). There was a cracking noise behind the door and I jumped mentally. On the outside, I was frozen once again. I thought: “What if there is a fire behind the door?”

My rational mind was not entirely switched off. It was very active recording what was happening, and discounting my frantic thoughts, telling me I was just being overly dramatic/hysterical/histrionic. So I knew with absolute clarity that there was no fire behind the door. I tried once more to analyze my fear, though.

So, “what if there is a fire behind the door?” I didn´t picture the hall to be ablaze. “The Fire” is a very confined thing, and its existence does not depend on any flammable objects. I guess you could imagine it to be a demon. So if it was there, it was standing behind the door. “The Fire” is not a chemical process. It is an semi-conscious entity, something with a will, though maybe a programmed, pre-determined will. Something that might notice I´m right here on the other side of this door if I should think about it too loudly. It is like a sleeping dog which will wake up if you stare at it or even think about it for too long…like…NOW!

And my mind shies away. Not completely, I still cringe with terror internally, I´m so frightened I want to cry, but there is no cathartic catastrophe. The goddamn entity will probably never get me. It will never get it over with. If I was persecuted by a real thing/person, I guess I would have stopped running away long ago. Whenever I felt threatened in real life, I…well…froze. I froze, and the fear went away. And so did the threat, by the way.

I cannot imagine what would happen if the fire, the dog (did I mention I´m also phobic of dogs?), the entity should wake up, notice me and go after me.  I don´t know what the hell I´m so scared of.

Well, eventually I went to the door. I knew I´d have to open it sooner or later, despite my fear, and I prepared myself to resign. Since I rationally knew there was no danger, this was manageable, though uncomfortable. I felt a little wave of apathy wash over me. Leaden, listless, meaningless, low. Nothing matters, everything´s gray and bleak. But that way I could open the door. I got used to moving again; I got my laptop, I wrote this entry. I´m still hypersensitive to noises and movements. Even when I know they´re completely harmless, like my girlfriend turning around in her sleep. At least I can move normally again. I know I will still have a hard time getting up and going to bed, though. I don´t feel entirely uninhibited yet, though the space in which I´m safe seems to have increased. Which leads me to the question: Am  I ever entirely uninhibited? No. Not in this flat, at least. Even during daytime, I´m always just that little bit hypervigilant. When I run down the stairs I´ll regularly stop dead in my tracks on the last stair, feeling the sudden need to check the living room (to my left) before I walk (towards the right) in the hallway, just to make sure no one will jump at me from behind. Huh. Maybe that´s one of the reasons why I don´t get anything done at home? Because I can never fully focus on anything? Interesting thought.

I´ve asked this before on some mental health forum, but no one could give me any hints, so I´ll ask anybody who happens to stumble across this post:

Do you have any idea what it is that I described here? 

What is it? It´s not a normal panic attack of the kind I get when I feel nauseous. When I have one of these, I don´t freeze. Actually, I cannot sit still, and I get very agitated. It´s not a generalized anxiety thing, either, because I´m not actually worrying about anything. I often worry about stuff, like “what if something has happened to my girlfriend?” or “what if she hates me and just doesn´t know how to break up” or “what if the house catches fire because I didn´t switch off xyz”, and I respond to these worries with all kinds of crazy thought rituals. This experience here is completely different.

It is not just anxiety. It is terror. The terror is oddly surreal, though, which makes my rational mind doubt if it is really happening or if I´m making things up. (I mean whether I´m really all that terrified or if I´m just psyching myself up. Like I said, I do know on a rational basis that pictures and window frames don´t actually stare at me.) Also, I´m under quite some stress. I just noticed this when my girlfriend moved again and I felt this bout of aggression, which was just the result of feeling like I´m under attack.

Well. If any of you guys knows something about this or has this kind of thing him-/herself, I´m grateful for comments (well, I´m always grateful for comments. But finally finding out what this experience is all about would be specifically awesome).



4 Responses to “A surreal experience – any ideas?”

  1. Heya
    I do understand what you are explaining here. It must be hard for you to go through. I mostly experienced this in regard to my health when I was stuck in my Panic Disorder. It seemed like every single little pain or change within my body warranted extreme over-thinking and panic.
    Now before going to bed at night after I see something thriller-wise on TV I do still experience it.
    For example, I watched Final Destination and that night it was so hard to convince myself that I was okay. I think that movie is funny, and yet when I was in my room, alone, in the dark, all of these negative reactions were going off in my brain and I had no way of switching them off.
    Often I think there is something behind my door, and when I open it I expect to see some sort of monster staring back at me, but there never is. If I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night I leave the door wide open so I can catch anything that tries to sneak by. Then when I get back into bed I swear I can feel something in the room watching me sleep, about to reach it’s arm out to touch me, but I switch on the light and nothing is there.

    Did you have vivid nightmares as a child? I did. It seemed as though any dream I had was laced with me being attacked. I guess my behavour now still stems from those dreams even though I am a very gentle person.

    What you’re describing sounds like an overactive brain. I’m guessing you daydream a lot? Me too. Something you have to be careful of is thoughts having a “mind of their own.” Thankfully, that overactive imagination can come in handy with a bit of hard work (and I do mean hard work.) What I do when I think there is an entity behind my door is start to picture something else being there. Eg. If I think there is a monster, and the more I think about it, the more detail is added to it, the more the fear builds inside until when I actually open the door I expect to see that monster.
    So, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and start to picture something else there instead. I don’t try to rationalize my behavour – if all my time with Agoraphobia has taught me one thing, it’s that it won’t work with a mind too far gone. I start to picture, I don’t know, an angel there instead. A big smile, welcoming arms, shimmering light… and the more I do the less I feel afraid. I only stop doing it until I expect to see a materialized angel standing there when I open the door.

    By that stage I’ve forgotten all over being afraid. I know it is hard sometimes, but you’ve got to take a smidgen of control back from your mind each day. Just a little. It’s like practicing a game or a skill, except you can’t physically see it.

    Wow, I’m hoping that ranting was helping for you.

  2. Hi, thank you very much for your comment, it is very helpful!

    I daydream quite a lot, indeed. Nearly all the time. I don´t remember if I had specifically vivid nightmares as a child, though. The odd thing is: In the beginning of such an experience I even think I´m in control of it. At least I allow it to happen because I feel like I might find out something important about my self, my past, whatever. I´m not sure, though, if I lose control at some point, or if my “control” was an illusion all along.

    What did you do in order to take back control over your mind?

  3. I’m glad you found it helpful!.

    The mind is a tricky thing and I’d have to say that it was a lot of work. To tell you the truth I did a lot of research and found that the mind is one of the most important parts of making up who you are.
    I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of the tests they have performed on athletic people? They get them to run a race entirely in their mind and found that the exact some muscle groups fired and tensed even though the person wasn’t physically running it.
    I think I sort of came to the conclusion that the mind doesn’t really know the difference between physical reality and mental reality – mostly due to experiencing it myself with Anxiety.
    I could honestly sit and picture a situation in my head, run it over and over, about something that I found to be anxious, and I can get myself into a state about it – full on panic – because my body doesn’t actually KNOW I’m not there. It just goes off what I tell my brain. Anxiety and panic actually forced me to see that I had let my thoughts about myself become totally negative and the only way to get through it was to put in the work to say “this is my brain and my body, and even though anxiety is a built-in physical reflex, I decide what I am afraid of.”

    Taking back control is just refusing to let it do it’s own thing, and it takes a lot of bad-habit thought breaking. I just took little steps at first. I mean, to your mind, it is completely plausible for these non-threatening objects to become malicious but it’s most likely just due to a deeply imbedded fear you might have of being attacked or mocked or any other vulnerabilities you might have.

    To start I would suggest just becoming aware of the moments when your negative thoughts happen, eg. when you are checking behind you, or around the corner for would-be attackers. Stop. Take a breath, and just change your thought. It doesn’t even have to be about “being attacked” – you don’t have to go from “I might get jumped” ro “There’s nothing there waiting to jump me” because that may be a big step for you. Just try thinking about something that makes you happy, eg. your girlfriend or a tv show you really enjoy.

    I’m sorry for the long reply! Hope it’s helpful!

  4. Wow, I´m sorry I´m replying only now; somehow I must have overlooked that you left another comment! Great thanks!

    I think I might have read about this phenomenon somewhere, the thing that the mind doesn´t know if something is really happening or if you imagine it. This definitely is fascinating.

    Keeping track of when and where I have experiences like this one might be a very good idea. I might not only identify what causes them, but that way I´ll also know how frequently they really happen. They seem almost unreal once they´re over.

    I guess I will not be able to get rid of them entirely, though, as long as I´m still so obsessed with the idea that they might be able to tell me something important about myself.

    Thanks again for your reply, and it does not matter at all that it is long! I appreciate it!

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