A gift from my anxiety is the power of my imagination. Anxiety is a future focused state, dependent on wildly irrational beliefs about what the future may hold. Where do these come from? Definitely not experience. These notions come from extreme creative thought. Like the certainty that my pillows lay in wait to asphyxiate me in my sleep.
But wait, my anxiety brain wants to say. If you knew the specific circumstances, you might see it kind of makes sense, this sudden fear of pillows.
I had set up four pillows with optimism I hadn’t felt since my injury. Tonight I was sure the pain had decreased enough that I would be able to sleep for hours, maybe even right through the night. I placed one pillow on my left side of the head pillow to prop my surgically repaired elbow in case I could get to sleep laying on my back. Two more pillows pointed at my head pillow at an oblique angle I hoped would line up with my large plaster splint if I were to lie on my uninjured side.
I started on my back, but finally admitted to myself I couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep that way. I heaved a sigh and gave in to the laborious process of setting myself up on my right side. I slid my right hand under the heavy splint and guided my stiffened left arm across my body onto the pile of waiting pillows, as I gradually shifted onto my right hip. I knew I had to find the correct angles before the arm started to complain about movement. The key, from the few minutes of sleep I’d managed over the past ten days, was to make sure the pillows aligned and started right at my armpit. I attempted to adjust pillows and arm with my right hand until I felt hopeful my poor left arm was supported against lurking gravitational forces waiting to tug at my arm along some vector of discomfort. I lowered my head onto the pillow closest the headboard and slid my right arm under the pillow stack between me and the edge of the bed.
Everything was okay for a moment. Then as I released my head onto my regular pillow, I felt another pillowcase brush my lips. The piled pillows weren’t close enough to block my airway in that moment, but as I pushed my head away I had a vision. During the night I could see my unconscious movements inching the pillows closer and closer to my mouth. Finally they would be in position to smother me in my sleep. My splinted arm above the pillows and the other trapped beneath, both rendered powerless to save me.
In a wave of panic, I freed my right arm and attempted to banish the threat. Yet it loomed, my imagination already causing me to gulp for air and heart to beat out of my chest. I grabbed my injured arm and bolted upright. Sleep eluded me for another night, only this time it wasn’t pain, but my wonderfully vivid imagination. Which, even as I sat up in bed, eyes wide, I knew was not the best use of this gift.