Fear is, probably, the most real of all human emotions and has the most long-lasting effects on the human mind. The myriad emotions that we feel everyday, for the most part, might be interpreted in terms of the element of fear. Happiness and peace, for example, is a state of ‘no fear’. Courage and thrill, if we come to think of it, is a state of ‘little fear’. Tension, stress, suspicion are all variations of a state of more than usual fear, while unhappiness is the fallout of fear. And then there is FEAR in its purest form.
The thing about fear is that it’s very difficult to understand. More often than not, a fear is real only to the person who experiences it. Other people, even those who are nearest to him or her, find it difficult to understand a fear that seems quite baseless or even, harmless. It is, perhaps, this lack of understanding that drives people to the edge and forces them to hurt themselves in unimaginable and often, irrevocable ways. Yet, considering the fact that all of us suffer from some kind of fear or the other, is it not strange that we still find it so difficult to understand the realness of another person’s fear?
Nightmares are a semi-visual rendition of the fears that lurk inside us; semi-visual, because we see them, with our mind’s eye, while we sleep, when the mind is at its most vulnerable, the consciously-erected mental guards being down. Nightmares, like dreams, are very vivid in their details – they make us feel as if we are in our very own horror movie, one half of ourselves acting our part, while the other half unwittingly watches. This is, perhaps, the most fearful aspect of fear – it paralyses us from within, so that we end up gagging on our own dry tongues, have trouble breathing and finally wake up, after breaking out in a cold sweat, in the most painfully torturous positions imaginable, with a general feeling of being very dead.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been very prone to having nightmares. They, literally, plague me. The earliest ones, if I remember correctly, were the ones that dealt with loss; more particularly, the loss of a parent. I remember whimpering in my sleep, followed by a frantic search for my mother, upon waking up from the nightmare. They came in black and white, mostly black, like in the movies of old. Next came the most violent ones, around puberty, in the hues of the darkest black and red, and quite action-packed. I just hope that nobody else ever has the misfortune of having such nightmares. Next in line, were the ‘snaky’ ones – where a huge serpent, with the head of a human that I most loathed, used to sneak up on me, in a variety of situations, but always with the same insidious intent of crushing me to death. The serpent, in most cases, was either green or red. I’m not sure whether my general fear of serpents was the only thing that was responsible for these ‘snaky’ nightmares.
After I had left the university for good, I started having a very different sort of nightmare. I started waking up at night after dreaming that I was appearing for an exam, absolutely without any preparation, so that I knew none of the answers. As a result, I started losing my sleep over a preposterous fear, which, nevertheless, felt very real. I still have this nightmare sometimes and, in my sleep, experience the agony of uncertainty and doom that I’ve never had to experience as a student.
The other nightmares that I encounter these days are the falling-through-the air and the elevator ones. In fact, I might never have realised my fear of elevators had it not been for these recurring nightmares. Wherever I go, I’ve always preferred taking the stairs, to using the elevator. The number of times I’ve used an elevator is certainly less than half-a-dozen; that, too, when I was accompanied by somebody I trusted. Ever since I started having them, I’ve become even more wary of elevators, anywhere and everywhere.
The nightmares I experience, have changed over time; they’ll possibly undergo further changes. What hasn’t changed, though, is my reaction to nightmares. When I wake up in the morning, after a nightmare-ridden night, looking like a ghost of myself, I never forget to thank nature for this gift of light that drives away fears.