Feb 25, 2008

The Monsters Who Live Under My Bed

by Rene Allen

An entire colony of monsters lives underneath my bed. Last week one of them crawled out and bit me. In fact, it’s 3 AM right now, and I’m sitting at my computer writing because they were restless and woke me up.

These monsters give me anxiety and make me feel helpless although there are a few predictable, old ones I have learned how to handle. Money worries is one. I’ve learned I can toss that old beggar a scrap of serious and rational thinking: “Hey, I can budget you old bear. And if push comes to shove, I’ll use that twenty-five year old wheat I’ve got stored in the basement. I’m looking for something to do with it anyway. Now go back to sleep and leave me alone.”

Generally, though, until you train them like circus animals, the Monsters under your bed are unreasonable, illogical and persistent.

Such is the one that woke me up this morning. It had been snarling all night that I should tell my grown-up children what to do so I won’t worry so much about the things they decide to do themselves. This monster is particularly mean because it makes lists of really bad things that can happen if I don’t get involved, or even if I do but too late. It predicts dire things such as bankruptcy, death, and divorce and places no stock in their abilities to make decisions for themselves. Obviously, I am still training this particular monster because I’m not at this moment in bed asleep but sitting at my desk writing.

(BTW- writing is an excellent way to train monsters.)

Now, about the one that bit me last week: this is a new monster. He is shaggy, gray and particularly unrelenting and viscous. There is a collar around his hairy old neck with the words “Age and Inevitability” written on it. The old boy took up residence under my bed after I was in the ER with the flu and the doctor told me my EKG was abnormal. “Nothing acute,” he said. “Just some non-specific changes.”

“I am a doctor. What does that mean?”

“Well, you’ve got some Q-waves.”

“And . . .”

“And, I thought they would have come from a myocardial infarction. You haven’t had one have you?”

“Not that I know about,” I said and tried to sound both definite and defiant. How dare he even suggest it? I exercise. I watch my diet. For Pete’s sake, I even eat tofu and quinoa.

That exchange in the emergency room was the precise minute this new monster moved in. He’s so clever. He took the truth about my family history – yes, indeed, there is heart disease and diabetes, grabbed it with his yellow teeth, shook it to a pulp and gave me enormous anxiety.

That was why last week I found myself in the basement of University Medical Center, getting a shot of radioactive “whatchmacallit” and put under a scanner. I went upstairs to the fourth floor where Cardiology Diagnostics is and a nurse named Laurie hooked me up to a 12-lead EKG then injected adenosine which dilated my coronary arteries. Meanwhile, I ambled along on a treadmill with legs that felt so heavy I thought they might fall off. I also watched as a surge of anxiety-induced adrenalin from my own sympathetic nervous system rocked the monitor. My systolic blood pressure was 180 mm Hg! At home it is 125. That’s how I knew the monster bit me.

Well, I survived the test and will find out the answer next week. If I’m in serious jeopardy, I trust someone will call me. Meanwhile, its business as usual which includes the gym, except for this major pest under my bed who just won’t quit bothering me.

I’m working on a training program for the beast. The problem is, like it is with all monsters who give you middle of the night anxiety, he has a lot of truth. Aging does change you. Some things about life and about your life in particular, are inevitable. And much of these physical and mental changes come with unpleasantness such as nuclear pharmacological stress tests that make you wonder if your health and very existence are beyond your control.

One of my physicians, this one for a neck problem, said “Signs of wear and tear in the body mean you’ve been busy. Now, aging means its time for dignity and courage.” I believe I heard a choice. Choosing dignity and courage beat not choosing any day of the week.

Choice is the heart of any good training program for monsters who live underneath beds. Another key point, oddly, is acknowledging they are there. If you care about someone or something, you also have fear which is a normal response, and one that may move you to action when nothing else will. (It did get me to the heart lab which was a good thing.)

Aging and its inevitable changes in ones life are tough. I’m not ready for a wheelchair and mashed potatoes, however. The question becomes how do I traverse this time without so much anxiety until, who knows, I am ready? And can I accept that day with the same pragmatic attitude I’m looking for now? I want ideas. Dignity and courage . . . Choice . . . Making the most of what I can do today . . . Realizing joy in the life I have . . .They all sound good to me.


  1. I'm glad you put a name to those anxieties I have. It sounds like I have a very similar colony under my own bed that cause a great deal of insomnia for me. I am a nurse. One of the problems nurses contend with is knowing just enough to make you think the worst when situations arise and so the trembling heart receives an extra large shock wave.
    Margaret Turley
    I want to tell my children: "Hey you, listen to me, I've been down that road it doesn't lead where you think it does."
    I want to tell my mother: "Mom, in this situation I am the parent, who also happens to be a nurse, do it my way and you'll feel better."
    Now that I know these are "monsters" who can be trained I will approach the matter with rehabilitation in mind - as I've let them wander around without much guidance.

  2. Oh, Rene, how I relate to those monsters under the bed. Mine are quite different from yours, but they surely do come out at night while I lay in bed and haunt me, driving away the rest and sleep I know my body and mnd so need. I love your idea of "training" these monsters. I had never thought of that before. That's something I definitely need to remember and try to start working on.

    Thanks so much for an inspiring post!

  3. I love the idea of training the monsters. It reminds me of a poem I recently wrote.

    I am making a fear catch sack,
    To carry my fear upon my back.
    My fear tries to stop me,
    To make me hide,
    But I won’t.
    So if it wants to stay by my side,
    It must climb into my sack,
    And come along for the ride.

    I wrote this because as an anxiety suffer I learned that although fear is something I struggle with, it can only stop me if I let it, and I don't let it. I just stick it in the backseat and say, "lets go."

  4. Rene,
    What a great way to process those emotions! I truly appreciate the idea that we can acknowledge the things we feel, recognizing that we can train those monsters and use them to help us move forward, rather than letting them block our path.



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