Last night I dreamed I had a dog. It followed me through all my dreams, nightmare or not, with the diligence of a service animal and the demeanor of a happy pup. It was incredibly well behaved, so much so that my dreaming self remarked, "wow, I wish my first dog had been so well trained" (of course, I was a kid and didn't know how to train a dog back then). The dog, also female, was slightly larger, and at some point I approached a vague sense of consciousness with the nagging sense that something was wrong. It wanted something from me, tried to wake me, but couldn't. Disappointed, it laid down beside me. Then I realized, no one had walked the dog before bedtime.
It was at this moment I realized we didn't own a dog. And that was the thought that woke me up.
Now, for those that know me know I have PTSD. Lately, whenever I wake in the night, it is usually in a cold sweat, heart hammering, in grave terror. Sometimes there are rushing thoughts to go with the terror, an intruder, a noise, etc. My sleeping partner likes to twitch in his sleep, which is a guaranteed wakeup for me, and means hours of exhausted restlessness before I can drift back into a nightmare-laced coma. I often check the house repeatedly, or fight the urge to peer into corners and closets and windows. This time, I woke up perfectly calm, only with the nagging guilt of having wronged an animal I was responsible for. And, even though I knew this beast didn't exist, I was totally unable to shake this feeling.
In the end, I took the spirit dog outside. I figured, whether or not it existed didn't matter. At the very least, I could pay homage to the fact that some part of my psyche helped to cushion and protect me from hours (or what seemed like hours) of bad dreams. And if that part of my psyche demanded to be let out at 0530 in the morning, it was only 55 degrees F outside, who was I to argue? So I put on shoes and a jacket, and feeling rather foolish, wandered outside and stared at the sky for five minutes, and then wandered back inside and crawled back into bed.
I was instantly asleep, without the aid of an additional sleeping pill--an entirely unusual circumstance. Fuck it, I have an invisible, probably imaginary dog.
Or is it? For those who remember my "blue car" theory, it's basically, if a person has a hallucinatory blue car, and they can see, smell, hear, and touch it but no one else can, sometimes it is just better for that person to live their life reacting to the blue car, rather than waste countless hours fruitlessly trying to convince themselves it doesn't exist. You weigh the harm, and you weigh the effort involved, and you figure out which one allows the person to get on with their life with the minimum of fuss. And I contend, that for that person, the question of reality becomes moot. For all practical purposes, if one chooses to act and react as if a thing were real, one might as well say it's real.
So...while standing outside at 0530 and feeling like a total nutjob, I weighed my options. I could go on as before, sleeping a few hours at night and then getting up after three hours, terrified. And then napping most of the day in fits. My cortisol is probably through the roof, and that's bad. Or, I could try out owning an invisible service dog, and see how well that affects my sleep, and if my sleep happens to improve, maybe that's worth it. What exactly would I be willing to do, and how far would I be willing to go?
And I decided that a quick trip outside, five minutes, morning and night, and a short walk (which I ought to do anyway) unless the weather is complete shit. Going outside and walking are two things that are good for me, no matter the reason I do them I can't lose by this. Does one need to feed an invisible dog? Originally I said no, but today is Saturday, which is the day I light incense and put out food and such for Buddha anyway. So I put a bowl of rice and peanut butter down lower than I might have otherwise (which I am now eating, one is allowed to eat food set out, it is just not considered as nutritional as all the "spirit energy" has been depleted according to the lore), and instead of tea for Buddha his tea bowl held water and was also down low. And I lit the incense and said my metta prayer.
And I will see how well I sleep tonight. If I sleep well, I will decide tomorrow whether or not to place out food, and if so, do I need to light the incense every time like I would for Buddha? Does a spirit dog need that? Or do they work like the lore of faeries and such?
Am I bonkers? I will contend that this is quite probably so. Do I care? Not really. Yes, I feel a bit (okay, quite a bit) silly. But in the end, the goal is to sleep well. Considering all of the ridiculous rituals that we do because scientists tell us it will help with insomnia (drugs, light boxes, caffeine, special diets, rearranging bedroom furniture, white noise machines, warm baths, exercise, etc.) this is practically nothing. In fact, some of this is the same outer activities with under a different underlying rationale. Perhaps this is my psyche encouraging me to exercise, and to reset my internal clock to the outer world (daylight and nighttime) with trips outside, and the only way my subconscious could do that was by summoning up a creature I could care about more than myself.