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Posts tagged: worry

Catching a Midnight Train of Thought

 I woke up to feel my heart pounding, beating like a fist against the cage of my ribs, and for a moment I was confused. I realized I’d had a bad dream and just enough traces of the frightening things I’d imagined remained to poison the first moments of the morning. I tossed and turned for a while, trying to get back to sleep, but the damage was done. I was, for better or worse, awake and up for the day.

As I waited for the water to boil so I could press that first cup of coffee, I stared out at the sky watching it change as the sun rose slowly. I heated the milk, poured the coffee into a mug and sat down in my favorite chair by the big window in the living room to gather my thoughts.

 Just thinking of the list I’d made the night before of things that needed to be done made my heart pound again so I put it out of my mind and went back to gazing out at the quiet street as I sipped.

 Stress is a complex element in even the most ordinary life. It is a natural part of our existence and has been since the beginning when we worried that there would not be enough roots and berries to hunt and gather or that the wooly mammoth would win the fight.  Stress has evolved with us and has found a modern wardrobe in agitation about long delays in traffic or screaming headlines with bad news about the economy and the state of the world. It chases us a we take on complicated jobs, or think about keeping a job in an uncertain market. It settles on us as we fret about our children or a roof that will not last another winter; about cholesterol levels or the number on the scale. It nags us as we push a cart through the grocery story or fold the laundry or sit down to watch a movie.

 A certain amount of stress is, the experts say, good for us. It keeps us sharp and competitive. It feeds us the chemical cocktail our bodies need to navigate safely in and out of danger. But too much of anything is toxic. Even chocolate.

As I sat there, the dream began to fade as the sky lightened. Morning had broken its hold on me. The list, the more I looked at it and made plans for the day, began to seem more manageable. The coffee was good and hot and ideas began to percolate as I thought about the week’s deadlines.  

 Energized, comforted, I poured a second cup - my limit - and shrugged off the vague, nameless, fear that had shaken me out of a sound sleep. I was ready to take on the world again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

The River of Dreams

(photo by R.B. Millsap)




In the dream, I rode the river like a magic carpet, floating on nothing more that a scrap of material beneath me.  I lay still, relaxed, stretched out on my stomach with my hands folded under my cheek, lulled by the gentle motion as the the wide, rolling river undulated beneath me.

I studied the scenery as I drifted past the city skyline, past buildings and houses, past schools and playgrounds, past people strolling on paths along the river. With sleepy, heavy-lidded eyes, I looked up through the branches of the willow trees lining the riverbank, gazing into a soft blue sky.

 I was content. I wasn’t afraid of falling in or being snagged by sharp, dangerous things just under the surface. I was, at that moment,  as peaceful and comfortable as I can ever imagine being. I was free.

Of course the irony is that just an hour or so before, waiting for sleep, I had been anything but content. I’d tossed and turned, kicking at the blankets,  restless with worry.  My mind kept pulling at loose threads, deconstructing, mulling over decisions, pondering the charged state of the world, always going back to, circling again and again, each of my children.
In the dark and quiet room my ears echoed with the dull pounding of my own heartbeat. My eyes, no matter how many times I closed them, flew open with every new troublesome thought.

I don’t know why it is that the things that weigh the heaviest on us, the things we carry, come alive at night.  When the rest of the world is sleeping, worry lives in me the way  my babies did before they were born, kicking and rolling as soon as I lay down, prodding me, keeping me awake. Forcing me to stare at the ceiling looking back and ahead.

Finally, exhausted, I remembered a piece my daughter used to play on the piano, Debussy’s “Jimbo’s Lullaby.”

It is an odd, shifting, restless piece, constantly changing from soothing melody to a jangle of notes. And then back again. She practiced it for weeks, and still, today, when she’s home from school she will occasionally sit down and play it again. The girl, and the song, were on my mind as I finally drifted off to sleep.

 When the radio clicked on the next morning, and I slowly swam to the surface of a new day, I manage to catch the hem of the river dream as it slipped away in the soft light of morning and I held onto it and as I went through the day letting it play at the edge of my mind.

I found myself, at odd moments, humming the song. The night had not been kind but in sunlight, remembering the sensation of drifting so peacefully, I could release the things that had so disturbed me the night before.
I practiced the lesson of the dream. I gave in. I let go. I let the swift current of a busy day carry me away.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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