PROTIP: You need to scream. 😱

A night terror forced me to contemplate what it means to release fear.

America is an oligarchy organized by the hierarchy of the white supremacist patriarchy. Pancake Brain is a (free) Friday newsletter dedicated to replacing the status quo with equitable public power. If you’re into that kind of thing, I hope you’ll subscribe and share. This project is based on How to Start a Revolution, which you can read (or listen to) here.

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Dearest Pancake Brains,

How’s quarantine treating you?

I’m still sheltering in my parents’ basement with my partner, striving to resist the gravitational pull of my inner brat. Earlier this month, I had the worst night terror of my life. Eyes wide open in the dark, I was paralyzed by an evil entity looming over me until I released a primal scream that left my voice raspy for the next three days. (I am willing to admit that my enduring process of regression now includes a night light.)

I’ve had night terrors before, but I was especially struck by this one. For those of you fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the phenomena, a night terror is not the same thing as a nightmare. Even the most grotesque scene of a nightmare is laden with the looping plot structure of dream logic. The overall narrative may be laced with attachment issues, idiosyncratic neuroses, and maybe a random appearance from some kid you went to high school with. (I’m currently watching RuPaul’s Drag Race from the beginning, and am pleased to report that my astral plane is now filled with drag queens.)

This was different. It was 100% pure fear. The next morning, I was compelled to visit my Taschen anthology of horror cinema.

“What’s the difference between ‘horror’ and terror’?” asks the introductory essay. “Horror comes after. Terror is the suspense, the fear. You worry about something awful that could happen… Horror is the promise fulfilled.”

In that case, “night horror” might be a more accurate term. What I experienced was a burst of extreme fear, fully realized. It was a peak experience with a noticeable physical impact when I woke up: My throat was shredded, and also I felt lighter. I had endured the quintessence of my eternal dread. What a fucking relief.

The difference between “horror” and “terror” is not only of semantic interest in the ineffable realities we witness during sleep (or something like it). The liminal space that hangs between the two is the crux of all anxiety. After years of being tormented by the clench, I have come to understand that it anxiety is comprised of useless avoidance. Sitting in terror holds us trapped in anticipation of the most horrible thing, without really enduring it.

So, how does this relate to our ongoing crisis? As we strive to survive the coronavirus, it is your civic duty to empower yourself with information, to insist on your right and duty to the political conversation, and to do your best to love yourself enough to strive for collective hope. None of that includes sitting in the shit.

There is nothing to be achieved in the endless churning toward worst-case scenarios, whether they be the stuff of terrors or the New York Times. Release the endless calculating, knowing that not a single person on the planet knows what is going to happen next. This pandemic has shattered all illusion of control, and I’ve finally figured out that I need to embrace that.

You can’t decide whether or not you will witness the horror of your worst-case scenario, but you can choose to free yourself from the endless waiting room of anxious terror. This is not to suggest that you ought to be having more disturbing nightmares or living out all of your fears before they come true, but I would highly recommend setting aside some time to scream.

With earnest irreverence,

p.s. Last week, I wrote a roast of Jared Kushner. Check that out, if you haven’t yet — I think you’ll enjoy it.

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