How and why did zombies keep me awake last night?

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I hesitated to write this because on the surface it’s hilarious and humiliating, but if by being vulnerable I can help you have a giggle and learn something, it’s a fair swap. On one level this is very funny, it’s just that at 3.45am when you are tired… it’s not.

A bit of background. I don’t like horror films, or in fact any film where anything scary happens, I think my fear reflex is probably around a PG, pushing to a 12A and a 15 is a challenge! However, I love cinema and have one of those monthly card things, so I see a lot of films that I probably wouldn’t ‘pay’ to see. I’m also trying to challenge myself if I think the film is worth seeing. For example, I really wanted to see ‘Flatliners’ as I thought the original was brilliant. The new one is terrifying, especially for those of you with a slight culturally inherited shower curtain fear.

On Friday night I trundled off to Cambridge town to see ‘Maze Runner’ – the third film. I’ve watched the others and they were fine, including the standard weird creature trying to kill them. I can just about manage ‘The Hunger Games’ and it’s the same level…or so I thought.

This last film portrays the earth having succumbed to a virus which not only kills you horribly but leaves you as a zombie. (I’m never sure of the virus/zombie link, why can’t people just die, why do they have to ‘turn’ and while I’m at it, why do they have to hide and jump out, surely the element of surprise is that you are a zombie, not that your ability to hide well has returned to that of a small child?) I digress, over the course of the film we realise that one of the main characters has been bitten and is slowly dying. Of course, there’s a possible antidote and they race to save him and the world. The problem is (spoiler alert), they don’t save him, slowly his eyes turn black and he starts spitting black blood and trying to kill his friend.

So here is my issue, my rational brain knows full well it’s not real, zombies do not exist, it’s great make up and he is in fact the actor who played the cute little boy in ‘Love Actually’. So why does it completely terrify me?! Full credit to the makeup people, it’s realistic enough to spark off my genuine fear response. The problem is that the brain can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy so while I ‘know’ it’s not real, part of my brain thinks it is and after 2 hours of having zombies jump out at me through the screen, my fear response can’t switch off just because I’ve left the cinema. Which for my partner isn’t great as it means I trail behind him room to room because I don’t want to be alone, I refuse to turn off the bedroom light and want to read into the night to try to settle myself – this is not good because I’m actually reading quite a dramatic book at the moment (aimed at 10 year olds!) so it’s not relaxing.

My brain’s protective spirit has come out in force and ignoring all the sensible REAL signs (!), is thinking…well, that zombie thing killed all those people didn’t it, so let’s stay on full paranoid alert to protect you. This is part of what happens with PTSD as well. It’s also the basis for anxiety reactions. It’s in fact the underlying basis of most of the things in your life that keep you stuck, even those emotional ones you think have nothing to do with fear.

The night after the zombie film I’m better – it’s daylight and they don’t often attack in daylight unless you go into dark creepy places and we’ve all watched enough films to recognise those - I drop my plan to clear out the loft. This weekend is poor timing in that no one apart from me is in the house, given that I live with 3 other adults and 2 young teens this is UNHEARD of and something I was really looking forward to…until the zombie film. I’m joking with my partner that I might go stay Saturday night with a friend, he laughs but underneath I’m frantically skimming my mental fileofax of friends to see, a) who has a spare bed, b), who will not strike me off their sane friend list when I ask if I can stay so I can avoid being attacked by a zombie, c) what excuse can I come up with to not admit to b?  However, my pride and rational voice tells me to pull myself together, I’m 45 this year after all!

On Saturday I had a great day alone, catching up on work, music playing, doing all the things I tell my kids not to do; leaving plates lying around, eating in the living room, generally not tidying up after myself and that was all good… until I wanted to go to bed. Then zombie fear pops up because it’s dark and I’m having to turn off the TV and it’s very quiet where I live. I’ve already stayed up to 1.30am so I’m really tired. I contemplate sleeping on the sofa but pride (and my incredibly comfortable bed) wins and I go to bed – I don’t read the book for 10-year olds in case it scares me more. I do all the normal things and then lie there, is that the sound of screaming in the distance or just my stomach reacting to me eating a whole bowl of jelly before bed?

I’m going through all the reasons that a zombie can’t get in – I mean, all the doors are locked just like normal, if a zombie was inside it would have eaten me already right? Or do they prefer to jump out and then eat you – are you tastier scared? Finally, I shut my eyes – light turned down but still on, not brave enough for complete darkness and just fall asleep. I surface several times in the night (probably due to the light, not zombies) and thankfully it’s light when I properly wake up. I survived the zombie apocalypse – I feel I’ve earned a t-shirt.

We can all laugh – I’m fine today, although I definitely have a slight jumpiness still! The problem is that this fear reaction isn’t funny if it’s taking over your life. If you have a phobia, a behaviour or even a belief that stops you, it’s because your mind thinks it’s protecting you from death – it’s very simple your brain, life or death is its main concern and it muddles abstract emotions with concrete physical threat and produces a response to ‘protect’ you. In my case, hypervigilance. It’s also not helped by the fact that in our family, jumping out at each other has become an art form, get it right and you are rewarded with a ‘well done, that was a good one’. I don’t know where this started except that I am also guilty of doing it, so I can’t complain. The best one was when my partner, waiting until I had my back to the door in our bathroom and just as I was pulling the shower curtain back, jumped out screaming from behind me. That scare is in mythical legend in our family as the time Andrew made Mum pee her pants and cry for half an hour. All true I’m afraid.

So back to the brain, it’s seen something that has scared it, it also has historic reasons for not feeling entirely safe in the house (on the issue of things jumping out anyway) and so it puts itself on full alert to save me. Now, in this case, not too much damage done, I’m okay, if a bit tired and I know that reflex will disappear quickly, but what if it didn’t? It would really start to affect my decisions, my ability to go away alone, be alone, it would limit my life experiences. This is what has happened with my coaching clients, just probably not around zombies! If you have something that affects you on a more than funny level, then don’t put up with it, get some help to clear it. It’s a matter of getting your unconscious mind to stand down and realise that behaviour isn’t working for you. It’s completely achievable. Until then, watch out…for the zombies!

To clear your zombie fears and to discuss how coaching can help you, do get in touch for a conversation.