Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'The black mass disguised itself as a sexy skinhead who made love to me and then stabbed me in my bed'
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The Independent Online

Last night I couldn't sleep properly. I went to bed quite early, exhausted. I spent most of the night tossing, turning and sweating. The back of my neck was boiling hot and my hair was wet, saturated in sweat. The pillow and everything I lay in resembled the Turin shroud. I had one nightmare after another, after another, after another.

In the end I couldn't stand it anymore so I got up, put some clothes on, let myself out of my house and, with slipper-clad feet, made my way to the studio. I let myself in and went upstairs to the office, and for some mad reason I didn't turn any of the lights on. I suppose I didn't because outside the sky was a light Prussian blue, filled with the first rays of dawn.

Going up the stairs and walking into the office, the room was in complete darkness because the blinds were down. For some strange, inexplicable reason, instead of sitting on one of the really comfy Vitra chairs, I sat up on the desktop, with my legs crossed and the back of my head leaning against the window. The room was really dark. Then from downstairs I heard a noise.

My studio is a very modern-looking, contemporary building, but in reality it's about 100 years old. It definitely isn't the kind of place where you would be afraid. It's too clinical, too clean, too minimal. There's no room for ghosts to hang out here. But as I sat on the desktop, I could hear someone coming up the stairs, and not only could I hear their footsteps, but I could hear them weeping and crying. The office door opened, and for a second there was a flash of light in the darkness. I could see it was a young woman.

She sat down on the chair next to me, sobbing, and sobbing, and sobbing. She laid her head on my lap and put her arms around me. She was wearing a very soft black leather jacket. As I let my fear of the situation go, I put my arms on her back and tried to comfort her. The leather was so soft – it was kid. My lap was starting to get wet from all her tears. As I persuaded her to tilt her face up, I recognised her. I'm not going to say who she is, but she was crying and crying because her mother had just died.

While she was trying to explain to me, I glanced up at the office door, and for just a brief second I saw a black umbrella hanging upside down. No one would hang an umbrella upside down in the studio. Her arms became tighter and tighter around me and I felt like I had to prise them off. She stood up and tried to kiss me. I pushed her away gently, and as I tried to be comforting and kind, her face turned and changed and she became evil. Not that she became evil but that she was evil – evil personified. What was once a girl crying in front of me, heartbroken, now took on the image of a man that I'd never seen before. I'd been tricked.

I hate these trick dreams. They remind me of my gullibility and my inner sense of knowing that it's good to understand fear – or at least to be able to feel it.

When I was a child, I was plagued by nightmares and dreams. I would refer to them as "the black mass". As an eight-year-old, I would lay in bed and watch the black mass as it entered the room – a giant ball of ions all fighting and competing to take more energy, especially mine. I'd have to will it to go away. If I became afraid and could not confront it, I knew in my heart that I possibly wouldn't wake up again. These dreams carried on until I was in my mid-twenties. My friend Maria, whom I have known since I was four, would say that sometimes, when she watched me asleep, my face would shake and contort uncontrollably as though I was possessed. These possessed moments would always coincide with the black mass.

As I got older, I became more afraid of these happenings and decided to seek professional advice about it. I talked to mediums, spiritual gurus, the Church. Finally, I took advice from a very good Dutch friend of mine, who told me: "Next time it happens, you ask it to show itself. Don't be afraid because it won't. You are right: it is pure energy, and no doubt extremely malevolent. It wants something from you. So you ask it what it wants. And you make it quite clear that it can't get anything. And it will go away. And it will get tired, because it's picking up on your fear and that's where it takes your energy."

And it worked. The happenings stopped. The black mass ceased to appear. It went in on itself. And then the dream started. The black mass disguised itself, from a sexy skinhead who made love to me and then stabbed me in the stomach in my own bed, to sitting next to one of my best friends in a cinema when a noose drops down and I am about to be hung. There's even a nightclub that it entices me to go to, which of course is a cave, so I always think that it's silly and corny until the apparitions appear and the trick begins. But as I have explained, the most frightening ones are the ones that take place in real time and real space. I can't help but think that there must be a real element to this. I can touch, I can feel and smell what's going on. It's as though when I'm asleep part of me exists in a parallel world.

The balance of fear can be an exciting place. I'm so tired. I really want to go to sleep but I'm too afraid to.