The thing about nightmares is that they are insane. Dreams are too, but when you dream something so horrid that you have to pull yourself out of it before shit gets too real, and then you’re lying there with your heart racing, your breath rattling and your eyes stinging, you think to yourself that you must be fucking crazy.
In 2011, I started having nightmares. This coincided with the death of my grandfather (whom I adored) and the breakdown of my first serious relationship. The dreams were really intense, and around the theme of loss. Every nightmare was full of losing people I loved, either by disintegration of a friendship in a fiery, yell-y argument that ended in them walking away forever, or death (death was the most frequent.) For a couple of weeks they were ceaseless, every night was another fresh terror. Then they began to fade out, once a week for a while, then once a month, until slowly but surely they fell out of a recognisable pattern.
But since they started, these nightmares have been like the swell of the ocean. Sometimes there won’t be any for months, others it’ll be like a tsunami has hit. And I can’t pinpoint any significant pattern in my psychological make-up to be able to know when they’re coming, or to know (aside from the origin trigger) what the cause/s is/are. It’s literally a game of dream roulette.
Sometimes I would have no idea how the featured deceased had found their end, sometimes I’m there to witness it, and sometimes external party will inform me of what happened. Usually the focus of the nightmare is on me and my place in the grief spectrum.
For example, this morning’s technicolour dreamcoat was about the death of my recent ex-boyfriend. Before you all jump to one conclusion or the other, we are getting along perfectly fine as friends who speak now and then. There aren’t any leftover feelings of longing or hopefulness (they died months ago) and there is no reason for the nightmare to have occurred – he was not on my mind when I went to bed (some of my dreams can be fuelled from whatever I fall asleep thinking about), and I haven’t seen him for weeks.
So why then, whilst sleeping, did I get a phone call from my Dad letting me know Ex had died while on holidays? Why did all the circumstances of our real-life recent contact come into it (making the terror more palpable)? Why did I have to call his mum whilst sobbing, to check and see how she was doing? And why, once I wrenched myself free from the terrifying grip of this nightmare, could I not slow my heart rate until I heard his voice?
What is is about fear that drives us to do things we would not normally do?
“Oh hi Ex, just calling to check you’re alive. Just had a nightmare you died on holiday is all.”
Yeah no, not your ordinary conversation at 5am (unless you’re drunk obviously…) or what I’d have done in normal circumstances. But the fact that all of the factors in the nightmare lined up exactly with real-life circumstances tipped me over.
How much of our dreaming is imagination, and how much is to do with real life? I can usually spot the subconscious thought-unpacking happening in my dreams, but sometimes it’s just really weird shit that feels like I must have been dropping some serious acid at some point (for knowledges, never done that in my life.)
I don’t know whether this is scary or genius, but some say that when we dream, we enter our parallel universe-version of our lives, and that when you dream of falling, it’s your soul falling back into your body. I can see where they’re coming from with the falling into your body thing, but that’s too much Inception for my liking, just quietly, and if my dreams are my parallel-universe version of my life, I’ll very happily stick to my own thanks – no swapsies. Even if that means playing Dream Roulette for a little while more!
But what is it? What are dreams and nightmares and night terrors and where do they come from? How can they play so cruelly out before our “resting” eyes?
If you do a quick google, WebMD tells us that at least half the adult population experience nightmares, although only 2-8% suffer from frequent or recurring nightmares. Oh good, I’m special…
But then Psychology Today tells me that nightmares can live alongside a mental disorder. In fact, having repeated nightmares can lead to what they’ve termed “Nightmare Disorder” – when your recurring nightmares revolve around a theme or event. Excellent, feeling less special, and more insane than before…
Science tells me that maybe it’s just my cerebral cortex trying to organise all the external information it’s processing while I’m in REM sleep.
But what if really, deep down, I’m just kind of fucking scared about losing people I love? Doesn’t that make a ton more sense to you?
Dreams fascinate me – the good ones and the bad ones. That we as humans can visualise things that our imagination could never do whilst conscious is astounding. It just shows us that despite all of our scientific and technological advances, we really still are only scratching the surface.
Bring on all the Freud’s, I need to get some fucking sleep.