Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Power of Nightmares

photo by Kinryuu JFJ
Last night was a terrible night of sleep full of nightmares that had me tossing and turning and waking up crying. It was one of those kind where I am being pursued all night by people that are trying to kill me and it seems so real and so terrifying. When I finally wake up I am so stressed out it doesn't feel like I got any sleep at all, and it puts me in a depressed mood.

I tend to have nightmares pretty regularly. They are of different kinds, sometimes I am driving and I can’t reach the brakes and so I am flying through traffic and can’t stop. Other times its people that are out to kill me and my family. The other night in my dream my jaw wouldn’t open and I had to try to talk with my mouth closed. Sometimes my eyelids won’t open and I wander around blind all night long struggling to see. I get so emotionally involved that its entirely draining, to the point where I consider taking the day off from work to recuperate. This morning it hit me how these nightmares are a continuation of my anxiety all through the night. I don’t get the down time I need, the relaxation that is necessary to function at full capacity the next day. Tyler (my spouse) has gotten used to me waking up in a panic in the middle of the night and he is so good about holding me until I feel better and can fall back asleep. He’s my sanity sometimes I swear.

There are theories out there that suggest nightmares or dreams in general are a way for your subconscious to send you messages about what needs changing in your life.

I found a website that lists a way to understand what your nightmares are trying to tell you:

· chase or attack : The pursuer usually represents a fearful aspect of our shadow, and hence an exaggerated version of a denied or inhibited portion of our own personality that would benefit us if integrated and appropriately expressed. (ideal outcome: standing our ground, facing and dialoguing with our pursuer, and eventually, acceptance and embrace)

· falling dream : Am I feeling heavy, unsupported, worried about something? How can I feel freer, lighter? Also: do I need to be more grounded? (ideal outcome: feeling safe, landing, floating or flying)

· car out of control : Is life too hectic, out of control? How could I slow down, act more peacefully and "enjoy the ride"? (ideal outcome: driving well & within speed limits, walking peacefully)

· unprepared, late for or failing an exam : Am I feeling unprepared for some upcoming event? Unconfident about my performance? Am I worrying needlessly or do I actually need more preparation in order to feel confident and do a good job? (ideal outcome: feeling assured about oneself, performing well)

· stuck in slow motion, unable to move or make any noise : Where am I feeling stuck in life, like I’m getting nowhere or unable to voice my true feelings? What can I do to change it? (ideal outcome: relaxation and acceptance, and eventually, peaceful action & self-expression)

· embarrassed to be nude or naked in public, though nobody seems to notice or mind : Where in life am I feeling unconfident, embarrassed, unskilled? This type of dream is usually pointing out, by the fact that the other characters in the dream don’t seem to notice, that we are the only one viewing our self this way, and usually mistakenly so. (ideal outcome: comfortable with oneself as is, confident)

· personal injury, dismemberment : What part of my life—not usually the physical body—have I been neglecting, mistreating, forgetting—i.e. dis-membering as opposed to remembering? (ideal outcome: healing)

· trapped, locked in : Where am I feeling trapped in life? How might I open myself up to a new perspective, and explore new courses of action? (ideal outcome: breaking out, exploration)

· drowning, threatening waves, tsunami (tidal waves) or flooding : Am I blocking, denying or feeling overwhelmed by my emotions? How might I better acknowledge, accept, and feel these feelings—which often include vulnerability? (ideal outcome: swimming, surfing, breathing underwater)

· helpless, abandoned, or crying baby, monkey, bunny or small animal : Have I been taking care of my "inner child"? Maybe I need to laugh more, play outdoors, express my creativity, be more spontaneous, or enjoy more personal warmth and intimacy? (ideal outcome: caring for baby or animal, playing, simply having fun)

Another theory I have heard is that at night your brain takes all the miscellaneous thoughts from the day and tries to organize them into something that makes sense and creates these dreams as a way of filing them together somewhere.

I don't know what theory I believe, but I am pretty confident that many insecurities and issues that I struggle with in my daily life are taking on a life of their own at night in my head. I have no idea how to stop it. Any thoughts or suggestions out there?

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Ben said...

So, if that guy is right, I must feel pretty happy with my life. I am always flying, saving the world, defying gravity at will, etc. I can definitely identify with the not feeling rested, however, because often I will work all day on a particular bug or something, and then I'll work all night on it in my dreams, too. Nothing like working 24 hour days!

(Once I actually did figure out a bug in my sleep, though. That was pretty cool.)

Aimee, I really am deeply sympathetic to the anxiety you feel. I'm proud of you for how well you've been handling it, and really hope that things will continue to improve. :)

P.S. I got some really cool photos at the beach at Santa Cruz today.

Unknown said...

Hey Aimee I gotta share this with you, I have had dreams of being in "stuck" in the passengers seat of an out of control car with no driver for years. Once I realized (like you have ) it was a manifestation of feeling out of control, I made some changes in my life to get more control, and started trying to come to peace with the things I can't control (Mallory) soon afterward, I had a dream where I wrenched my self out of the passenger seat, got in the drivers seat, slammed on the brakes and pulled over. I got out of the car and walked away. It was so exhilarating when I woke up instead of waking up screaming. Then I had a dream that my house was flying, and I was controlling its movement with these levers. And I made a perfect landing in the middle of a neighborhood in Salt Lake (I miss living out west) and walked out of the house and away. You will get there. It will take time. And just so you don't feel inadequate, I had a panic attack this weekend for the first time in about 3 years that was so bad I went to the emergency room because I thought I was having an asthma attack. Turns out I was just hyperventilating really bad. I decided I don't care, and it made me realize I have been really stressed out lately and need a vacation. I think I am also going to start trying to find one night a week where I go and sit in the quiet library by myself. Making positive changes always seems to help.
Here are some biomedical ways to stop having nightmares that works for me:
Try not to eat 3 hours before you go to bed.
Avoid sugar before you go to bed
Don't take vitamins or other meds before you go to bed if you can,
Don't drink caffeine before bed,
And don't work out before bed. I love you Aimee!

Aimée said...

I am so sorry you had a panic attack that left you in the ER. How scary. I hope you are feeling better today. You should take a vacation! You deserve it! Thanks for the tips. I am pretty good at those already unfortunately. I heard on the radio this morning from a woman that interprets dreams ( that if you have reoccurring dreams you should write your dream down on paper and then change the ending so you take control of the situation. Then it can help you the next time you dream to have a different outcome. I might try something like that even though mine aren't reoccurring but they are similar in that I am fearing for my life or something like that. We'll see. Hopefully the more I take control of my anxiety the less my nightmares will rear their ugly heads. Thanks for the comment, and I hope you have a much better day today :)

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