Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the mind's playground

I woke one morning recently in the middle of a horrible dream. It was the mother f*cker of bad dreams. It hung over me the rest of the day even though I realized I was the lucky mom who got to wake up and say, "oh thank god, it was only a dream."

After waking, I pushed back the tears, calmed my wildly beating heart, and waved my kids off to school after hugging them extra close and extra long (hoping they wouldn't notice). I crawled back in bed. I couldn't move, or think, or function.

It was the kind of dream that I will not be talking about. It's the kind of dream I would not want to walk into just any shrink office and share, waiting for understanding or absolution. No way. Not with the kind of dream analysis I've heard, was trained in, rejected years ago as wasteful, misleading, sometimes harmful, often a form of the therapist's projection rather than meaningful to the owner of the dream.

I was not responsible for the dream, even though in the dream I was responsible for the terrifying elements.

My husband came home to find me nearly catatonic, mentally at least. I tried to tell him about the dream, feeling silly to have been found so affected by "just a dream." The attempt at retelling unleashed a well of tears so deep that I couldn't finish. No, I told him, in whom I confide just about everything. I couldn't even tell him.

But the part I did manage to get out, in the retelling, put me right back into the terrifying feelings of the dream, felt again, and sent me into another crying jag.

But sh*t. I had to shower. I had work to do, clients to meet. The shower, I hoped, would clear my head and let me get past the tears. But no, more tears during and after the shower. My towel dried more tears than bathwater.

The drive into the office did help, finally. And focusing on other people's real life problems helped too.

In the evening my husband and I took a walk. He asked about the dream. I was able to tell it all. And then I felt relief. Someone else knows the script that ran undirected through my head.
"Oh god!" He said. Yeah. It was like that.

I met with friends later but couldn't tell them about the dream. Wouldn't. I don't want to be judged, or figured out, or any other dimestore interpretation thrown my way. I don't want my terrifying, imagined ordeal to be retold.

Dreams do not represent us. They do not tell a story of what we want most deeply but cannot admit. Or not always. Sometimes they tell a story of what we most deeply fear, what we worry about for ourselves and our loved ones. And as any mother knows, we worry a lot.

And I have been worried much, lately. Life has thrown a curve ball that millions before us have faced, many have triumphed brilliantly, but too many have fallen under the staggering burden.

And while this dream only touched briefly and indirectly on the actual theme of my worry, the finality represented the loss that I fear.

Dreams, I believe, are the playground of the mind. The cat is away so the mice can play. The CEO is sleeping so the mind can take it's memories, experiences, and feelings and turn them into a story of it's own creation. Make crazy stories. Scary stories. Fretful stories. Hopeful stories. Sometimes the story holds value and meaning. Sometimes it's just a kalaidoscope of randomness.

Some dreams motivate us to take action. This one did. First I looked at the most dominant feelings in my dream: Uncertainty, fear, resignation, regret, grief. I looked hard at the uncertainty. How do I face this particular problem? What can I do? I decided I need to do something, to take action. To move past the passivity and into proactivity.

I reached out farther than I have in the past and have taken steps in a direction contemplated for some time.

Those steps? So far so good. My fears have settled down. Hope has taken up a larger space. Maybe some future dream will guide me toward the next step.

How about you, reader? Have you had a dream that motivated you into action?

Image, The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau, found here


imom said...

I can't recall if a dream has ever moved me to take action. I have had disturbing and dreams that have stayed with me days and even weeks and have maybe me more conscious of my choices.

Dreams can be tough! I hope you work out your feelings about the dream!

blognut said...

AAARRRGGGHHH!!! Timely post for me. Spooky and timely.

The dream is real and recurring, and it hasn't motivated me to action... yet. However, it is a hurdle I have to deal with and I'm working on it.

Mental P Mama said...

I have not had a nighmare in ages. And now, I have just put the whammy on myself. But I do love to pull them apart the next day. I think they help us work out many anxieties and unconscious fears. At least that's how I deal with my bizarre ones...Take care.

phd in yogurtry said...

imom -- thanks. there's been enough time now that I can post about it (sort of). so that's a step.

blognut -- one thing I did learn that I use is the idea that recurring dreams are ones to pay attention to. but it sounds like you already know that.

mpm -- I definately think dreams help us work through anxieties. Or at least make us aware of them. Sometimes they merely interfere with our sleep, though, giving us no rest at night.

Magpie said...

I so rarely remember my dreams, but yes, occasionally one kicks me in the teeth.

I love that image, by the way. It's been a favorite painting for a long time.

Reinventing Dad said...

I rarely have nightmares anymore. I did have a vivid dream a few weeks back that brought up a point that I hadn't thought about while debating whether to pursue a new job or stay at home.

Sparing you the details...the underlying theme compared the trade-off between giving up your independence (career and ability to support yourself) for security and family harmony. The dream pointed some of the "what if's?" like IF your marriage went wrong. Made me think longer and harder about my dilemma. Obviously more complicated than this and something women have had to endure for many years.

phd in yogurtry said...

magpie -- I rarely remember mine, too. And this is one I wish I didn't remember. Although it did spur me into motion and it's been a (largely) good thing.

r-dad -- yes, the stay at home parent does incur a vulnerability in the financial security. at least this is true in my state, a non-alimony state.

Margo said...

I have a post today about a relatively banal tornado dream. I felt slant all day yesterday, and still don't get it except generally. But often dreams mess me up for a whole day or so. I don't know if one dream has ever moved me to take action, but generally, yes. They often help me figure out what's important to me, that I might be neglecting and what I'm afraid of that I might need to face.

Brigit said...

No, dreams have never motivated me to take action, but what you have said in regard to emotions in dreams, has just hit a nerve. There is one emotion that runs through all my scary dreams. Food for thought. Thanks.

Jason, as himself said...

It is frightening how dreams can influence how you feel, physically and mentally, for the entire day following, and beyond.

Recently I was reminded by a dream about a period of time that one particular person in my life was especially loving, and kind, and made me feel so warm and yes, special. This softened my mind and heart for many days to come, remembering how one person can influence the life of another for the good.

Jocelyn said...

I could warrant a few guesses as to what's put fear into your life--in the real way. And I could warrant more guesses about the particulars of that dream (having kids myself). But my guesses could be wrong.

What I can tell you is that I have realized in the last few years two big things:

1) I, me, myself, am not ready to die, so nothing should threaten my health and joy;

2) I would actually kill to protect my children from evil.

Jennifer H said...

I'm not sure that a dream has ever pushed me to make a change, but I've had some of my most vivid and frightening dreams since I became a mother.

I hope you can find some peace in the changes you're making, and that you can put the dream on a very high shelf, out of reach.

Tit for Tat said...

I find most of my dreams are a reflection of how I am feeling. The stories are not literal they just help me express. Though not very pleasant sometimes, they are very helpful. Sorry to hear yours was so frightful. Hope you grow stronger from it.

g said...

Oh, dreams. I love the way you write about this. I recently have had not horrible dreams, but dreams that are disturbing in a small way, a petty, nasty way, that make me wake up and ask "am I really like that?"

Maybe they help me check myself.

Real Live Lesbian said...

Oh yes, I've had dreams like that. They seem to linger even though you know they aren't real. I hate those.

Wishing you peaceful dreams tonight.

Dr. Deb said...

I dream all the time and find them helpful to look at. They represent so many things, you are right. But damn, when those bad dreams come and frighten or unnerve me! That's the worst.

Helena said...

No dream has really made me take action. However, I hate the recurring dream I have where I'm being chased and I need to run but my legs won't move (I guess because I'm sleeping on my stomach and the bed is in the way :-) ).

Andrea Frazer - Pass the Zoloft said...

Nice post. Of course I'm dying to know the dream, but I totally get why you need to keep it to yourself.

I really related to this. Especially this part:

Dreams do not represent us."

Instead, though, I found myself replacing "dreams" with "feelings." As an OCD type person with mostly puro thoughts - no physical obsessions - I have to really fight to keep my creative emotions and the reality of life at bay.

It's why I really loved what you said here: "They do not tell a story of what we want most deeply but cannot admit. Or not always. Sometimes they tell a story of what we most deeply fear, what we worry about for ourselves and our loved ones. And as any mother knows, we worry a lot."

I know I'm not crazy, and my OCD is a result of my trying to protect myself from the crazy cards that have unfolded in the past few years, but when it hits me hardest - which has been this year - rarely before - it can be so unnerving.

Wow, I really made that about me. I hope your next dream is about telling Andrea Frazer to go fuck herself.

And I have been worried much, lately. Life has thrown a curve ball that millions before us have faced, many have triumphed brilliantly, but too many have fallen under the staggering burden

JCK said...

I sat, transfixed and frightened, as I read this post. Half-wanting and half-hoping you would not reveal the dream. I am sorry for the pain it brought you. And, for you to take action from it makes the story that much more powerful.

It has been a long, long time since I've remembered a dream. But, those dark ones filled with terror do stay with you.

Deb said...

Thank you for this post. I have had some awful dreams this week. I am glad to know they do not necessarily repesent me.

Thanks for sharing!

dkuroiwa said...

I haven't had a dream like that, or at least, not one that I completely remember. I have had a couple, where, they seemed so real that when I woke up from the dream, I called the people involved, to make sure they were okay...the action was just so freaking real...that scared me.

To be honest...I haven't had a dream that I remember, in a very long time. Does this mean that my anxieties are not real...or that i'm just really really tired?!

I wish you peaceful slumber...or at least a peaceful end to what lies beneath that dream.

Kelli Anne Busey said...

Wow. I saw your f bomb and dropped everything. I used to be tortured by dreams with the same recurring theme. Helplessness and a overwhelming sense of lose. Oh ya can't forget about the falling one, that one stunk.
Haven't really had them since I live those realities daily. Maybe not so much falling, but maybe the dream monster moved to more fertile ground south of me? I hope you feel better knowing there are thousands of people who care about you and are spirituly tucking you in and saying the Lords prayer with you.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

This post is so timely. I was just in a long conversation with some friends tonight about dreams. They are so powerful and real and symbolic. Argh. You're brave for sharing. Brave.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I am one of those people who have very vivid dreams and often terrifying nightmares.

The dreams I had when my son was a baby made me become much more conscientious of locking my doors and windows-I had been very cavalier about that.

I hope you are able to work through whatever has you so on edge.

Nora said...

Oh, this is interesting. I have had several super-obvious dreams, like my ex is in a sinking lifeboat with me and when he gets out, I stop sinking. But never a dream like yours, thank heavens.

And you know, I've been meaning to as you your opinions of choosing male vs female therapists. Have you posted on this?

Anonymous said...

I had a dream not too long ago that was so incredibly disturbing, involved one of my girls. I woke up wondering how in the hell I'd done something so awful and now what was I going to do? It was really horrible...even AFTER I'd figured out that it hadn't really happened. I haven't told anyone about it's one of those things that would make me sound like a really sick puppy.

Yarni Gras! said...

I always have freaky dreams. ALWAYS.
I'd probably drive a dream interpreter over the brink.