“So, you’re a vivid dreamer. You really need to get those dreams analyzed,” my doctor told me with the authority of her white coat and the distance of a wide desk. I discussed the recurring themes and characters in my dreams: my middle school volleyball coach, my first boyfriend, my second boyfriend, my family friends, my parents. There tend to be celebrity guests—last week Meryl Streep showed up in a silver gown. “It is extremely rare to dream in movie-like color and action, your subconscious has a lot to figure out.” This all came about because my doctor asked me how I was sleeping.
“Fine,” I said, “but I am always tired because I have lots of anxiety dreams.” I discussed them with friends and with my mother and sisters. I am terrified of conflict and I replay scenarios where I confront people who have hurt me, but they don’t listen to me or there are a series of obstacles preventing me from getting the words out. I fall down a flight of stairs, a car whooshes past, he walks away, the phone rings. If I actually admit what happened, someone goes to jail for life, or I go to jail for life. I hate not feeling in control; I forget a series of important plans or assignments; I fail. I have those normal nightmares where everyone I love dies in a plane crash. I run away from someone and my legs start kicking me awake. I have recurring dreams where I am trying to take care of a screaming baby while attending class and being a normal college student. I remember every moment of my dreams. They can be so intensely jarring that I am left upset all day.
I should probably write them down and get them analyzed.
Over spring break I had two days at home in New York City where I crammed in all of the doctor’s appointments I was behind on. It was during my annual checkup that I was asked about my dreams. I thought she was going to reprimand me for eating too much pasta and not working out enough, but instead I was told that my dreams were unhealthy. I have been dreaming like this for as long as I can remember. I used to not share them with anybody; they were part of my own secret fantasy world that I lived in for most of my childhood. I wake up enveloped in a hazy mixture of reality and fantasy. As I brush my teeth, I begin to decipher what happened in dreamland and what it means.
On my report cards in middle school, my teachers would always say that they appreciated my “quiet, thoughtful presence in the classroom,” but that I needed to stop with the daydreaming. My dreaming was constant back then. I could control it and enter and leave my fantasy world as I pleased. I felt safe from the mean girls and the pressure to be good at sports or dance (I was atrocious at both) and I felt like I fit in. I still secretly played with my historical paper dolls in my room and I wrote lots of fictional stories on my computer and in little notebooks. I was happy with my books and my writing and playing the piano and lots of time to live and explore my own thought bubbles.
By the time I reached high school, I was told that I had to be more extroverted and social and focused. I trained myself to focus in class and to structure my time so that I had less time to write and read and dream. I joined the Frisbee team, which was accepting of my lack of athletic ability; I did theatre and I wrote for the newspaper. My free thinking time was full of anxiety over grades, the college process, the ACT, being liked by boys, how to dress and behave “normally.” I began to have stress dreams and to lie awake at night worrying.
Happy, purely fantastical dreams are a rare treat for me these days. Those are the kind of dreams that feel like being spooned, where you wake up to gentle sunlight streaming in and all you can do is squint and smile. But all too frequently, I wake up in the wee hours of the morning, sweating, heart pounding and sometimes crying. Those are the kinds of dreams where I remember every searing detail and it haunts me for days, where all of my insecurities and anxieties manifest themselves into one Leviathan of a fantasy.
Occasionally, I take natural or prescribed remedies to aid in sleeping, to quiet my subconscious and have a break from my overactive REM sequences, and yes, I sleep well. My doctor highly recommended I take more sleep aids and have my dreams analyzed to track them. But I worry that if I stop dreaming I will lose a part of myself-my connection to the subconscious world. I already feel less creative than I used to be. I no longer play the piano or write fiction or paint landscapes. I find myself too often seeking the rational. Aside from my obsession with horoscopes and The Bachelor franchise, I spend most of my time being analytical and critical and focused on whatever task is at hand. When I let myself dream freely while I was more introverted and I was not always living in the present, I was creative and original.
I analyze my own dreams internally. They make sense to me, the people and places that appear in vivid detail. Whenever I share my most intense dreams with friends or family or medical professionals I feel exposed. If I stop dreaming, I lose access to a really wacky part of myself. As I learned from reading Hermann Hesse in my German seminar, the magical theatre of the mind is as entertaining as it is fucked up.