Wednesday, August 06, 2008


I have nightmares. I thought I'd mentioned them here before, but apparently not. Generally they're pretty bad, most of the time they happen in the first 30 minutes of sleep, often I stop breathing and always I have to wake myself up by concentrating on wiggling my toes. I taught myself that trick in high school.

I also completely rock the recurring dream style. Through most of highschool it was a dream about returning to the school as an adult with a few other women. We'd pull up at the gate in a white car, grab our walkie-talkies and disappear into the school grounds at night. What happened in between always varied - once I walked into the gym where a class was going on, once I went back to the car and found that the boot was full of dead bodies folded like shirts - but it always ended with the others dropping off the walkie-talkies and me eventually being grabbed from behind.

Ahh, teenage angst. Dontchya just love it?

I've had several other notable recurring dreams over the years, but none as good nor as longlived. That went a couple of times a week for several years. I still do some great stand-alone ones though.

Anyway I've noticed a bit of a trend - these dreams only become nightmares when one character starts getting out of control. I'll be in a situation, like last night where I was with a group of kids showing off their karate kid moves, and one person will just start acting completely inappropriately. In this case it was a guy who turned into an adult and then started getting violent. It isn't the whole dream that's nightmarish, just one character. And they ALWAYS started off nice. They start behaving oddly, it gets worse and suddenly it's a nightmare and I'm fighting to breathe.

That's the point when the real panic sets in because I try desperately to wake myself up, something I can only do if I force myself into calmness and concentrate on wiggling my toes. Which, incidentally, I'm not doing in reality just the same as I haven't actually screamed myself hoarse although my throat still feels like it.

You know, I was aiming to make this post kind of light-hearted and funny, like "check out this weird shit my brain does when it's shutting down", but it turns out I can't.

Even though I'm used to them and know how to deal with them - hell, I even know when I'm going to have one because I fall asleep in a different way - they are horrid. And mostly I manage to fall asleep again by remembering my mother coming into my room when I was about six and had had an awful nightmare (about spiders, and when she sat on my bed a giant spider sat on my legs in my dream) and she brushed my forehead and told me to think about butterflies.

So that's what I do.


Susan said...

Dr. J, this sounds rather horrible. I suddenly feel the need to go embroider butterflies....thousands of them.

Charlie said...

Thanks for that post.

I've always been prone to nightmares as well. Five or six nights a week as a kid, three nights a week as an adult. There have been several recurring themes over the years (chased by a faceless figure; lost in progressively dark corridors or tunnels; or my fave, the idea that my own thoughts could kill me and that if I died in the dream, well, you know). Some of the dreams I learned to control. When I was a kid, I remember being able to conjure up an escape hatch in the dream. I'd literally jump down thru this manhole cover and be back in my bed. Sometimes I'd find that one pivotal character (the one who made a benign dream into a nightmare) and rip him to shreds like a piece of paper. That usually solved it.

In adult life, I had a recurring dream where I look in a mirror but instead of my face there was a monster's and when I tried to yell, my breath was sucked out of me. Yeh. Cool, right? Well, you don't have to be Freud to figure out there were aspects of my life that I didn't want to examine. Funny how this dream vanished after I quit drinking. Hmmm. Just saved a fortune in therapy.

I still get nightmares, but not nearly as often since the birth of my daughter. I'm afraid she's inherited them tho. Sometimes she'll wake up screaming this long mournful cry and demanding mommy, and it'll take my wife a few minutes to get her resettled.

Anonymous said...

Butterflies, butterflies, butterflies, butterflies and more butterflies, may they keep you safe always. I remember that night when you were 6!!!!!!!!!!!!