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When Anxiety Makes Its Way Into My Dreams

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In my dreams, I can see a long hallway. It’s filled with classroom doorways. Sometimes there are lockers on one side of the wall, other times I can only see brick walls in between the doorways. I walk into a classroom and it’s the last day of school. It’s always the last day of school. The professor passes out the final exam. I remember how I haven’t been to class all semester. I’m not prepared. I’m not ready. I’m not sure what I should do. Do I stay, take the test and give it my best guess? Do I get up, run out and know I will fail the class? Sometimes, I leave the classroom and tell myself, “I’ll just drop this class. I didn’t need it. It is OK.” I have to reassure myself even when I sleep.

If the dream takes place within a college setting, there is a constant need to run around the sprawling campus. I’m always trying to get to the next class or find the right building. There are times I don’t have my textbook or a notebook and I’m once again vulnerable to feeling like I’m going to fail.

These dreams change subtly.

Sometimes, I’m back in my old high school. The administrators are telling me that I didn’t meet all the requirements for graduation. They’ll explain how I never actually earned my high school diploma. Those dreams cause me the most confusion. Even in my dream world, I question how I was able to attend and graduate college if I didn’t finish high school. Their answer always overrules my rational thought. They convince me I never graduated. I immediately go and sit in a class I know I’m too old to be in. I feel awkward, out of place. It’s the high school lunch table and I don’t belong anywhere.

These are my anxiety dreams.

These are the places my mind goes during the night. This is where my subconscious mind connects with my reality, because it physically cannot handle any more adult responsibilities. I recognized about five years ago that these dreams were a result of stress — they are triggered from anxiety in real life. They happen at least once or twice a month, sometimes more. As I take time to understand the relationship between my stress and dreams, I’ve drawn other conclusions about my consistent, haunting anxiety dreams.

Do I feel unsuccessful in life? Yes, all the time, every waking moment. I thought obtaining a college degree would grant a decent paying job, but it didn’t. My husband and I work full time jobs within our chosen professions. We live paycheck to paycheck. We’re always teetering from one illness, catastrophe or mismanaged budget to losing it all. The tightrope we walk is a delicate balance of affording groceries and utilities. There are nights I wake up between three and four in the morning from panic attacks about our finances.

This obsession finds its way into my sleep. I feel unprepared for adulthood, motherhood and marriage. I’m not ready for life’s daily tests. I’m not prepared when my son melts down because he’s having a rotten day. I haven’t managed my time adequately and there are five more things I should have done today. I haven’t done them. There are dishes in my sink, unfolded laundry in my dryer and I have no idea when I will get the dust and dirt off our baseboards.

All the “should-have-dones” I didn’t do throughout my day translates into my anxiety.

Perhaps I should have gone to more classes and obtained a better degree. I should have chosen a better paying profession or moved away in search of a more lucrative job. Regrets and questions seep into my mind, overriding any actual rest. When my dreams take hold, they cause panic, even in my sleep. I awake, still tired.

Once I recognized these dreams for what they were — my anxiety — I was able to rationalize them. I’m not alone in my financial situation. Many blue-collar Americans with college degrees agonize over their monthly bills. I know I’m not the only mother dealing with temper tantrums from a 3-year-old. Everyone probably has at least one dirty dish in their sink and unfolded clothes in a basket.

I have to tell myself, “These are only dreams. I am prepared. I am ready. I will keep showing up, day after day.”

In saying these words, I am able to gain back some control. The anxiety doesn’t control me. I have to control it. Each day, no matter how tired I am from an unrestful, stressful nights sleep, I know I have a choice to wake up and keep fighting to make my current situation better. I work harder. I may sleep and live with anxiety, but it does not inhibit my waking reality. I am capable, vulnerable, determined and strong.

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Thinkstock photo via Ann_Mei

Originally published: August 28, 2017
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