When You Wake Up From a Nightmare
I have extremely vivid, strange dreams that appear real. A lot of them are quite bizarre, definitely with a Salvador Dalí vibe. The famed eccentric Spanish surrealist used to call his pieces “hand-painted dream photographs.”
Many say their dreams feel like a movie in their mind, and I definitely fall into this category.
As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, vivid dreams come with the territory, according to my psychiatrist. Is it mania playing out when I sleep? I don’t know. But these dreams are mostly scary, sometimes fun but always extremely exhausting. The nightmares can be horrendous visions of fright, even involving death.
My most recent nightmare involved being chased by a giant lemon meringue pie. I was running away, but it caught up with me, its gooey core making it difficult to move, stuck like superglue. Is this a metaphor that I am “stuck” in life?
When I have these vivid nightmares, the next day I feel like I haven’t slept. It’s like my brain was working overtime conjuring the dream and forgot to rest like it should. I’ve come to call these cycles “do-nothing days” and they are undoubtedly a symptom of my bipolar disorder. I am useless on these days.
I thought antipsychotics were supposed to keep the mania at bay. I take the pills, but I feel like I’m experiencing mania in my dreams, but in a creepy way. Kind of like the story of “Alice in Wonderland.”
“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small. And the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all.”
— Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit” (1967)
“White Rabbit” is a groovy tune about “Alice in Wonderland,” which is itself a dream-like story, some would say nightmarish. It just popped up randomly on Spotify, and it got me thinking more deeply about my dreams and my medications. Many of my nighttime delusions are psychedelic, hallucinogenic trips like this song.
Is it the pills? I’m compliant when it comes to my drugs, but there’s always a fear that I am on the wrong med cocktail.
In one nightmare, I found my dad floating in a swimming pool face down and dead. I died in a plane crash when I was serving as a fighter pilot in a civil war, bombing the residences of MAGA members of Congress. I was shot down by enemy aircraft.
Some of my dreams are either ambiguous or fun.
I’m trapped on a rowboat in the middle of the ocean with Adam Driver. We can’t see any signs of land and are rowing aimlessly. But then the dream takes a turn for the better as we discover land and encounter the ghost of Eddie Van Halen performing with his band on the beach.
I’ve seen Nirvana in concert in my dreams, too. I never got to see them before Kurt Cobain passed, so that was fun.
So what explains the mystery of our dreams? “Dreams are just our minds thinking in a very different biochemical state, which is more emotional and rich with imagery, and less verbal, linear, and logical,” dream researcher Deirdre Leigh Barrett, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, told PsychCentral.
The father of psychotherapy — Sigmund Freud — loved to study dreams. And one of the most universally typical dreams involves your teeth falling out. I have experienced what feels like real pain and visions of my mouth bleeding in my dreamscapes. This is a recurring dream for me, and one I have researched.
Freud had a theory on this dream. He believed it was possibly caused by sexual repression or anxiety about sexual relationships. Other theorists have said it symbolizes an impending death in the family.
In my dreams, I feel like I’m unconsciously screaming.
But when I wake up and realize everything is actually OK, I feel at ease. I am so incredibly relieved, even if I don’t feel great.
What are some of your strangest dreams? What were they like? Let us know in the comments.
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Getty image by Yuri Arcurs