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The Types of Dreams I Have Each Night as a Chronic Illness Patient

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“A dream is a wish your heart makes…” well, that is unless you have a chronic illness. My husband asks me nearly every morning, “How did you sleep?” Most of the time he knows the answer because the nights that are extremely painful I toss and turn so much that I usually keep him up. But on a rare occasion I declare, “Well, I slept deep enough to have a dream!”

I could write a whole other article on why a person with chronic illness is unable to sleep – mostly from the side effects of medication or painsomnia – but today I want to welcome you into the secret world of our dreams. My dreams began to change around the time of my diagnosis, at the onset of nighttime pain. While the healthy world dreams of trips, family, work or even winning the lotto those types of dreams don’t usually happen for someone with chronic pain.

I dream of doctors! No, not the hot doctor on “Grey’s Anatomy” but of doctor appointments and the anxiety that encompasses them. Yep, seriously – when I sleep deep enough… my dreams are medically based. I dream about being late for doctor appointments, not finding the right medical office, the doctor forgetting about my appointment, medical tests or not being heard at my appointment. You know that dream you have where you can’t speak? You try to open your mouth and words don’t come out or the person you are trying to talk to can’t hear you? Well for me the other person who can’t hear me is a doctor. I dream about appointments with new specialists and them not believing me or doubting my diagnosis. You see, the real world anxiety of a patient’s journey comes to life when our head hits the pillow.

But, our dreams don’t stop with doctors. I imagine that every healthy person has had the following dream. You are dreaming of having to use the restroom. You are searching everywhere for a toilet in your dream and when you are startled awake by that dream, you realize you really need to use the restroom and your subconscious was trying to awaken your body. That happens to a chronic illness warrior while in pain. I dream that my foot is caught in a door, the door continues to crush my foot, my toes are breaking in my dream and I am startled awake. When I awake I find my foot and toes are in excruciating pain.

So the truth is even when we get the chance to dream often our dreams lead to more anxiety. It is never usually a break from our real life or our pain. Often these dreams scar us in our real life experience too. On the way to my monthly doctor appointment with my rheumatologist I will tell my husband, “I hope my words come out right. I hope I sound credible.” My husband looks puzzled and replies, “Why would your words not come out right? And, Dr. Rheumatologist has never questioned your statements in the past eight years he has cared for you.” I sometimes will say, “But in my dream I couldn’t get my words out.” I am lucky enough to have a husband who reminds me that it was just a dream.

And the phrase, “A dream is a wish your heart makes” sometimes can mean something different for the chronically ill. The heart of a chronic illness warrior can be full of anxiety and worry. And often this worry creeps into our dreams. The dream of remission and the dream of recovery are intermingled with dreams of pain and reality. Much like our waking life, our dreams are a mixture of good, bad and oftentimes confusing elements.

I hope this little glimpse into the secret world of our dreams opens eyes and hearts to remember that some people’s deep sleep actually causes more anxiety than rest. So while the healthy world may have peaceful dreams, I’ll keep working on my recovery while I’m asleep.

Getty Image by eggeeggjiew

Originally published: April 14, 2018
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