The Strange Nature of Dreams

(Trigger Warning – References to PTSD and Natural Disasters)

fantasy-181304_640I sit here in the dark, my fingers moving across the key board, and I find that my mouth doesn’t want to move. I have had this feeling before. It usually starts after having a stressful sensory experience involving having to talk to a lot of people for an extended period of time. This time it is different, though. I woke up feeling this way.

I had a vivid dream that I was searching for something. The item in my dream wasn’t something I actually have in real life, but in the dream it was something that was very important to me and I had to find it no matter what. From the intensity of the dream, I can describe this item in the finest detail even though I have never owned nor wanted such an item. In the end, I did find it, then I woke up and I felt I had been concentrating and working so hard that I felt I had already put in a full day of stressful work and the day had just started.

How could this be? How could a dream cause me to lose so many “spoons” to the point where I feel I don’t even have the energy to speak and the thought of eating exhausts me? My dreams are like that. Very vivid, full of color and emotion, very detailed, and often they are repetitive.

Sometimes I am simply a viewer to what is taking place in the dream, but much of the time I am a full participant. When I have such a vivid dream, stress is involved. There is either some sort of natural disaster about to happen (volcano, tornado, earthquake or tsunami) and I must flee to higher ground while desperately searching for my children, other family members, or pets. The clock is ticking, the disaster is upon me. I must keep running, all the while screaming for the ones I love. I can only find some of them. Where are the others?

Then there are dreams where I am lost in a shopping mall parking lot or an underground parking lot and it is dark with a few street lamps. Sometimes it is wintery, and in the dream I must find my vehicle, but I can’t seem to. I have this dream a lot. There are times I hear my vehicle making that familiar “clunk” when I hit my unlock button, but I can’t pin point where the “clunk” is coming from.

Then there are times when my dream is telling me I have found my vehicle, but it is mangled in some way. I fight my dream at this point. I know that this is not my vehicle, so I continue to look for it, but my dream keeps directing me back to the mangled vehicle that I could describe in the finest detail. I feel really frustrated in this dream. There are the thoughts going through my brain during these dreams: “I can’t afford to fix my vehicle.”, “I can’t afford to buy a new one.”, and “How I am going to get home?”, “My kids need me home.”, and “I need to get home!” Then my stubbornness kicks in and I refuse to believe that this mangled strange vehicle is mine, so I keep searching.

I also have dreams where I am late for class, and as I am rushing through the school trying to find my classroom, the stairs seem to go nowhere or end up on the wrong floor.  I can still describe what the hallways looked like, what the other classrooms looked like, and what I saw on the bulletin boards. When I was younger I was the student desperately looking for my class. When I actually became a teacher, the dreams were of me trying to find the classroom I needed to teach in.

Are you seeing a pattern emerging? These are anxiety-based dreams, and I have had these types of dreams all my life, the same themes over and over again. These dreams got more and more vivid and powerful as I got older and my life got more stressful.

320px-Panic-attackAfter I was first diagnosed with PTSD, and several years after the fact, I kept having the same types of dreams that dealt with pain, blood, and massive grief. I am not going to go into any more detail than that, because I will trigger myself. These dreams (which were actually nightmares) were so vivid and powerful that I would wake up with my heart pounding and I would end up being debilitated for the entire day. I didn’t want anyone touching me or talking to me. I was stuck in flight or fight mode and couldn’t get myself to relax. It was horrible.

I had these dreams over and over again for years. This type of dream happened so often that I got to the point where I felt I was seeing a rerun for the millionth time. I actually was getting that frustrated feeling where you know what is going to happen, it still bothers you, but you are actually starting to get bored with it. I eventually stopped being debilitated by these dreams, and over time, this type of dream began to subside.  Unfortunately, with my hyper memory, I can still describe these dreams in minute detail.

If you want to read more about hyper memory click here –> Strengths of Autism – Hyper Memory .

This brings me back to the dream I had earlier this morning. I have never had this type of dream before where the dream played out and I actually found what I was looking for. I had it in my hands, so why didn’t I wake up feeling grateful? The search I was going through in my dream was something I could not stop. I had to find the item and I couldn’t stop until I found it. There was no joy when I found the item in my dream either. All I knew is that I was compelled to find it, and when I did, I held it up and stared at it. The more apt description would be that I examined the fine details of this item, which incidentally was a medium sized white u-shaped leather purse with a thin strap.

The purse was decorated stars and stripeswith small stars and hearts that had the “stars and stripes” motif on them. In other words, the red, white and blue design of the American flag was on each star and heart on the purse.  The leather had small holes and stitches running through out in a stripped pattern. The stars and heats followed this pattern as well. When I found the purse in my dreams, I kept saying “stars and stripes” to myself. I woke up with those words repeating in my head and it felt very uncomfortable.

Then there is the common theme my repetitive dreams seem to have and that is that I am always searching for something or someone. After I have awoken from these dreams, my brain will then put the images and emotions from the dream on replay throughout the day. My brain seems to get stuck on a feedback loop, because it can’t seem to process the information from the dream. The more vivid and powerful the dream, the worse and longer the feedback loop is. It is painful and exhausting when my brain gets stuck like this.

loop

My brain feels compressed like after I have had to endure a very loud social setting for an extended period of time. This feeling makes it difficult for me to function. In this case, what happened in my dream this time caused enough real stress in my brain that I don’t have the energy to even speak or to even be able to eat for that matter. My mouth parts feel exhausted. My bottom jaw seems to be clamped shut and I am trying not to grind my teeth. I am feeling really tense and the muscles around my month don’t want to work. I find myself wanting to hide in a dark, safe, quiet place to be alone and rest.

Has anyone else experienced vivid dreams to the point where you are debilitated by them? If you have, how do you cope? I have practiced lucid dreaming as a way to deal with the repetitive nature of my dreams. After having repetitive dreams, my brain seems to recognize that I am seeing a rerun. This knowledge helps me close my eyes in the dream and take a deep breath. It is a relaxation technique and it helps me remember where I am and that what I am seeing is not real.  I then try to change what it happening in the dream. It is not easy. I am fighting with myself and what my brain is showing me. It can be tiresome and I never feel rested after having these types of dreams even if I have had luck in controlling some aspect of them.

I wonder if the repetitive nature of my dreams has to do with me being autistic and having Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) at the same time. I wish I could afford to have my brain activity monitored while I was having one of these dreams. I am curious to know what areas of my brain are activated while I am having these anxiety-based dreams. I also want to know why I seem to always be searching in my dreams. That might be a question that I will never be able to answer with any certainty. Dreams are strange that way.

Henry_Meynell_Rheam_-_Sleeping_Beauty

“People say, ‘I’m going to sleep now,’ as if it were nothing. But it’s really a bizarre activity. ‘For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I’m going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life.’

If you didn’t know what sleep was, and you had only seen it in a science fiction movie, you would think it was weird and tell all your friends about the movie you’d seen.

They had these people, you know? And they would walk around all day and be OK? And then, once a day, usually after dark, they would lie down on these special platforms and become unconscious. They would stop functioning almost completely, except deep in their minds they would have adventures and experiences that were completely impossible in real life. As they lay there, completely vulnerable to their enemies, their only movements were to occasionally shift from one position to another; or, if one of the ‘mind adventures’ got too real, they would sit up and scream and be glad they weren’t unconscious anymore. Then they would drink a lot of coffee.’

So, next time you see someone sleeping, make believe you’re in a science fiction movie. And whisper, ‘The creature is regenerating itself.”

― George Carlin, Brain Droppings

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3 responses to “The Strange Nature of Dreams

  1. Hey you. I’m sorry you struggle with your dreams. I don’t personally understand (I mean I have a few repetitive dreams, but not like you do), but I know a little bit through Mark. He struggles with vivid, repetitive (sometimes violent), anxiety-based dreams. And he always has to remember his dreams in the morning. If he can’t, he is in a mind-fog all day. He is visibly relieved when he can finally recall that one dream that he was struggling to remember. I’ve never met anyone else who seems to suffer with that particular affliction. The only thing that has helped him is the medication he takes for bipolar disorder (which isn’t much help to you, sorry…), and he still feels compelled to remember his dreams, the dreams just aren’t all anxiety-based now. I can only really offer my support and sympathy and wonder at the nature of dreams with you. Hugs!

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    • Thank you for the ((hugs))! I really wish there was a medication that I could tolerate for my anxiety. For now I run and remind myself to breathe. I have been a runner for 22 years now. It is what calms my brain.

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  2. Pingback: Anxiety – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly | The Aspie Teacher

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