An anxious encounter

A tale of recurring dreams

23 APRIL 2016,
Living in a dream
Living in a dream

A tilted, offwhite glossy corridor, filled with tungsten light, encompassed my entire field of vision.
“My mother is dead.” my cousin said.

The words were trapped in my head.That is how I woke up every single night for a whole week in January of 2010. This brought back the memory of the crippling … but now, longforgotten grip that King Kong had on me as a child. I could feel it as I did when I was a seven year old. It had been years since my last recurring dream. Back then it was of a smaller, but still gigantic King Kong, dressed in a bright yellow hawaiian shirt chasing me through my grandparents floridian apartment.

As the sun would set, I began to feel the warm prickly feeling of fear in my stomach that was all too familiar. I knew that I, yet again, would be seeing my dreaded furry enemy. My King Kong nightmare ended at some point during my childhood, and as the years passed, I began to dream of single incidents, some were nightmares, others weird inexplicable stories. I was and have always been fascinated by dreams. They seemed so full of life, only to be fleeting and completely gone by the time the sun hit my face in the morning. Also, their frequency seemed to dissipate with the passing of years.

After doing some research, I realized that we can dream at any point within the REM and non REM cycle 1. However, the feel and intensity of dreams differs, depending on when we have the dream. It is during our fourth stage of sleep that we experience intense dreams. Yet as we age, we do not reach stage four as easily or frequently. Therefore, we dream less. But in 2010, I was 26, and still able to reach my dreams. They seemed to invade my few moments of slumber.

Despite being weird, and wonderful, dreams have a supposed purpose. According to some, dreams are the outlet for the brain to decompress all the ongoings of the day. It is when we recall all the things we learned, where our undealtwith emotions have free range and our brain explores them. However, others believe that dreams are but meaningless outbursts created by the brain during the REM cycle.

According to an Australian study, individuals who have more frequent nightmares, and recurring dreams are more likely to suffer from anxiety. This was also held true by a Canadian study that realized that individuals who do have nightmares are not mentally stronger than those who do not have nightmares, which was the original hypothesis made by the Australians.

I now recognized that my dreams meant something, regardless of their momentary randomness. And five years ago my recurring dream meant that I was undergoing a high level of anxiety. It had been a time of change, and change was a pill that took effort to swallow. I had moved the previous year to southern Germany. My husband was on an avid job hunt as I stayed home with our almost one year old. The winter that year had been long and cold, and all I could see out my window were layers of whites and greys. Stress was high, energy was low, and sleep was a thing sought after, but never really achieved. It was the perfect condition for my anxiety to thrive.

After having the terrifying dream, I called my mother. “Is tia Cris ok?” I asked. “She is in the hospital. She will have open heart surgery on Monday,” she responded hesitantly. I dialed my uncle’s cell phone number, my heart beating fiercely. He told me she could not talk for too long, but everything was going to be fine. He was a doctor and knew the cardiologist. Of course, everything was going to be fine, I told myself in a stern whisper; but still my hands shook as I heard him pass the phone.

“Hola tia, I just wanted to call and say hello... wish you well, and to tell you I love you.” I was able to say, as flashes of my dream ran in between my words. “Thank you, Sissy. I’m a bit tired, but thank you for calling,” she said, while taking deep heavy breaths with each word. I hung up and realized that would be my last conversation with my aunt. “Come on, don't think that,” my husband told me, who was standing in the door frame. He knew I was an anxious person.

But then that night the corridor returned and again I woke up with my heart in my throat. The same scene played over and over again, night after night. Until one morning the phone rang. It was the call. My aunt had died, a week after her operation. My body collapsed to the ground and my sorrow took over; peculiar sounds came out of my throat originating deep within me. The pain was too great. My nightmare had come true.

After that day I would have other recurring dreams, all taking place during times of stress. It was as if my brain could not properly process the emotions and the occurrences and therefore would create these horrible, confusing scenarios. Within me, my brain felt the need to repeat, the scenario in order to try to solve. However, this repetition would only create more stress and the cycle would continue on. Once I realized this tendency of mine, I was able to combat it, and overcome it.

I started by talking to my cousin Susana, who is a psychologist and has always been very intrigued about dreams, and this by itself brought some type of relief. She would listen to me retell my dream, and calmly talk to me about what she saw in my dream. She took my worries, my fears seriously, and this made me feel like I had an ally. I was given tips and tools about how to approach my unconscious self and therefore help derail the recurring dream and create something new, something with peace instead of worry. I began to go to be every night and tell myself that I would dream about a beautiful victorian greenhouse covered in vines, or a white colonial house with delicate lacy drapes, or my grandmother’s cabin.

At first I would be awaken by the recurring dream, but force myself to dream about something else. I prepared my unconscious self with an arsenal of artillery, ready to cut the roots of my worries before they grew into a forest of weeds. With time, I was able to guide myself within the dream to a safe place, a place without worry. And now, I have been freed of the daunting cascade of dreams that used to play on repeat.