The Haunted Dreams of Mental Illness

I tell people that my brain never stops worrying, even in the middle of the night, and it’s true. If I wake up to pee, the thing I went to be worrying about is still churning, churning, churning. Sleep is the closest thing to relief that I get, but last night’s dream demonstrates that even my dreams are haunted by obsessive worry.

In the dream, I was in my psychiatrist’s waiting room. When the dream began it was just me and a couple of other people. Apparently, I didn’t have a set appointment but needed a refill on one of the medicines I take that gives me a few hours of relief from the internal strife. My doctor had come out from her office in the back to talk to me, and we were discussing whether it was in fact time for a refill on this medicine. She was worried that I was possibly abusing it (this is something that is a real-life concern of hers, though it’s unfounded). We weren’t exactly arguing, but I wasn’t convincing her that I actually needed the refill. In typical “dream time” fashion, the waiting room was suddenly full of about twenty people, all with appointments to see her. I was holding them up, in other words, and in the dream, I was well aware of how far behind my doctor now was.

And that was about it. There was no clear ending to the dream. It just stopped. So let me play Freud here and offer an analysis…

First, I’m constantly worried about not having the right medication. There have been times when I’ve waited too long to refill my meds and then the pharmacy is out of something or my insurance company has decided they need prior authorization for a medicine I’ve taken for seven years or something like that. I freak out, come close to panicking, and then it gets resolved like no big deal. If only I could live in that reality – that it will work out – when it happens.

Second, there’s the worry that my doctor will quit giving me this particular medication that offers me some relief. It’s true that I have addictive tendencies, but it’s also true that I have never abused this medication. In fact, I don’t even take it as often as I’m allowed to because I’m afraid of getting addicted to it and because I always want to have a little left over to prevent the situation in #1.

Third, I am constantly anxious about time, thus the part of the dream where my doctor is running late because of me. My siblings and I joke about how my mom used to have dinner ready at 6:00 sharp. This didn’t mean 6:01 or 6:07, like it would in most households. It meant 5:59:43. If any of us happened to be out and about in the car and 5:57 rolled around and we weren’t home yet, the old school car phone would ring and we knew exactly why: “Where are you? We’re about to sit down. We’re going to start because everyone else is here and the food is warm.” Most of us were pulling up the driveway because we knew not to be late. But that call was inevitable unless you were 15 minutes early. So, to this day, when I start to sense that I’m going to be late or that I’m making someone else late, my anxiety level quadruples.

Finally, I want people to like me. In the dream, I could see the frustration building in the waiting room, and naturally, they were all blaming me for taking the doctor’s time rather than blaming the doctor who wouldn’t just write the prescription. I’ve said before that I battle an unwinnable internal cognitive dissonance: 49% of me wants everyone to like me; 51% of me wants to speak my mind and feel heard. These two do not play well together to say the least. Every time I pick one, I’m slaughtering the other half of myself essentially. But the part that needs to speak up usually wins out, and in this case, I needed for my doctor to understand my need for a refill, even if it meant all the other people hated me. But of course, that didn’t mean I didn’t have to suffer with all the anxiety that came with people being angry with me.

So there you have it: a night in the life of my anxious brain. There’s another dream I have, a sort of recurring (thematic) dream in which I need to get somewhere or escape something dangerous, but I am moving in slow motion or stuck in quick sand. The dream never comes to a conclusion…I just try to escape something or get somewhere with no hope of ever doing so.

There’s no off switch. Alcohol helps, but it makes me angry. Not good. Pot helps, but it makes me too numb. Not good. Psychiatric meds help, but in a slow and subtle way that quits feeling very magical after a few weeks. I’ve heard good things about Heroin, but I’ve also heard it comes with a drawback or two. Sleep helps, but only if I’m not having an anxious dream, and I have a lot of them. I honestly don’t remember life without profound anxiety, even extending into my dreams. It often feels like torture to be fully honest.

I wish I had a solution, like warm milk before bed, but I’m writing more to identify with those of you who feel like there is no escape than to provide some remedy. And twisted as it might be, that’s always my goal, really…not to fix you, but to encourage you. I know you’re out there and you’re not alone. Talk to someone who understands; hell, email me if you need to. But as always, my belief is that one of the best forms of help in our situation is to know that others are in the boat with you.

Sweet dreams.

 
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2 thoughts on “The Haunted Dreams of Mental Illness

  1. Hi Tim, I think of you each day and was thankful to see your post. I suffer from anxiety and depression but it is manageable with medication. I have an adult child with severe mental illness and your blog has helped me (even more than my own experiences) in understanding what it is like for her to just get through a day, and then the night, Everyday is, incomprehensibly to non sufferers, an ordeal.

    Thank you. I’m thankful you are backđź‘Ť

  2. Hi Tim,
    I can identify with this so much. I hardly ever have an escape from my brain. Sometimes sleep helps, but I am so anxious all the time that as I start to fall asleep my brain is still going a hundred miles an hour. It’s weird. It’s almost like my body is sleeping but my brain is not. Eventually my brain succumbs to the ever so important sleep. It is very rarely peaceful. I am tortured in my sleep in a way that is cruel, and terrifying. For instance I have severe ocd. In life when I am triggered I am able to walk away, or ritualize to make it better. When I am asleep I am at the mercy of my subconscious. I will be met with the scariest most triggering situation, but I can’t escape it. I am stuck unable to get away. Sometimes I have night terrors where I am screaming at the top of my lungs, I can hear myself screaming, but I can’t open my eyes and wake up. When I do wake up my I’m crying, my body is shaking, sweating, and my heart is racing. It is so scary. After this or just an ordinary scary dream I am then afraid to go back to sleep for fear of it happening again. Occasionally I have an ocd free dream and a good night’s sleep. Most nights I awake from 2 a.m. on.
    I’m sorry you feel you have to choose between people liking you and speaking your mind. From where I sit I appreciate you speaking your mind. I like your honest an raw approach. I do understand the other piece as well. The need for people to like us. I am a people pleaser. I am unable to say no, and because of it I am often taken advantage of. So do I continue to be used so people like me, or do I speak my mind and say no, and risk that I might not be liked? I don’t know the answer, but maybe it’s a risk worth taking.

    Thank you for continuing to write. I also appreciate the time and effort you put into every post.

    ~Nicole

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