I have nightmares; they’re frequent and ever changing and can range from unsettling, to frightening, to graphic. I can forget them almost as soon as I wake and be left with only a strange, uncomfortable feeling or they can haunt me for years afterwards.
I tend to have nightmares when I’m worried or anxious about something; for me it’s a great clue that something is stressing me out or bothering me, even if I think it isn’t.
I think that we dismiss nightmares too readily, we soothe children by telling them that it was ‘only a dream’, and this is done for good reason- but it can lead to us dismissing nightmares and ignoring the affect that they have on us. A nightmare can scare you badly, it can make you paranoid and change your behaviour. One of the worst that I ever had meant that I couldn’t sleep with any windows open for around two years.
They can also be telling us something important; they give us an insight into our innermost feelings. When my partner was overseas last month I had a terrible nightmare that involved him being taken away from me, all traces of our life together vanishing in front of my eyes. In my dream I vowed never to rest until I found him again. For me this was an insight into the depth of our bond and my worries regarding his job; both things that I already knew subconsciously but hadn’t fully realised yet.
Bad dreams about my job allow me to see that I need to quit and find another one, and a constant theme of having no control allows me to see that this is something that frightens me.
When I was about fifteen my nightmares were so bad that I knew I had to do something about them, I would avoid going to sleep and this would only make everything worse in terms of my mental health. I started to learn about lucid dreaming. I think this is something that I’ve talked about before, but I’ll mention it again for the sake of this post.
The way I learnt to lucid dream was by drawing an ‘A’ on the back of my hand and checking it every hour. Every hour when I looked at it I would do something to test that I was actually awake- such as pinching myself, drinking something, speaking to someone else- the most affective but risky thing to do is to look in a mirror. I say ‘risky’ because if you are dreaming then generally the image that you’re presented with can be pretty nasty/scary.
Using this technique I gradually got a handle on lucid dreaming. I remember clearly the first few times that I did it, it was such a wonderful sense of achievement. I still have nightmares, but a lot of the time I can wake myself up from them- or I try another technique.
The other technique that I use isn’t conscious at all, it’s something that I do as a person in times of trouble/need in my waking life and so has clearly seeped into my dreaming life too… when my I’m stuck in a nightmare and things are getting very bad, I call for the Gods.
My Gods help me when I’m awake and when I’m asleep, the offer me protection and guidance even when I’m at my most vulnerable.