Freelining with Mike Freeman: When Dreams Go Bad

Can a recurring dream leave you feeling blue? Is there a way to conquer it? (Photo by Dave Raith).

I have a recurring dream. I wouldn’t call it a nightmare, but it always leaves me feeling completely unsettled when I wake up.
The dream is always the same. I’m back at college (it’s never specifically clear which college, but that doesn’t seem to be important.) I have multiple classes I’m attending, but after throwing myself wholeheartedly into each class at the start of the semester, my interest flags. I forget about the home assignments I’m given. I spend my afternoons doing something else rather than being in class. I’m out running around, having fun, putting my academic interests on the backburner.
Suddenly it’s getting to the end of the semester. I suddenly realize the enormous mess I’m in. It’s been three months since I went back into college and I haven’t accomplished a thing. There’s no way for me to jump back into those classes now and expect to complete all the work I blew off. I don’t know what to do. Should I just walk away from the classes, knowing I essentially dropped every one of them? Should I frantically try to make up everything I didn’t bother to do months ago? That seems like an impossible task.
And I’m sitting there in my dorm room, in a complete panic, knowing I have nothing at all to show for this semester.
And then I wake up. That feeling of deep-seated anxiety lingers for several minutes as I lie there in bed, in the pitch darkness, wondering why I keep having this dream when I haven’t been in college since 1991 — and never actually experienced this problem while I was there. Ok, maybe I did work harder in some classes than others. But I never dropped any courses midway through a semester or found myself at the end of the academic year in a panic. So why am I dreaming this now, 20 years after I graduated with a Master’s degree?
I have no clue.
Some people know how to interpret dreams, or piece together the puzzles called the psyche. I don’t. I may be one of the world’s least introspective people. I don’t analyze my actions, I just jump in, based almost entirely on gut instinct. Good, bad or indifferent, it’s how I operate.
So I turned to my friends and asked them about the dream, hoping to get a second opinion. They know me well enough to sense any hidden meanings in this recurring dream.
Humorously, men and women react quite differently to dream interpretations. Guys see dreams as simply black and white messages. Women see much greater levels of depth in dreams.
My buddy Brek Dalrymple shrugged. “I have that same dream all the time,” he said. “It’s stress.”
My friend Dave Raith knows me well. He took a similar view.
“Maybe it has something to do with your business, or your business going slow,” he said. “Maybe it has to do with that. You’re being pressured into ditching your business and getting a real job.”
On the other hand, my friend Lisa D’Cato spotted sometime more — signs of self-doubt or anxiety that go beyond simply daily stress levels.
“Seems to me you are questioning yourself with this whole ‘schooling’-thing,” she wrote to me. “This dream seems like a mini-series made for TV!”
My friend Sylvia Leinfelder, who I actually did go to college with, sees the dream as being about “things left undone. Feeling unsettled. This might be your dreaming mind’s way of dealing with perceived chaos or lack of control in your waking world, as you say you are not introspective. This might be your mind’s safe way of dealing with your ‘homework assignment’ for life — chapters left without a conclusion due to circumstances beyond your control within your family, perhaps, that leave you with a sense of incompleteness.”
My friend and business colleague Melody Nadal, who knows me quite well, also spotted a lot that I wasn’t picking up on.
“It seems like it stems from your being unsettled in a new career that you didn’t want or expect,” she wrote. “The unknown is scary, especially when you are a ‘creature of habit’ and things get all changed around.”
I had to laugh when I read that — describing me as ‘creature of habit’ is like describing me as going bald: perfect fit. Ever feel a bit unnerved when you realize friends know you better than you do?
“Native Americans — I am half — believe your dreams are a lifeline to your chosen path,” Melody wrote to me. “If I interpret that, you are now in a new ‘college,’ so to speak, but your whole heart isn’t in it and you are not totally thrilled with your life right now. So your sub-conscience could be telling you to find your passion again. Let go of your fear. Just an opinion. There are no animals or insects to translate, so I can only go on the dream as a whole. To me you were sure before in your career path and now it feels scary.”
I wouldn’t have thought about any of this, so her interpretation fascinated me. I do know that being on your own, as one of the ranks of the newly self-employed, is radically different from working for a large company, which is what I did for the past 18 years. So Melody could be on to something there.
Sometimes I wonder, though, if this pesty dream is as simple as career and stress. I’ve learned how to cope in these two departments — I have mechanisms for relieving anxiety that I employ quite regularly.
But it troubles me that I’ve had this same dream for years, even when I seemed settled into a comfortable career and wasn’t sweating about it. So I wonder, sometimes, if the dream isn’t about something a bit more metaphysical — not about paying bills, finding new clients or any of that humdrum everyday stuff we wrestle with. I wonder if the dream is about trying to escape from confronting things I don’t like about myself and want to change — not to advance my career, but to be someone different, someone I’m not right now. I don’t know.
As I said, I’m not very introspective, so … I can’t be sure. Maybe the dream is just a reflection of life’s daily pressures in a down economy.
Or it could be that I’ll eventually find myself in a highly successful career, free of money woes, flushed with success, and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, feeling anxious and shaken, because I’m sitting in my dorm room thinking about the class I just blew off … and I’m wondering, Why does this dream unsettle me so much?
I probably still won’t know the answer. But it may prompt me to get up, look in the mirror, and ask, Ok, what is it you really want to to do differently? I’ve had enough of this already.
I wonder if I’ll ever get a response that I feel satisfied with.

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