For years, my anxiety dreams involved school. I would dream that I started a graduate program, attended classes and behaved like a normal student until finals week. And then I would skip all the exams and refuse to write papers. And then a new term would start and I would repeat this pattern. Sometimes I dream that I have returned to my elementary school to pick up the graduate school transcript, but I never see the GPA. This is very unlike the real me in school. I was always worried about grades. I was very interested in being an achiever. I wouldn’t have ever considered skipping a test.
Lately, my dreams have changed. Several times recently, I have dreamed that Mom voluntarily left her nursing home and moved back into my childhood home. In the dream, this doesn’t mean she no longer has Alzheimer’s disease. It just means she is willful about choosing her environment. So in this dream, I have anxiety about how Mom is surviving in the house. I have anxiety when I see a car parked in front of the house, or when I do NOT see it parked there, meaning she is out for a drive. I sometimes experience what feels like a dream within a dream: I go to the nursing home to talk to the staff about moving Mom back in, explaining to them that I have been dreaming about her potential exit and desire to move back into that house. But my discussion with the nursing home staff is also part of the dream.
Last night, the dream included two new sources of anxiety: an overflowing mailbox outside the house, and an effort to see how close I could get to a snake without letting it bite me. This second element was a source of actual fear and struck me as totally bizarre: it featured a childhood friend who lived down the street from me who chased me up the road toward my house with a snake in her hand. Even though she had a hold of it, she couldn’t stop it from trying to bite me. And then when I finally got to my house, I encountered the mailbox, stuffed with miscellaneous mail that I assume – now, awake, looking back – is Mom’s mail in my dream.
I wouldn’t think much of it – I have had anxiety dreams all of my adult life, really – except that I am waking up so tired from these dreams. And I get the sense that I am thrashing around in bed. I routinely find that I have wrapped the comforter around me, taking the covers off of Patrick in the process. I inevitably find one of my pillows on the floor – every. single. morning. And my short hair is messier than usual these days when I get up, looking as if I have spent the entire night moving my head around and around. I probably got to sleep by 10 p.m. last night and woke to Patrick’s alarm at 6:30 this morning. Plenty of sleep. But I felt like a zombie. And I did not want to get up.
I interpret these as anxiety dreams because I sense a feeling of breathlessness for the duration. There is no nostalgia about the house in the dream, nor in my waking life. I don’t miss my childhood home. We didn’t take great care of it, and my childhood was not ideal. Perfectly tolerable, but marked by many difficulties. So I don’t see it as some return to a past that I cherish. Even the Mom I knew over the years of living in that house is not my favorite Bonnie. I had a much better appreciation of her after I spent some time away from her in college. We moved out of the house when I graduated from high school, and I recall no sadness about leaving it behind. Sometimes I drive by it now and wonder what it looks like inside. But that’s the extent of my feelings: curiosity.
I don’t worry as much about Mom as I used to, but she is on my mind so much of the time. I don’t know much about dream analysis, so I can’t try with any real knowledge to interpret what these new dreams mean. I guess it is some kind of processing of my thoughts. Ironically, Mom was interested in dreams. I have discovered, among the things of hers that I have stored in my basement, stacks of notebooks that I assume she kept by her bed. They contain notes that I believe she jotted down in the middle of the night or in the morning as a way to capture the essence of a fresh dream as completely as possible. Someday maybe I’ll study those notes. I wonder what she would think of my dreams about her.