I dream a lot. In fact, I dream almost every time I sleep.
I also sleep a lot.
Sleeping used to be the way for me to escape the awfulness of being alive, back during the darkest days of my depression. As my illness mutated and changed and I found medications to keep me balanced, the sleep followed me. I sleep at night, without difficulty. I sleep when I’m not at work. I sleep during the day, often for hours at a time. I take naps, snooze, drift off … you get the picture.
And when I sleep, the dreams come. They aren’t bad dreams; nor are they particularly good. In fact, most of my dreams involve mundane, everyday things, like brushing my teeth or driving to work. I can even remember some of them, long after the initial grogginess of waking has left me.
I am also—sometimes—aware that I’m dreaming of the dream. Not necessarily to the extent that I think to myself, “what an interesting dream”, but because the continuity of my dreams fluctuates, and when it morphs from one location to another, and one scenario to another, a part of my mind that keeps track shouts out, “this isn’t where we were just a moment ago!”
But the clarity of the dreams is, as usual, somewhat opaque. Through a fog of distance and sleep, they return to my waking mind as a faint memory of an event that may or may not have taken place. I think most dreams are this way.
But for me—perhaps because of my illness or the medications, or just because of my own perception—this becomes a difficult thing in my head. You see, I often find that I can’t distinguish between the memory of a real event and the memory of a dreaded event. When the event is terribly fantastical and otherworldly, yes—it’s easier. But since so many of my dreams involve things I actually do every day, I find I can’t recall if I actually did something or not.
This is apparently more common than I realized, but when I suggest to my wife that I definitely turned the heat down before going to bed, yet in the morning it’s still on 70°, it’s still disorienting. She appears not to suffer from this problem; nor does anyone I talk to about it.
Dreams, of course, are experiential, just as are actual events—we generally believe they are happening when we’re dreaming—but upon waking, they usually disappear rapidly, or are relegated to a memory state separate from reality. For example, I can recall a memory from very early childhood: taking a bite of a hotdog. And I remember that it was, in fact, a dream, because I remember waking up and thinking that it was funny how in my head only a moment had passed, when in the world outside the whole night had come and gone.
But I also remember images and events—great castles in the fog, ski accidents, conversations with friends—that I have no basis for comparison. These are all things that definitely might have happened because in the past I’ve seen or done all those things. Yet I can’t be certain because I so frequently dream of those things as well.
It’s disturbing to see someone at work, or in your own home, and remember some bit of knowledge about them—only to find that you don’t actually know it because you’ve never actually discussed it.
It’s equally disturbing to think you’ve driven your wife to work and returned home, only to wake up in bed. And when memories of dreams begin to intersect with memories of reality, it brings the whole nature of reality into question. What’s real? What isn’t? And what, if anything, can be trusted?
I don’t know if this is an aspect of mental illness or something that everyone experiences, but it’s disturbing nonetheless, and something I wish I had a better grasp on.
What are your thoughts? Do you remember dreams as dreams, or do you also sometimes confuse them with memories of actual events?