Sweet Dreams… NOT!

by JT Ellison

I had a familiar dream this week – one that’s really a recurring nightmare. I’m at the beach, in Florida, and the waves are just overwhelmingly big – fifteen footers. I’m out on my board, struggling to keep it from getting away and allowing my leash drag me under. When they break, I dive in early, and it feels like I’m underwater for a very long time before I break the surface. They come in so quickly that I’m swept under over and over, and it’s kind of fun, until I see the big one in the distance. I’m suddenly out of the water, on the boardwalk, watching this massive wall of water coming toward me. I never know for sure if I’m far enough away, but ultimately the water comes within a few feet of me, then spills away.

I’ve had this dream so often that I can manipulate it while I’m in it, adjusting the length of time I think the big waves are fun, moving to various points up and down a two-mile stretch of beach. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m going to make the boardwalk in time, other nights the waves are smaller, more manageable.

I had the dream Monday night, and on Tuesday, I saw this story. Now, talk about freaky coincidences. I’m dreaming about tidal waves while one is hitting Maine. And it’s totally unexplained? That’s the big problem in my dream, there’s absolutely no reason for these waves to be so damn big! And it’s happened before – many times, really. So my dream is based in reality, which makes me a little nervous. Because my dreams? They have a tendency to come true.

My mom used to dream about tidal waves in her childhood beach destination, and one eventually came in to Sea Isle City, New Jersey in the form of a hurricane that wiped out a lot of the area. Kind of creepy that I’ve inherited her nightmare, huh?

About two months ago, right before I was due to turn in EDGE OF BLACK, I had an airplane crash dream. I’ve never, ever dreamt about plane crashes before. I started flying when I was an infant, had a frequent flier card when I was a teenager, and eventually ended up working for a sub-contractor to the FAA. I LOVE airplanes. I LOVE flying. So I was especially freaked out by the dream. We were over a city and banking right, then just started going down amid the skyscrapers. Happily, at the last minute we pulled up and skimmed the ground, and I woke up. I had a second one two weeks ago. This time it was a Lear jet, we were flying over a ski resort and went down at the top, skidding our way down the treacherous slopes in a ridiculous parody of Lear jet giant slalom.

It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to recognize these are anxiety dreams. I started having them when I was a little girl. For my fifth birthday, my parents took me to Blinky’s Fun Club, a television show in Denver starring Blinky the Clown. Being utterly scared by the knowledge that I was on television, I did what any intelligent child who has self-preservation in mind would do – I picked my nose. Blinky "Bastard Son of Satan’s Spawn" the Clown popped up (clowns have a tendency to do that, pop out of nowhere) and YELLED at me. Cue crying, screaming, begging, and a lifelong fear of clowns.

The jerk also cemented my original anxiety dream – I’m sitting in a darkened television studio and hear a slithering, scaly crawling. I turn and come face to face with a giant stuffed purple snake with massive green polka dots, who looks at me with it’s slitted eyes then undulates away through the studio. I still have that dream. And it freaks me out every time.

I’ve never had the typical naked at school type of dream. Mine have to have some random element of creativity to them, at least. I dream in color, and they’re so damn real. I’ve been known to wake up furious at Randy and snarl at him for a day because he’s cheated on me or left me.

But the worst are the serial killer dreams. And I have those a lot. Whether it’s knives and chasing, or just locking eyes with someone who I realize means me harm, I wake up breathless and panicked. I get up, lock the bedroom door and try to think about other things so I can go back to sleep. Because I can wake up from a dream, get up in the middle of the night, walk around, shake it off, go back to sleep and pick up where I left off. It’s not a nice talent.

It’s funny, the purple snake dream can be just as menacing as being chased by a serial killer.

There’s not much I can do to alter the way my subconscious works through my issues. I’m a dreamer, in every sense of the word. Hell, I dreamed the entire plot of ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, start to finish. Man, I wish I could do that more often. I’m not an edgy kind of person during the daylight hours. It’s when darkness falls that I get jumpy. I just don’t know what the night will bring.

So what about you? Do you have anxiety dreams? Are they straightforward, or kooky? And do you have recurring dreams? What’s your trademark nightmare?

Wine of the Week: 2006 Michaud "3" Chalone Red Blend

UPDATE: Wanna see what my waves look like? Click here and read this.

34 thoughts on “Sweet Dreams… NOT!

  1. Becky Hutchison

    Wow, JT, your dreams would scare me too!

    I also dream in color and remember most of the details. My strange repeating dream is about tornados. I’ve never been in one in real life, but I am fascinated with them. I thought the dreams came because I would get twisted in my sheets, but more recently that hasn’t been the case.

    I can see a twister coming from far away and then hear it roar closer. I run downstairs to the basement (the building changes from dream to dream) and duck down while the tornado passes over or nearby. I go back upstairs or outside and see more in the distance coming my way. I return to whatever shelter I was in when the first one passed by.

    I don’t know what it means…maybe my life is twisted? Who knows. But it’s the only recurring dream I have besides having a final without ever having gone to class.

  2. Jude Hardin

    I have the final exam dream too!

    The other day I dreamt I needed an appendectomy, and they delivered a do-it-yourself kit to my house complete with instructions and anesthesia drugs. My anxiety dreams go like that. I’m expected to perform some crucial task I have no skill for.

  3. Zoë Sharp

    This struck a real chord, JT. I have weird whacky dreams that can leave me feeling twitchy and disturbed all day. Dreams in which I do things I didn’t know I was capable of, but that seems all perfectly acceptable and reasonable behaviour.

    I think that’s the worst thing about a dream. Anything can happen and all bets are off.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    That is TOTALLY FASCINATING that you inherited your mom’s tidal wave dream. I’ve never heard of that before.

    It would freak me out to have realistic disaster dreams. I don’t think I ever have. My anxiety dream is always the same – climbing a set of stairs that become increasingly narrow, steep, rickety – or turn into a sheer vertical wall.

    Nothing vague about that!

    I remember my dreams, dream in color, and dream most vividly and symbolically when I’m on my period. I rarely have nightmares but the few that I have had have mostly turned into books or scripts.

  5. Kaye Barley

    What wild dreams you have!!!

    I have one recurring dream in which I’m walking. That’s it. Nothing memorable about where I am, no apparent purpose or destination, no anxiety involved. Just walking. I know nothing about the meaning behind dreams – what does this mean? I’m goal-less? What???

    There’s a dream I’ve had a couple of times that I wish I could have again. Is there a way to do that? Make yourself have a recurring dream? Its wonderful. Donald and I are dressed to kill (he looks so great in a tux), and we walk into a ballroom. Everyone we know and love and have EVER known and loved is there. Everyone’s all dressed up in formal wear – all in black & white like Truman Capote’s black & white ball. There are huge urns of breathtakingly beautiful flowers everywhere and they’re the only points of color. I love that dream.

  6. Wilfred Bereswill

    It’s funny when I hear people describe dreams in such detail. My wife does it all the time.

    I can’t remember a dream to save my life. I can wake up from a particularly bad dream and the moment my eyes open, POOF, it’s gone and I can’t remember any bit of it.

  7. Chuck

    Hey JT! Yes, I have dreams about waves and airplane crashes often. Tidal wave dreams are some of my favorites. It’s like getting to go to a big budget movie for free. And I wake up yelling. My wife loves that part. I also dream about getting chased; you know, the one where the hallways stretch and you’re running on a treadmill.

    I’m glad to know I am not alone!

  8. evabaruk

    My most frequent reoccurring anxiety dream is the floor being completely covered with giant heaping mounds of snakes. I’m not afraid of snakes when I’m awake except for Anacondas for some reason. This this dream terrifies me. I don’t have fear when I dream about one snake but a floor filled with them overwhelms me.

    My other reoccurring dream I’ve had since I was a child involves being chased and subsequently captured by a tall blood oozing flesh coloured demon. The blood oozes from large pores over his body. As a child I thought of him as a sponge demon.

    For the most part however I don’t normally remember my dreams.

  9. Allison Brennan

    Dreams? What are those? That actually means you need to sleep, right?

    just kidding.

    My recurring nightmare as a child, and it’s rare but comes occasionally now, is hiding in the San Carlos Public Library and having to be very, very quiet because a giant spider is on the loose. I’m talking about a three-story-building sized spider.

    I dream in color and I don’t understand why everyone has to state this fact . . . is this unusual? I always thought the people who DIDN’T dream in color were the rare ones.

    Most of my dreams are problem solving dreams, hence my propensity to solve plot problems, or escape dreams. Running from bad guys I can’t really see. Being chased, on foot or car or by a helicopter. Usually in an alley with lots of hiding places and dead ends–which is odd since I was raised in the suburbs. The problem solving dreams are odd because they are never related to my story, but a completely different situation that I’m in (sometimes scary, sometimes not) and I have to figure something out. While I remember my running/hiding dreams, I rarely remember the problem solving dreams–except for the resolution. Hmm. Odd.

    I don’t remember most of the dream or nightmares, but I remember odd details, like watching the leg of the spider pass by the window and knowing that he was walking over the library, or hiding on a ledge outside a window while the bad guys search for me inside. I also remember the way I felt in the dream. And I can change my dream or replay it, trying to change my choices so I’m not trapped.

  10. PK the Bookeemonster

    Cool topic. I have a few recurring dreams. I have many dreams about tornados — I’ve never actually been in a tornado or even seen one “live” but I have them a lot. I think for some reason that represents chaos to me. I have nightmares about fire – fire scares me to death, especially when people are involved. When I was little a house a few houses down caught on fire and freaked me out. I have dreams about school – either not being able to find my locker, not being able to read the book in front of me, not being able to find my classroom, etc.I share this with my sister apparently: we wake up frequently thinking we see a spider in the bed.Please, no one try to tell me what all this means. I’m afraid of the answer.

  11. Tammy Cravit

    I guess I’ll join the consensus — I too dream in color. Oddly, I don’t usually remember my dreams unless I wake up in the middle of them. But if I do, I can usually jump back into them the next night if I want to, resuming them more or less where I left off.

    As a survivor of childhood sexual assault, most of my anxiety dreams revolve around variations on that theme. I have, on a few occasions, dreamed pieces of plot for my stories, and I can often solve a sticking point in my plot by concentrating on the problem right before I fall asleep.

    As for my weirdest dreaming experience, I remember one time, when I was first learning American Sign Language, where I realized that I was dreaming in ASL. And then I woke up to discover that I’d been signing in my sleep, and had whacked my SO in the face. I still haven’t been able to live that one down.

  12. B.G. Ritts

    I’m sure I dream but almost never remember. Maybe two to three times a year, on awakening, there is the fleeting thought of one. I remember what it’s about, but only a very basic theme — and it never seems to have beeen very long or involved. I remember so little I can’t say if they are in b/w or color.

    The only dream I have any real recollection of was one time I visited my grandmother. I was grade-school age and watched something that apparently scared me on television that evening. Sometime in the night, I woke from a nightmare of something chasing me. I lay there in my bed, breathing hard and frightened, but not wanting to get my grandmother up because I thought I was a ‘big girl.’ I must have finally gotten back to sleep.

  13. Louise Ure

    I’ve been having a raft of anxiety dreams about my dog, for some reason! I’m either forced to give him away, or he’s caught in a burning house or he’s lost. Ugh. Time to wake up.

  14. JT Ellison

    Louise, I am often revisit by the pets I’ve lost in my dreams. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s heartbreaking. But it makes me think their spirits linger.

    BG, I’m still trying to get to the “I’m a big girl” stage : )

    Tammy, my husband plays baseball in his dreams, and has, on occasion, launched himself across the bed to catch a fly ball, knocking me, the lamp, etc. onto the floor. Obviously your dreams are helping you process your past, though that can’t be pleasant.

    PK, if I dreamt about spiders… UGH! I think you’re right about tornadoes equally chaos.

    Here’s a link to a good dream interpreter:http://www.unclesirbobby.org.uk/dreamessay.php

  15. Rob Gregory Browne

    I have a sleep disorder, so I rarely dream, but I do remember one dream in which I was accused of murder. It was so real to me that when I woke up, I had to concentrate hard to realize that it actually had been a dream. Or should I say nightmare. Needless to say, I had a knot in my stomach the size of a basketball.

    Then I realized I was safe. Nobody had found me out…

  16. JT Ellison

    Allison, I thought it was the opposite: people usually dream in black and white, and color is rare. It seems that’s wrong, though. UGH again on the damn spiders. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all.

    Eva, I had a horrible nightmare about a demon after watching Constantine. Demons are the worst. And a sponge demon? Yikes!

    Chuck, It’s good to know I’m not alone. I haven’t woken up screaming since the demon dream (see above) so I’m lucky in that respect. I suffer in silence.

    Will, that’s how Randy is. He rarely remembers his dreams, but I know he has them because he talks (and it can be downright humorous at times!)

    Kaye, I love that you have such positive dreams. I guess that says a lot about your psyche!

  17. JT Ellison

    Alex, I didn’t even realize that I was coopting her dream until I wrote this. I called about Sea Isle City, and when I was on the phone had the epiphany. Bizarre, huh? And yes, cycle dreams are definitely the most intense. Wonder why that is???

    Zoe, I know exactly what you mean. I get edgy and jumpy after bad dreams. I see them when I close my eyes. That’s why I write, I think. To get it all out of my head.

    Jude, there’s a commercial that has that scenario – they man is at the table with a scalpel and the doctor is talking him through the procedure on the phone. Self-surgery… I wonder what that means?

    Becky, I did that once, my freshman year of college. Only it wasn’t a dream. Ack. Tornadoes are no fun. I’ve seen one flip a dump truck, had them rip shingles off my roof, seen them touch down from a hotel room window. I hate them, get all nervous, but thank goodness I’ve never dreamed about them.

  18. Jake Nantz

    JT,Very interesting. I don’t remember a lot of my nightmares, though I know I have them. But one has always stood out, more in its absence than anything else. And it’s come back.

    I used to dream I was fighting someone, and I was terrified because I knew I wasn’t that strong, and so when I’d punch or kick at them, I’d connect and there was nothing behind it, just weakness.

    Then I started training in Muay Thai, and did so for 3 1/2 years. Sparring and all. The dream was very, very rare, and when I had it, it was always a victorious, I stopped the bad guy from hurting me/my family kind of dream.

    Because of my psoriasis I’m not supposed to train anymore. In the last two or three years, the dream has started coming back. Now it’s worse, because I KNOW I can hit hard, I know there’s strength there, and yet when my strikes hit…nothing.

    It’s not so much frightening as frustrating, unless the someone I’m struggling with is threatening my family.

  19. woodstock

    I only have one recurring dream, and it comes at times of significant life changes – moving, getting married, new job, retirement, and the like. I am at the wheel of a car, heading down an incline and I am unable to slow the car down with the brake pedal. Sometimes there are other vehicles on the road, sometimes not. It seems to me fairly obvious that on some level, I think things are moving too quickly. I do have scary dreams on occasion, but there doesn’t seem to be a repetitive fact pattern to them.

  20. JT Ellison

    Jake, I have that dream too! I know there’s strength behind my punch, yet when it connects it’s just a little tap. That happens with screaming for me as well – I haul off to let one rip and it comes out as a strangled whisper. Wonder what those mean?

    Woodstock, that’s a great one. The car out of control – it’s funny, it seems we all have some control issues, huh?

    I also have the times when I need to make a big decision, and finally make it. That night I usually dream of my grandmother or grandfather. It’s like I’m getting a blessing, a nod that I made the right choice.

  21. Jake Nantz

    JT,I’ve always felt it was just a representation of my own insecurity. I didn’t have those feelings when I was training, not because I could fight, but because I was more confident in my appearance, my self-defense, and just myself in general.

    Now I’m starting off in the big bad world of writing for publication, and while I haven’t had that dream in a while (thank you Spinetingler), I can imagine the next story or two that get turned down will bring it back with a vengeance.

    I have no idea if that could be why you have that dream (it does suck to feel that helpless, doesn’t it?), but that’s it in a nutshell for me. If nothing else, it’s giving me a little insight into what it might feel like for my next protagonist, Dylan, to be in the fight of her life with some steroided-out guy.

    How’s this…I will pray for you to have a sustained period of good dreams. Sound good?

  22. Jake Nantz

    Mr. Cameron,I hope that wasn’t a scary dream, because I chuckled a little reading that before I realized you might not have been joking. I do apologize if it was scary. A situation like that dream would be a surreal feeling, that’s for sure.

  23. toni mcgee causey

    [must behave self and not mention BLINKY THE CLOWN. Blinky. ohmygod, the comedy I could do with a Blinky the Clown serial killer.]

    okay, moving on… I dream in color and remember a lot of them. I’ve also dreamed of a few bad things which came true. The worst was the break-in, because I’d dreamed multiple times of waking up and finding someone at the foot of my bed, so when I did wake up and find someone at the foot of my bed, I thought I was having the dream. ‘Til he walked out the door to go look through the rest of the house and I could hear him talking. Every single time I’ve dreamed about pregnancy, someone close to me has died and every time I dream about someone close to me dying, someone I know is pregnant. Those are weird and create a lot of tension (and the real event is usually within a couple of days–longest time was a week–so there’s a general sense of dread instead of being able to write it off as just random coincidence.)

    Jake, I had that fighting dream, but I decided to change it. I now beat the crap out of people and wake up pretty rushed with adrenaline. Of course, rage is the flip side of comedy, so I’m sure a dream analyst would have a field day with that one.

  24. Kathryn

    I have a recurring dream about kittens. I dream that there are some kittens that were lost or abandoned or forgotten-about, and I discover them just before they die, and I spend the entire dream trying to get them food and bring them back to health. Man, I hate that one.

  25. JT Ellison

    Only Bill could get a ticket in a funeral procession. Only Bill.

    Rob, I’m glad no one ever found you out – I mean that it was only a dream.

    Kathryn, do you save them??? You must be a very nurturing person to be dreaming about nurturing.

    Tammy, that link is fabulous. I have the DAMT dreams, about smoking, of course. When I realize I haven’t I’m always so proud of myself.

    Toni, if you even mention the clown I will NOT be happy with you.

    Fascinating that your pregnancy and death dreams are so linked. I wonder if there’s a bit of reincarnation going on and you’re especially sensitive to it.

  26. Becky Hutchison

    Bill, a friend of mine was at a stop light and saw a funeral procession go by. He thought it was pretty funny that the hearse had a flat tire, but just as the hearse passed by, “Another One Bites the Dust” came on the radio. He laughed so hard he had to pull over because of the tears in his eyes.

    JT, I forgot another dream I have a lot and was wondering if anyone else had this one. I’m trying to wake up, but just can’t get my eyelids to stay open. They feel like lead. It’s particularly weird and scary because in these dreams I’m usually driving a car to work or around town. (And no wise guys saying this happens every morning going to work! ;-0)

  27. toni mcgee causey

    This is me, over here. Behaving myself.

    It would be nice to think there’s some sort of continuity to it, especially since it usually involves people I love. I dunno, maybe it’s just some sort of intuition that someone’s doing badly that my subconscious is trying to warn me about. Either way, I have been fortunate enough to have a couple of those dreams in time and realized who it was about and had a chance to have some time with the person before they died, so for that part, I’m grateful.

  28. Brett Battles

    I have a recurring dream I’ve had since I was a kid. I’m trying to make my way across a giant ice field, like in Antarctica, only the ice isn’t flat. It’s full of hills and valleys I have to climb over. And not gentle hills either. I think I had a fever the first time I had that dream. Had it many times since, though not lately. And FYI, never make it to the end. I just keep climbing up and down until I way up. Very tiring.

  29. Fran

    Clowns scare the crap out of me when I’m awake. I don’t know how I’d handle dreaming them.

    My nightmare? I’m lying in my bed awake, staring at the ceiling. A spider is slowly lowering itself towards my face and I. Can’t. Move. At all.

    I can, however, apparently levitate to the light switch and THEN wake up, because that’s where I am, panting and wild-eyed, staring at the bed and the ceiling.

    I then change the sheets and take a shower. Because what if. . .y’know?

    “Charlotte’s Web” gave me that nightmare. I have it when I’m stressed though, and so if I have it tonight, I shall be most displeased. Just sayin’.

  30. JT Ellison

    Oh Fran, I hope not. I’ll take full responsibility for your subconscious.

    Brett, that’s a new one on me – an ever-expansive ice field? Better not read Karen Dionne’s new book.

    Toni, that truly is a gift.


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