It was only a dream: When your brain is working against you

When you lose someone in one way or another, it can take your subconscious a long time to catch up with your conscious mind and accept that they’ve truly gone. And, with your exes and long lost loved ones popping up in your thoughts and dreams without an invitation, it’s easy to wonder whether your brain is even on your side at all! 

In my case, I’m dealing with the reappearance and disappearance of my dead mum. Mum died suddenly when I was just 19 and now she likes to make cameo appearances in my dreams. 

Last night, for example, I was dealing with some travel related drama that involved colonising a small deserted island (not that dissimilar to Lost)  when I turn a corner and am faced with my mum. Now, in the dream, I’m vaguely aware that she’s not normally around and we have an emotional reunion, before catching up on where we’ve been and what we’ve been up to (she’s been on the island doing stuff with bees) and then the dream continues. 

Sleeping Anneli must be torn because on some level the focus of the dream switched from the island to in depth imagined conversations and interactions with mum, such as introducing her to people and even a painful moment where i’m pretty sure I said the words “I thought she was dead, but she was here all along and now I’ve found her.” Ouch. 

Waking up in the morning to the realisation that Mum is still very much gone is cutting. It would be a lie if I told you it was as painful as the bereavement, but equally dishonest if I pretended that it didn’t hurt and wouldn’t affect my whole morning. So why does my brain do this to me? Is it not on my side? Does sleeping Anneli not have any foresight? Does she not care about me and how I’ll feel in the morning? 

I’m not too familiar with the science behind dreams, I’m not interested in “interpreting” the symbolism in them and I don’t believe in an afterlife. So what then is left for me to do when faced with this kind of invasion of the mind? 

It makes perfect sense to me that my mum would appear in my dreams. She was a huge part of my life and her death was an important and devastating part of my growing up. I know that I’m unable to see or talk to her, I know that she has passed away and is no longer a tangible part of my world; but a memory. 

While the logical and rational side of my brain knows that she is gone and the emotional side of my brain feels her loss, there isn’t really a way to explain to my subconscious that she isn’t around and that her appearing in dreams isn’t “realistic”. I’ve had dreams that I can fly, read minds, dodge lava and a particularly disturbing one where I was trying to fight terror with nothing but an army of sloths. On a scale of normal to hitting the disbelief button, whoever is in charge of my dream factory probably isn’t expecting the image and audio of mum to have any lasting effect on me; positive or negative. After all, they probably got all the images from an archive of memories I’ve had while I’m awake.

Is this making sense? 

I suppose what I’m trying to say is: it’s NORMAL to dream about people you are grieving for or the sexy ex it took you years to get over or the friend you fell out with. If it were simply a case of “you lost touch”, you probably wouldn’t even think twice about the dream. 

When I dream about mum, I think about it a bit like when Harry looks into the Mirror of Erised. It isn’t real and I shouldn’t dwell on it, but it’s as addictive as it is painful; and if I were able to choose to remain in the dream world, I don’t know that I’d be strong enough to leave it. But I have to.  

If you’re also struggling with trying to tame the wild ways of your dreams, I know a way you can make it stop. It’s something I’m still dealing with almost a decade later, and it still hurts. I do know that you should try to be gentle with yourself and take time for some serious self care the next day. There’s no shame in admitting that loss can still get to us even years down the line, it makes us human (which is the second best thing you can be, SHOUT OUT to all the dogs reading). 

If I were going to colonise an island, I would put mum in charge of bee related admin (bee-min) and we’d probably have a lot of fun working together, but ultimately I am glad that I live in a world where I get to have a little more control over my travel plans, choose my own route to world domination and fight terror with kindness, rather than sloths.  

And with that being said, go make some new memories. Peace and love.  

Anneli RobertsComment