How To Escape a Nightmare?

It is 2:31 in the morning on Thursday, December 12th. I am wide awake, besides being restless in the legs, antsy in my mind, and strangely very hungry. I basically just ate dinner in bed. Monty temporarily lifts his head up from sleep at the foot of my bed and sniffs the air to identify what I’m eating should he decide he wants some. He does not. He plops down his head with an exhausted exhale and his belly falls. It doesn’t take him long to re-enter dream world. Me, I am stuck on this side. Reality in the middle of the night. The same as last night and two nights before that. The last few hours have looked a little like this:


But lately my problem is not as much my difficulty in sleeping as much as what happens once I finally do fall asleep. I think it might be starting to be a problem. Here’s an except from my notebook from a few weeks ago.

Recently, I took a trip to spend Thanksgiving with my Brother and Company in Miami. I slept in baby Olives room, my one-year old niece. The second night I was there, I had a horrible nightmare. Something I’ve been having more and more of these days. This one wasn’t so much plot based as it was more a series of disturbing images, like those old home movies that play a little choppy from slides. From the start the dream was filled with eerie-ness and unease. I was in a dark place (literally)- similar to a cave but not entirely enclosed. There is nothing pleasant about my surroundings. The aesthetic is dull and drab. I’m walking forward but don’t know where I’m going. I see a full skeleton positioned against a wall, sitting as though it were an alive body, reading or relaxing. As I’m staring at it, suddenly the skull whips its head to turn and look straight at me, and its mouth jolts open. Quickly, harshly, intensely. In a word, it was terrifying. Almost at this same moment,  I realize I am dreaming. I find myself trapped in this nightmare, which has happened before and is now happening frequently. I try to scream in order to wake up my brother or sister-in-law, knowing that if I scream they’ll come to the room and subsequently I’ll wake up, escaping the dream. But when I try to yell, nothing comes out. Not only that, my mouth feels glued shut, as though my upper and lower lip were molded together. Consequently I am voiceless. My next attempt to escape is to physically kick and flail my limbs with such gust that the movements shake me out of it- my equivalent of pinching myself awake. But when I try to kick my legs, they’re stuck. They don’t move. They feel as though I’m standing waist deep in thick, dense mud. When I try to move my arms it feels like I’m in a straight jacket. So there I am; trapped in a scene which appears terrifying to me, and unable to speak or move. The strangest part of it all is knowing that it’s not real. Once I have this realization, the fear should fall away shouldn’t it? At any rate, it’s just a stupid skull head with its mouth open. It’s not the first thing I’d like to see in the morning but still, it could be worse. I try and try to scream and move and kick and flail but I can feel all my attempts failing. Silence, stillness, stuck. It’s stressful. The fear is tiresome. Finally, something from the other side makes a peep into my dream. I hear it once. I hear it again. It’s reality calling. Gradually it grows louder and louder, and I dissolve slowly from the dream. It turns to ash as I slowly wake to the bedroom. The reality calling is baby Olive crying. Finally, my eyes open. I can move my legs. I have a voice. I relish the sound of the baby crying. Never have I been so relieved and so happy to hear that sound. I feel bad because it was probably me squirming and making noise that woke her up–trying to escape the cave with the evil skull! But this is how it goes now. I realize I’m dreaming, often it’s a nightmare, and I can’t get out of it without something from the other side, some external force intervening. My mom saying my name, Monty pawing at me or the bedside, my phone ringing enough times to finally rattle me out of it. But never on my own can I get out. My sister-in-law sneaks through the cracked door stepping lightly, hands Olive a bottle and immediately her crying stops. She lays back down in her crib and soon I can tell by her breathing that she is back to sleep. Me, my heart is still beating fast, and I’m thanking God that Olive cried and got me out of the dream.                                    


So there it is. I went a whole week without a computer! Sometimes you just need to feel a pen glide on paper. Anyway, that’s what happening lately. It’s making my nights quite..adventurous.  I remember learning in a Psych class once that in our dream phase of sleep, the brain temporarily “paralyzes” the body, so that we don’t jump out of windows or act out the weird things we do in our dreams. So there seems to be a miscommunication somewhere, a mis-firing of neurons between my brain and my body. One says I’m awake, the other says I’m asleep, and I’m caught voiceless in the mud, somewhere in the middle.

As dependent and exaggerated as it may sound, Monty has been my life saver lately. Or dream saver I should say. In my last few nightmares, I’ve called out to him (or attempted to) knowing if he made noise in the room I could get out of the dream. Two nights ago was another very scary one where I couldn’t move or scream, but I remember trying so hard to yell Monty’s name. All I could get out was “Mmmmmmm” because once again, my mouth was glued shut. Even without fully saying his name, he came in my room and pawed at my bed, until I woke up and my voice came back. I hugged him really really tight then, and he slept the rest of the night in my room. (Not on the couch, which he apparently finds preferable) Because the dreams are so real, the fear is so tangible and the images so lucid, even after waking up I feel in an eerie haze. Floating in some in-between world. I often need to look at something mindless to get my head out of whatever nightmare I was just trapped in. (Helloooo Facebook at 3 am) There are plenty of distractions to lift the post-nightmare haze, but in the meantime, I’ve got to figure this out. There must be a way for me to get myself out of these dreams once I’m made aware of where I am. And while I admit there are unpleasant and scary moments in all this, it is very interesting. I’ve always been a heavy dreamer, waking every morning  often with detailed streams of dreams playing through my mind. Sometimes I write them down, other times I tell myself I’ll remember and I put it off. But the more I immerse into real life, the faster the dream fades. “Like cotton candy” my mom always says. “Write them down right away!” My mom happens to be a student of Jungian psychology and well versed in the symbols and library of dreams, so since living with her again, she’s been a live in dream-interpreter for me, which is nice. Think about it– there is no clearer or more accessible portal into your subconscious than dreaming. It is hours of our existence that is not interrupted by thought, so I know there are profound answers to be found there. I am her I.T. person and she is my dream analyst. Fair trade.

I’ve learned quite a lot in breaking down the symbols in our dreams. And there is universal meaning to be found there. Do you think it’s a coincidence that many people dream their teeth are falling out? Or that they show up to an event completely naked? Or arrive to take a final for a class they haven’t gone to all semester? Of course each one relates more individually to each person and their life, but this is the human experience. We aren’t so different. I think it’s fair to say there is some objectivity in examining the subconscious without subscribing to some hokey pokey psycho crap. Admitting there is meaning in our dreams isn’t subscribing to witchcraft, as I’ve heard people react when hearing of dream interpretation. We shouldn’t be afraid to go deep for answers. That’s where most of them lie.

I’m going to attempt sleep once again. Monty is here and has been made aware of his duties. “When I start freaking out, you paw at the bed. Got it?” On the next post I’ll have my mom break down some universal dream symbols and go further into these nightmares if they’re still occurring. If anything, it’s another adventure. The riddle now is how to get out.

Accepting any/all suggestions!

Health, Happiness, Dreamworld

12 thoughts on “How To Escape a Nightmare?

  1. If you figure out how to wake yourself up, let me know…I’ve been having some awful nightmares myself over the past few weeks, and they tend to be the same dream-within-a-dream type deals. In the dream, I’m in my bed trying to sleep and something is there in the room with me, terrifying me. I’ve never actually seen what it is, but it’s frightening enough that I can’t move or scream. Then I wake up…only to realize that I’ve only woken up in the dream and am still asleep and stuck in the same nightmare. This cycle usually happens 3-4 times before I ACTUALLY wake up. It’s even more terrifying because the dreams are so real that it takes me awhile to figure out that I’m actually, really awake now and can move. I always wake up in the same position that I was in when I was dreaming…and in the dreams, I’m wearing the same pjs, the light in the room is the same, everything. It usually takes getting out of bed, turning on ALL the lights in my apartment, getting a glass of milk (or wine, depending on how many “cycles” the nightmare lasted), and then a million Hail Mary’s before I’m able to fall back to sleep. I hope you can find something that helps you…if I figure out something that helps me, I’ll keep you posted!


  2. We had a big ice storm recently and during it I ran out of a low dose of zoloft. I thought I’d be fine, but I immediately started having vivid unescapable nightmares. Now I personally lucid dream a lot. Usually, when I realize I’m dreaming, I can’t control the dream per-sey, but if I’m being chased, for example, I can jump off large cliffs or run super fast and keep the threat at bay. These nightmares were different. I could realize I was dreaming but I had no control. If I ran away or hid, I only found myself somewhere scarier than what I’d just escaped from. I could eventually wake myself up but only enough to sort of surface to consciousness before falling back under. You’re lucky to have dogs and babies to wake you!

    For me, it stopped once I got back on my normal dosage. Maybe it was some kind of withdrawl? Anyway, if you recently changed any meds, you might try undoing the change if you can safely. :)


  3. my guess: you’re at the mercy of a frightening and life-altering disease that you are pretty impotent to do anything about. modern medicine is fairly powerless to change your situation or help you in any meaningful way, and then you have paralyzing nightmares where you are at the mercy of forces/fears beyond your control and powerless against them… in your real life, other people have been able to somewhat “rescue” you and throw you lifelines, just like other people (and monty) have been able to rescue you out of this dream. that’s pretty darn scary… i hope you get some peace soon…


  4. Funny, I think I’m usually pretty good at waking up from nightmares, but there’ve been times where I’m about to fall asleep and I feel a nightmare coming on, which jolts me back awake. Anyway, one time I did get out of a dream (don’t think it was an unpleasant one) by holding my breath in the dream. I don’t know if conscious breath control is one of the thing that switches off when you’re asleep, but I did end up getting out of it, so. You might also look into lucid dreaming.


  5. I’d do what Teresa did, continuing the dream but taking over control. Once I realized I was dreaming I’d have the skeleton turn into a kitten or start dancing in a hula skirt or something. I wouldn’t fight the dream, but do my best to change it. Then I usually wake up. Say prayers. Sleep again. I hope the nightmares go away for you. :(


  6. Sorry to hear that this is happening to you. Sounds awful! If I were you, I would look into ways to prevent dreams (no tv or food right before bed, stuff like that…).

    Probably the worst dream I’ve ever had was when I was a kid and I had a nightmare, and then I dreamt that I woke up and boom! There was the monster from the nightmare, even though I was now ‘awake.’ I think I was being inceptioned:


  7. I’ve also had periods of nightmares where I need to move and can’t. I’m usually trying to run away from something bad and I have to push off of a fence or tree in order to make any headway. I realized over time that it meant that there was something that I had to deal with in life but I was stuck-didn’t know what to do. Then after I get thru this problem, the nightmare goes away. I also had recurring nightmares where I was driving on a winding narrow road down a mountain but had no control over the car-no brakes and no steering. This I found in reality was when I was in a situation where I had no control over something and had to just get through it. Once the problem was over in reality, I could steer my the next dream. I have had dreams where I show up for a final when I haven’t attended classes. It’s funny to find that that is common. When I was young, I used to have terrifying dreams where I was in an old spooky house and some monster or bad man was chasing me. I’d be running through the house and just barely kept away from the monster. I’d wake up so scared that I’d wake my mother up. Anyway, I learned a trick when I couldn’t get the dream out of my head. This is it: I’d continue the “story line” of the dream and imagine getting out of whatever bad thing that was going on. If that didn’t work then I’d say The Lord’s Prayer. Then I could go back to sleep. Sorry for the long post. Hope you get some answers!


  8. Oh I can totally relate to those awful trapped dreams. They are just horrible, and the worst part is I then have trouble working out if I’m actually awake or not, which is terrifying. I too have always had really vivid and strange dreams, which is generally ok, but when they are nightmares it really is awful. I hope you can find something that helps.


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