Dreams aren’t real. They can’t hurt you. Except they can, at least they can for me. Sometimes, sometimes dreams lead to a middle of the night panic that is all too real and all too painful.
The depression and anxiety will darken my dreams, twisting past painful memories like a knife. And since mental illness is so damn good at lying, it is inevitable that the dreams are so incredibly realistic. And when I wake and the dream fades, the darkness seems to linger like a fog, making it so damn hard to parse out what was real and in the dream. And I sit there in the dark, feeling this anxiety, this midnight panic pulsing over me.
In the light of the day the dreams and the darkness might be chased away, but the doubts and depressions they trigger linger. They dampen the day, dampen what should be positive memories, as the demons of my depression threaten to pull me back down.
I am not powerless against these midnight panics. I’ve discovered that journaling about them, and talking to therapists about them, talking to my wife and my family and my friends about them helps. It helps because it sheds light on the darkness, highlighting that the source of this middle of the night panic was just a dream, and while I can’t control dreams, I can control my own actions and how I react to these dreams so that those damn demons, the demons of depression, don’t win.
And if your mental illness likes to darken your dreams too, know that you aren’t alone, but there are ways that you can win. The more you push back, the more you shed light on the darkness your dreams try to leave behind, the more that darkness will be pushed back to your shadows, giving you better dreams and better days. Which is of course what we all want.