Something personal for a change: near-dreams

May 10, 2013

For many years I have been having what I call near-dream experiences. They are like dreams in that they occur while I am apparently asleep, and involve perceptions that do not match my regular reality. They are unlike dreams in that they are not fully fleshed out, not fully plotted, usually have few if any characters, and very little happens in them; usually I am stationary, and more often than not I am quite aware that I am lying in bed.

The first near-dreams I can remember were in the early 1980s, associated with sight-seeing trips to distant places – India first, then East Africa. Each time, a couple of weeks into the trip, I started dreaming that I was outside a hotel or some such place, in a corridor outside the entrance or in a bus parked in the street,  usually leaning way back in a reclining seat so it felt like lying in bed; it was dark, I couldn’t make out shapes clearly but I somehow “knew” I was waiting (a very long time) for the tour guide to come back from the hotel desk with our keys, or to deal with our luggage. When I awoke I wasn’t sure where I was; I chalked it up to the nature of the trip I was taking, thought of the old movie title “If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium,” and began to label these occurrences “Oh-my-God-Where-Am-I Experiences” (or to make it sound more Freudian, “Ach-mein-gott-wo-bin-ich-Erfahrungen.”) The dreams continued for a few weeks after my return from each trip; with one outlier six months later, which I attributed to having drunk a bit at a party beforehand.

Later, after the last of these travel-related experiences I began to notice another kind of near-dream, in which I was in my own bed, at home, no one else in sight, just as in real life, but something looked different – a pattern on the wall or ceiling, or in the window. Or my eyes would be closed and I couldn’t open them, or when I did open them (or it felt like I had them opened) there would be no light. Or I’d get up and walk around and see things where I couldn’t feel them, or vice versa. I’m pretty sure at least once I caught myself sleepwalking; I seemed to wake standing at the dresser where my clock radio was.

Like the travel-dreams, these were frequent enough for me to remember the pattern, but not so frequent as to be disturbing. I associated them with things I’d read about the physiology of dreaming, how the motor centers of the brain are active as if awake (if I’ve got it right) but there’s a muscle inhibitor so we don’t really move and get into trouble, and sometimes the system malfunctions. I decided that what was happening was that part of my mind was really “awake,” or more so than it usually is when I’m asleep, but couldn’t get the rest of me to cooperate.

A different category perhaps is a series of dreams whose common feature was that I could barely move. I’d have to go somewhere, climb a staircase, walk down a street, and for no apparent reason my body would be very sluggish and I could barely manage to take a couple of steps. Although in these dreams I thought I knew where I was and that there was a reason for what was going on, there was really very little detail apart from the feeling of sluggishness.

The current variation – at least  I don’t think I’ve seen the end of it, as I’ve been having it as recently as this week –  involves a sense that there is something like an electrical storm going on outside; I see flashing lights through the window, and/or hear a high-pitched whooshing sound. Maybe it’s some weird thing really happening inside my brain. Again usually I’m aware that I am in bed, but the room is configured differently, with walls and windows on the wrong sides; once I thought I had gotten up and was checking to see if the hall light had been left on. Again there’s very little plot or characterization, though sometimes I’m aware of my parents (or one of them) as a background presence, in the next room or across the hall. Once or twice I seemed to be waiting for Dad to come home; but that is also the case in some of my fully fleshed-out dreams.

Another observation is that though most dreams that I remember seem to come after a whole night of sleep, there are always some from which I awaken just 20-30 minutes after going to bed; and all the recent whooshing/flashing experiences happen to be in this category.

I’ve no idea if it means anything, but I thought for once I’d write it down and put it out there.

(More “normal” dreams: I just had a nightmare about the expected cicada infestation; and a friend reports dreaming that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev came to his door seeking asylum…)

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