Coping With the Impossible Pain of Dreams

The emotional residue of a dream can be a devastating start to the day. Often, the vague shards of dreamy memory pierce you with powerful feelings, ones of an unconscious reality shattered by the onerous weight of the real. Usually, it is a sense of loss, a sense of saddening awe at the reality that you aren’t “dating this girl, crushing that class, etc.” It is a very prickly sense of waking up in bed emotionally motionless, and subsequently emotionally beaten, by the sur-realities of a dream.

Dreams can be positive (you did indeed date the girl, were freely expressing passion, and so forth), or they can be negative (in the dream you mourned in a deeper, less-regulated way the sadness of your reality). They weave a world of created metaphor for the unspoken feelings of your life.

Either way, both positive and negative dreams usually result in a waking moment filled with that exact dreamlike reality, and perhaps provide for a joyful interlude (in the case of the positive experience). You well with the prospect of the day, but soon such happy falsehoods ebb away into sadness. The realization that your dreamy happiness is not an objective truth is crushing, a bait-and-switch so incensing, your eyes can tear up in indignant anger.

But the most devastating are the negative dreams. You go from the thoughtless seconds of awakening, climbing from unconsciousness to consciousness, to vague remembrances besotted not with pure content, but with an overwhelming, leaden grief transported from the dream world into your real one. The metaphor I think of is driving through torrential rain. You awake, and for a second are suspended in a thoughtless void, much like the seconds driving under an overpass in a storm. Then, the deluge comes, and you are soaked with feelings of intense pain and sadness. It is, I think, one of the most profoundly sad moments of human existence, because you are wrenched from horror only to be awoken and thrown into the horror of actual existence, paralyzed by blankets, forced to confront the massive discomforts of your actual life.

There may be something redeeming about this act of confrontation, but in the moment there is nothing but sadness, and even in retrospect I see nothing to cheer. Certain feelings race, like a spider scurrying to weave its web, all the way out to your fingertips. But the sad feelings, they tend to cause your body to shrink from the world and from the feeling itself, like cells clustering around a tiny ball. They extend to an even more profound place, one of essentialized reality and reductive thought.

From dreams, you remember only snapshots of hyperbole, but the streaks of emotion are of the disturbing type. They seem to be able to extend sentiments right to the edge of possible feeling, forming tragedy from their plausibility. In dreams, tears slowly chug down your face like raindrops on a window. Acts of simple import, a person leaving a room, conjecture about where they may have gone, spurs incredible emotion. It is hard to describe, because the nature of dreams is ephemeral. Their content fades. But their indelible impressions, their emotional imprints, can throw reality into a maudlin heap, color it in a depressive pall.

This may sound like a depressed teenager’s journal entry, but the idea is to attune us to the nuances of our feelings, and by extension the nuances of life. Most people do not reflect on their dreams. They have their moments of emotional pin-prickery, and then sublimate everything as they go about their lives. To read this, to reflect on it, as Thomas Pynchon says, is a “progressive knotting into,” an investment in life and its human dimensions. I exhort you to live a like a “mad one,” at least for a moment, and think about yourself. Tear up, cry, smile, think.

I have had pleasant dreams, but the ones that linger to this day are of lost love. I wake up, let out a breath, and sink into my bed, tearing up at the notion of my impossible happiness. But still, it’s an impossibility worth thinking about.