Follow Your Dreams, Even the Bad Ones

Most of my dreams are absolutely fantastical. And I don’t mean fantastic. I mean born from pure, unadulterated, nonsensical fantasy. The stuff conscious brains don’t think up. It makes no sense, there is no reason, you wouldn’t find it in a movie script.

Lord knows how or why my brain comes up with it. During the dream, it’s all perfectly normal. Then I wake up and my face contorts into unusual shapes as moments from an outlandish dream come flooding back to me. The laws of physics, chemistry and biology hold no sway. It’s a no-holds-bar universe, where whatever my brain comes up with comes to life.

It doesn’t help that my brain sometimes forgets what my dream is supposed to be about so the narrative completely changes course.

Just about 100% of my dreams have at least one grossly unrealistic portion or aspect that immediately remove them from representations of realism.

Until one day when I had a dream that blew all my other dreams out of the water. Of all the things I’d seen, this dream, the one most rooted in reality, was the scariest dream I’d ever had.

My wife, she has very realistic, pragmatic dreams. Work, family, hanging out with friends. This baffles me because my dreams are nothing like this at all. My dreams you can’t decode with an expert by your side. There’s no rhyme, reason or subtext. When my wife dreams, you know exactly what’s on her mind. There’s no interpretation needed, it’s all rather black and white.

This post isn’t about how she dreams, either.

I mention our different styles of dreaming because the scariest dream I ever had was totally unlike most of my dreams and almost just like one of my wife’s dreams. Details mimicked real life. It was mundane and ordinary. A family gathering in a normal home with normal people. There was none of the pointless magical realism I’m used to seeing in my dreams.

While I don’t remember all the details, one thing stood out as abnormal.

In this dream, when I opened my eyes and the dream began, I was old. An old man, actually. I was sitting in a comfy recliner chair in a home that wasn’t familiar to me, and I was surrounded by family. I looked at my hands and they were wrinkled and weathered. They were strange to me.

That’s not the weird part.

I had grown children, either two or three. They stood around the house. And they had their own children, and these kids were there. And I was a grandfather.

That’s not the weird part, either.

What makes this dream the scariest dream I ever had was that when I woke up in the dream, it was as if I had closed my eyes the night before as my real life self. The moment before I’d been me, normal me, the one sitting here writing, but then I opened my eyes and I was a grandfather. And absolutely nothing existed in between these two moments in time.

And I knew this in the dream.

This is the scariest thought I’ve ever had.

My life had passed me before my eyes, and not in the metaphorical kind of way. Literally. I knew nothing about the person who I was. It actually took dream me a minute to realize: holy shit, this is me me. And suddenly I’m old me. And I don’t remember a thing.

I didn’t know what I had done with my life, the things I had seen, what my life had become. I didn’t know where I was or how I’d gotten there. I didn’t know my children or their lives or their children.

I hadn’t watched my children grow up.

I was there, in this comfortable chair, watching everyone amble around the house, going about their business. But my dream brain was swirling. Where had my life gone? Why did I remember nothing? How did this happen?

To everyone else, everything was normal. No one knew I had closed my eyes as a 36-year-old. They all thought I was supposed to be old because that’s the way it was. If I had said what was on my mind, that I don’t remember a thing, the past few decades are a blank, nothing makes sense, I would have been a kooky old man. I would have worried everyone. And I didn’t want anyone troubling themselves over me because if this was my life now, if I really was an old man, well, there was nothing that could be done about it.

I woke up.

It didn’t take long for me to wake up. This dream scared the shit out of me.

I woke up and I knew what it felt like for one’s life to disappear. For time to almost run out. For life to literally pass one by. And for no one to give a shit about it.

Awake, lying in bed, the feeling was horrible. I was probably going to work that day, definitely not doing anything special. Definitely not living life to the fullest.

It wasn’t quite a nightmare. There were no monsters, no one screamed. But it was the scariest dream I ever had. And one of the few dreams I can learn from, and turn it into a lesson to make reality a little more satisfying.