anxiety/depression, mental health

The Dark Side of Anxiety

There are several dark sides to anxiety – well known ones at that. The depression, self-harm, panic attacks. I could go on but that’s not quite the dark side I’m talking about. 

I’m talking about nightmares. Or rather bad dreams. Apparently, the difference between a nightmare and a bad dream is nightmares wake you up, bad dreams don’t. I will continue referring to them as nightmares because I can’t consider a dream about the apocalypse in startling clarity a “bad dream” just because I didn’t wake up and had to subconsciously suffer through the event in it’s entirety. 

Ever since I can remember, my nightmares have held rank over my dreams in their clarity, emotional quality and ability to live rent free in my head for longer than I want them there. 

You don’t have to do much searching to find that bad dreams with adults occure more commonly in adults diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Not very surprising. Your brain is already hyper-aware and prone to going crazy when stimulated in a negative way. Added stress doesn’t just go away when you close your eyes at the end of the day. Your brain takes it and runs with it down a dark path with scissors and a blindfold on. 

And boom…nightmares. 

Depending on how well you process stress when dealing with anxiety, depression or PTSD probably plays a huge role in just how bad your nightmares can get. What I struggled to find was what might cause those nightmares to become recurring. It’s relatively easy to find information on recurring nightmares when they are recurring detail for detail. But a recurring theme? Not as easy. 

And if you start researching recurring apocalypse dreams….that results in a plethora of covid related information. Understandable, given that we’re living in the midst of the pandemic at the moment. 

The bottom line here is anxiety and nightmares kind of go hand in hand. The disturbance level of said nightmares…little harder to pinpoint a reason for that. 

I’m not sure if the nightmares others have are on the same level as mine though when I told my therapist about the dreams I was having she stated that she wasn’t surprised and said that taking medication might help with the nightmares. I can’t speak for others taking Lexapro, but it worked for me. If I go off of my medication for a while, a pretty horrific nightmare will usually get me back on track pretty quick. 

I tried taking a different approach and not relying on scholarly documentation – non-peer reviewed, unscholorly websites. You can find a ridiculous amont of information on dream interpretation – all information relatively the same in context. For example, you check two different sites on what dreams about ravens mean and you get this information: 

  • To see a raven in your dream symbolizes betrayal, disharmony, misfortune, and death. The death may be a symbolic death in that it signals an end to a habit or phase in your life. Alternatively, the dream suggests that someone is taking advantage of your misfortune.
  • Dreams of ravens may either reflect your wisdom or point at some misfortune in your life. In fact, its analysis and interpretation depend on how you relate your current situations with it.

Not entirely the same but along the same lines, right? 

What dream interpretation states about recurring dreams is that there’s a conflict in your life that hasn’t been resolved. So….I did something….back when I was considerably younger…that has caused the recurring dreams about the apocalypse to happen every year or two? 

Not buying into that. 

My dreams have ranged from full-on nuclear war, planes bombing buildings my family members are currently in, zombies and the most recent and seriously disturbing, driving in a car with my two children, one of which was driving the car. Immediate reliefe because no part of me would let my 12 year old drive so I knew off the bat this nightmare was not real. It was a regular day like any other day – crystal blue sky, endless country road…and then the sky turns this disgusting shade of red, lightning blue sundogs appear around the sun and lava starts raining from the sky in front of us and behind us. There was no driving away from it. Waking up with the lingering image of holding your children and crying because you know that’s it…not fun on any level. 

I had been without my medication for going on seven days. Needless to say, I got back on them the next day. PSA….don’t just go off your medication. It’s never a good idea. 

The reason I’m writing this is because until I started talking to someone about my nightmares, I thought there was something horribly wrong with me. I didn’t think I could predict the future, thank God. No one wants that kind of future. But I really did think something wasn’t right and I needed a lot of help because what I was experiencing wasn’t normal on any level. 

I wanted others to know that nightmares are one of my dark sides to anxiety. And talking about those nightmares, getting them out of my head with trusted sources didn’t make those nightmares go away, but it was a lot better then holding them in where they could do considerably more damage. Talking to someone gave that dream less hold and less power. Telling you guys about how I’ve suffered through these things, though there’s probably only going to be a few of you that read this, still feels like a huge relief. 

Like our stress and our problems that run our daily lives and fester if not given an outlet, our nightmares need that same outlet. Don’t be afraid to tell someone about them. Whether or not having vivid, horrifying nightmares is normal when it comes to anxiety isn’t entirely clear. But it’s not abnormal either. 

Don’t let the dark sides become the constant shade you live in. Talk to someone, force the darkness to stfu. It has it coming, I promise. Inconsiderate bastard doesn’t deserve everything it takes so don’t feel bad about pushing back. Talk to someone, even if the dream feels silly to you and you feel like you’re overreacting (you’re not). 

Just because anxiety has a stupid amount of dark sides doesn’t mean we have to sit in them. 

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