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Confronting products of the subconscious

An anonymous author takes us on a journey through their dreams and the impact they have on their daily life

I hate listening to people’s dreams. It’s like flipping through a stock of photographs. If I’m not in any of them, and nobody’s having sex, I just…don’t care”. These are lines from the opening episode of the cynically comic It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. If this rings true for you then stop reading now, or continue reading in the knowledge that this article contains dreams that do not involve you and, at their most sensational, contain only kissing and inconsequential nudity.

Common dream folklore claims that 90 per cent of your dream is forgotten within ten minutes of waking up. However, by dwelling on the few scenes I have in my mind on waking, I have been able to remember them long enough to bore people at breakfast with my night time trials and tribulations.

The best way to remember dreams is to think about them as soon as you wake up. To remember them for a prolonged period of time, keep a pad of paper or notebook by your bed and write them down. For the last couple of weeks, I have kept a dream diary. I started recording them out of curiosity of what my subconscious was dwelling on, since during the day I find myself too caught up in events to consider the subtle impact they have on me.

The dream book is covered by marbled blue tones with white and gold, which form large peacock-like feathers. The edges of the pages have a gold trim and a gold elasticated trap holds it shut. Albeit with different backstories, common themes have played out in many of my dreams. Some believe that dreams are manifestations of subconscious thoughts, most often negative ones such as anxiety. It is not until recently that I accepted this.

For the last two terms, I had been under the impression that my dreams were an outside force that purposefully sought to upset me and cause me pain, during the one time of the day I could escape from my own thoughts. However, it has become clearer to me that, rather than dreams being forced upon me by external demons, they are productions of my subconscious. The upset they caused stemmed from not accepting certain aspects of my life and not facing up to my emotions. It is with this new, potentially more productive, mindset that I began analysing my dreams this term.

“On a snowy mountain—skiing. With Caitlin and Tim. All the ski lifts are for two people only. They scramble to get on together. I am left alone as the ski lift swings in the wind. Abandoned.”

Artwork: Mila Fitzgerald

It was clear to me what this dream was about, as soon as I woke up. The feeling of abandonment and betrayal had been lingering in my conscious mind for a few weeks before this dream. Caitlin and Tim are both close friends of mine with whom I had a tense relationship at this point. This sentiment was repeated in another dream a couple of weeks later. I was sat in a cool, unfamiliar utility room. Caitlin told me that her and my boyfriend’s ex, had eaten my two large Cadbury’s chocolate bars together. One was mint flavoured and the other was Oreo flavoured.

Again, this stirred a deep sense of betrayal. It was not the disappearance of a possible chocolate treat that hurt me but the fact that she did so with someone who, unfoundedly, represents a threat to my happiness. I remember the feeling of anxiety rising up and nauseating me. She seemed completely unaware of how she had made me feel and her innocent smile made that feeling all the worse.

After this dream, I could not deny to myself the way that Caitlin had made me feel in waking life. The dream pain pointed me towards a real pain in my life—a pain that was hurting my everyday existence.

My new relationship has undeniably been on my mind. Of the 23 dreams I recorded, seven were about James, my new boyfriend. Two involved people tempting me away from him, but thankfully never succeeding, and two suggested underlying fears that he will hurt me emotionally, or leave. One of the most upsetting of these was a dream that involved me finding my ex-boyfriend sat by a white fence in a wide field of grass. He had asked to meet up and got unsettlingly angry at my hesitation. I was painfully torn.

I had so many questions to ask him but did not trust myself to have the strength of character to spend time with him and not fall back into the unhealthy state of mind that surrounded him and our relationship.

Then there was the question of James. I did not know if it would be betraying him to even talk to my ex. All these emotions were overwhelming in the two seconds of real-time that dragged on for some minutes in my dream. Perhaps it was his anger at my tentative silence that spurred me to push him away. My subconscious had come to a decision and realisation that I am proud of. The dream showed that I really had chosen to move on. However, this did not diminish the numbing sadness on waking. No matter the outcome, an interaction like that, and the real-life events it took its inspiration from, are not nice to dwell on.

Another of these more taxing dreams happened only a few nights ago. I was lying in bed with James and he was propped up on his elbow looking down at me. His frown fills me with the familiar rising feeling of anxiety. It is almost as if my emotions have read the script before any words are spoken. The overriding fear is that he is going to break up with me. He starts to talk. The room is dimly lit and I can only see one half of his face clearly. “I think we should spend less time together” he says in a measured and cold voice.

Tears start to silently fall from the corners of my eyes. I cannot think of anything to say. Instead I lie perfectly still looking up at his vacant face until mercifully I wake up. It turns out the crying had forced its way into reality and I found myself, next to James, warm and comfortable but with tears collected in the corners of my eyes. The sun was making the edges of the blinds glow and the room was light enough for me to see James open his eyes and smile at me. Of course, it was only a dream.

These dreams did make me acknowledge the underlying anxieties that I half-knew I was trying to suppress. They are anxieties and insecurities carried over from a past relationship, and I never addressed them in that previous environment. I was surprised they surfaced so quickly, since everything in reality is fine. I thought it would take a little longer, or at least some kind of disagreement, to trigger the irrational anxiety which stems from insecurities cultivated in past experiences.

Artwork: Mila Fitzgerald

However, I made the decision to address them. I took the step of condemning those worries as the irrational thoughts that they are. I took time to work out where they came from and have explained all of this to James. The other dreams about James were more pleasant though.

“At Iffley Sports Centre. I am about to cycle back to see James. Text him to let him know I am leaving now. See an ice cream stand giving away free ice cream. Get two tubs, with scoops of mint-choc-chip in James’ tub, and put them in the basket of my bike to cycle home.”

I have since discovered that he does not like mint-choc-chip flavoured ice cream but it was a lovely sentiment all the same. What was interesting in this dream is that I could read the text in the message I sent him. This is unusual because often in dreams you cannot read written text, although this is not always the case.

An amusing aspect of thinking back through dreams is all the inconsistencies and impossibilities that you imagine. For example, in one dream, I walked along the train tracks from Gloucester Green tube station to Durham—it only took a couple of minutes. In another, I was in a play set in Saigon with vivid red costumes and a set, which was decorated with gold detail. As I ran through the dry ice haze backstage a security guard stopped me. My internal monologue in the dream thought: “there are so many restrictions at this modelling shoot and catwalk show”.

This made no sense since it was clearly a play. A major plot flaw. Perhaps this was just my brain filling in the gaps randomly. This must have been the case in one dream where I was sat in a car with someone who was moving a tube of smoking liquid towards me. My instinct in the dream told me that they were trying to make me pass out so this substance must have had chloroform properties. My brain inexplicably labelled this substance to be zinc oxide despite it being a powder and the dream clearly depicting a smoking clear liquid.

“Clinging onto a wooden ceiling beam high above a large hall. Ravens swarm around me. But I am not me. I am a young boy. Terrified.”

This dream threw up many questions. In fact, it was the dream that led me down the journey of recording my dreams. It was the only time in all my recorded dreams that I was not myself. The young boy, whose thoughts were my own in the dream, was breathless with terror. The wooden ceiling beam was made from dark wood and square in shape, making it incredibly hard to hold onto. The drop from the vaulted ceiling would have been crippling, potentially deadly, and his legs kicked in the vast openness.

Artwork: Mila Fitzgerald

On waking, the fear was cleared but I was unsure about the significance of the raven. So, I looked up what they meant. There was a mixed answer online. Some said that ravens appear to remind you that you have a choice or that fear is holding you back from reaching your full potential.

Others said that they symbolised misfortunes and failures. Potentially most aptly, some claimed that the raven reminds you of an underlying, yet omnipresent, unhappiness. It therefore seems appropriate that these birds appeared in the dream that spurred me on this reflective journey. The analysis of fears and uncertainties hopefully aid the process of discarding old, negative habits as the raven foreshadows. I am not sure about the pseudo-science surrounding such symbolism, but it is an interesting angle to consider.

However, I am sure of the personal benefit of reflecting on the more immediately obvious emotions within the dream and who they are associated with. In all honesty, what I found was no real surprise to me. They were my own deep seated emotions in a film-like form after all. Despite this, it has been healthy to accept that these recurring emotions clearly show that certain events have had an impact on me.

By reflecting and embracing what I discover, I believe that I can use this awareness to guide my waking hours. That’s what this article boils down to. I encourage you to do as I have done and record your dreams, read back over them after a couple of weeks and see for yourself what your subconscious is trying to tell you.

Has a recent argument unsettled you more than you thought? Is exam pressure making you more anxious than you have time to realise during the day? Are certain people in your life constantly being linked to negative or positive emotions?

Ask yourself questions of this manner and decide for yourself whether to act on the answers. This discussion of subconscious wellbeing is something that is becoming more widely accepted. I personally believe that by accepting, addressing and acting upon emotions reflected repeatedly in my dream, I have been able to put certain events into perspective and overall have found it to be a positive experience.

As Prospero says, in The Tempest, “we are such stuff that dreams are made on”. The recording of my dreams has led me to the realisation that this is all too true.

Artwork: Mila Fitzgerald

All names have been changed.

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