Since I was a little kid, my go-to anxiety dream involved snakes. In this recurring dream, I would step outside my house to find a yard filled with snakes, and I would have to walk carefully to avoid them. No matter what house I walked out of, the yard itself was inevitably the yard from our home in Collins, Miss., where I went to elementary school.
This was never what I would call a nightmare, since Dream Me would just sort of sigh and start picking her way through snakes, but it always occurred during stressful times.
After Hurricane Katrina flooded my home, my hometown and a boggling number of other places I loved, my subconscious traded snakes for water as an expression of anxiety.
Again, these dreams aren’t nightmares. The problems encountered — usually water rising where it shouldn’t be rising, or me somehow falling into a deep body of water — aren’t so much scary as they are irritating.
During one particularly active dream sequence a couple of weeks ago, I found myself seated at a table that was really part of a boat that plunged over the side of the dock when the driver gunned the engine (I never said my dreams obeyed the laws of mechanics or physics). I swam back up to the dock and climbed into a dockside restaurant, which immediately began to turn sideways since it turned out to be a huge boat that was rolling over. As I kicked my way out of a window into the water, Dream Me really couldn’t believe she had to swim all the way up from the bottom of the ocean AGAIN.
I mean COME ON.
I totally get it. My subconscious gets overwhelmed with anxiety and takes it out on my dreams. It takes what I’m apparently scared of deep down and releases it at 2 a.m.
My everyday way to cope with anxiety is to constantly analyze how to fix problems. I’m on to Plan C before most people even realize that Plan A is done for and Plan B is just ludicrous.
It’s the same in my dreams. Instead of waking up in a cold sweat when the boat plunges beneath the surface of the water, Dream Me is concentrating on swimming horizontally before trying to head up to the surface in case the sinking boat creates a whirlpool (apparently my subconscious thinks it just might, no matter what the Mythbusters say).
Healthy? You’ll have to ask my theoretical psychotherapist. But it makes sense to me that working through dream anxieties rather than simply having them scare you half out of your pajamas has to be pretty good self-therapy.