Only a dream?

“…And it had all been a dream.” I wonder how many primary school creative writing tasks I concluded with that tremendously original denouement?

Over the past few days, I have been dreaming depression. Just before I woke this morning I was dreaming vividly, experiencing the emotional and physical sensations of acute depression and trying to seek out ways to alleviate the pain. Only when I woke, it wasn’t “only a dream”. Those awful sensations were still there, and I immediately remembered that depression has been stealing upon me over the last few weeks. It started when I returned from my holiday; despite my many misgivings, I had ended up enjoying myself very much. There had been so much to see and do that was completely new to me, and at times I was a little over-stimulated by the unfamiliar sights, sounds and flavours. On a couple of nights I had to take a little extra quetiapine to ensure that I slept enough and did not get too “fast”. Once I was back in London I very quickly began to feel that now my holiday was over, I had nothing to do and nothing to look forward to. Days at home alone which I had filled quite satisfactorily before going away now seemed to stretch ahead of me, long and empty.

Before I could regain a sense of perspective, I met with my employer and it was agreed that it was unrealistic to expect me back at work any time soon. The organisation I work for has been generous and patient in holding my job open this long, but that can’t go on and, inevitably, my contract will be ending. So now it’s official: I’m economically inactive and not in a position to look for work until I’m well into recovery. Now there is no visible end to those empty, lonely days. I’ve been trying hard to counter this sense of emptiness, signing up for adult education classes and planning projects, but I am failing to convince myself. And as my mood gets lower, the depression and anxiety works its way into my dreams.

There’s plenty of evidence that people with mood disorders suffer disrupted sleep, including distressing dreams. One theory has it that people with mood disturbance “over dream”, spending too much time in REM dream sleep, and too little in the deep, restorative phase. This means that rather than night-time creating a break from the emotional arousal involved in states of distress, anxiety, irritation or elation during the day, our dreams continue to keep us in a state of emotional arousal. This makes perfect sense to me, as this is far from the first time that my mood states have stolen into my dreams. When I am predominantly anxious, I have nightmares, from which I wake gasping and flailing like a fish tossed onto the quay. The content of my dreams can also indicate an approaching high. It’s not just that I begin to sleep less; it’s that my dreams are so rich and vivid that when I do sleep I feel stimulated, rather than refreshed. They are usually delightful, sometimes outright humorous (I have woken up laughing aloud at a hypomanic dream before now), and sometimes X-rated, reflecting the increase in libido that is common in a bipolar high.

Dreaming depression means that the minute I wake, I feel very low. This morning I was in tears pretty much straight away. For the last few days, my mood has improved somewhat during the middle of the day, before dipping again in the evenings. It’s getting harder to get out of bed in the morning, but later I am reluctant to go to bed at night. I cried myself to sleep last night. Often in previous episodes of depression I have escaped into sleep, giving in to the seductive urge to sleep longer and longer to stop me feeling the pain of depression. This time it seems that sleep is no refuge at all.


About purplepersuasion

40 something service user, activist, writer and mother living with bipolar disorder. Proud winner of the Mark Hanson Prize for Digital Media at the Mind Media Awards #VMGMindAwards
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12 Responses to Only a dream?

  1. Kit says:

    Hi Charlotte,

    A couple of years ago I was in a similar spot. I worked in a pretty enjoyable job for a public library service, but my bipolar symptoms were badly affecting my performance and reliability, not to mention my well-being. Getting to the point, I took a lot of time away and things weren’t looking good. In the end, I told them I’d not be coming back and we came to a fair redundancy agreement.

    I felt awful for months. I’d failed to hold down a job, my symptoms were at times pretty public and reflecting upon that time made me feel dreadful. My wife and I worried about money, we argued and it was a bit tense. I then made a decision to take my redundancy money, a little time and go back to college to study horticulture. I can’t lie and say that it worked a miracle (being 27 and studying alongside 17 year olds was strange) but I’m now at a point where things are looking good again.

    I volunteered a lot, carefully picking work which I knew I’d enjoy, dipping in and out, and that was my contribution. As part of community projects I helped achieve a great deal. This made me productive and dispelled much of my guilt.

    I hope everything works out for you.

    Love and all kind wishes,

    Kit x

    • cameronlawton says:

      Hi Kit – I’m glad to hear you are on the right road – I had a similar experience to you and Charlotte having to leave my job and feeling dire about it, but eventually, like you, I volunteered. I go to a local charity and help out one or two mornings a week and it is stunning how useful it makes one feel. It’s a cliché to say “putting something back” but I think clichés only BECOME clichés because they are true.

  2. Ron says:

    Just a thought, but by putting your post in subscribers’ emails in it’s entirety, there is no incentive for them to click through to your blog.
    Better, after a para or two, to insert the “More” tag. This causes just the part above the tag to be displayed in emails and also on your home page (having posts in full there means people don’t have to click through to read them, thus you don’t get reliable feedback from your stats).

    The More tag is fourth from the right, in the top row of formatting icons in the New Post pane. Insert the cursor where you want it to go (preferably on a word that encourages the reader to read on), then just click the icon.

    You can see how it works on my home page.


  3. Ron says:

    I do know there’s no apostrophe in the possessive “its” – first line – it’s a glitch I can’t seem to shake!


  4. cameronlawton says:

    Are you and I mirroring each other love? I can always nod vigorously at everything you are saying on here.

    I’ve done the same – and thanks for mentioning the Libido thing – many people are too embarrassed to admit that Bippies are sex monsters in a high – and it can lead to hellish problems as I can testify.

    Wake up neutral tomorrow my dear if not high – at least not on a low xxxxxx

    • It’s something that I think psychiatrists rarely ask about – which is silly, because it’s such a good indicator of a high! Today is better so far. Not great, but better. And for that I am profoundly grateful xxx

  5. showard76 says:

    I’m so glad to hear you managed to go on your holiday and enjoy it (mostly), I guess it was a huge relief that it went well! I think it will also be inspiring for others who have similar concerns to hear that it can actually turn out okay. I hope the depression phase and sleep disturbances pass soon! 🙂 xx

  6. i’m so sorry to hear that you’re feeling in such a depression. it’s awful, i know. and i know too about that dreaming thing. it’s awful. i tend to have anxiety dreams — awful to wake up from and they seem so real. it is really hard to deal with the abrupt change when it comes to your job as well. a big and unwelcome change for sure. you have all my best thoughts. xxx

  7. i can really relate to both those crappy dreams (i have the anxiety ones) and the shock and sadness after job-loss. i have had both experiences. it does no good to hear that things will get better — it just sucks right now and that’s the reality. just know that we’re all pulling for you. xxx

  8. I think you sum it up perfectly, we expect sleep to be a refuge, a time of rest and recovery and when it fails to deliver then that the day-to-day becomes even harder. Feeling for you! 🙂

  9. keatsbabe says:

    Just found your blog via a twitter link. This is a wonderful piece. As someone who has experienced clinical depression and anxiety and also blogs and writes on mental health I can so relate to these dreams. Nightmarish images that stay with me when I wake and begin the day so very badly. There have been times when I have been so angry that the safe feeling I crave (and the comfort of the duvet & my OH) is lost to the anxiety induced by the images. You take care x

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