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It’s not just you…

I have been thinking a lot lately about things that are, if not universal, at least pretty widespread, but which don’t come up a lot in conversation. Part of this was response to blog posts, part of it was a painting or two I’ve done (The Boar God’s Gift is the one I’m thinking of) where a whole bunch of people wrote in to say “Whoa, I do that all the time.”

Mostly this is stuff inside our respective heads. We are often not good at describing the insides of our heads. (For all I know, this is a failure of English and there are elegant words in French and/or German that sum up these feelings perfectly, but there you are.) Sometimes it’s things like dreams that we don’t talk about much for fear of boring the ever-loving crap out of our loved ones. This is a fair concern.

Many of these are bad or unpleasant or anxiety-inducing. Them’s the breaks. It is astonishing how many of us, while we would deny strongly that we are special snowflakes of mind-boggling uniqueness, are nevertheless willing to believe that our gloomy mental ploddings are not shared by anyone else and that we are alone in our miserable freakhood.

I don’t think that’s the case. My experience is not terribly vast, lord knows, but the longer I live, the more we all seem to be in this together. We may each of us live in our own private hells, but the Devil gets a bulk deal on wallpaper.

I’m not going to say “most” or “all of us” because the minute you say “all” an exception will pop up in the comments, and even “most” implies a statistical majority of which I have little or no proof. So let’s go with “many” and “lots.” Some of these will probably make you go “Well, duh, everybody does THAT!” because they seem obvious. I have gotten e-mails over the years that make me think many of these are not quite so obvious as we think.

Mostly I just felt like talking about it.


Many of us have that dream where your teeth fall out and you can’t find a dentist anywhere.

Many of us also have that dream where there are animals starving to death and it’s all your fault. There are variations on this particular theme—sometimes they’re in cages dying horribly and you can’t find anything to feed them, sometimes you forgot they were there, sometimes it’s fish in aquariums that haven’t been cleaned in a hundred years and goodness, aren’t you a monster?

Many of us have that dream where things are chasing you that won’t die, no matter how many times you chop them apart or drop boulders on them. Plenty of us also have the corollary where you cannot actually fight back and your attempts to hit the monster seem to be going through molasses.

Lots of us have arguments in our heads with people, some of whom have Done Us Wrong, some of whom only might at some point maybe Do Wrong, and it’s good to be prepared. You’d think that since this is entirely in our heads and we get to control the script, we would inevitably win these arguments. You would be wrong.

Lots of us tell ourselves stories of past traumas in long rambling repetitive monologues when depressed.

Many of us have a near-constant “Hey, remember that time in 1985 when you said that incredibly stupid thing and everybody looked at you?” drone in the back of our heads. Memories of past faux pas are on auto-stream. Arguments that nobody else on earth remembers said stupid thing do not make much impact on the drone. (I have attempted to expiate this by assigning a charitable donation to every embarrassment, so that when I start thinking about that really stupid thing I did sophomore year, I can go “No, I gave a chunk of change to Bat Conservation International for that, damnit, I can stop worrying about it.” Sort of an anxiety equivalent of a swear-jar. It would work better if I had a bigger budget and if my subconscious weren’t convinced that every moment of stupidity should cost about a hundred thousand dollars or so. It would also work better if my supply of past stupidities did not so nearly approach the infinite.)

Lots of us lie awake at night contemplating what will happen if we get Nameless Horrible Disease, our spouses/kids/pets/whatever die horribly, what we will do, how sad we will be, how miserable it all is, etc. I have gotten better at going “This is not productive” and working through book plot-lines, but I still catch myself doing it.

Lots of us are scared to look out windows at night, for fear there’s something looking back. Mirrors are also iffy, because what if there’s something moving in there that isn’t you?

I will also confess that despite having written “Irrational Fears” I still occasionally go in fear of the monster under the bed. I am thirty-four. I would be very surprised if I was alone in that.

Anyway. That’s probably a short list, but it’s what I can think of off the top of my head. Feel free to add your own (within reason!) We are, after all, all in this together.

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

I still get school anxiety dreams (high school or college). I'm fifty-five and haven't been in school for over thirty years.

Sometimes I wake up frantic that I still have ONE-MORE-COLLEGE-PROJECT to turn in and have to be over to the computer labs RIGHT-NOW.

25 year old Post Tramatic Stress from working on UCSD P-System, I guess.

This was really, really weird to read for me: http://ask.metafilter.com/97265/Compelled-to-Blurt

It's about how we react to, like, internal embarrassment. It's a whole thread of people going "Oh my gosh I do that too!"


I mean, um. Yes. I, too, blurt when confronted with any of the profoundly stupid embarrassing things I've done since I first became ambulatory.

Oh, yes. The parade of embarrassing moments. I keep hoping those will go away when I turn... I don't know, 40 or something. It'd be a reason to celebrate turning 40.

I'm closing in on 40...

Excuse me.


Ahem. I'm not aaaaaaaas susceptible to that Parade as some, maybe, but they still show up. Though I think I may've traded the Parade for the Lie Awake At Night. I'm not sure this is an improvement.


...“Hey, remember that time in 1985 when you said that incredibly stupid thing and everybody looked at you?” drone in the back of our heads. ...

Oh, my yes. I call this the Guilt Track. Drives me nuts. (and that's what's scary about it)

And why the hell doesn't the brain regurgate an equal number of 'Hey! That thing you did was SO COOL'? to keep us level?

Stupid brain.

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The "incredibly stupid moment" feelings of shame are, I believe, one of the worst parts of the human experience. I always cynically tell myself, "Well, you may think they're pointless now, but people probably remember that and still make fun of you for it!" However, when I try to return the favor and think of a time anyone I've known - I try it out with people I dislike all the way through my very best friend - has said something dumb, I have absolutely nothing to draw on. This usually helps, for a few moments. That is, before I think, "Well, my memory is awful. Oh god. Do I have brain eating amoeba that is manifesting through failed recall?"

I'm not sure if medical paranoia is something "most of us" have, but I would chance a guess that Google has significantly contributed to worldwide levels of low-to-moderate hypochondria.

I feel like a lot of people probably have weird anxieties that drive them to jump to unreasonable, over-the-top conclusions instead of gunning for Occam's Razor and just allowing life to be. It's most likely that most people don't keep a Rolodex of stupidity for everyone they've met, but my own guilt/shame for that failed joke I tried out in 7th grade drives me to find a reason I don't have said Rolodex, usually at my own expense.

We'd all be a lot more relaxed if internalizing these things were as easy as recognizing them!

I don't get a lot of these (no dentist dreams or animals needing to be fed, thank goodness) but mirrors...oh, yeah. Mirrors at night concern me. And I can beat myself up over something stupid I've done a decade ago - perhaps I should do something similar to your anxiety swear jar technique, some sort of ritual of absolution.

My anxiety dreams are fumbling, frantic affairs. I'm always about to miss my flight, and trying to get across an airport and going the wrong way down an endless terminal, not sure if my gate has been changed and oh, by the way, I've got to pee like crazy, and everyone around me is walking too slowly, and do I have my boarding pass? Wait, let me dig in my bag again because I can't remember if I have it...

I've been teaching a class, and my first anxiety dream about that was a similar fumbling thing, where I was trying to answer a question and find a piece of chalk, and why are all these things scattered around here that I have to dig through and my student's questions are getting more pointed because I keep apologizing and trying to find that damn piece of chalk...

There are elegant words in German to describe the insides of our heads, but each one is twelve pages long.

this is awesome and probably true.

I've never had the dentist dream - but I have *often* had the "naked in public dream." I don't know if it's worse or better that no in the dream aside from me seems to notice...

I don't have that dream often, but those I remember were more weird and awkward than outright panic-inducing, because, as you say, no-one else noticed.

I have a habit (toned down considerably once I realized what it was) of arguing with imaginary people. Well, not really imaginary people because I don't flesh them out. It's just "what if a random person said some annoying thing?", and then I try to come up with an answer.

I've been working on attacking myself less, and have had some success with it. This has improved my life noticeably. I hope this won't come through as inappropriate advice-- Compassion and Self-Hate is a really good book about it.

Does anyone else have the dream of trying to find a bathroom, and it's just impossible and then finally you wake up and are pleased you didn't find a bathroom in your dream?

Yes! Haha, I do this all the time! I will be wandering around, maybe at my school or in some random mall somewhere, and either I can't find a bathroom or all the ladies' restrooms will be out of order or when I go inside there are no doors on the stalls or the toilets will be in plain view of everyone else and they will stare at you if you try to use them, so I'll try to find another bathroom somewhere and never find one. >.>

I also have a recurring dream of running up or down a giant stairwell, sometimes to escape someone/something, or sometimes because the world is ending and there's a safe place underground, or something. The stairwell is always giant and the anxiety is always hard to place but very present.

One other one is a glass elevator that is broken; I'll get on expecting to go to the third floor and it will take me up eighty or ninety floors instead, which should not even be possible, and I'll lay on the floor and hyperventilate because I'm afraid it will freefall down, or that when it lets me off I'll have to run down all those flights of stairs to get to my class on the third floor (being late for class and not being able to find the classroom, or forgetting that I was registered in a class and trying to figure out how to get to it, is also a frequent thing, but less original).

In my dream my teeth don't fall out but they shatter, so I have a mouth full of very sharp shards. I don't even get to thinking about a dentist, I am just frozen in shock and fear, unable to move

Yes to almost all the rest. Especially the inner REMEMBER THAT STUPID THING YOU DID/SAID? track.

Edited at 2011-10-17 04:50 pm (UTC)

I have this, although rather that sharp shards, they just fall to pieces and no amount of washing my mouth out will get all of them out. In my dream I will stick my head under a faucet to rinse the stuff out, spit out a mouthful of stuff and still have my mouth filled with detritus. This has been traumatic enough that I can't eat the little seeds in the bowls at Indian restaurants.

Invariably I wake up to this to find my mouth is really, really dry.

My teeth-falling-out dreams involve the teeth breaking into bits, and a new set of teeth growing, and those breaking, and it never ends. (My last milk teeth were somehow stuck in my mouth until they broke apart, so at least I know where that variation is coming from.)

Never got the animals dream you mention, just ones where there were (chirpily healthy) budgies everywhere. They're a bit inconvenient in the kitchen cabinets.

I have no problem with mirrors, but dark rooms in the middle of the night, yes.

Eh, anyway, on the topic of mentioning stuff that doesn't often come up... Thanks a lot for mentioning you took antidepressants. If I hadn't heard from three people, including you, online about that and therapy, I think I'd never sought help, so thanks to you now I'm less messed up than I'd be otherwise.

Almost all of my teeth dreams (which are very few and far between) involve either the tooth wiggling out all loose, or, usually, crumbling. I KNOW that one's cause. I was eating breakfast one morning with my grandfather and one of his front teeth crumbled to pieces in front of me and he casually spit it out and kept eating.


I have the teeth dream when I'm really stressed all the time. This is compounded by the fact that out of my family I'm the only one who still has all their original teeth.

The guilt chorus is a good name for the voices in the head that repeat old mistakes. It would be nice if my subconscious would realize that not only do the people in high school remember that particular stupidity...they may not even remember me.

Why is that when you rehearse an argument in your head the other person never follows the script?

An ex of mine laughed at me a bunch during the opening of Scream because the idea that some killer was lurking outside my window where I could see them is one of my biggest irrational fears, especially since some of my nightmares are just bolting awake 'cause I swear someone called my name through my open bedroom window.

Does everyone else hide under the blankets during those moments like they're made of kevlar and will save you from the monster? Or is it just me? I still do that. I'm 38 :-P

I firmly beleive in the protective properties of blankets! At 40, I still have the "blankie" I got when I was 7. It has been retired and replaced (after much searching) by "blankie v2.0". Made SO his own blankie after he kept stealing mine. Although I do not often take advantage of the protective properties (unless dreaming about being chased by giant pancakes), it does make a great re-arrangable pillow/bookrest/shawl.

And I still have to check behind the shower curtain/door before I can use the toilet, just to make sure there is no one there.

Recently turned 29. When I'm particularly down I'm afraid of showering because SOMETHING might come through the pipes/drains. Knowing perfectly well that the reason for that fear is Ghostbusters II does not help.

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Oh ye gods and little fishes...

The "Wow, that was embarising! Remember how uncomfortable you were?" BS hits me all the time. Does not matter if it was six months ago or thirty years, when it hits it makes me cringe.

Re: Oh ye gods and little fishes...


I often have the "Trying to get something done and never making any real progress" dream. Like trying to pack and there's always another suitcase/box or something else to do.

My SO has nightmares about things happening to his feet so he can't run away.

And on the internal monologue thing... I know exactly where mine came from. Because my mother DID keep a rolodex of "Times Duae has said/done something stupid" and loved to bring them up constantly in the form of "Wasn't it so funny when...." Except they weren't funny. Like, oh, once there was a rental car with the radio station displayed in large numbers, and then a tiny clock right under it. So when the question of the time came up, I glanced at the dash, saw, say "103.5" (and of course in the displays the . is nearly invisible) and said "Well, it's 10:35, so..." and "HARHARHAR that's the RADIO, Duae, can't you tell the difference between the radio and the clock?"

And then for about a solid month after that. "Hee hee, Duae, tell us the time. Wow, think it might be 10:35? It sure has been 10:35 for a loooong time, huh?" Until she grew bored and just put it back on the rotation of Stories To Tell Company around Holidays.

So it's understandable that I grew up with the idea that every other person was doing the same thing, and the moment I screwed up or said something dumb I would be humiliated over and over. I've since grown up and realized not everyone is like that, but it's still a lingering fear.

gnah. Milder example, since she doesn't know me that well, but my father's wife does somehing similar on occasion. Really rocks, being 20 and having someone laugh about you because you could not pronounce "crunchy" when you were friggin FOUR years old.