Grief of Dreams
July 13, 2017 2:05 PM   Subscribe

I am having feeling of intense grief when I get flashbacks of a dream that I cannot remember. Does this happen to anyone else, does it have a name and how do I stop it?

Yesterday, after a week of poor sleep (for various different reasons, mostly to do with heat and/or being in a strange place), I was feeling pretty tired and unfocused. While I was sitting at my computer at work I got a flashback of dream I did not remember from the night before.

I did not get much chance to focus on the content of the dream before I was hit by a strong sense of grief. It was like a feeling of bereavement or a broken heart. My chest felt tight, I felt weak, I think my face flushed and I felt a deep pain and longing.

The wave of emotion shattered my recollection of the dream and fortunately the pain along with it. It happened several times yesterday with the same pattern; some memory or image triggers the flashback and then the pain comes and wipes the memory of the dream away.

Today after a better night's sleep it has happened five more times. Once at my work computer, once while walking round campus, once while driving, once while doing archery and once just now writing about it. No particular pattern to setting it off. It is leaving me feeling pretty wrung out.

What little I can remember of the dream seems to have strange people and landscapes, nothing that seems to relate to real people or places.

I am not on any medication, I have not had a drink since Saturday night, I am not ill (to the best of my knowledge) and I am not stressed about anything (apart from said grief dream).

My questions are does anyone know what is happening? Does it have a name and how do I stop it?
posted by antiwiggle to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've definitely had a huge surge of emotions just when waking up from a dream, and feel a huge grief even if the dream content isn't sad. In fact, especially so - that I have the vague sense that something really beautiful was going on and now it's not, I'm just lying in bed feeling shocked and bereft because it stopped so suddenly. I have gotten a recurrence of that feeling when trying to remember the dream a few minutes later, but it fades pretty quickly as I forget what the dream was about. It's what I imagine the kids in YA novels would feel after they arrive back at home and realize they can never again travel to the extraordinary fantasy world they just spent the previous 34 chapters of the book in.
This may not be actually what you're feeling, and I have no idea how to make it stop, but I can totally imagine it and would not call you crazy.
posted by aimedwander at 2:54 PM on July 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

I had a dream several years ago that took me over a week to fully wake up from. The content of my particular dream was that I had been given false memories to cover up my actual past, and within the context of the dream it made SO much sense. So when I woke up, at first I was dead certain that the dream had been true and that my own day-to-day reality was false. It was extremely disorienting to wake up from it, and even now when I think about it I get almost a yearning for the reality of the dream - and seriously, this was at least 6 years ago.

Sometimes a dream hits you just right.
posted by potrzebie at 4:17 PM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

The "suddenly remember dreaming" experience may actually be a form of deja vu (which is a neurological phenomenon, not paranormal or extrasensory) and not actually something you actually dreamed.

I had several clusters of this, though not with an associated sudden feeling of grief/sadness (though I would say my emotional state did briefly change during the "remembering"), in my teens and again in my late 20s, and they seemed to be most common the week before my period. I could almost guarantee it would happen if I missed a birth control pill and doubled up the next day too.

What you're describing is kind of a startling sudden emergence of what might be a neurological symptom. Are you having any other experiences that might be relevant in that context? Visual disturbances/migraine aura, light sensitivity, difficulty performing tasks that require spatial recognition? Is there anyone else around to confirm you're not having aphasia or uneven muscle response in your face? (Not to freak you out, but someone to do a stroke test?) Your typing is perfect but that's a different part of the brain from speech and hand-eye coordination.

In the absence of any other symptoms that might be alarming, make sure you're appropriately hydrated and maybe go to bed early. I personally do not drive if I think I'm having any pre-migraine/misc neuro symptoms.

Again, not to freak you out, but this just isn't really how dreams work or how the awake brain generally responds to them, and having it happen over and over is a little worrying. If you went to the ER with this, they'd probably have you hang out a while for observation if the rest of your vitals were okay. If you were my partner or roommate telling me this, I'd suggest you hang out with me for a while and just see how the next few hours go. Brains are mysterious and migraines and migraine-like episodes can be very weird, and it might totally pass and be nothing or never happen again, but it's worth being mindful that something might be going on.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:21 PM on July 13, 2017 [7 favorites]

Could you have heat stroke and are having some minor hallucinations?
posted by meepmeow at 6:38 PM on July 13, 2017

Not sure how to make it better, but this happens to me all the time. I wake up crying often, knowing that whatever happened in my dream was sad but not really remembering any of the details of who/what/where/when/why/how enough to really be able to process it, and it affects my mood sometimes for days. It sucks, but I guess I just deal?
posted by greta simone at 8:35 PM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would rule out medical causes for sure, but I have often had "dream hangovers" albeit perhaps not as intense as the one you are describing. One thing that I do when a dream is bugging me is lie down and sort of "re-enter" the dream -- like I just call up the feeling, whatever images and storylines I can remember, and then let my mind play with it like a daydream. I like to listen to white noise while I do this and just sort of "float." Sometimes after I've worked with the dream in this way I will come to a new emotional understanding about the dream and it feels like something got worked out/found out/resolved.
posted by hungrytiger at 1:11 AM on July 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I have also had this. It was specific to a dream I had about giving birth to a child. (I don't want, and have never wanted children.) Which made the experience of having about three days to a week of intense random grief even weirder. It resolved eventually. I've also had the same thing, but with flashes of intense, gut-wrenching fear, from a nightmare.

Brains are like cats and vaginas. Sometimes they just do things and there's not really a reason why.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:03 AM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

This sounds a lot like a description of my TLE seizures (Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.) I'd definitely get checked out by a neurologist. I spent a lifetime having no clue what was going on, until I described my experience to a friend who promptly said 'duh, those are probably seizures.' Even my GP wasn't convinced and only begrudgingly referred me to a neurologist. But seizures were exactly what they were.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 4:03 AM on July 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, the main trigger for my TLE seizures is sleep deprivation, which it sounds like you've been experiencing. The sudden-onset is really odd though, and definitely worth getting looked at. Sudden seizures can be a sign of a brain tumor, etc.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:46 AM on July 14, 2017

Yeah, that it came on suddenly and is happening repeatedly now and you don't remember it happening in your life before is maybe worrisome, so I second Lyn Never and thegreatfleecircus to see a neurologist just in case.

It also sounds like it could possibly turn out to be a little bit awesome, though. I'm really hoping it isn't seizures and that it's your novel or your filmscript letting you know it's ready to be born.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:51 AM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you for your replies.

I had not considered a neurological cause, I was more focused on the dreaming aspect. I do not think I am showing any physical symptoms. I have been having technical discussions at work today as well as generally chatting to people; no one remarked on having trouble understanding me so aphasia seems unlikely. My scores in archery last night did not suffer so I am guessing my motor skills are okay too.

I have a quiet weekend planned and I hope that if this is just a "dream hangover" it will fade soon. If it continues as is, or I develop other symptoms, I will see my GP on Monday when the local health centre opens.

(I am secretly hoping I had an exciting adventure in another dimension and these are the signs of the memory wipe failing).
posted by antiwiggle at 9:55 AM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I went to see my GP yesterday and he does not know what is wrong with me. He will refer me to a neurologist or a psychiatrist if it does not go away in a week. He did note how tired I was and how poor my sleep has been lately and I am under strict orders to get more sleep and see if that helps.

I have only had a couple of flashbacks today and the accompanying grief has faded to a quick stab of unhappiness. I think it might be going away on its own.

I am coming around to Lyn Never's deja vu idea. In many ways it feels most similar to that.

I have marked the answers to seek medical advice as the best as it was not something I would have thought of doing on my own.

Thank you all.
posted by antiwiggle at 1:39 PM on July 19, 2017

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