What the Heck Is Going On?

By Troy Headrick

I’ve been having strange dreams recently.  Something’s definitely going on in my subconscious. Plus, in most cases, I don’t usually remember dreams, but lately, they’ve been both extremely vivid and easy to recollect.  I wonder what’s up?

About a week ago, I dreamed that I was standing outside my old high school building.  I distinctly recall thinking, “That’s the gym up ahead.”  I then heard a noisy crowd behind me and knew—“felt” would be a more accurate word—that I was being pursued.  I didn’t turn to look to see how far behind me all those people were.  Instead, I took off running toward the point of entry into the building.

I got to the door and began to tug on it.  I felt no sense of surprise when it opened.  I jumped inside and pulled the door closed.  It made a loud, metallic sound as it slammed. 

I was in a large hallway and began to run.  I heard the angry crowd banging on the door and then the sound of it opening.  I got to the end of the hall and turned a corner.  I could tell that the throng was inside and coming toward me.  Their yelling voices began to fill the space with scary reverberations.  I never turned to see what was happening behind me, but I seemed to know that two or three of the fastest members of the gang were gaining on me.  They were carrying crude weapons of one sort or another.

I kept coming to the end of the hall and then turning corners.  A few members of the crowd were inexorably drawing closer and closer.  It dawned on me that I was tiring and that they would eventually catch up.  I viscerally knew that something horrible would happen if they caught me. 

About the time I began to feel real panic, I saw, just ahead, a place where I might hide.  There was a stairwell, and I could see a crawlspace behind it.  I ran as fast as I could and entered a dark labyrinth.  I got some distance into it and could hear that the crowd had also entered the maze.  I said to myself, “That’s it.  I’m done.”  And then I woke up.

The next morning, as soon as I got out of bed, I wrote the dream down.

Two nights ago, I fell asleep very effortlessly (a rarity for me), and then, almost immediately, found myself sitting at my computer.  I was staring at its screen and knew that I had written what I was looking at.  The funny thing is, I couldn’t read what was in front of me.  I looked at the words and looked at them some more.  I was pretty sure what I was seeing could be called “sentences” and such and that they were in English, but still, no matter how much I stared at them, they made no sense whatsoever.

A voice came from behind me.  Someone was looking over my shoulder.  The voice said, “I don’t think that is what you meant to say.”

“What did I mean to say?” I asked the voice.

Instead of answering my question, the person began to laugh.  Suddenly, there were lots of people behind me and they were all laughing.  I tried to cover the screen with my arms, out of a deep sense of shame, but they could still see the gibberish I wanted to conceal.  Unlike the first dream, which I was able to terminate with sheer will power, this one just sort of dissipated, as if it had been a fog that lifted. 

I’ve spent the past couple of days thinking about these dreams (nightmares?).  They have some interesting things in common.  For one, both were me-versus-the-crowd narratives.  (I don’t think I’ve had a history of dreaming about mobs and such weirdnesses in the past, though.)  Also, they clearly began in medias res.

Given that there’s a monumentally important election just around the corner and that we’re all preoccupied with an unfriendly microscopic organism—a metaphor for all things unseeable and incomprehensible—I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that these disturbances are bubbling up as little nighttime dramas. 

Any dream interpretation experts out there?  Where are Jung and Freud when one needs them?


Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here and his business page can be found here.

34 thoughts on “What the Heck Is Going On?

      1. My wife had a dream about being in the French resistance in WW2, after seeing her parents killed by the SS. When she awoke, she had written several pages in French, which she had studied in school but doesn’t speak.

      2. not really sure how to answer that. this whatever it was happened during a period of severe head pain from a concussion . there have been other lesser things. she has this ability to “sense” things.

      3. this dream is very specific. the parents were bakers who were shot for smuggling bread to Jews being rounded up for deportation somewhere the border with Germany. i’m wondering if that actually happened

      4. I’m almost certain that stories of that sort were happening all over that part of Europe during that period of history.

        I once met a fellow (and got to know him some) who told me that he was “sensitive,” which meant that he could feel and experience things that others couldn’t feel and experience.

        Sounds a little bit like your wife.

  1. Troy, this is some great dream recall! I am no expert, but I deal with symbolism a lot in my work, so I am going to venture a guess here (since you asked).
    Sounds to me like these are pressure-release dreams based on a feeling of peer approval anxiety. In both cases, you are at the mercy others, running away, asking their opinions and then getting shamed. You maybe need to cut yourself some slack in whatever you’re doing, and re-evaluate what the really big important things are in your life right now. That way perhaps the little things like people’s opinions won’t sneak into your Dreamworld? These are extrordinary times, and dreaming is a great pressure release. I think it’s very powerful for you that you are continuing to do what you want, in both dreams, even though the effects are painful and scary. It shows strength of character in the face of adversity.
    Saying all this, perhaps some nice mint tea before bed? 🙂

    1. Thanks for such detailed interpretations! Are you an artist? You mentioned that you deal with symbolism a lot, and I noticed your user name. The first dream is very interesting in that I seem to be outnumbered and in grave danger, but I have the ultimate power and ended the dream as it became too traumatic. (I’ve always had the ability to terminate really scary dreams when they get to be too much.) It is interesting that I seem to be dreaming and recalling my dreams more than I used to.

  2. I can’t speak or read or count in my dreams either. I understand that is an almost universal feature.

    The rare times I do speak, I’m actually waking up with a shout. It is like the level of agitation it takes for me to say something in a dream is too great to stay asleep.

    OTOH, I can hear other people speak just fine. I even hear music sometimes. Coleridge dreamt the poem “Kubla Khan” one night and feverishly transcribed it as soon as he woke up. Unfortunately, he had a visitor that interrupted while he was writing and Coleridge lost most of it.

    Dreams are frequently ways to work thru problems we are currently experiencing. Often there is a script that reworks the issue symbolically. But I have had dreams that were quite literal.

    My dogs dream of chasing things. The leg movements and vocalizations are obvious. I suppose they could dream of being chased but I am an optimist here. There is never anything chasing them in their real life but have lots of critters in the yard to be chased. I have no idea what my cat dreams of – or if. I suspect they do dream but they don’t show obvious signs like my dogs.

    1. I mentioned in an earlier response to a comment that I’ve always had the ability to end dreams when they become too traumatic. I just decide to end them and I wake up. The second dream was a first for me. I can’t ever recall having dreamed anything remotely similar. One of my most common dreams is that I’ve been given a set of instructions and I can’t implement them. I can read them, but it’s like something happens that keeps me from carrying them out. I don’t own a dog now, but I’ve often had pets during my lifetime and have watched dogs while they’re dreaming. I wonder if cats and other animals dream? Thanks for the comment. I always enjoy your reactions to my blogs.

  3. Freud argued in the book “The Interpretation of Dreams”, that all dreams are the fulfillment of a desire that couldn’t be satisfied during your waking hours. The fulfillment, however, can take a highly symbolic form, and that the meaning of a dream can only be worked out through an understanding of its meaning for the individual dreamer.

    I think that a helpful way to think about your dreams is to remember that everything, and everyone, in your dream, represents some aspect of yourself or your life. In your dream about the computer, for example, the computer is you, something you do, or how you feel about your life.

    1. I can confess that there are certain aspects of writing that are frustrating me right now. The second dream seems to be a kind of bubbling up of that frustration.

      I am a very political person so I see the first dream through that lens. I need to do some research about all this, but I feel confident saying that the “lone individual against an angry mob” is likely a fairly common dream, especially during fraught times.

      Thanks for the comment. I’m quite sure I read the Freud’s “Interpretation” but many years ago, back when I was in grad school and a more active and serious reader than I am now. Today, I spend a lot of my time and energy “reading” situations and people.

  4. Yes. I’m having similar experiences. My dreams involve places I’ve been and old situations from my past. For the life of me I cannot remember details. But, they are pervasive and active. Perhaps I am remembering a “normal” time period. Because of the dreams I am getting little sleep.

    From a Jungian perspective the characters in our dreams all represent the parts of us as we interact as one personality with our perception of the outside world. Consider the example of a serial murderer. Serial murderers or the “attacker” are the archetype of a part of us that feels a need to be free to act without shame, guilt, or emotional restraint. They are that part of us that just wants to tell people what we think or leave a relationship and end it, with no emotional consequences or pain. If we are a writer it may involve being free to write (express) and publish anything we want, any time we want, in any format we want without feeling judged, even when people judge.

    If the attacker tries to kill in a dream, they may be trying to rid us of a part of ourselves that is resistant to wholly expressing as one’s “Self.” The serial murderer may be the part of us that frees us into self-actualization or full expression. If the attackers are chasing the dreamer, it may be that the dreamer needs to confront that part of themselves that needs to be in control or acquiesces into being controlled by someone else or a system. It is the contrast between controlling and no control, with the goal being to self-express, self-actualize and (or) heal by feeling whole and less partitioned in our thoughts and beliefs. We want to know what being “whole” and self-expression looks like in the future. Do I have control over ny self-expression? Wholeness is empowerment as opposed to powerlessness or having our “being” controlled. No one can control our “beingness.”

    This is a normal reaction to a threatening situation, pandemic, social unrest, and political change. There is so much going on right now. It may not feel normal, but a normal reaction is a process of adaption and resilience, which may give the appearance that something is wrong within us. I think many of us are just subconsciously processing radical change at all levels. Much of what we are seeing is outside/in. Our power is in responding not controlling. How do we control our ability to be a free society? What can I do? This is all new to me.

    Here is a quote from an amazing thinker.
    “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
    ― Viktor E. Frankl

    “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
    ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

    By the way thanks for the new word, “throng.” I looked it up. At first, I thought you wrote you were chased by a thong, which would have been a hell of a lot more Freudian, than Jungian.

    1. Hi, Tim. Thanks for such a fantastic comment. This paragraph especially resonated with me:

      “This is a normal reaction to a threatening situation, pandemic, social unrest, and political change. There is so much going on right now. It may not feel normal, but a normal reaction is a process of adaption and resilience, which may give the appearance that something is wrong within us. I think many of us are just subconsciously processing radical change at all levels. Much of what we are seeing is outside/in. Our power is in responding not controlling. How do we control our ability to be a free society? What can I do? This is all new to me.”

      You’re welcome for “throng.” It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to use it. Yes, being chased by a thong would have been entirely different. Some of my dreams are fairly surreal, but I don’t think I’ve ever had one where I was being pursued by a piece of underwear before. The ways things are going with me, though, perhaps that’s next?

  5. Very interesting. Thank you for your post. I agree with Vaticanhotline and Tim. Everything in the dream is you, parts of you.
    Consider also the building you are getting into in your first dream. The mob ‘forces’ you into your school. Consider whether you are taking shelter in your childhood, it somehow makes you feel safe, or whether the school is a symbol for learning.
    Dreams are fascinating. Even an apparently uneventful dream hides interesting meaning. Marie Louise von Franz recommended writing them down to find patterns. I find this very useful. Even if the ‘film’ changes, there is a recurrent idea (often not the most obvious) that is repeated.
    Sometimes it takes me days, weeks, even months to find the meaning in a dream. It’s always worth it.

    1. Now that you mention it, there’s a plan for us to return to the college where I work. I manage a writing center and have been working remotely since March. On January the 3rd, we are supposed to return to our physical workplace for 25 percent of the time. (That may not happen given the explosion of the virus in the US right now.) But I can tell you that I’m not terribly excited about returning to a place where I can be pursued by a million microscopic “killers” (viruses). The interesting thing about looking at dreams in this way is that it gives us an opportunity to exercise our interpretive “muscles.” The interpretive act is basically a creative one. (Reading–dreams, books, people, situations–is the making of meaning where meaning may be obscure.)

  6. Troy, dreams that you can recall in clear detail are from God. He speaks your language and wants you to understand. The fact that you recalled them and were able to write them is significant. These dreams are warning dreams.

    In the first dream you were in the past, your old high school. Your past (something that could have happened ten minutes ago or even a pattern of repeated incidents) will cause you great distress. Due to old school thinking or past beliefs, you will feel pursued with no way out. The crowd with ill intentions pursued you into the school and you exhausted your human strength by running and then used your intellectual ability to go into the dark crawlspace under the stairwell, only to find your pursuers there also. A crawlspace is a confining space that was also a maze. The overwhelming emotion was fear of getting caught and an inexpressible horror happen to you. You used your will power to stop this dream, however, this strategy did not work in your second dream.

    It was unusual for you to fall asleep so quickly and God wanted to get your attention, with the unusual. Your second dream was part two of the same warning. You were at your computer, where you spend much time writing. You knew you had written in English and in sentences, yet you could not read it. This dream has to do with what you write. When you wrote it it made perfect sense, but now it was gibberish. In the past, what you had written brought you great pride and now it was something of derision. What had brought you accolades now brought great shame and you tried to hide it from public view. This is your greatest nightmare having people laugh at your behind your back, at what you have seen as your ability to reason, and to use your talent with words. This is a warning about what you write.This dream ended with the fog lifting which shows clarity was returned in a sovereign manner.

    1. Thanks, Pure Glory! Those are some amazingly interesting intepretations of the dreams I shared. I need to go back and reread your comment again and think more deeply about your insights.

      I can share that I’m generally feeling bothered and uncomfortable in my life right now. There are also things that are frustrating me a lot.

      I think the first dream is especially interesting because it’s so ironic. Throughout the dream, I am basically powerless. I cannot get the crowd to stop chasing me and I cannot outrun them either. In a last ditch effort to save myself, I have to do something that is scary and risky. However, I ultimately have the power to end the dream when I can see that it isn’t going to end well for me. Thus, the supposedly powerless exercises ultimate power. By the way, I’ve always had the ability to end dreams when they become unbearable.

      1. Troy, you are definitely going through a time of transition and discovering that there is more inside of you than powerlessness! There are depths in you that you have not yet discovered. It is also a time of danger, so you need alertness to the what surrounds you. Your emotions are so key to what happens. Also although you stopped the first dream, a similar danger was present and could not be stopped. You have much to unpack in these dreams and you will gain greater insight as you think about it. The dreams speak your special language and has great significance for you.

  7. Troy, I love reading your blog. Dreams are wonderful realizations of our subconscious self. I keep a dream journal, and think everyone should. I usually remember at least 2, sometimes 3 dreams a night. It takes habitual practice. I started by jotting things down when I woke up between cycles (at the bedside), and now have progressed to writing things down in the morning as I drink my coffee. I am able to retain more than one event….over 10 years of practice.
    But why? I believe that we are able to communicate with other realms of time and space in dream time. I often am visited by my departed relatives, and past events which I may no longer be able to access in waking time. I have also had premonitory dreams.
    In the end, I think the best interpreter of a dream is the dreamer him/herself. You know you best. For me, dreaming of being in a house structure (maybe a school for you) is a representation of my subconscious. My take on your dream is that you are now encountering parts of yourself that you don’t consciously examine. The angry crowds may be your own self doubts, or negative aspects of your own personality. (I dream of ghosts inside the house, or parts of myself that I keep hidden from others.)This is good, because you are seeing these things. However, if you could work on lucid dreaming, the ability to know you are dreaming, and being able to take action during the dream, like turning around to face the crowds and see what these are….that would be very helpful.
    I am working on this, but am usually unsuccessful. Let us know if you ever have the control, and who the crowds really are. Happy dreaming!

    1. I like your idea of keeping a dream journal. This might be a very good time to start one because I’m having so many dreams and remembering so many of them.

      I do know that this is a period of frustration for me. There are aspects of my current situation that are bothersome and making me feel discomfort. Perhaps my dreaming is my way of trying to find my way through these frustrations?

      I’ve long been fascinated by my ability to end dreams when they become too painful or when it looks like they’re going to end badly. I wonder how common this is. I think I’ll do a bit of research.

      Thank you so much for your encouraging comment.

  8. By my own experiences of dreaming, I can tell you with surety –
    It is YOUR dream, and you CAN know why you dreamed it by digging DEEPER into your subconscious strata.

    1) The “reign” of subconscious begins to show off during sleep. So, the “digging deeper” by the consciousness into the subconsciousness, either has to be done “while sleeping” or more easily, just after you wake up and still retain the “feelings” yet to be faded completely.

    2) For example, inside the dream, you have already appropriately and attentively noticed that even without/before seeing and hearing, you “felt” that – you were being chased. So the senses of dream are not the senses of our conscious state like seeing, hearing, smelling, touching etc. Crudely speaking, the sense of dream is feeling. You have already appropriately and attentively noticed that even without/before seeing and hearing, you “felt” that – they were standing behind you. Hold on to that feeling, recall it repeatedly and gradually delve into that sense to seek the answer to “why”.

    I may have a guess, or a better one Freud might, but the answer needs to be identified by you without any contamination of other probable answers, like the astronauts not physically visiting Mars, only to be sure of the lifeforms or answers to the question, is original, hence uncompromised and true.

    Hint : The answer may not lie in the sense of reasoning, but likely in that of intuition.

    1. Thanks so much for the guidance. I have begun the process of thinking about what is going on inside of me that is making me so “restless” during my periods of “restfulness.” I do know that I’m in a period of frustration right now, and it is very likely that that is what is motivating a lot of my dreaming.

  9. After years and years of being a very vivid dreamer myself, leading a peaceful waking life and a tumultuous sleeping life, I consulted medical professionals, including sleep specialists. They determined, “This is just the kind of brain you have. Very active.” WHAT?! But after a couple days, I decided to see it as an asset. I have a runaway author-horse inside of me, and all I have to do is befriend it.

    For me, the only dream analysis I need is simply to know my brain is a heavy-traffic area. Sometimes things collide, and it gets a bit messy. (I’ve had this brain a really long time, so it seems average to me.)

    The only way to drain the system a little is to write a lot more books, a lot more blog posts, thus releasing that cranial pressure. 🙂

    . Good luck to you!

    1. I think we must have similar brains/minds. One of my biggest daily challenges is the simple act of falling asleep. I have so much trouble shutting down my mind each night. If I could get better at doing that, I’d sleep better. Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t recall dreaming on nights when it takes me forever to fall asleep. On those nights when it’s relatively easy for me to find slumber, my mind is most active and my life is most “dreamy.”

  10. Freud calls dreams a representation of the unconscious, to me, your first dream seems to be based on some sort of fear, maybe fear of contracting a disease like COVID (infected mob chasing you, and you trying to protect yourself) and your second dream hints at your desire for perfection in your writings. You want people to appreciate your writings, you want to come upto their expectations. This is just a personal guess, it isn’t based on any scientific reasoning.

  11. I relate to the feeling of struggling to fall asleep. I think it has been at least five years since I’ve managed to fall asleep comfortably without having to think about it, or distract my mind with white noise of some kind or an extended session of prayer to calm the never-ending stream of thoughts flying around.

    Like you I don’t think I dream vividly and generally don’t remember them. Maybe this is a clarity brought on by some form of clarity in your conscious mind too? I am definitely no expert in dreams or interpreting them.

    Thank you for sharing these two dreams, and your experience of having dreamed them.

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