The Relationship Between Mental Illnesses And Nightmares

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

John 4:18

It happens way too often. I wake up from a dream anxious and sad.

I had another nightmare.

You might be thinking “Oh that isn’t so bad, I have bad dreams all of the time!”

Mine are not like typical bad dreams, however. I’m not taking a test that I did not prepare for, and I’m not giving a speech in my pajamas.

My nightmares often portray my loved ones being gravely injured or killed. I have had dreams where one or both of my parents are suddenly murdered or pass away in an accident, or something unfortunate befalls my brother. I have even had nightmares about my beloved elderly guinea pig Nutella passing away. I often cry and scream and mourn within my dreams, which is odd since, in the waking world, I rarely express negative emotions, either privately or publicly.

Upon waking up, I often go to the loved member in my dream and spend time hugging, petting (the guinea pig only, I do not make it a habit to groom my human family members), and telling my loved ones how much I love and care for them. I try to remind myself that it was just a dream, but I cannot help that one nagging thought in the back of my mind, worming its way out of my subconscious: it could happen.

Of course, I am aware that tons of factors are at play in life, and people and animals rarely just up and die for no reason at all. And if something happened to a loved one, I would probably eventually be able to adjust to the reality of not having that person or creature in my life.

However, in these dreams, I have this sense of powerlessness that I cannot shake, even after I wake up. My darkest fears that I am scared to speak aloud or even think about for too long are paraded into the forefront of my brain when I am resting and trying to gather strength for the next day.

I know this is kinda sad and heavy, but I have a reason for bringing this all up.

I have often wondered why my bad dreams are so bad. Like, why do I have nightmares about horrific things happening to my loved ones constantly instead of dreaming about accidently doing the chicken dance at prom?

I suspect it is because of my generalized anxiety disorder.

Or maybe it is because of my depression.

Or maybe my childhood PTSD.

Okay I honestly have a whole mess of issues regarding my mental illnesses so I am not sure which can be blamed for my frequent and heartbreaking nightmares.

Different sources have different opinions and perspectives on it. According to WebMD, “There can be a number of psychological triggers that cause nightmares in adults. For example, anxiety and depression can cause adult nightmares. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also commonly causes people to experience chronic, recurrent nightmares.”

The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health elaborates on that point with the statement “chronic nightmares are very common in psychiatric disorders, affecting up to 70% of patients with personality or post-traumatic stress disorders. In other psychiatric disorders such as psychotic and mood disorders, which are very frequent, the relationships between nightmares and these disorders is poorly known.”

Since most of the existing research seems to support the theory that PTSD causes my frequent nightmares, it makes sense that my nightmares often revolve around losing a loved one. In addition, my childhood PTSD is closely connected with a close family member being in extreme danger, so I guess my vulnerability to those kinds of fears is a common theme in my dreams.

On the other hand, I sometimes have dreams about incredibly realistic worries, which makes me think that sometimes my bad dreams stem from my anxiety disorder. For instance, I sing in my church’s onstage worship team on most Sunday mornings. We rehearse at 7:00 or 7:15 AM, and since I live about 20 minutes from the church campus and need to have all my makeup on before I leave the house, I generally have to get up at 5:30 AM and go by 6:30 AM to make sure I am on time for soundcheck and rehearsal.

As someone who tends to oversleep, I make sure that on the Saturday night before I have to sing that I am asleep before 10 PM. I generally take some melatonin gummies or drink some herbal tea to make sure when I fall asleep I STAY asleep until I have to get up to get ready.

I had a dream on Saturday night that I somehow forgot what time I had to be at rehearsal and had to scramble to get dressed and get my stuff together and had to text the worship leader that I was late, and the more I flew to get ready, the later I became.

While this was not what I would call a nightmare, it was an uncomfortable experience because of how close it was to reality. I am always more confused and stressed than sad or scared by these hyper-realistic dreams because it takes me a good 2 minutes to realize the dream did not happen.

There is a bright side to my bizarre dreams, however.

I write down my most memorable dreams in my bullet journal calendar, and having my goals down in writing helps me sort out the clutter of odd occurrences and emotions that happen when my eyes are closed. I can also realize what I am subconsciously worried about and help myself think through my worries in the waking hours.

Sometimes, my dreams are so crazy that I write them down because I think that they would make a great plot of a novel!

I hope I can give some clarity and insight to others with mental illnesses that struggle with frequent nightmares and really bad dreams and let you know that you are not alone. Of course, dreams should never be interpreted as prophetic or anything since we are not Joseph from the Old Testament, but they can sometimes provide a bit of insight into the maze of complex thoughts we call our brains.

Please like, comment and subscribe if you connect with my post and would like to see more of my crazy, exciting journey with Christ and mental illnesses. Every interaction I receive here means a lot. Thank you and God bless you.

Until next time!

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