My worst nightmare is the one where I find myself in the last few weeks, days or hours before a final university assessment or exam is due and I have barely opened a book or have forgotten I was even enrolled in the course.
As a high achiever at university, this dreamscape leaves me exhausted and horrified.
Only a few nights ago I dreamed I was two hours from handing in a 15,000 word honours thesis and hadn’t yet put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as is more likely to provide the right result). These two hours ticked past phenomenally slowly it seemed, as I ran crazily around the campus trying to find help, a solution, or at the very least, some sympathy.
Once the two hours had past, the university became a solemn dark place (probably because all the smart students had handed in their work and pi**ed off) with black glass windows and 70s brickwork. The one person who I had found (a woman with a Jaclyn Smith style hairdo, hello Charlie’s Angels – it really was a nightmare) simply said, “Too bad, there’s nothing you can do now.”
The sense of relief I experienced upon waking was almost palpable. I felt exhausted (well it was 2.40am so I guess that’s normal). However, it made me wonder why it’s this dream and not others which affects me for so long afterwards.
[Just as an aside, one day I got out of bed and opened my curtain to find an evil Humphrey B. Bear, armed with a large kitchen knife coming up my driveway to get me. When I really woke up a few minutes later I couldn’t bring myself to open the curtain. This dream I now look back at with some humour. I’ve never had it again.]
I decided to consult the font of wisdom, the World Wide Web, to find out what this dream of failure means and why it recurs to haunt me.
According to Dream Bible (www.dreambible.com) to dream about studying symbolises things are worrying me or are important to me. To dream about not being ready for an exam “reflect[s]…lacking of preparation” or not listening to a warning (interesting, if I didn’t listen to a warning how did I know I had been warned?). Dreaming of a university could be a signal I am “emotionally swamped had have little time to enjoy myself(sic)”. I may also have a ‘crisis’ or ‘health problems’.
According to dream moods (www.dreammoods.com), dreaming about tests means I am not ready for a big challenge or it’s a sign I’m being judged. “These dreams serve as a signal…to examine an aspect of [my]self that [I] may have been neglecting”. Importantly dream moods suggest this dream comes from my fear and anxiety of not meeting others standards and a fear of letting others down.
According to Dream Dictionary (www.dreamdictionary.org) ‘test dreams’ are very common and are a reflection of a “… lack of confidence and ability to advance to the next stage of life”. These dreams will occur when I am stressed and are caused by procrastination, fear of advancement and being left behind, feeling stupid or experiencing self-esteem issues, to name a few.
Perhaps the most interesting perspective is from a neurologist on the website Psychology Today (you can find the link here) who, having described my dream almost as I dreamed it, suggests these dreams have no scientifically researched ‘cause, effect or validated explanation’ (always important one might think). However, (interestingly enough given the last sentence) they may be caused by amongst other things, forgetting or worrying about forgetting to do something important, or it “may reflect a sense of responsibility … where the dreamer (i.e. me) … is hesitant … to … act” (this sentence looks a bit hesitant to act too!).
So now I am more concerned than ever about what this nightmare means. Am I really so mixed up and low in confidence? According to this research there are so many issues I need to sort out to avoid having this terrible dream again. Perhaps I should do nothing (given the lack of scientific evidence). The sense of relief I get when I wake up from the dream may simply have to be as good as it gets, and sounds a whole lot easier.
Or maybe I should go back to university.