What I’ve Learned From Nightmares

Two days ago, I had the worst nightmare I’d experienced in years. It was so horrific that repeating what emerged from my own mind felt too sadistic for the words to come out without an obvious tremble in my voice. It’s that same tremble you feel before giving an important presentation or introducing yourself on a first date, both of which have presented their own special levels of terror in my world.

When I was young, I was so afraid of my nightmares that I tried to avoid sleeping. When I finally dozed off and entered the dream realm, I never knew what was waiting. It was like rolling a pair of red dice. Maybe I would hit the lucky seven. Maybe I would get the snake eyes. Either way, the random outcomes were emotional, and the anticipation lingered as the dice rolled out onto my subconscious concrete.

Will I get lucky or will I lose this game and find my pleasant dreams asunder? For every loss, my nightmares would consume my thoughts the next day, following me like the putrid odor of a skunk you accidentally pass on a morning walk.

As creators, we aren’t just tapping into the beauty of the world. We see the coldness. The darkness. The disturbed fragments within our selves.

What did my dream mean? Why did it happen? Will it happen in real life?

I’ve cheated myself by not documenting my dream journeys. I believe that within the most terrifying moments in our minds, there is a message to remember. It’s written like the classic message in a bottle. Floating in the vast ocean of our brain waves, waiting to be washed ashore. And the message can significantly improve or destroy our lives — if we don’t control the narrative.

What I’ve learned from my nightmares is the importance of grabbing hold to your fears and using that very same fear to create. As creators, we aren’t just tapping into the beauty of the world. We see the coldness. The darkness. The disturbed fragments within our selves.

A lot of life is dealing with your curse, dealing with the cards you were given that aren’t so nice. Does it make you into a monster, or can you temper it in some way, or accept it and go in some other direction? — Wes Craven

Inside of these bodies we inhabit are innate and complex fears meant to protect us from physical and emotional dangers. We don’t have to bury our fears beneath the surface of what we want others to believe about us. The dirt of our public facades is too heavy to keep pouring over the core of what makes us real.

I doubt that the best leaders to have walked this Earth were fearless. They just knew what to do with the silent discomforts that frightened them to their cores.

My nightmares have taught me to make fear my friend and to allow my subconscious to cleanse itself — even when it terrifies me.

We can work to manipulate our fears in ways that make us better. Find the message, and confront feelings we don’t want to acknowledge. We don’t have to pretend to be fearless. We can just be bold as our hands are quivering and our voices are shaking.

Will we let our fears consume us or use them to help us be great?

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Princella Talley

Princella Talley

Top Writer in Feminism. Public Voices fellow of the OpEd Project and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.