I am late for a mathematics exam. For some inexplicable reason, I have not attended class all term, and have no grasp of the material whatsoever. I run through a building that is a conglomeration of educational spaces from my past: primary school, high school, the hospital where I studied for my PhD. When I enter lifts, they go sideways instead of up and down; when I pause to find a bathroom, all of the stalls are unsuitable in some way: hideously dirty, or door-less.
Midway through my race through the corridors, I realise it is not an exam at all, but the opening night of a play, and not only have I not memorised my lines, but I cannot find the script. Then I find the script, but the font is too small to make out and I can’t find my reading glasses.
Soon after, I realise I’m in the wrong building altogether, but I cannot find the bus stop, or I run through a strange train station, down maze-like flights or stairs that never quite end up at the platform, or through streets of a foreign town that I visit often and know well but that does not correspond to any town in real life.
Of course, I am not alone. Not only are anxiety dreams common, but many of the scenes I describe are experienced by most people in some form or another. In modern Western life, we all seem to share the same petty fears – not the stuff of actual nightmares, but low-stakes, bothersome scenarios that play out again and again as we sleep. We don’t wake in so much as a cold, heart-pounding sweat, as a sense of mild relief.
The being-late-for-an-exam-I-did-not-revise-for variety is by far my most frequent anxiety dream. I once assumed that when I had completed my studies, I’d stop having dreams about exams. No such luck: If anything, they are more frequent, nearly thirty years since I turned in my last test paper.
Now that I teach undergraduates myself on a regular basis, I am amused to have had my first ever late-exam dream from the other side. It’s the same chimeric building as ever, with the same wonky lifts, but now I can’t load the timetable on my smart phone to check the room where I’m meant to be invigilating, and when I ask passing students where my class is being held, they shrug or give vague directions that don’t ever pan out.
Some research suggests that anxiety dreams might play a useful role. In 2014, scientists based at the Sorbonne in Paris studied a large group of students taking a medical school entrance exam, harvesting their dreams the night before and relating them to their results afterwards. About two-thirds of the respondents dreamed about the exam, with nearly 80% of these dreams being negative in some way – usually involving the dreamer being late, or not remembering the right answers. Yet those who dreamed of the exam were more likely to perform better. Therefore, the authors hypothesised that such dreams provide some sort of “cognitive gain’. (Alternatively, I think it’s possible that the more you study, the more you are likely to dream about the material – so maybe these midnight fretters were simply better prepared.)
#HackAHairDryer: another attempt to make science appeal to women falls flat | Jenny Rohn
I have returned to work today after a fortnight of holiday. I was anxious on the first few days home, still agonising over some annoyances and disappointments that had hit me during the end of term. It took more than a week for these frustrations to drain from my system, to stop playing out in imaginary arguments as I lay stiff and sleepless in bed, or to echo around my brain in another guise through the familiar corridors and stairwells of my dreams.
But now I am relaxed and ready to return, resigned to the setbacks and resolved to make 2016 the year that I finally get to grips with running a research programme in the midst of a full-time teaching load.
I need the means to hire a few more people in the lab, and a replacement source of funding to cover running costs that will end next year – and that means putting in as many grants as is humanly possible. Me, along with every other scientist in the UK.
When I think about all of my looming academic commitments, against the backdrop of a long daily commute, a busy home life with a husband and toddler, and frequent public engagement exercises in my free time, even my real life starts to feel like an anxiety dream.
The only way to make it all work is to get better at saying ‘no’, in such cases when such a refusal is both just and justifiable. No-saying is a key academic skill, and a skill that I am still learning: when one’s position is uncertain, the gut reflex is to accommodate as much as possible.
But such helpfulness is often a false economy, because raw output (research papers and grants) count far more than the collection of departmental tasks euphemistically described as “enabling”. One has to do some work in this area – and it can be fulfilling – but at a certain point you have to draw the line. I should, perhaps, take as my role model a particular male colleague who manages to deflect requests so smoothly and charmingly that you almost aren’t aware that he’s dodged them until the dust settles.
In the meantime I will continue to avoid sideways lifts and dirty toilets, and remember that I always wake up in the end.
Jenny Rohn runs a cell biology lab at University College London, and is the Athena Swan lead for UCL’s Division of Medicine.
Writing Dream Symbol – If you see yourself writing in your dream it may indicate that you are unable to express your thoughts and feelings to people around you. The act of writing can symbolize the act of trying to get your message across to people around you.
If you are writing down specific names and places in your dream, it can indicate that you are keeping note of people around who are positive and influential in your life.
If you are writing with a piece of chalk, it may suggest that the thoughts are only temporary and are less important than something permanent.
If you see yourself writing a book, it may indicate your desire to be creative and to try new things. You might want to consider trying a new sport or finding a hobby that you can find fulfillment in. Writing a book can also indicate the desire to leave a lasting imprint on people around you.
Writing a letter to someone you know may be an expression of your thoughts and feelings that you have towards that particular person.
Alternatively, writing in a dream could be showing your underlying passion for writing and be a reminder that you should continue to grow your writing talent.
Dreaming of writing words represents the need to take the words spoken around you, and that call your attention, seriously. It is a sign you are trying to communicate with someone. Dreaming of writing a letter can symbolize expressing the emotions you have for that person that you have never been able to express before. It can also mean your subconscious is trying to awaken your conscious mind to something important. It is a time to listen and follow your intuition.
Handwriting Dream Symbol
When you dream about your handwriting it is a reminder of your creativity and how you express yourself. This can be a dream about your creativity opening up to new opportunities. It can also be a warning such as ‘the writing is on the wall’. Is there something in your waking life this can relate to? Is there something that makes you feel afraid?
Note: If you have had a dream related to this dream symbol or would like to add something that is related to this topic please leave a comment below. Comments are a great way to interact with others who are dreaming about similar topics.