Dreams and Phobias

I had an interesting dream last night; one that was entirely new and yet familiar. New venue, similar story line.

I dreamt that I was with friends, some of whom I have not seen for a while. We were, for some reason running around inside a building, parts of which were new, occupied and bustling, like salons on a cruise ship, and others that were decrepit, fallow and entirely unsafe. For some odd reason we weren’t running out of fear, nor were we running without purpose. We were running, or at least hurrying, to get somewhere and each time we arrived at a destination (where in particular now escapes me) we, or at least I, would realize we’d forgotten to bring something. So back we went. And each time returning we had to navigate a section of hallway, perhaps an old stairwell, that was missing an entire length of staircase and railings and therefore had a gaping hole where the stairs would normally be, with a drop off to the floor below.

The first two or three times through this area I was aware of the gaping hole, which, with no railing, presented a significant danger to me. I had at least a few feet to work with between the wall on one side and the hole on the other. But on what would turn out to be my last trip through, the distance seemed to close, and it became a mere yard or so. On this final trip I confidently sped though the pass, and just as I looked over into the space below I felt a check, like running into the corner of a wall or being hit, and over the edge I went. As I fell I tried grabbing on to the floor and I managed to wrap my hand on the edge but for some reason my hand was closed, full of loose pocket change I think, and my closed fist couldn’t support me like curled fingers would have. Latching on to the edge with my fist lasted only a second or two, perhaps slowing me but not stopping my fall. Down I went, watching the floor, my friends, and the wall which I ran into and I swear was not there previously, getting smaller.

It was at this point in the dream that I woke up. It is at this moment of freefall that I typically wake up. The venue was new, but the experience of falling was not. I have dreams of falling fairly often, perhaps a few times each year – less so as I get older. I can recall dreams from 20 years ago where I would jump from the top of a very tall and steep staircase which I recognized was from a local restaurant, in a perfect swan dive position, only to wake up just as I felt the rush of adrenaline at the moment of freefall. I’ve never hit the ground in my dreams.

So familiar are these dreams of falling that I know and tell myself that I am dreaming, so I am somewhat aware that I am not susceptible to dying as the stories play out. Instead, I play with the experience a bit; I understand the situation that I am in, more or less, and I perhaps don’t try particularly hard to stay out of harm’s way. As I have gotten older, however, my dreams have evolved from being a willing participant in falling (as I described, I used to jump), to less voluntary falls or slips. Typically, however, it is something of a compulsion that I encounter, where I am near or on the edge of a precipice and feel as though my balance fails me, or I am pushed or otherwise compelled to fall.

It is perhaps not unusual, then, that in reality I am quite afraid of heights and of the potential of falling. I have quite a hard time with stairs with no risers (no vertical boards where your toes hit), and I very much dislike low railings on balconies or catwalks. The stairs thing is big for me – irrelevant of height off the ground. Some homes we’ve toured have these types of stairs as they seem to be quite fashionable right now, and I am not a fan. My legs get a charge of adrenaline and I feel as though my blood pressure drops and I get weak. I can usually force my way through the experience, however. The low railing-thing only really bothers me when I’m dealing with a fall that would kill me. Low (or no) railings on a structure a few feet from the ground is no problem. But as I re-discovered at MoMA in New York this past summer, a 6th floor sky-bridge with four foot glass railings open to the ground floor made my knees week and my fingers and toes tingle to the point that I would only cross through the middle and when there weren’t any people obstructing my clear passage. My picture at the top of this post is from the bridge in question.

I find it interesting that I continue to have falling dreams, and that more often than not, I am aware that I am dreaming. I wonder what they mean, and I wonder if I can defeat them. I have read that falling dreams symbolize insecurity in one’s personal life, whether relationship or work-related. At this point, I have some discovering to do, however without leading you on, I can guarantee you that it has nothing to do with relationships… The other option… No comment.

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