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Br J Gen Pract. 2007 August 1; 57(541): 681.
PMCID: PMC2099690

Recurrent Dreams

I have two recurrent dreams. I have them perhaps twice a year. They leave me unsettled for the rest of the day.

In the less frequent of the two I am an undergraduate in my first year at Oxford. It is Saturday night, and I have nothing to do. I sit in my room and feel desolately lonely. The dream accurately reflects my first few weeks at Oxford. I had gone up with friends who spent their weekends back home with their girlfriends and it took a little while to move out of the old circle. Once out, I didn't look back, but the fear of social loneliness is burned into a neuronal circuit somewhere. Social loneliness is a terrible thing. Later in that first year, and firmly a member of one of the many groups of friends in College, I was in the crowded College bar when we heard that one of the second-year students had killed himself. Not a single person in the bar knew the unfortunate soul.

In the other dream I am about to take medical finals, and I know I will fail because I haven't done enough work. But the odd thing about this dream is that I am never an undergraduate; I am what I am now: a working anaesthetist. Nonetheless, I have to take medical finals all over again, and if I fail I will have to go back to medical school and resit next year. Like the loneliness dream, it is horribly realistic. I sit with the books, and read stuff I know I'm expected to know, but I don't know it at all. I started having the dream long before anyone suggested revalidation, and the exam I fear is never in anaesthetics, nor am I actually sitting the exam. I also do not remember having any great worries about failing medical finals, or having dreams about it, at the time. This recurrent dream started only when I was already safely a consultant anaesthetist.

Read into these dreams what you will. I read only that we understand even less about the sleeping mind than we do about the awake one. I also have nightmares occasionally, which wake me suddenly and sometimes noisily from sleep. Rarely can I remember for more than a few moments what had been happening. My recurrent dreams never wake me, but during them I have a sense that I wish this could be over. I wake eventually, to a flooding sense of relief that it was only a dream. But the fear stays with me all day.


Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners