Repetitive Compulsion, Psych Ward Dream & the Waltz of the Flowers

(I am sure that no one else on WordPress has ever used that title for a blogpost before–and probably with good reason.)

Last year I wrote about the way I sometimes used thoughts of being assaulted as a way to lull myself to sleep. I was surprised and maybe a bit relieved when several of you mentioned in comments that there is actually a name for this: repetitive compulsion. This is something I used to do regularly, but it’s become infrequent, which is progress, I guess.

A variation on the theme is waking up from a disturbing dream and then allowing the dream to continue to unfold in your half-awake state, when it should be possible to stop the storyline in its tracks. This has been something I’ve done for as long as I can remember, way back when I was in elementary school and used to dream that I was on a beach, trying to scramble up a steep hill before the thundering tidal wave right reached me and swallowed me up.

Recently, I have been having especially vivid, colorful and sometimes dark dreams in the early morning hours. I awaken discombobulated and have difficulty transitioning to the world of wakefulness. Some days I lie in bed and slide in and out of the dream for a long time before I join the the so-called real world.

Over the weekend, one of these dreams had me in a psych ward, or rather, a combination psych ward and nursing home. I was a patient there, on a locked ward (side note: I have not been a patient in a psych ward so the setting was some combination of images from books and movies and from visiting nursing homes with my church youth group many years ago). There were many people there, wandering around in different rooms. There were old people in wheelchairs parked in front of televisions (definite nursing home memory) and there were young people crying together in a circle of chairs. A big, bearlike man cornered me in a room, and though I squirmed and wriggled, I couldn’t escape him. He slid his hands inside my pajamas, and I couldn’t get away. Scene shift: I approach the nurse at her desk and try to explain what happened. She regards me skeptically, tells me I am making something out of nothing, says it would be better to forget it, don’t talk about. She is impatient and leave me standing there, stunned as I realize my powerlessness.

I can’t tell you how much of this assault and aftermath evolved when I was fully asleep and whether part of it developed when I was awake. I honestly can’t remember.

Not surprisingly, I am not my most cheerful, energetic self when I start a day in this way, and this has made mornings an on-going challenge for me. But something new came up with this latest psych ward dream and the feelings of powerlessness.

I’ve spent years trying to escape from painful emotions–fear, self-loathing, disgust, rage, you name it. And yet I’ve been learning that the goal is to accept the emotions and to be kind to them. It’s often a challenge to figure out what that looks like in practical terms, however.

Somehow, this past weekend, it looked like this to me. During my meditation time, I spent the first part of my meditation focused on my breath. Then instead of a guided meditation, I created my own visualization. I decided I would go back into that psych ward, that unhappy and dangerous place, and I would take with me some of the stronger, positive residents of my emotional house: Joy and Compassion.

Joy, being a great fan of dressing up, wanted to mark the season. So she dug through her trunk of lovely clothes and found her costume from the Nutcracker ballet, the one she wears to dance to the Waltz of the Flowers. She looks graceful and elegant and can’t help but dance when she puts on the ballet slippers.

Compassion doesn’t dress as Santa, but she does bring a bag with delicate gift boxes in them. We go into the living room, where the TV is still on, and we start to hand out the boxes to the people in wheelchairs. We can’t see what is in the boxes, but we know somehow that for each person, the box contains exactly what he or she needs. We see people close their eyes and smile, or cry just a little because the present it so perfect.

Then I pulled a box from the bag and approach the nurses’ station. The nurse who didn’t listen to my complaint earlier is still there, looking fierce and forbidding. I hand her a box, which she accepts. She turns away as she opens it.

I don’t know what her reaction is. All I know is that I feel lighter. I feel as though the stone that stands in for my heart cracked and opens a bit, growing softer around the edges. The air that enters my body feels sweeter, and it is easier to breathe.

Okay, it’s crazy. I don’t bother denying my craziness anymore. I recognize this is strange. I probably (definitely) wouldn’t share this with my professional colleagues. But I’m not ashamed of it. These crazy flights of fancy help me heal. I’m learning that for me, healing is not so much about what I understand intellectually. It’s about moving my spirit to a place of gentleness and acceptance, with help, I guess, from Tchaikovsky.





  1. So sorry you had that disturbing and yucky dream. Love the way you used visualization with Joy and Compassion, so creative and smart. And I laughed at “I am pretty sure this is the only post with this title…” 🙂 You are really funny, Q. I love your humor. Even more so, knowing you can find humor even when feeling those yucky body memories and triggers. Resiliency at its finest. xx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That is certainly a unique post title! Sorry about the bad dreams. I really like how you were able to bring Joy and Compassion with you to the situation. I love the imagery of Joy dancing around and bringing… well joy to that sad place. Really smart of you to do this and feel lighter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I recently wrote a blog about some of my dreams. THey are incredibly vivid just like yours. One of mine I am in a hospital just like yours and almost the same scenario happens. I was never in a place like in my dream Thanks for sharing your dreams.


  4. I’ve shared that I have very similar dreams/disturbing thoughts that oddly don’t feel all that disturbing. I am going to look up repetitive compulsion, never heard of that term or at least I don’t remember. And yes, these recurring “dreams” lull me sleep as well. Actually they even present in yoga-savasana-and I felt this wave of anxiety which turned to a fear of having a heart attack. Then it went into this overwhelm or panic and I imagined the instructor calling my T but I couldn’t talk. Really I was just fine lying with my eyes half closed and nothing was wrong. Sometimes I’m bleeding or my face is bruised but I don’t know how I got as such. My half awake thoughts are usually how to get a hold of my T but it never really pans out because my mind is devising all the terrible things that happened to me and often times it turns out that I dream that I did it to myself making my entire past seem like a big made up lie.


  5. This is what my old psychologist taught me to do with dreams. What you did is a well proven healing technique!
    Dr. T had me write down the dream exactly as I recalled it then I would rewrite it as empowerment. I also painted some of the worst trauma to remove the iron hold it had on me.
    You’ve done a wonderful thing here. I hope you are able to use this tool again to further healing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.