Anxiety dreams and other perils of Deadlines

This morning, on the book of faces, one of my author friends shared that she had had a horrifying nightmare: she had arrived at conference with only the clothes she was standing up in. No frock for the dinner, no change of undies and worst of all, no costume for the cocktail party!

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a writing conference with several hundred other women, but this is definitely nightmare material!  Not so much for me, admittedly. I am a big fan of finding an outfit that works and buying it in several colours and I’m a bit crap at costumes, but some of the girls go all out, especially on the costumes.

But of course, this nightmare was not really about clothes, but about deadlines – and those nightmares I understand all too well.


Debspoons created this pic for
(click for link). She’s a bit blonde to be me and I have a dog,
not a cat, but the expression fits!

See, I am one of those people who need deadlines.  I’d love not to be.  I’d love to be the kind of person who works steadily every day, come rain, hail or shine and who is never distracted by the internet, shiny things, books or lunch.

But I’m not.  I am a world-class avoider of that which is hard and scary and writing is both, so the whip-crack of an imminent deadline is a necessary spur to my creative endeavour.

Lately, I’ve had several.  Deadlines, that is (which is also partly why the blog was neglected; mea culpa and sorry!).  I had to rewrite a book (thoroughly, including many thousands of completely new words), edit the same book and I am currently running to try to finish another before I go to the RWA annual conference in… no, sorry, not calculating the number of days.  Too soon, put it that way!  A dread lurgy took two full weeks out of an already tight schedule, so I’m really under the lash now.

With the result that I’m also deep into anxiety dream territory.  Being a deadline-addict, a perfectionist and a closet worry-wort, I have built quite the repertoire of these, over the years and in the interests of sharing (and possibly making you feel less of an idiot, if you have them too), I thought I’d share some of my favourites.


This little girl (who looks quite startingly similar to me at that age)
is a stock image from the wondrous resource that is Click on the pic for a link.

Let’s begin with an old faithful, the ‘I’ve missed my exam’ dream.  This stems from my years of study and is experienced as much in the waking as the sleeping.  This is the one you have when you have a plane to catch, or a call to make that must be done by a particular time.  It is characterised by sudden waking, drenched in sweat, with heart racing and utter, utter conviction that you have overslept, missed your morning exam and therefore failed some desperately important subject.  The horror of this is so deeply ingrained that I sometimes fall back on it, even now, and it has been many, many years since I was in any formal education.  I have, on occasion, been so horrified by this dream that I have needed to get up and go and check my calendar to remind myself that I am NOT ACTUALLY STUDYING ANYTHING to bring my heart rate back to normal.

Then there are the occasion-specific ones, like in the days leading up to my wedding, when I dreamed that I was in the back of the church, with the guests all seated and I was still in my dressing gown.  Or that I discovered, two days before the wedding, that my husband-to-be was married with four children.  This one is a particular nod to my perfectionism, as what worried me in this dream was not the existence of the wife and kids so much as that, because no-one had told me, I hadn’t been able to organise a way around it.  (Are we scenting some control-freak issues here?)

My most common one in recent years, though, has been the ‘caught naked’ dream.  I don’t think you need a PhD in psychology to work out what this is about.  It’s fear of both deadlines and the work not being good enough.  Both of those are big enough fears to feature in my conscious mind – it’s hardly any wonder that they crop up in my dreams.  But I am sometimes a little concerned by both the number of times and the variety of ways I manage to be naked in public, in my dreams.

Take last night’s: in the middle of an otherwise ordinary dream, I found myself walking down a dark street in a rough neighbourhood wearing nothing but a baby-doll nightie.  The last time I owned a baby-doll nightie I was approximately 8 years old and I’m pretty sure that I have never ventured onto the street at night without shoes, much less without knickers.  Yet there I was, prancing down the street in an outfit that barely covered my naked bottom.  I’m sure there’s something here about covering one’s arse, but I prefer not to think about it too hard.  It may lead to taking a good hard look at my work practices and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. 😉

So, what about you?  Do you go in for anxiety dreams?  What do YOU end up leaving the house without?  Do tell – I need some company out here in bare-arsed land!

16 thoughts on “Anxiety dreams and other perils of Deadlines

  1. Chuckling Imelda. I’m so glad you’re coming to conference. I don’t do costumes either, but I am lucky in that I have enough pirate-ish stuff, I’ll be able to wing it. I admire those who get into the full swing and go for it – I will never (in this life or the next) be that organized, but I’m just looking forward to meeting all the ‘cyber’ special and precious people in my writing life.
    Sweet dreams!

    • I’ll probably be doing much the same, Lily, as in raiding the dress-up boxes of the family and friends for swords and eyepatches. But I’ll take lots of pictures of the better organised!

  2. Let me say I’m now trying to get the image of you in a baby-doll nightie barely covering your butt out of my brain 🙂

    I’m another deadline-driven procrastinator and yes, I’ve been known to have “one or two” of those ‘missing an appointment/exam/turning up unprepared’ etc dreams.

    Good luck meeting your deadlines!

  3. Haha! I haven’t had any naked (or baby doll) dreams lately but I seem to get exam dreams every few years…when I arrive at the designated time only to not remember a thing! I had no idea exams stressed me so much but the fact that they’ve lurked in my sub-conscious for decades reveals how much they affected me. Enjoy the conference (fully clothed I hope!)

    • Isn’t it amazing how persistent those exam dreams are? They really must have damaged our poor impressionable psyches! I am sure I will enjoy the conf, and I will definitely be fully clothed! 😉

  4. How amusing – and timely. I’m right there with you, bare-arse and all.

    I have to give presentation next week, so last night I was dreaming about work. Only, I had misplaced my underpants. I was wandering around work pant-less (having conversations with managers and trying to act casual) until I found a pair of knickers. I thought they were my own, but soon realised these knickers were little, red, lacy and g-string! Totally impractical for work. I was left not knowing what was worse, to present with no pants on, or to be wearing someone else’s thong! (which is technically still bare-arsed!!) arrghh …

    • ROFL! That’s exactly the sort of thing that happens to me! In dreams, I hasten to add… Don’t you love how your brain gives you some ridiculous choice to worry about, presumably to take your mind off the fact that you are wandering around your workplace naked from the waist down… Best of luck with your presentation. I’m sure it will go brilliantly – you will, at least be fulled clothed, in your own knickers!

  5. I don’t have dreams like that, although I do have anxieties. Nothing to do with cocktail dresses, but plenty about being stuck in the forest of obscurity. I did enjoy reading about the nocturnal manifestations of your worries.

    • Thanks for saying so, DA! Ah the dreaded forest of obscurity – the natural cousin of the lake of no-one cares and the labyrinth of ‘what if they hate me?’. We all fear those places I think. But sometimes they come out as cocktail dress dreams – although not so much for you, I guess. 😉 Thanks for visiting!

  6. Dear Imeda,
    I’ve been shipped off to Ottawa to work on this mini-series. I have stress/deadline dreams almost every night.
    Once camera starts rolling, every day is an intense deadline.
    Last night I dreamed I was in a mansion filled with racks of clothes all organized perfectly. I went out for awhile, and when I returned I was in desperate need to change my clothes.
    However, all racks were tipped over and I had to wallow shin deep in clothing that was scrambled, heaped, strewn and dirtied everywhere.
    Then came the panicky part when I was suddenly naked, and desperately pawing through the heaps without finding my clothes.

  7. I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who makes these crazy dreams! The dream of me wearing only underwear and walking in public spaces is one that comes back quite often actually…
    Enjoy the conference Imelda!

    • Thanks Rita! I’m in Perth now and looking forward to the conference. I think naked dreams are fairly common – just our insecurities working themselves out, I guess. At least it’s ONLY in dreams! 🙂

  8. Pingback: An Interview With D. A. Cairns, Author of “Ashmore Grief” | The Book Reviewers & Authors Club

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