When we go to sleep, our brains are still at work. Gill South visits a psychotherapist to see what our dreams tell us about our waking lives.
There seem to be some of us who remember dreams quite strongly and some who don't. Mine have been so full-on recently I have taken myself off to see an expert to see what's behind this.
In the week before I see Margaret Bowater, a respected psychotherapist, counsellor and dream interpreter, I make notes, and arrive at her North Shore home full of anticipation.
Margaret explains the dream cycle to me by drawing a graph. When you first fall asleep you go down into a deep sleep, then you come out of it and have shallower sleeps through the night and about four or so different dreams. A quarter of your sleep is spent on dreaming, I'm told. Although the body may be sleeping, the brain never stops working, she says. How exhausting.
She tells me, too, about the dream ego, which is a reflected image of my "waking ego", the centre of consciousness. Dreams will usually show how you feel in some aspect of your life at the time.
The first thing Margaret asks me to do is draw my dreams. It's hard enough to describe them comprehensively, let alone draw them but I give it a whirl with lots of stick figures and odd shapes. I draw myself being kidnapped while out shopping and my son, who is along for the ride, getting sick in the process.
My strongest memory in the dream is of me being at a market, having been set free by the kidnappers but they still have my son so I am trying to convince the stall holder she has to help me find him.
The week I had this dream, I had a lot of work deadlines to meet and Margaret puts this dream down to my feelings of feeling divided between work and home. The kidnapping could also represent my work, feeling tied to it and my son in the dream could also be my inner child struggling with the restrictions placed on me by the deadlines.
Your health and your dreams are related, says Margaret. For instance if you have a fever, you will have graphic, fevered dreams. Nightmares indicate a need for healing, protection, comfort or courage to act, I'm told. Having full-on dreams as I was that week, it was probably my body telling me that it needed a break. A dream can be a health warning, Margaret says.
I badly drew another recent dream which had me walking with a powerful group of leaders over a bridge with an army of men being assembled beneath us (too many Star Wars films, I'm afraid). The main thing I remember about this dream was being incredibly struck by the fact that I was the same age as those in power.
Margaret and I interpret this as a twinge of conscience that I feel I should be achieving more at my age. She wonders if I feel entitled to the same level of power. She then interviewed me as one of these leader characters, which was good fun. I take on a bullish, monosyllabic character with a vast ego and answer in a kind of Arnie sort of way. Have I missed my calling? Is acting for me?
Margaret sends me away recommending that I take note of my dreams, date them and write down things that are on my mind at the time that might be relevant and help explain them.
She tells me that she meets with a dream buddy once a month, and she has regular clients who see her a few times a year, others who go back to her only when their dreams are troubling them or they are finding them hard to fathom.
I am told that juggling is a fantastic exercise for my left and right brain hemispheres. I have a session with Orly Jacobson from jugglefish.com.