I’m not normally a big fan of overfascination with dreams, whether in the traditional psychoanalytic sense or otherwise. This is probably because I was once so fascinated with dreaming (which I could control) that it was more interesting and real to me than being awake was. Which is a dangerous way to live. Since realizing that, the only control I’ve generally attempted to exercise is being able to wake myself up or change the course of things in the worst parts of nightmares. Aside from that I let my brain rest and do its thing instead of overtaxing it while I’m asleep, and I also usually consciously decide to forget my dreams in the morning rather than think about them all day (I can do either depending on whether I want to remember them or not).
But occasionally my brain turns out something with a downright interesting plot. Last night I had a fairly bad dream (I’m sure it’s what other people would call a nightmare, but I have long had a fairly unusual sense of what is and isn’t a nightmare), the plot of which was a surprisingly good metaphor for disability-related institutionalization (and I’m sure things of this nature actually happen to people in real life, too, although probably not the specific details). This is not a typical dream for me in several respects, but it seems to be a variation on my institution nightmares (which are infrequent lately).
Keep in mind, I don’t know much legal terminology about crime, I know very little about how court works (I’ve only been in a courtroom once or twice, for much more trivial matters, and always for other people, not myself), and the dream no doubt reflects my total lack of knowledge in that area.
I was watching someone being tried in a criminal court of some kind, for something along the lines of, doing something to help along a bunch of murders, but not actually committing them. That person was there, and the one surviving would-be victim was there. As they presented evidence, I realized that I was apparently the mass murderer in this case.
This was, of course, news to me. I haven’t killed one person, let alone several. My initial impulse was to believe they were lying about me, and that I had never done anything like this. But it did not seem like they were lying. (I don’t remember any words in the dream, the information was just being transmitted in some more direct way.) And the way that that surviving would-be murder victim feared me did not seem feigned in the least bit.
Which was weird, because I didn’t remember doing anything. But even while I didn’t remember doing anything, they showed a bunch of videotapes I’d supposedly made (along with the guy who hadn’t actually killed anyone but who had helped me kill people, or something) that clearly showed me pretty sadistically murdering a bunch of people. (I’ll spare the details, but they involved torture.) And it was clearly me, and what I was doing to them was clearly some pretty heinous killing.
I kept thinking that I hadn’t done that, but that I hadn’t done that was totally at odds with the evidence everyone was presenting against me, including stuff that even I thought showed that I really had somehow done this. I started to question what I remembered about myself, and wonder in what circumstances I could do something that memorable and not remember it. It seemed that they were probably right about me, and that there was something very wrong with me, on a moral level, because only a monster would do things like that. Most of this, I wasn’t thinking this with extremes of feeling, it was more of a sickened, sober reflection. But the weird fact remained that I did not remember doing it, and it’s the sort of thing you should remember doing.
I began to wonder whether I was in the wrong body or something. I also began to wonder how on earth they would believe me if I claimed to know nothing about all this, given that probably even someone who had done all those things would be trying to deny it if they could. I kept looking at the person I had apparently almost killed (that was on videotape too, but he got away) and wondering what on earth it must be like to be in the room with me then, and how he could stand it. I wondered, if I had really done these things, how anything I could do from then on could ever render me an even halfway decent person. I thought about what the people I had killed, and their families, must have felt about me, and couldn’t find a way to disagree, if I really had killed them.
Some sort of conclusion was being reached about the guy who was being tried that day — I can’t remember if he was innocent or guilty. They were then saying that I’d have to stay in jail until my own trial, which would decide whether I’d be in prison for the rest of my life or not. I sat there, still wondering whether I’d done it or not, and how on earth they could conduct any sort of proper trial if I didn’t know.
Then I woke up. I was not afraid, but I was certainly relieved to find that my memory had been correct, and that I had never done anything like that.
Being in, or being sent to, a disability-related institution is a lot like that. Only there’s no trial, at least not in my case, and usually no actual crime. (When there are hearings, from what I’ve heard from people who’ve been through them, they often do go roughly like I was describing: Even if the person believes something, everyone else’s beliefs about them take precedence. I personally was often held without a hearing and without being advised of my right to one.) But the weird mental twisting and warpage of reality, as well as being confronted with the “evidence” that you are or have done, something you are not or never did, until you begin to believe it, is very reminiscent of what happens in there.