Illustration by Danie Laminta

I See Dead People: Coming to Terms with My Nightmares

My nightmares haunt me outside of bedtime. They hang over me like my own personal rain clouds, the raindrops manifesting themselves as bouts of sadness, disgust and dissociation. And yet, maybe they’re necessary.

May 9, 2022

Trigger Warning: Disturbing Imagery
There is a large house in front of me.
I see an old woman sitting on a rocking chair in the front yard. She appears to be knitting something while she sways back and forth. Back and forth.
As I move closer, enticed by the rhythmic swaying and the soft humming that accompanies it, she crumbles into dust.
I panic and turn around to run, but realize that I am on the edge of a precipice. Literally.
In the distance, there is a deep blue river with an isle at the center. From my vantage point, there is text on the aisle. It is composed of many little “somethings.”
I do not remember what it says, but it beckons to me and I decide to make my way towards it.
As I set foot on it, I am met with a sea of gravestones. It dawns on me that the “text” I saw was composed of these.
And then — cue default Samsung ringtone — my alarm goes off.
I woke up feeling a little rattled, like I always do following a nightmare. But this happened several years ago when my nightmares caused me a few minutes of distress at worst and served as conversation material at best.
They’re no longer like that.
These days, they occupy my head more often and are not even as narratively coherent as they used to be. They show up in bits and pieces while I am asleep, exposing me to macabre imagery that my body responds to with sweat, tears and a sense of doom. Frequently, I stay in bed for the next 30 minutes, trying to calm myself down and make sense of the fictional events that transpired.
I often cry, overwhelmed by what I have seen. It doesn’t matter that none of it was real.
Later, I spend my waking hours trying desperately to forget it all.
But I can’t.
I can push the images away, yet, in my worst moments, I remember them and they fill me with a deep sadness.
Sometimes, they disgust me. I fight to keep my lunch in as I recall these unsettling non-memories from the previous night.
On other occasions, I dissociate mid-conversation as these images fill my head. I suppress the lump in my throat because I do not want to explain why — in the middle of an exchange about a random TV show — I am crying.
I no longer feel comfortable talking about my nightmares as though they are just another topic of discussion, because I do not want to subject anyone else to their grim content.
I try so very hard to minimize the impact they have on me. I take refuge in humor so that I can make light of them. I watch dark comedies and draw comics about the afterlife so that it does not feel as unsettling. I watch movies and TV shows that are just as grim so that I can condition myself into finding the content of my nightmares “normal.” After all, discomfort stems from encounters with the abnormal, right?
I also attempt to nip my nightmares in the bud by looking into what might prompt them. Dream analysis is a thing after all. I have scoured the internet for information on why I dream about the things I do. They all tell me the same thing, some variation of “it represents the end of a chapter of your life.” On this basis, I have tried to seek comfort by telling myself that my nightmares represent everything from the fact that I am about to graduate to the fact that — at an earlier point — we were moving houses and leaving behind the apartment I have lived in since I was six.
And yet, deep down, I know.
I know why my nightmares always involve death. Why is it that a faceless silhouette always dies in them?
I recognize those faceless silhouettes. I know who they are and hold them close to my heart.
And I also know that as distressing as these nightmares are, perhaps they are necessary.
I resonate with Andrea Dworkin, a feminist writer and activist, who said, “I also had nightmares. Somehow all the feelings I didn't feel when each thing had actually happened to me I did feel when I slept.”
My therapist often tells me that I need to acknowledge how I feel. She is right. I often deny that things affect me in the ways they do. But I am working on that. And I hope that when I am done, I can finally go to bed without waking up on the edge of tears and feeling my heart pounding. I hope to finally exist without my nightmares occupying my head in the AM.
At least, I am now able to write about this without a lump growing in my throat.
Naeema Mohammed Sageer is a Staff Illustrator and contributing writer. Email her at
gazelle logo