Sept. 11 has given people nightmares

Friday, November 23, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Darla Deen, from Oregon, dreamed of being trapped in a World Trade Center tower. For New Yorker Sara Ridberg, sleep brought a vision of anthrax spilling on Central Park from a hot-air balloon.

Californian Kelley Kolberg dreamed of a beautiful bald eagle, suddenly transformed into a snarling bird that flies away, leaving an apparition with glowing red eyes.

The all-too-real nightmares of life since Sept. 11 have caused many people to have bad dreams.

Even people who don't usually have nightmares are experiencing them.

"They're feeling traumatized by what's going on," said Alan Siegel, a clinical psychologist from Berkeley, Calif., who wrote a book about dreams. "But that's because the world is less secure than it was."

From coast to coast, psychologists, dream researchers and sleep experts have noticed an uptick in the number of people seeking help for the dreams that have haunted their sleep since Sept. 11.

Deen, who's never been to New York, dreamed of being at a new job in the World Trade Center and knowing the attacks were coming.

But she went frantically in search of the date -- and until she found it, she could not warn anyone.

"I'm just trying to find out the date and no one can tell me," said Deen, 54, a medical transcriptionist in Medford, Ore. She woke up feeling anxious.

Bin Laden in dream

"It was a feeling of doom because I knew what was going to happen but I was caught there."

After the balloon explodes in Ridberg's nightmare, she goes home with an elderly couple where the news shows Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the terrorist attacks, in Central Park with a gun. He declares war on America. Ridberg prays: "Please God, I want to live. There's so many things I want to do."

The 27-year-old New Yorker said she has also dreamed that the twin towers were rebuilt out of chicken wire, and of calling her boyfriend from one of the hijacked planes before it crashed into the buildings.

She found the bin Laden dream ultimately comforting.

"At the end of the dream there was this real sense of thankfulness that I was alive," said Ridberg, a sign language interpreter who was out of town on the day of the attacks.

Considering all the people who were wounded in the attacks or witnessed them, the emergency crews that responded, and friends and relatives of the dead, tens of thousands of people may be experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder -- including nightmares, said dream researcher Kelly Bulkeley.

Many of their dreams have featured plane crashes or hijackings, buildings collapsing, war, being chased or threatened by terrorists, bin Laden and anthrax.

Such dreams are common for trauma victims.

Yet, as frightening as it may sound, nightmares are a good thing, experts say.

Nightmares -- dreams with an intense fear that wakes the sleeper -- are normal after a crisis.

Having them suggests the dreamer is working through the trauma and accepting what happened.

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