It is possible for a dream to drive you insane. To see that this is true, you must understand three things.

  1. Your emotions are not under your direct control. You may be able to redirect your emotions, make it so that you will not feel in a few moments what you feel now, but your present emotions are absolute and immutable; further, emotions form a continuum – they cannot go directly to zero from a quantity that is not zero. They must travel.

  2. What is “real” and what is “not real” – these terms refer to emotions, not thoughts. Despite all our philosophical pretensions, believing that something is real means nothing unless you also feel that it is real. If you have a paralyzing fear that the bogey man will grab you if you get out of your bed, then you cannot get out of your bed, no matter how well your mind is convinced that there is no such thing as the bogey man. This every parent knows. Their child is not stupid, their child is merely afraid. Though the child can acknowledge verbally that the bogey man doesn’t exist – and mean it – they cannot get out of bed, and they become even more upset because they cannot explain to their parents why they cannot get out of bed. Because no one ever explained to them that people do not control their emotions.

    Emotions define reality for everyone, not just children. How many adults protect themselves against dangers they themselves agree have a microscopic probability of ever occurring? How many adults cannot fly? How many make sure to lock their doors while driving, to protect against the astronomically improbable car-jacking, while talking on their cellphone? More profoundly, how many cannot voice objections to Church doctrine out of fear that the Devil will take them because of it, even when those objections would negate that very belief? Though we can influence our future feelings through our present thoughts, it is nonetheless true that what feel, and not what we think, defines our reality.

  3. We do not choose or control the emotions we feel in a dream. Some people claim they can control their dreams, and I have no doubt that this is to some extent true, but do they not still experience the unbidden dream, the phantom with its own will?

So, it is indeed possible that not only our sleep but our very reality could be corrupted by a dream. What if, suddenly and through no choice of your own, you felt, embedded in your psyche, an irreproachable fear of logic – a terror at the first hint of reasoning. How would you contrive to undo this? Or, what if something were so frightening, that even the thought of confronting that fear was itself prohibitively fearful? You would stop thinking about it. Talk about “overcoming” fear all you like; we do this only by finding a new way to perceive the thing that scares us.

The scariest dream I ever had – the scariest thing that has ever happened to me – happened when I was 16. I was obviously no longer a child, and well understood the difference between dreams and reality. And it had been a very long time since I’d had a nightmare. Nevertheless, the next night I would have done almost anything not to sleep – to never sleep again, in fact. I spent much of the day trying to think of a way not to sleep until I could forget the dream I’d had. And this was after several waking hours. The moment I awoke, I wanted only to escape, wanted it like I have wanted nothing in my entire life, but knew that I could not go anywhere that I would be safe. The dream would be wherever I was, without exception. I wanted to dash from my bed, and I wanted to stay in my bed, both with untold urgency.

In the dream was a being, and that being was the thing that I feared. It was enormous – in my one cloudy memory of its image, it spanned countless city blocks. It was all black, metallic but also alive. (It’s strange, I’m afraid even now. I am on the verge of tears.) It had a bulbous body protruding several stories from the ground, and one grotesque, smooth tapering appendage; it was the appendage that reached across the city, though I did not see it move. I do not remember what the thing was supposed to be, nor in what way it was a threat, but I remember it could communicate to me in my thoughts. I heard its voice, a composed, direct voice, and that voice was a force of pure, unlimited terror. What was it? What could it represent? These questions cannot be answered, because dreams do not fit into the clockwork logic we use to organize reality. And that is precisely where the power dreams come from. It is why, in the final count, your dreams are more powerful than you. If there is a devil, then it would only make sense that he take a different form for each person. And I know exactly what mine looks like.