Dreams: Nathalie

Dreams: Nathalie

"I have been having the same horrible nightmare for the past 20 years," says Nathalie. "The recurring nightmare begins with me in the same house as when I was a kid. I go into the bathroom and I see a shadow behind the shower curtain. I see a little girl hung with a noose. She's wearing a dress that I used to have when I was a child. Her head is hung downward. I'll hear her scream in a horrible screech. She's reaching out to me and she'll just yell, 'Why are you leaving? Don't abandon me.'"


For the past three years, Nathalie has been sleeping with the lights on, a baseball bat on her nightstand and her dog in bed with her. "This nightmare started just after my 14th birthday, and it came about once a month. For the past 10 years, I've been having it every single night," she says. "I make sure that I set my alarm clock every hour and a half, just to make sure that I do not go into a REM sleep."

Nathalie's nightmare has become so intense that she was put on medical leave and hasn't worked in at least six months. "I find myself having difficulty distinguishing between what's reality and what is dream. Even when I am awake, I see her. I feel her. And I fear her."

She even attributes a near-accident to her ghastly dream. "I was driving. I saw her and I tried to not hit her. I felt I hit her anyway. I immediately called 911. They sent an ambulance and police over. The EMT said that I was just tired," she recounts. "That's when I realized that this nightmare was definitely taking control over my life. I live in constant fear. I have the feeling that there is somebody watching me, waiting for me."

Nathalie has tried medication and therapy, yet feels she is running out of options. "My greatest fear is that I'm going insane. If I don't get Dr. Phil's help, I feel that I'll just cross over into the dream and I'll get stuck there."

"When you see yourself describing this, does it seem real to you, or do you get some distance from it?" Dr. Phil asks Nathalie. "I was watching you watch that, and you were just spellbound."

"It was definitely the first time that I've had more imagery to what I actually see," she admits. "It's definitely real to me whether I'm awake or whether I'm asleep. To a certain extent, I've become numb to it because it's so terrifying. I try to go deeper. I've tried to analyze it myself. I've gone through therapy. I've done everything in the book that possibly exists." 

"What do they tell you?" Dr. Phil asks.

"They always came back and said that since it started when I was very young with my parents' divorce, that mostly like it was because I lacked the attention of a father figure in my life," Nathalie says. She describes what is so horrifying about her dream. "She falls in the tub and her arm is hanging out, and she is reaching out to me. Of course, I'm trying to leave, which I can't. She'll say, 'Stay with me,' 'Don't leave,' 'Why are you leaving?' 'Don't abandon me.' And lately, she'll say, 'Come play with me.' That does freak me out. 'Come play with me.' It sounds so innocent, but it evokes a terrifying feeling. I carry that fear even when I am awake."

"Do you have any sense of will while you're in the dream? Can you turn away?" Dr. Phil probes. "If she said, 'Why are you leaving me?' have you ever answered the question?" 

Nathalie replies, "No. I can't. I freeze. It's sheer terror." She has taken drastic measures to curtail these nightmares. "I've figured out that the best way to do it was to put my alarm clock at every hour and a half, because if I do go into REM sleep, that's when — I've called her Amy — that's when Amy comes and visits me." 

"When you see this girl, do you recognize her?" 

"Unfortunately, no."

"But it's the same girl every time?"

Nathalie nods sadly. "Same girl. Same scenario. Same smell in the bathroom. Same coldness. Exactly to the detail," she says. 

"Do you think you're going what you call crazy?" Dr. Phil inquires. 

Nathalie gives a short laugh. "No, because I am intelligent," she says. "I definitely feel that I'm losing control. I don't feel in control. I don't feel strong enough to fight this, which I can't accept at this point."

Dr. Phil points out that Nathalie's nightmares have contributed to the dissolution of  her marriage, and she hasn't been able to work in six months. "This is basically paralyzing your life. Your sleep quality is poor. It's interrupted," he says. "I don't know why you're having this from a psychological standpoint. It's totally subjective. We can say the little girl is you. Common sense is, the little girl is you, and you felt abandoned."


Dr. Phil suggests that Nathalie get checked out medically and biochemically. "You would be amazed how much some of the hormones that you may not have occasion to check can contribute to changes in your brain chemistry, to cause a cyclical image like this in your sleep," he explains. He also advises her to seek hypnotherapy with a trained professional. "I believe there may be value in creating a psychodrama, where you go through these images, where you can assert your will. Answer the girl's question. 'Why are you leaving me?' If you were going to answer the question right now, what would the answer be?"

"I'm scared!" she says. "You're scary looking. You're dead. You're hung in my bathroom. You ain't supposed to be moving!" 

"Can you see the logic of expressing that?" Dr. Phil says. He points out that Nathalie's face lit up when she was able to answer "Amy's" question. "You used logic and common sense, and it felt good to you. I could see it in your eyes. I could see it in your face. What I want to do is suggest that we meet this thing head on under supervision ... I would also like to have you evaluated in terms of your hormonal profile."

"You don't need to go see [Amy] again if you've said and done everything you need to do to deal with her," Dr. Phil tells Nathalie. "I don't want you telling yourself that you're being sucked into this dream, and you don't know the difference between reality and fantasy because you do know. It's just that this is wearing you flat out ... It's fatiguing you mentally, emotionally and physically."

He promises to get professional help for Nathalie, and Dr. Lawlis will assist in finding a trained hypnotherapist for her. "I think we're going to find some answers. I take this very seriously, and I think this is something that we can get a handle on," Dr. Phil says.