The Life Doctor

TWO WEEKS ago I was interviewing a lesbian porn-thriller actress. Her sex life was so loud and so colourful - all fantasies, equipment, piercing and over-crowding - that I began to feel like Maria Von Trapp in a sack-cloth trouser suit. Until we started talking about dreams. I told her I dreamt recently that I was taking part in a homosexual synchronised swimming competition, where I, as a gay man, was having sex with Ian McKellan (with me behind). Then I walked into my bathroom and saw my own bottom hanging on a hook looking far inferior to one next to it. "Christ," she said, quiet for the first time. "That's really outrageous." I think it was the proudest moment of my life.

Dreaming is good for you. Dr Keith Herne, dream interpretation expert, says, "When you see the grim faces of the commuters you think how much better they would feel if they had just dreamt that they were flying over the Grand Canyon. Dreams cheer you up." Not only is it possible to direct your dreams, it is also, say Dr Hearne and his business partner David Melbourne, possible to use dreams as therapeutic tools.

Dreams are conversations between the unconscious and the conscious mind. And the unconscious, apparently, always knows best. I would have thought that a stupid person awake would have an equally stupid unconscious when asleep but no, even the dimmest among us has a voice of reason inside. The advice could cover career or relationship choices, early-health warnings, reassurance, almost anything, if only we take the trouble to understand.

Hearne and Melbourne, whose latest book, Dream Oracle, comes out in September, are analysing my dream. First I have to answer a lot of questions so they can do a tailor-made interpretation. "Everybody has different associations, everybody thinks differently," says Dr Hearne. "That is why dream dictionaries are so misleading." When you are working out the message of your own dream, you will know your own associations. To start working on understanding your unconscious, write down the key words of the dream (in my case "white", "bottom", "hook", "synchronised", "swimming", "Ian" and "McKellan"). Then write down the images and look for links. Visual puns, rhyming words, symbols - a post in some earth might mean you feel stuck in the mud. Big Old Motor Bike might stand for BOMB - an emotional bomb. Separate the dream into categories (emotions, scene, changes, dialogue) and look for a logical sequence, change in time and so on. If something doesn't fit in, look for a different theme.

Analyse and reanalyse. Keith Herne reckons on it taking a good four hours. When I see the words "bottom" and "hook" written down, I make the link for the first time from "b-hook" to "book". It makes perfect sense. I was not, after all, such a girl as to be worried about substandard buttocks but was instead feeling anxious that my embryonic novel was not good enough.

Dr Hearne and David Melbourne pointed out the number of white images - curtains, the bottom, a wedding scene (I saved you from that bit). "All white often means all right - your subconscious reassuring you that everything's going to be all right" says Melbourne. So my apparently homoerotic porn flick was actually a career dream - particularly as I stressed it didn't feel emotionally charged. The sex with Ian McKellan in the pool was me trying to get in the swim of things, trying to "fit in" (as it were) in a changing environment. Solution: my unconscious is trying to tell me to chill out at work.

When you are too stressed to deal with your life rationally, when you are likely to say or do entirely the wrong thing through paranoic delusion (a common feature of my life) then leave it to the unconscious. "Before you go to sleep ask your unconscious to solve a problem," says Professor Fontana, psychologist and author of Teach Yourself to Dream, published last year. "You could find the answer comes to you in the morning." He explains that Coleridge, Robert Louis Stevenson, several science Nobel Prize winners and even Freddie Mercury were inspired by dreams.

If you think you don't remember or don't dream at all, then you are obviously in a state of severe repression. Everybody dreams, typically for two hours a night. To remember your dreams more, keep a diary. "As soon as you start thinking about your dreams and being interested in them, then, you start to remember more," says David Fontana. It's true. I'm remembering dreams every night now. It's great fun. Last night I dreamt that I asked my mother what the word "discombobulation" meant. And she told me. When I woke up I looked it up and it was right. Actually, I think that was my unconscious proving it knows more than I do. What a show-off.

I try to get the dream experts to support my theory that interesting dreamers have interesting minds. I tell Keith Hearne that the night I dreamt about Ian McKellan and the bottom, my boyfriend dreamt that he went bird watching. Surely I am more fascinating? But he doesn't buy it. "No, wild dreams could just be a compensation for a dull life." It can't be true.

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