I wrote this piece a few weeks ago, but I sat on publishing it because it’s quite a departure from my usual sort of article.
But I finally got over myself.
For the past few weeks, I’ve awoken each morning at 6:15 from a dream. It’s never quite the same dream, but it always follows a predictable narrative:
I’m walking through an airport, or a bus station, or I’m wandering through a city on foot. I have a tote bag over my shoulder filled to the brim with my things. I’m in danger of missing a flight.
And then the chaos begins. My phone dies. I’m not where I think I am. My bag falls open at the ticketing counter, or I lose my bag altogether. I become frantic, trying to keep everything straight. I have to find my bag. Where was I last? I’m going to miss my flight.
It’s comical, really, the variations my brain invents. One version had me trotting across my old college campus in search of my car, only to find it with all of its doors left open and my cat (which I had left in it?) gone missing.
But the next element of the dream always makes me sad.
At some point in my harried journey, I come upon an old friend. The friend is always different, but they’re always someone who was once dear to me. And they’re always having fun with other people.
They say hi, that they’re so happy to see me and what a surprise it is. But then they turn back to their other friends. I move on alone.
I wake up in a cold sweat, still hoping I’ll make it in time.
My brain is too talkative
It’s been a weird year. And you’ll have to believe me when I say that my brain isn’t usually quite so dramatic.
But you don’t have to be a dream interpreter to know that my subconscious is grappling with some Big Feels:
Hey, lonely-pants feeling lonely over here!
You feel like your friends are making progress in their lives while you’re stuck in one place!
You don’t know where you’re going but you’d better get there fast!
But really, goodness, don’t we all feel this a bit right now?
Honestly, I hadn’t given much thought to these dreams until I was listening to a recent episode of the Creative Pep Talk Podcast. Its host Andy J. Pizza talked about a recurring dream he’s been having—of being lost in an airport.
The vibes, they are bad
Ye Old Pandemic Times have done a number on us all. I miss my friends terribly. I hate how difficult it’s been to see family without getting too close.
Although my state has had loose restrictions throughout the past 13 months, my husband and I have tried to follow CDC guidelines as closely as possible. And because we are lucky enough to work from home, that means we haven’t done much outside the house in a very long time.
And sure, there are some things we could do. The outdoors still exist. But summers in the desert are miserable, and the winters still too cold—I have endless excuses.
Most of them are good excuses. Not all.
To some extent, I’ve become adjusted to this way of living. I’ve become accustomed to the repetitive days. The quiet nights. The simple pattern of our lives.
But it doesn’t feel right. No, it feels like soothing a squirming child back to sleep.
Shhh, it’s not morning yet. I know you feel awake. Just go back to sleep. Morning will come eventually.
The New York Times published an article about the emotion many of us are experiencing right now. They give it the rather dramatic term of “languishing“—not quite depressed, but not thriving either.
My husband laughed at the weight of the term. I chuckled along half-heartedly.
Languishing. Is this languishing? Some days I am a whirlwind of energy and motivation. Others I spend staving off tears—unsuccessfully.
At the same time, I recognize that I am extremely privileged to be able to have been cloistered away for so long. I know too many people who have to go through the emotional rollercoaster of interacting with others all day, wondering who might be infected.
As I write, I wonder how much languishing is inevitable, and how much is self-imposed. I’m not sure. But I just spent 20 minutes in the garden section of Home Depot and somehow feel a lot less languished today.
Peeking through the doorway
A few days ago, a nice woman slipped a tiny needle in my arm for the second time. (She was kind enough not to judge as I looked away and asked my husband to distract me by pinching my other hand.)
In just a week or two, my body will have manufactured my own microscopic army, allowing me to pass through the world without fear.
Freedom is on the horizon. And as that finish line grows closer, something inside me waking back up. And she’s not sure what to make of the world she’s awaking to.
I’ve been doing free-writing every morning when I sit down at my desk. And lately, each entry has turned into obsessive lists of what I plan to do in the coming months.
It’s nothing too crazy. Not actually. I mean, one part of my head is screaming to go out every night, find somewhere I can be surrounded by bodies and pulsing music, collapse at IHOP with strangers-turned-friends at 4am… but I am ignoring that part.
No, my list is even more exciting than that.
I’m going to go to a coffee shop. Oh god, a coffee shop. And I’m going to sit in it! And write from there! (Masked, of course, because I don’t want to give anxiety to those around me who don’t know that I’m vaccinated.)
I’m going to hug my family. Without a mask!
I’m going to see my vaccinated friends for the first time in a year, and we’re going to sit on the couch and share food and talk like normal people.
And for my birthday, I’m going to drag my husband through Target (in person!) and pick out a paper organizer.
I know. How will I even handle it?
A new beginning
I believe that dreams are just your subconscious reflecting your own feelings back to you to get you to pay attention. And in the days since I started writing this and finally listened to the recurring narrative, they’ve stopped.
Because I know that as frantic as those feelings are, they’re just that—feelings.
If I’m being honest, I’m scared to see my friends again. I’m worried things have changed in some quiet way that Zoom couldn’t pick up on. And while I have endless plans for the future of my professional life, I don’t know how it’ll turn out. I’m tired of disappointing myself.
But even now, as I sit with that uncertainty, I hold onto how the dream ends:
I’m on the edge of waking. I have no idea where my bag is or if I’ll find my bus in time. But it’s okay, I tell myself—because I have my own feet. I’ll walk there if I have to.
I won’t think about how long it’s going to take.
I won’t worry that my friends won’t come.
No matter what it takes, I’ll get to where I need to be. One step at a time.