I don’t know what kind of nightmares you have, but I have always had the kind that involve everyday situations taken to the height of anxiety. Things like…
Getting on the wrong subway line when I have tickets to a Broadway show that starts in 30 minutes
Having a plane to catch and I can’t find my boarding pass
Skating in a roller derby bout but I can’t get my legs to move fast enough
Needing to make an important phone call but I’ve forgotten the number and spilled water on the paper where I wrote it down
Being in a play and missing my entrance because every time I put on one part of my costume, another falls off and gets lost
Fighting with people in my real life about actual things we fight about in real life
That last kind of dream started happening after my maternal grandmother died a few years ago. We weren’t close and I think she had the kind of undiagnosed mental illness that resulted in two states: she either couldn’t stand you or wanted nothing more than to be near you. She often confused the two. But after she died, I had dreams where we were standing in her living room screaming at each other about how mean and ungrateful I was and how mean and unfair she was. My aunt took after her mother so when she died too, they were both in the living room screaming at me.
I hear that people are starting to have nightmares where they go out in public and suddenly realize they’re not wearing a mask. Such nakedness and shame.
The thing about my real-life dreams is that they never get resolved. There’s no neat ending where I find my boarding pass and get on the plane. I’m always stuck in this FOMO spiral of disappointment and frustration until I wake up.
I think the message is clear: you don’t know how to get where you want to go.
My grandma and aunt lived together in the same house until they both died. My aunt was a hoarder, likely kept barely in remission by my grandma’s draconian rules about housekeeping. Once she was gone, well…let’s just say that Hoarders is the most real reality show I’ve ever seen.
So, it’s funny to me that whenever the three of us are screaming at each other in the living room, it’s immaculate, just how my grandma demanded. We’re not yelling about past betrayals while standing shin-deep in old magazines and lottery tickets.
Sometimes, when the dreams come night after night, I’m afraid of sleeping. I woke up in a hangover state, crying and headachy. The lack of control over my dream circumstances is, of course, the same as what I feel in real life. And there’s no way out.
There was one instance in the recent past where the idea that I could have good dreams again seemed possible. In the middle of trying to catch a flight because I lost track of time, I took a ferry with a friend I haven’t seen in a while. And I laid on the deck of that ferry with my face to the sun and I could feel its warmth and I really felt—for the first time in a long time—that joy would come back to my life someday.
I’ll let you know when I start having good dreams again.