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Anxious Dreaming

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

I'm on a tiny fishing boat, far from shore. So far that I can't even see the shore, so who's to say it's there at all? I have half a liter of water and a small can of worms, which I'm attempting to jury-rig to the end of a stick in a desperate attempt to catch some fish. There is a tiny life preserver at the front of the boat that used to be red but has been bleached by the sun to a sickly shade of pink. There are no paddles on the boat, so I'm floating helplessly, at the mercy of the waves and the wind. The sun may as well be resting directly on my eyelids, and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it.

I wake up sweating, dazed and a bit confused. Another anxious dream. Another night of restlessness and poor sleep as my mind dances around itself. A lot of my dreams are like this; filled with anxiety and trying to do something that, for some reason, is right outside my reach. It could be that I'm late for a meeting and I just can't quite find the meeting room. It could be that I'm being chased, and whoever is chasing me is always, almost, but not quite, catching me. It could be that I'm overseas and lost my credit card and my passport and have no feasible way to get home. Tonight, I dreamed myself onto a fishing boat with no paddles and no way to help myself help myself.

I am not sure how anyone exists without being anxious. Then again, I've been this way my whole life, and to some degree, my anxiety has helped me. It has created the perfect storm of perfectionism to ensure that I'm a consistent high-ish achiever, but the dark side of high achievement is irreparable stress, sleepless nights, and constantly feeling like I'm not good enough. And although I've been diagnosed with an attention disorder, I'm intentionally not medicated, which is fine in that it's all I've ever known and not fine in that I'm often frustrated. My focus comes in fits and spurts. I bore easily and often, and when I'm bored my creativity goes wild. I could spend all day in my brain, and I mean that with sincerity. People are so dull sometimes, compared to what I imagine. And work is dull sometimes too, the monotony of data entry and emails and the obligatory chatter about our weekends. I am a good worker, despite my sideways brain.

Growing up, I read for fun because it was the easiest, most accessible escape. And I liked that the stories I read were never predictable. Anything could happen. Life wasn't like that. For the most part, I knew what to expect, knew the patterns and rhythms of my days, knew that the correct thing to say when someone said, "how ya doin" was "fine," and the correct thing to do in elevators was to stand facing the door and not say a word, knew that school would start at eight and end at three and I'd have seven different classes, all of them boring at worst and half interesting at best. I was a good student, too, despite my sideways brain.

According to Google, anxious dreams might be caused by stress or life changes or alcohol or trauma or insomnia or undercooked eggs. If anxious dreams are in fact caused by stress, I have been stressed my entire life. The idea that something as vague as life changing might inspire these insipid nightmares is laughable because life is always changing, or at least, it should be. Or, it is, if you're paying attention. And if my anxious dreams are caused by red wine or scrambled eggs I may as well starve since eggs are one of the three things I can cook and red wine is one of the only things worth drinking.

According to a different Google, some ways to stop having anxious dreams is to breathe, journal about your worries, spend time "winding down" before bed, and reserving the bedroom for sleeping and/or sex. I'm no doctor, but this all seems like terrible advice. I already breathe, and I already journal. Winding down is only possible if one is wound up, and what is one to do if one is wound sideways, for instance, or in a figure-eight? Finally, and most offensively, I don't have a bedroom. My entire apartment is a room that is so small it carries the energy of it's lone inhabitant (me), and that energy is not usually relaxed.

It's getting late, and I should be going to bed but I'm up Googling how to stop dreaming and so far, the internet has failed me. The other night, I stayed up looking at houses on Zillow and watching videos of cake decorating. The night before that, I stayed up reading a book about a young fatherless boy growing up in the bar scene of Manhasset. And the night before that, I went to bed early, wrapped in the arms of my very patient boyfriend, who has yet to complain that I've kicked him in my fitful sleeps. And each night, despite my pre-bed activities, I've dreamed an anxious dream.

I almost look forward to them now. Will I be fending off alligators in the marshes of Louisiana? Running from a rabid mobster, out to rob me of my meager savings? Presenting to a crowd of important business people with an empty slide deck and a mustard stain on my white silk blouse? Driving my white, soccer mom SUV into a historic brick townhome? Getting lost on the freeways of L.A., mindlessly looping around the same overpass and manically pecking at Google maps to update, please, for the sake of baby Jesus.

For a long time, I was frustrated by these dreams, taking melatonin or CBD to knock myself into a deep, dreamless sleep and waking up groggy and foggy-eyed. But maybe my dreams are helping to relieve some of my anxiety, like magical clouds of medication that are totally free and have no negative side effects. Or, maybe my dreams are the universe's way of showing me a feature film each night, with myself as the main character and my acquaintances as supporting actors. By now, I've come to the conclusion that my brain is overactive, my dreams probably mean nothing, and it'll all be okay, I promise.

P.S. Read this oh-so-inspiring blog about what your dreams might mean, read about some common anxious dreams, download the Calm app to help you sleep, or buy some melatonin gummies and thank me later.


Sarah Rose

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