Dreams in isolation

I’ve always dreamt a lot, but it seems to me that I’m dreaming more now than ever before. I’ve begun to wonder if this is a symptom of extended isolation. In past times life would contain enough distraction and colour that dreams were no more than an adjunct to that. I’d go out, have a beer, chat to people at work, have a laugh with friends, go the footy, and so on. I had a life outside of these four walls, and external to the internal world I largely reside in since lockdown. Is it too much to believe that in the absence of the normal stimuli that our unconscious will step into the void? Will not our mind conjure up the colour and movement missing from our everyday lives?

It’s an interesting question. Do prisoners dream differently to the man on the street? What about the man marooned on a desert island? Or is this just me?

It’s got to the point that I feel it’s affecting my sleep. For the last month particularly, I’ve been sleeping poorly and as a result, I’ve felt more lethargic than usual, and sometimes just ‘off’. The other day I felt particularly unrested after a night I dreamed away. My sleep stats showed that my REM sleep was four and a half hours – surely that’s excessive? But it made sense because that’s what I felt.

Then there are the things you dream about. The prisoner probably dreams of his liberty. The man on the island probably dreams of crowds. My dreams are no more than fragments to me now, but what I recall is, yes, of being out and about, but then there’s another strong thread. There appears a strong aspirational theme in many of my dreams – of situations in which I achieve what I don’t have now. That may seem positive, but there’s a melancholy angle to it because they play like movies of things I might have – or might have had – but do not. There’s almost a taunt in it.

Dreams like that are probably common in days like these when we’re set back to basics. All the trimmings and flummery have been removed. Exposed are the bare bones of our existence. Much is revealed at ultimately hollow. Where do we find meaning then? What does ‘meaning’ mean to us? When everything is cut back to the bone, what brings us solace?

I dream of the things others have but I don’t, such as a family about me, and regular intimacy. The other recurring element has less substance, but when you don’t have a family to fall back on then you must find purpose elsewhere. In my case, it returns to work, though more accurately it might be termed, ‘calling’.

In this, there’s a comparison between what I do and opportunities to do something nobler. I’ve commented on that enough that I don’t need to again. There’s meaning in doing something close to your heart, whatever that might be. In my case, while that’s true, there is something more superficial in it, too. I long to be the hero again, as I felt so often before in my work – it’s why I did challenging, independent work, and it says a lot about my psychology. I guess everyone wants to be their own hero, though some more than others. In the absence of anything else to fall back on, and for someone like me, it becomes purpose.

It’s probably more true now that I’m closer to the end of my career than the start of it. No matter what I’ve done before, it’s the past. I don’t want to go quietly. I want to believe there are great things in me still, but I feel more of the old stager these days. Not the virile matchwinner I used to be, more the clever and reliable stalwart of the team. And, before I’m trotted out to pasture, I want to prove that I’ve still got it.

I’m too old to change that and the instinct too deeply ingrained, even if ultimately it’s an empty thing. I know that. I need to get past that, and the best way to do that is by substitution – find something else that will satisfy that innate need. I know what it is, I just don’t know how to get it.

 

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