What our dreams know

I dreamt about Rigby last night as if he was still alive and well and a key part of my life. He was perfectly recreated in the dream, vivid and true to life. I adored him and him me. That was perfectly nice, but then he disappeared. I woke up one morning, and he was gone. I looked everywhere, but he was nowhere to be found. I tried to think logically: where could he be? But really, there was nowhere else he could be. As I realised that, I began to feel that frantic sense of fear. Then I woke up.

Rigby is often in my mind, but even more so lately. The reality is, I wake up these days and he’s gone, just as in the dream, and I wonder if the meaning of the dream is as simple as that?

It often occurs to me that I lost Rigby at just about the worst possible time. There’s no good time, of course. He was a devoted companion for many years, and we had a close symbiotic relationship. I think he knew me better than anyone. That’s probably exaggerated, but he knew me in every tic, just as I knew him. I miss him looking at me with his deep eyes. I felt seen and valued. These days alone, recuperating from cancer, I miss that companionship and love – as well as the movement and life he brought to my home.

I’m on the list to get another chocolate lab puppy later in the year. I look forward to it, but he won’t be Rigby. I expect I’ll form a close bond with whatever dog I end up with, but once you’ve had a pet, you recognise how distinct their individuality is. There won’t be another Rigby, and I feel as if I’ve lost a great pal forever. It still seems hard to believe.

I fear that when I hear the puppy is available, I’ll be unable to afford it. Dogs have become very expensive, especially in light of Covid. I’m getting by financially, but there’s not much in the kitty. Cancer has cost me dearly, and I’m still on short wages. Things will improve when I return to FT work, especially if I get the pay rise I’m entitled to, but it will be a struggle to pull a few thousand out of the air when I need it.

What happens if I can’t afford the next Rigby?

While I’m speaking of dreams, I’ve had a few lately in which a woman has featured in different roles. There appears a bond between us, even when – as in one dream – we’re not in communication with each other. It’s clear that we know each other well as if we have been intimate in the past or remain so.

None of that is strange, except the identity of the woman. In my dream, I know her. There’s an acceptance of her presence, as if she belongs. Its just ‘her’ – someone familiar and well known. When I wake, though, I can’t remember who she is. She may be a complete stranger to me, a figment of my dream. But she may also be a real person, as it feels she is. And I wonder if, once more, my dreams know more than I do. It’s frustrating not knowing who she is – someone I know, someone from my past, or an imaginary figure? I may never find out.

In limbo

I can remember two very simple dreams I had overnight.

In one, two puppies are crawling over my prone form. If you’ve ever experienced it, you know how delightful it can be. In memory it seems I always end up giggling this happens, unable to resist and at the mercy of their happy licks. I don’t know where the dream came from, but it was welcome.

The other dream was very simple – almost a still life. In it there is a naked woman, who appears to a light skinned aboriginal, looking at me. Studying me, almost. That’s the dream.

It’s a new day, but I don’t expect anything much different today. I wish I did.

I think it’s true to say that this cancer has left me without a fixed bearing. I keep thinking I’ll find that when I get better, but I wish I had it now. I feel between and outside things. As should be very clear from my writings here, my sense of self is frayed. I’m half working, half recuperating. There is still much I’m incapable of, and I’m impatient to reclaim what I’ve lost. But to what end? That seems the central, unanswerable question at the moment.

I suspect only people who have gone through something similar to what I have will know what I mean. I’m disorientated and I hate it.

Early on in my illness, I reflected that for years I had resisted the urge to make my own nest. Though I had recovered from dire circumstances, a part of me remained wary. I was cautious with how I spent my money and when I moved house didn’t even bother opening half the boxes.

I guess I never felt quite safe, but it was an unhealthy way to be. I resolved that as I got better I would try to make a proper home for myself, as I hadn’t for years. I’ve been doing a bit of that and it’s been satisfying.

Undercutting that is the true belief that a comfortable lifestyle isn’t the same as a well-lived life. There’s nothing wrong with a comfortable lifestyle units proper perspective. Living well isn’t life, it’s time served easy. I’ll take the easy when can, particularly after battling cancer, but it’s not nearly enough to satisfy my soul.

But what will satisfy my soul? That’s the $64 question. I wish I knew. For now, I alternate between these poles, just a little lost and impatient to fix a course. For now, I guess I have to be content that it’s a journey I’m on and that, one day, I’ll find the way forward I’m yearning for.

It’s an unsettling feeling though. I’ve lost my complacency – the complacency most have living a comfortable, unconsidered life. Cancer took that from me. I could use it now with my health as it is, but it’s perhaps it’s best I don’t have it. If I’m lost and in limbo, I’m also hungry. Hungry for what? All I know is: more.

A night in the life

I’ve been having some strange, often disturbing dreams, over the last 5-6 weeks. I’ve figured it’s because of the painkillers I’m on. Quite often, I’ve woken up with the creepy residue of the dreams present in me. I haven’t enjoyed it.

Last night’s dream wasn’t as disturbing, but it was unusual.

I’m staying for the night with friends or distant family. The unusual thing is that they’re openly werewolves, and a full moon is due that night. They reassure me that it will be okay, but I wake in the night to prepare myself for what may come.

One of the other guests there is an attractive woman I once might have had a relationship with. Obviously, it didn’t end well because it was frosty between us, without acknowledging anything that came before. Still, I have an underlying feeling for her, and it seems she does for me, despite her outward reserve. There’s a frisson. And on one occasion she comes to ask me a question as a pretence to talk and be with me. I know it, and I suspect she knows that I know.

I wonder who she is? Someone I’ve known or invented for the dream?

There’s an element in the dream very typical of me. When I wake in the middle of the night, my intention is to protect her and myself. But then I spend 10 minutes making up my mind about what to wear. I want to impress her, after all.

I wake up at that point and it’s not so bad. Curious. It’s just on 5.30am. I get up to take a piss, then decide to clear out my nose, which seems blocked with soft mucous – basically snot. (Stop right here if you don’t have the stomach for this kind of stuff. It gets worse.)

I boil a kettle then prepare to flush my nose out with warm saline, as I do 3-4 times a day. At first little of substance is expelled, but I sit on the edge of the bathtub and block my other nostril and try to blow any obstruction out of my right nostril. It takes a couple of minutes, and then suddenly it’s forced loose. Over the next minute, I expel big chunks of soft and hard-dried mucous from my nostril. It feels clear, and I have great hopes that one of the final obstructions might finally have shifted.

This, by the way, is something I do several times a day, every day, and not always as successfully.

I return to bed and sleep. When I wake several hours later, my nose is blocked again and my eye is half-closed from the swelling. I repeat the process in between getting myself a coffee. My head aches though. This will be a hard day. And there’s much more to do.

Something real?

I’ve always been a good dreamer, but lately, it’s off the charts. I reckon it’s probably because of the medication I’m on. There’s some cookey stuff.

I had two dreams seemingly related, one after the other. In the first, I was an Australian student at an American university. Most of the other students were American, obviously, but there was also a heap of Canadians who had a healthy rivalry with the Yanks. I was the cool kid on campus. Everyone wanted to know the laid back Aussie, and they competed for my attention. I was invited to everything, and every girl loved my accent. I was tall and athletic, a handsome guy but with a relaxed, fun attitude – almost the archetypal Aussie.

Anyway, there was some contest between the Yanks and the Canucks, and I had to judge it. It was pretty rambunctious, but ultimately I gave the prize to the Yanks. Nobody took it too seriously, but there was a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’. Finally, I stood up before everyone, and with a big smile on my face, told the winning team, “I’m just like a Canadian…only interesting.”

They went off at that, all of them, the Yanks cheering and the Canucks playfully booing. A great time was had by all, and no doubt a few bevies consumed.

I’m this impossibly handsome, charming, confident and super-cool dude who has everything in the next dream. I’m a member of one of those families you sometimes see on American TV shows, all beautiful to look at and decent as all-heck. Too good to be true, in other words, and generally enough to make an Aussie stick their fingers down their throat. In that golden family, I’m the golden boy, shiny teeth, great hair, and all – all Hollywood.

Anyway, I’m out somewhere watching some celebrity environmentalist or something give a presentation. He’s young and cool too, though pretty earnest, and I’m impressed. Afterwards, I offer to give him a lift home.

Instead, I take him back to the family house, which seems to have people everywhere. I walk in with my new friend and loudly present him – he’s here just in time for your interviews, I tell the crowd, and by that, I mean radio and TV. He’s a tad surprised but goes along with it and the crowd, as always, goes wild.

The place is rocking, someone’s tapped a keg, and everyone is looking good. Then my father shows. He’s a big, good-looking man with the sort of head you expect God to have – regal and grand. Think – for those who can remember that far back – the Michael Landon character in The Little House on the Prairie. The noble patriarch. I go to introduce him to my new friend, but instead, my father apologises and tells him he has to have a word with me first.

He takes me aside, sincere and concerned. You can’t go on acting like this, he tells me, doing whatever you want without telling anyone. He scolds me gently, his eyes never leaving my face, then welcomes the visitor with a smile, shaking his hand.

I mingle with the crowd, troubled and considering what my father has told me. I realise he is right. I’m not a bad person – in fact, I’m a decent soul – but I get carried away with myself. I return to my guest and apologise. “I think I need to give you something real,” I tell him.

He understands but interrupts before I go further. “I have something real for you,” he says and then invites me on a trip with him into the wilderness. Dream ends.

What does that mean?

Day to day

Last week, when my worst fears became possible once more, I dreamt that I was abducted by the sort of terrorists who film the act of cutting your head off. I was in the process of escaping their clutches when I woke. Did I get away clean? Or did they re-capture me?

It seemed obvious to me once my mind was clear that the dream was a metaphor for my situation. The abductors are Cancer. I am trying to escape from it but don’t know yet what the prognosis will tell me. I choose to believe that I eluded them and found my way to freedom.

Last night I had another interesting dream, and more complex.

I am part of an expedition that has travelled to a faraway planet. An earlier expedition had built a great building to house them and where they would conduct their scientific experiments. Every one of them has disappeared, however, which is one reason we have come.

The planet is inhospitable but safe. We can breathe the air, and gravity is as we know it. It’s dim, though, and for most of every day, a wild wind blows. It’s not somewhere you go for a vacation.

There’s a scene involving lifts and precarious footing leading to a great fall and death with one misstep. All that is vague to me. What remains clear is how members of our own party begin disappearing without a trace. There’s fear in the air and great uncertainty. None of us knows what is going on.

Then, walking between buildings one day, I see a distant moving shape come in my direction. In the dim light, it’s hard to make it out. I pause, not knowing if I should be afraid but curious also. There should be nothing outside of our cluster.

From behind me, I hear a cry. A guard of some description has spotted the shape also and is raising his rifle to shoot it. I call to him to stop. Then, the shape emerges, and I can see it is a dog. It runs to me, as dogs will, full of energy and affection, and leaps harmlessly into my arms.

It’s a huge relief, obviously, but the mystery deepens. Where has this dog come from? Then we realise that it was brought on the first expedition and that it has not changed or aged a day since then. Then I wake.

I am in a pattern now. I try to balance the discomfort of my head pain against the fogginess induced by the tablets I take to reduce it. Unfortunately, there’s little give in the equation, and I feel I have few options. I try to hold off as long as possible, but by mid-afternoon, I must take something – today, it was the first thing.

I take one of the painkillers prescribed by the doctor to start with. They are safer apparently and are made for chronic pain. I have two versions, the more intense lasting 6 hours or the 12 version that more subtly blunts the worst of the pain. Neither of them removes the pain by themselves, and neither last long as claimed. They are the background medication I take.

I’ve worked out the best I can do is hold until the afternoon, when I’ll take a 6-hour tablet, before taking a 12-hour tablet in the evening as I prepare for bed. Today, I had to take a 12-hour tablet at 9.30am.

These are what I’d call defensive measures. When the pain begins to amp up regardless, as the day goes on, I take a different tablet – a frontline tablet.

Most effective is Neurofen, but I have to be mindful not to take them every day. Panadol is much less effective but much safer also. Whichever it is, I try to hold until the evening before I must take one, though more often it’s late afternoon. If it’s a Neurofen, I take only a single tablet.

They last for a while, but eventually fade. I resist taking another in the evening, though sometimes I will.

By now, I feel pretty foggy. I’m slow and distant. I’ve noticed that I’m talking with a slur, and occasionally I’m unsteady on my feet. These are all unwelcome side effects. I may sit on the couch and watch TV, but I know it will be an early night. I try to last until 10pm, which is an hour sooner than normal, but half the time, I’m in bed shortly after 9pm.

It’s strange, but it embarrasses me that I’m reduced to such an unmanly state. I feel useless and helpless and as if my life is not my own and my body and health the plaything of malicious fate. I feel time differently and, once more, as if I’m outside of regular convention. I hate the sense of being used and, as much as the pain discomforts me, the psychological disruption is difficult to manage.

Once I’m in bed, I might try and read for a while, energy permitting, and more often lately, I will listen to an audiobook as I drift off to sleep.

I welcome sleep. It’s when I feel most safe. I’ve learnt, though, that unless I take the necessary precautions, I’ll wake in the middle of the night with my face and head in pain. So before I turn the light out, I take a Voltaren. I sleep well with that, without disturbance, and wake about 9 and up to 10 hours later.

As an adult, I’ve always woke up pretty clean. Open my eyes, and I’m completely switched on. Not now. Now I wake like I did when I was a growing teenager and couldn’t get enough sleep. Mostly it’s Rigby who prompts me to wakefulness, an hour or so after normal. Then I am groggy as if walking from a heavy dose of sleeping pills. I suppose I am.

My inclination is to roll over and go back to sleep. Often I will. But then, sometimes, I stagger out of bed to feed Rigby and even make a coffee. I go back to bed, and half the time will go back to sleep. I’m never quickly out of bed by choice. It’s where I feel most comfortable. Today, I didn’t get out of bed until 10.30.

I’m at my best, approximately, between 10.30am and 1pm. Then the cycle continues.

Through this, I must still function. I’ve given up work temporarily, though I’ve done a few things. As I must soon shift home, I force myself to pack boxes and to go out and check out properties (I applied for one yesterday, in Black Rock, out of necessity).

I can’t wait for all this to be over. I have an MRI tomorrow and the specialist again on Wednesday. I assume the most positive outcome, but it still leaves me with huge questions to be answered. This episode has shaken me out of my complacency. When I’m right again, I must seek answers. I know now, everything has an end date.

More fun

I had a dream last night that I was young, and I had a gang of friends who were cool but who were also all into science. I was smart and resourceful, funny and determined. There was a girl I liked I wanted to get the attention of, so I contrived situations where we would encounter each other that would show me to advantage. She was elusive, though, the type that appreciates her own worth and wants you to work to get her. I was up for the challenge, and the dream was all about that, like a fun TV show from the seventies or eighties, with a bit of a Ferris Bueller vibe.

The whole vibe was fun and over the top – episodic adventures and a laugh track. The character I was, you just knew I’d eventually win out. The rest of it was about books and music – I was into that, and so was my desire. And my hip friends had that geeky touch that made them interesting. In one scene, they’re watching an old Barbra Streisand movie set in an earlier era. Throughout, they’re busily searching a college equivalent of Google looking up historical and cultural references – which is the sort of thing I do.

Afterwards, I realised that’s the very thing I miss most: fun. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt it. And, it seemed, in its absence, I had sold myself short. The Bueller character was in me, and maybe it’d been me in an earlier incarnation, but in recent times I’ve been bogged down in the here and now.

It’s not as if times are particularly fun these days. Covid, and repeated lockdowns, tends to take the edge off anything whimsical. The inability to travel doesn’t help, on top of which we live in an era of dreadful governments and politics, and I find it hard not to be wound up by injustice and corruption. Then there’s work.

The answer, it seems, is to let go of some of those things. I’ll always be politically and culturally engaged, but I can take it less personally. I can’t do much about Covid, but it will end. Then there’s work, and that’s something I can act on.

Work has been a problem for a while, and in the last few days – since my scare – it’s just seemed wrong, though I couldn’t explain why. Then it became clear: there’s no fun in it. And how can there be when you feel undervalued and exploited? Even the work I do, which I do competently, isn’t the sort of work I like best. I like to create and build, but all I’m doing is managing. I take an intellectual approach to problem-solving, which is out of step with the prevailing orthodoxy – just do it. The result is half-arsed results that drive me crazy.

After wondering all this time, I decided that all I need to do is find something that fits my definition of fun – challenging, creative, expansive, engaging. It’s not as easy as all that, but at least I have a sense of what’s gone wrong. That’s something to aim for because I’m not going to get it in my current workplace.

It might sound a funny thing, but I think I need to believe in myself as that person. Be bold again, be adventurous, don’t set limits and, as I always did before, bite off more than I can chew. I lost a lot of that going through the dire years of struggle, and ever since (though many still think me just as strident and confident as ever). I’ve become a lot more serious and solemn when I want to be light-hearted and charming again.

Get healthy. Get fit and beautiful. Don’t get bogged down in the negatives, go out and find some positives. Have fun. That’s the goal from here on in.

The garden path…

I have patches like this when my dreams are fertile and vivid. They resonate through me and provoke wonder and thought. Mostly I don’t remember my dreams, but at these times they come fresh to me every morning.

I had at least two interesting dreams last night, one of which I want to describe for you.

We live in a futuristic, utopian society, a feature of which is that men can carry children, though not to term. By some medical wizardry, men can carry the growing babe in their stomach for the first two months of pregnancy before somehow it is transferred to the mother.

I have carried one child like this before, and it was a happy, joyous experience. Now I have another. The wife, mother, whatever you wish to call her, doesn’t feature in the dream at all. I am light-hearted as I make my way towards the medical clinic for a check-up, stopping on the way to take in a beautiful vista.

In the clinic, a doctor takes me aside and explains all is not as should be. Something has gone wrong, and it appears that I have misinterpreted some earlier advice that has led to this. The pregnancy appears doomed.

I am devastated by the news. I’ve gone from being buoyant with joy to terribly sad in the blink of an eye. I shake my head and wander away before being called back by the manager of the clinic. He leads me into a room out the back, and we sit down. He expresses his condolences at the news and apologises for it. I explain to him that I think it was my fault; I didn’t listen as I should have, distracted by the happy news that we were to have a second child.

He is kind and sympathetic. He has a gruff but compassionate manner. He looks like the undercover cop from Hill Street Blues, if you can believe that. He assures me I did nothing wrong. The responsibility is all theirs, and he can’t possibly express how sorry they are for my tragedy.

His kind manner does me good. For a moment, the sense of personal tragedy lifts and I feel grateful to him. The dream ends.

The dream follows from the news yesterday afternoon that the long-mooted promotion and pay rise due to me come July is no longer. I suspect it never was. Instead, I believe they were happy to give me vague assurances hoping to string along because they needed me onside.

This was revealed to me by my direct manager, who shared a cab with the head of the section on Wednesday night when they discussed me. It seems nothing is in the budget for me, and there was no indication that anything more would come my way. It’s not definite or confirmed – surely, they must give me something? – but I trust it to be generally accurate. I need more than a token gesture.

We were on a Teams call when he told me. I didn’t quite explode at the news, but something bubbled over in me. As I explained to him, as I had before, I was disinterested in titles, though the title they had mooted is something I have been doing for a year in all but name. To grant me the title would force a substantial pay rise to go with it, and so they refuse to give me the title. Fine, just give me the money.

I was furious. No, it wasn’t about the title. And though the money was bloody important, it wasn’t entirely about that either. It was trust and respect and loyalty and the brazen disregard of it that stuck in my craw.

I’m an old-fashioned guy, I told my manager, I believe in these things. I’m happy to give them but expect to have that reciprocated. When it’s not – when they lead me down to garden path with honeyed words, leading me nowhere – then all bets are off.

This is a trigger event for me, for complex reasons I’ll write about another time. I’ve realised that my future lies elsewhere.

And it was this event that led to the dream last night. The promise of a promotion and pay rise was the child in my belly – something grand, latent and yet due to be. Then, naturally, the news that the baby was no more – and was it my fault? Had I got it wrong? But the kindly doctor at the end set me straight – I had every right to expect better. I’ve been failed.

That’s what I think, Freud.

The man of my dreams

I had this dream not last night, but the night before, that left me mildly disturbed when I woke.

The details of the dream mean little. Basically, I was on my way to a wedding, somehow got dunked in the surf, and then met an attractive blonde woman in a bikini I utterly charmed. What seemed meaningful was the man I appeared to be in the dream.

He was me; I was him…but he was an optimised version of me. He was handsome and witty and very charming. He was fit and tanned and well-groomed, even after taking a dunk. He was supremely confident and in control, and people clamoured to him. He had a great presence, and everyone loved him for being a fun guy and a good man.

He had all the attributes I possess, but dialled up to the max, as if I had spent a month being prepared to become this person – primped and preened, tailored and groomed, made fit and healthy, and all my worries disposed of.

If I was ever that man, then we parted company about 20 years ago. I still have many of those qualities, but the years have diluted them. I was a 10 on every measure in the dream, but in life now, most have been dialled back to about 6, and my pre-eminent quality – self-possession – is now a fragile thing.

Still, I could see myself in him, especially in his wit. After he got bowled over in the surf, he absolutely wowed the woman who came to his assistance – witty and smart and very alluring. It was my style of wit, words I could easily have spoken – but without the force or confidence of the man in the dream. It was no wonder the woman fell for him – I thought him a rum fellow myself.

What disturbed me is that the dream seemed to taunt me: this is what you could have been. It felt as if it was rubbing my face into my middling existence. It was a pointed finger – how did you manage to lose this possibility?

I choose to believe that man is in me now – not lost, but dormant. That’s how I turned it in my mind. Not as something that might have been, but something that still could be. That was my challenge. Be the man in your own dreams.

It’s my birthday today, and it seems an apt occasion to set myself. If not now, then when?

The dreams I have

I dreamt last night that I was a contestant on MasterChef. I had been entered into the competition by friends and wasn’t happy about it. I felt out of place. Everyone was younger, and most appeared to be exhibitionists, rowdy with exhortations and positive vibes. There were a couple I’d become friendly with, but otherwise, it was foreign to me. No-one seemed capable of a meaningful conversation that didn’t involve food, and that left me feeling sour.

There was a food challenge – concoct a finger food involving chicken. Pretty simple. While everyone whirled about me coming up with their fantastic concoctions, I stood there like a shag on a rock. Since I was there, I had to come up with something good, but not just good – novel. That was the crux of it.

Then I started. On reflection, the recipe isn’t as novel as I hoped, but – given it was a dream – not nearly as ridiculous as it might have been.

I cut pieces of chicken into long fingers and then marinated them in lime juice and chilli. In the meantime, I crushed some cruskits and seasoned with chilli. Then I coated the marinated chicken in the cruskit crumbs and fried until they were crispy – the cruskits gave it a distinct crunch. That was the novelty angle. Then I served with a dipping sauce of sour cream with pomegranate and lime rind.

Don’t know how I got on with the judges. By this time, I had become fascinated by the recipe. I might try it some time – crunchy lime spiced chicken fingers.

PS I may as well record this in the same place – my dream the next night, which is unusual enough to be worthy of recording.

It’s in the last days of WW2, and I’m a German commanding a King Tiger (II) tank. The war has come to Germany and we’re stuck behind enemy lines trying to make our way to the relative safety of the west.

Though we are without support and against the might of the Russian army, for a warrior such as me, there’s a kind of exhilaration as we battle against them. Our tank is the most mighty weapon on the battlefield. Any opponent we strike is destroyed, but they seem unable to inflict serious danger upon us. Our major threat is being overwhelmed by numbers, which is a real possibility.

We shelter in the ruins of a village one night. Around dawn, I sense the enemy approaching. I rouse the crew so that we can make a quick exit. Unfortunately, it takes minutes longer than it should for us to get underway. By the time we do, the enemy is behind us and, as we roll towards the outskirts of the village, we can see a dozen Russian tanks coming in the other direction. We appear trapped between two forces.

I curse and change direction. I’m defiant, but years of battle, of death, have left me bitter.

The enemy has not spotted us as yet, and we hide in the ruined streets of the village edging our way towards a potential escape route between them. Finally, we make it through, our engine’s noise and crashing through the ruins unheard over the massed engines of the Russian tanks.

When it appears we have reached some safety, I turn on my 2IC. He had been slow to pack up when I commanded it. He had doubted that the Russians had closed so near. He is a good man, capable and compassionate. He cares for the men, as I do, but in a different way.

I am a tough leader. I know to be compassionate means sometimes being harsh. My sole objective is to lead the crew to safety, and there are no compromises. I remind him that next time I give an order, he is to follow it without question – they can come later. I suggest that he trust my judgement and instinct, my experience, which is far greater than his. And I give him the very practical instruction that for everything he unloads from the tank he must put something back, and that we must be ready to break camp within a maximum of two minutes, that’s the rule.

I don’t know if we make it to safety – the odds are against us – but I’m a believer it can be done. I won’t surrender or give in. The dream ends there.

Losing control

I had a dream last night that I was a part of a paramilitary type unit. I was in command of a small troop patrolling a city when race riots broke out. My unit and I fought to protect the vulnerable, ushering them to safety. Outnumbered, it was a bruising experience both physically and mentally. We fought hard and long, but we couldn’t protect everyone and watched as some we couldn’t save set upon by the mob and beaten.

Eventually, the riots died down, and reinforcements were sent to the city. It was in the aftermath, and we were sitting in a room sore and reflective when one of the replacements pipes up. There’s one like this in every group. He’s had a look around, and everything has become quiet, and with a mocking tone to his voice, he wonders aloud what the big deal is about? He goes onto to say it’s all an exaggeration and probably political anyway. And what does he care about the victims of this – they’re not his people.

I’m respected by my team because I’m calm and measured, and I’ll always make the right call. They know I’ll do everything to protect them. They understand that I lead with a moral imperative, but I’ll always have their back. They’re shocked then, by what comes next.

I’m exhausted. Though we’ve fought hard, I’m dismayed at the thought of those we couldn’t save, some of whom were friends. I hear this man’s words, and I sit there reflecting on them, then I get up. I walk across to him, and though I know it’s probably the wrong thing and counter to my image of self-control, I feel great satisfaction as I swing with my fist and knock the man down.

I’m disciplined for this, obviously. I’m stripped of my command locked away for a few days. My team is shattered at what’s happened. Though they understand my feelings, they wonder what got into me. Is the old man cracking up?

I’m released and return to the unit. My 2IC has now taken over the team. She’s someone I have an intimate relationship, and she looks at me with tenderness and pity. The rest of the team are happy to have me back but uncertain given my present status. It doesn’t feel right that I’m not out in front.

Also, there is the man I struck, as well as some of the top brass. There’s trouble brewing again, and we’re about to be thrown into the cauldron. The new skipper, my lover, is angry at how I’ve been treated. She wants to protest and demand that I’m reinstated. I smile at her and with a gesture as if releasing something from my hand, I tell her to let it go.

One of the top brass has observed the interaction. He chuckles, makes a comment about wise words, and then proclaims that in light of the coming troubles it’s been decided that I will re-assume command of the team.

The whole team is thrilled. They come to me, one by one, to let me know how relieved they are that I’m in charge again and how much they’ve missed me. One or two admonish me gently, but even the recruit is happy to have me back.

They feel safe with me, and it’s an obligation I’m happy to shoulder. I look at them knowing we have a job to do. They look back, waiting on my command. The world has righted; there are things to do – and our mission to do them.

Thus ends the dream.

As always, I wondered what all this meant. It seemed to me that once upon a time, I was once that person known for calm and unflappable judgement. I used to thrive when the pressure was on. There was an edge to me, and I was more inclined to go my own my way than the character in the dream, but he’s recognisably similar – at least in my mind – to who I was.

That I’m not that man now is something I’ve come to accept, though most of the elements remain – they’ve just combined in a different way. Funnily enough, a work friend told me a couple of weeks ago that I was the wisest person she knew. I felt uncomfortable with the praise and made light of it, remembering how much I’d fucked up in my life.

I like that man in the dream and wish I was he. That I dream this now is a reflection of recent times I think. I’ve been off the last few months, as many have been. In that time, I’ve been managing what I’ve described as the most unpleasant project of my life.

Much of it is just plain difficult – an incompetent vendor, a tricky brief, everyone working remotely, and perceived pressure from board level. What’s made it more challenging is that the team drafted in for this – unlike the dream – are unwilling to be part of it. They don’t believe in the value or purpose of the project and question it. I share some of their reservations but, as I tell them, our job is not to question the validity of the project but to deliver it. (Unfortunately, all of this plays into the general malaise I feel, doubting the value and purpose of every task.)

For me, it’s been difficult because I’ve got little practical support but from one, and so have to shoulder much of the burden myself. Like the character in the dream, I feel like snapping sometimes. I look at them occasionally and think how nice it is to have the luxury of an opinion when you don’t have to put anything on the line.

But how does the dream reflect all this? And what is it telling me?