Anxiety dreams for troubled times

Pandemic anxiety has seeped into my subconscious.

Lockdown isn’t exactly a way to ease your nerves. Home-schooling is an exercise in extreme patience. The attempt to get work done on top of that is almost impossible and the thought ‘you’ve got things to do’ shadows most of the day. The best survival tip I got was from a friend who said ‘aim low’. I am and I think it’s making some dent in the mental state of things. 

Like so many other people, I haven’t seen my family in months now. My kids haven’t seen their grandma, aunts and uncle. They’ve only met their new cousin once. As the daily case numbers go up, the reality is it’s likely to be months more. But I think the tipping point was the recent leap of daily infections in NSW going from the 400s (already a pretty horrifying number) to the 600s.

So, I’ve started having anxiety dreams again. I’ve only ever had three variations and they’ve neatly matched with eras of my life.

The first phase was the HSC exam dream. I had this for years after actually finishing any kind of study. I’d dream that I had an exam that morning which I’d forgotten all about. Even in my dream I would think I’d finished school already but the feeling in the dream was strong enough to make me disbelieve it.

I was happy when the HSC dream was retired. It was embarrassing to have something from school still lingering years later. The next one was the suitcase dream. I need a lot of time to pack a bag and I don’t like to be rushed. I also don’t do it well with any distractions or time limits. So, a dream that involves me suddenly realising I need to be at the airport in 20 minutes is just total panic stations. I flap about knowing it’s a dream and just hoping that I’ll wake up soon to end it all.

How cute for a holiday to be the cause of my panic and anxiety. Now that I’m responsible for little people, my anxiety dream is life or death. Ever since I was pregnant with my first child, my subconscious manifestation of worry changed from an unpacked suitcase to the neglect of a baby. I would forget that I had a baby. Forget where I’d left the baby. Forget to feed the baby or keep it safe.

Please let it be OK. Please let it be OK. Please let it be OK. It would run on a desperate loop. This week it was a baby girl. I found her. She had rings of grime around her neck but she was OK. I always find them in the end and they’re always OK. I have to thank my subconscious that even when it writes a horror story, there is a happy ending.

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The eternal waiting room of lockdown

Take away the future and it’s hard to stay ‘present’.

We’ve been in lockdown for a few weeks now. I understand the necessity. It’s not as long as Sydney or as many times as Melbourne but what most of the country, nay world, has realised by now is that any lockdown is lockdown enough.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the idea of presence and my attempt to stop mentally scrolling backwards and forwards in time. Now I realise that to do that you need the neat bookending of both a past and future.

But time has slipped from its moorings. Lockdown, the eternal waiting room, has scrambled our sense of the future and, as I’m now realising, it’s hard to be in the present without a future.  

Waiting isn’t uncommon territory for a writer. We’re well aware of how uncomfortable it is to wait on submissions, feedback and querying. Waiting is its own kind of agony. It’s a protracted presence but one that isn’t really fixed on the moment. It has its sight set on some point in the future, when things will change or you’ll finally have your answer. With lockdown though, that future is on hold.

It feels like I’m caught in a Beckett loop except it isn’t Godot I’m waiting for. My eternal waiting is for the host to let me into the meeting, for the vaccine supply to arrive, for the daily reveal of dire digits in the press conference or for my daughter to actually start writing a sentence using her spelling words.

Some people are writing away and having a mini-renaissance with time and perspective. I’m frozen. Everything has come to a confused halt as I continue to wait.

My lockdown is stagnant in many ways but not still. Alas, not for me the baking of sourdough or learning of a new language. Between home-schooling, work and domestics, I don’t have much left in the tank, time or energy wise. I’m not reading much. I’m writing even less and I’m always at my worst when that happens.

Two characters in a Tom Stoppard play discuss the future. One says, ‘Tomorrow is another day.’ The other replies, ‘Tomorrow, in my experience is usually the same day’ and I’d have to agree.

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