Quarantine Dreams and Sleep Disturbance
Dear Nicholas, I’m curious about the quarantine dreams that I’m told the majority of us are having. My own tally so far: first nightmare I remember ever having and several nights of difficulty getting to sleep, all since the virus and lockdown began. It had been a long time since I’d had any difficulty sleeping. On the positive side, I’m still not having trouble often. But I note the change.
It seemed reasonable to me that sleep might be a bit disturbed under the circumstances. And now I read that it’s true to some degree for most of us. Seventy-seven percent of Americans are sleeping less than usual, according to a story by The Daily Mail and Associated Press. (Not true for me! I’ve conscientiously made sure to oversleep enough to catch up.)
A number of academics are gathering quarantine dreams, the article said. One finding: people around the world are having similar anxiety dreams, according to Cornell professor Cathy Caruth, about dangers that are hard to identify and grasp.
Most are low-level anxiety dreams, Harvard researcher Deidre Barrett said, except for health care workers who more typically have nightmares about desperate struggles to keep someone alive.
Me: I’m out here on the fringes of the whole experience: not a healthcare worker and not a patient. I’m having a very quiet life doing my usual work on my laptop on my sofa. Still, I’ve had the only nightmare I can remember (not counting the test-taking dreams that never really bother me.) The dream: a frightening man followed me into a public bathroom and tried to rape me. Screaming, I was fighting him as if for my life. Flat-out desperate and terrified.
Then Husband Bob, roused by the uproar, woke me up. Even in his state of marginal consciousness, he responded like the therapist he is.
He said one sentence–“If it’s a dream, you can change it”–and then went back to sleep. I didn’t need to. I went peacefully back to sleep.
But my memory of the intensity of feeling has stayed with me. I’ve never had the call to fight like that in real life. And I know so many people have.
Last night I had trouble getting to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about dangerous things I’ve done in my life. All so long ago– in my twenties and thirties. Back then I wondered why old people were so cautious, since they had less time to lose than young risk-takers. Now I think those episodes invaded my mind last night because of general low-level virus-related dangers.
I didn’t view myself as taking risks back then. I just didn’t always pause and think about consequences. I did a few things so stupid that I find them hard to think about.
I’ll mention one in brief: swimming alone to an island off a harbor in Mexico to see underwater sculpture for which I’d missed the last boat. On the way back, I had trouble making any progress, swam and swam and only managed to progress slightly. Felt one swim-finned foot lose power, realized that the fin part had been sheared off.
Was rescued by a glass-bottomed tourist boat that was also pulling an old man and a child in a dugout canoe. I climbed into the canoe. Later was told that that “shipping channel” was full of sharks. And realized that I hadn’t realized I was in a rip tide–and I grew up in a coastal town–and I should have been swimming across the current not against it.
I can tell that story so that it’s funny and light-hearted. It didn’t feel that way last night. Neither did another one that was possibly slightly worse. I was horrified.
Once in a session you said to me, “Something has kept you out of trouble.”
I’ve been lucky. And now I realize how at times I’ve pushed my luck.
Well, not lately. I’m washing my hands as often as I’m supposed to.
Back then, I really did not see myself as ever reckless. I thought a lot of people, and not just old ones, were overly cautious. And I didn’t do stuff that actually scared me (I discovered back then that I didn’t have the makings of a rock climber.) I think the reason some of my adventures didn’t scare me is that some normal fears were bound up in or replaced by the irrational fears of my touch of OCD. Didn’t worry about swimming alone to a nearby island in unfamiliar waters. Worried instead that I’d said the wrong thing years earlier and did someone serious harm.
Back then I passionately wanted to get rid of the irrational fears. I never gave a thought to wanting to have more reasonable useful fears.
Anyway, I’m glad I’m still here.
Glad you are too.
#quarantinedreams #virusdreams #howareyousleeping
Tags: anxiety dreams, back to sleep, catch up, difficulty sleeping, first nightmare, frightening man, healthcare worker, irrational fears, normal fears, ocd, overly cautious, oversleep, said the wrong thing, sleep disturbances, sleeping, sweet dreams, swimming alone, taking risks, tried to rape, trouble getting to sleep, useful fears, you can change it
I view myself as having been cautious to the extreme – born 1944 and Old before my time.
Well, you’ve made it safely this far, Bob. So, good choices.
Ah Peggy, we are alter-egos here, I think, but as always I so appreciate your comments. Yes this is a really difficult time, and we are all making our way with it in some way we can. Of course it is coming out of a time (before Coronaworld) that is in some ways more fundamentally terrifying and basic —– the breakdown of our norms and agreements, perhaps led by, even more than Trump, Mitch McConnell (see Jane Mayer piece in the New Yorker). Our ecological catastrophes. Etc.
But as for here and now, the scariest thing is not the contagion, but the fear of the contagion. The masks, the purell, the gloves, the sense of terror and breakdown. As an 8-yr. old I was hospitalized for polio for 2.5 months, not allowed to see my parents or any other relatives, kept very separate from the other children in my ward, surrounded by masks and fear, etc. All this for a virus my whole family had had, but only I had had serious complications from. (= I read somewhere that something like 1 in 200 have paralysis from polio). The hospital, as I can make sense of it now, really had nothing to offer me I couldn’t have had much less traumatically at home.
I do understand about buying time, flattening the curve, protecting hospitals and first responders. But I keep asking myself, how are we putting this back together? There is something addictive about all this fear. In a wierd way, it is like the anger that Trump has unleashed. Lauren Berlant has voiced concern that (trumpian) genie seems to be very hard to put back into the bottle.
I want our leaders to be aware and thinking about the virulence of this particular virus, but also the costs of our responses to it, and what it is the most reasonable way we can balance a number of goods and ills. A tall order, and I don’t envy them in that place. I have a lot of respect for Roy Cooper, and he may well be equal to the task. Yrs, Amey
So very thoughtful and well-informed, Amey, as always. My husband also had polio, was weeks in the hospital and couldn’t see his parents. And it was traumatic. It seems particularly hard for you that your whole family was immune. Bob also emerged without paralysis. A scary and scarring business, though. I can see how the masks now could bring it all back.
I agree with you that we need a response that takes all losses and gains into consideration. Finally, though, I do want to keep people alive.
I’m proud to see on the online maps that NC hasn’t caved and thrown open tattoo parlors, etc. That seems madness to me at this point. Thanks for the thoughts you sent on this.
I feel a wave of sorrow, sadness and grief now for the young children we were, who went thru that long hospital separation from our families. I was 5, and spent decades to pass thru and past that isolation and loneliness. We were pretty lucky, all things considered, not to be paralyzed or dead – and certainly have a deep appreciation for the fragility and vulnerability and resilience of little kids. I too appreciate Roy Cooper’s cautious, science based protection of us all.
I feel lucky not to have contracted the virus and not to have had any nightmares (or any dreams, that I”m aware of.) When this is over, we should get together and swap stories of our stupid moves (when we were younger.) I have a million of them! Well, that’s an exaggeration, but more than I should have had.
Good idea, kenju. Do you think we’re both out of stupid-move mode? I both hope so, and to a small degree I don’t. Well,
not in favor of stupid, but at least a little adventurous.
i hope I left my stupid moves back in my twenties. However, I am still culpable, now and then. I gcould go for an adventure!!
The perfect balance, kenju!
I didn’t realize there was a support group for grownups who had or were suspected of having polio, but here we are! I had the same experience as Amey, Bob and husband of Peggy. At age 9 during the polio epidemic I came down to breakfast one morning, mentioned to my parents that I didn’t feel good and couldn’t feel my left arm. My parents panicked and called our family doctor who had me whisked off to a hospital where I was put in an isolation ward for almost two weeks.
I could see through the glass wall that the patient next to me had lost half his left arm. A nurse finally put my frightened mind to rest by telling me he had climbed an electric pole and grabbed some hot wires that badly burned him. Even though I knew I’d never climb one of those that was what gave me nightmares. 20 years later at age 29 I developed Toxemia with my one and only pregnancy. 11 years after that came Endometrial cancer and 22 years after that-Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus which is not curable but can be controlled. I don’t smoke or abuse alcohol or drugs. I eat a healthy diet and exercise. This leads me to believe we are not in control of our own destiny but if we do our best to stay alive perhaps we’ll be granted the fullest life possible.
You’ve been through entirely too much, Jane. I congratulate you on your resilience– and appreciate you joining the conversation here!
Jane, I’m moved to see your post. It is truethat there is quite a community of us out there, each with our own experiences, but sharing something too (Joni Mitchell! Neil Young!). I was just about exactly your age, and the first two weeks of isolation was the hardest part, “hanging on for dear life” as a therapist put it. I’m also moved to read what you have gone through since then. I believe your takeaway to be spot-on. The ability to give ones all to life without feeling that we are in control is a strange task, but a necessary and heartening one. The issue of our current mess and what I bring to it from my experience is still something I am trying to sort out. What you say is most fundamental, but there are more pieces, about hygiene and being safe and further. I am interested in processing the many many details that swirl around, and learning more, from within and without. Best to all, Amey
I am learning from this exchange–important stuff. Thanks to all!