Covid Dreams: The Importance of Acknowledging Uncertainty

I wake up. My eye is swollen shut and itchy. Walking to the health clinic masked faces judge me and when I do get there the doctor says he is, “very disappointed” with how irresponsible I’ve been.

I have pink eye, which means I was around people and must have touched my face. The pharmacist tells me I’m disgusting while handing over my prescription and people on the street shift away from me as I head home. I’m dreading telling my partner and when I open the bag which is supposed to contain my medicine it is empty.

I wake up. Since the pandemic I’ve had intense dreams and broken sleep patterns which I understand to be the results of a lack of physical activity and a consistent schedule. But this dream is so specifically covid related I decide (like I’ve decided about a lot of things lately) that these dreams are worth further consideration.

Stacey Jenkins is a psychotherapist and Jungian analyst who spoke with CTV back in April about the influx of inquiries from people who have been remembering their dreams more since the Coronavirus outbreak began.

She spoke of the lack to stimulus in our waking life during the pandemic and how this contributes to our abilities to remember dreams.

In the same interview psychology professor Imants Baruss worries we are underestimating how traumatic the pandemic is. That our subconscious could be an outlet where the trauma is presenting.

It is difficult for me to allow myself to use the word trauma in this context. I’m acutely aware that my situation is so much better than many peoples’. I have a steady employment insurance check coming in, I live in a country where basic health care is not intertwined with my employment, and I do not have young children. I’m better prepared to handle the general uncertainty of this situation than so many others.

But I’m not immune from the societal effects of the pandemic anymore than I am immune from the virus. Social isolation, disruption of routine, uncertainty about the future, and feeling either overworked or bored (with very little in between these two extremes). These societal effects are felt by almost everyone and early research out of China ,focused on those in quarantine, indicates a strong connection between the security of social capital and sleep.

In many ways we are united in our uncertainty right now. There has been open speculation as to why the murder of George Floyd has sparked an international movement demanding acknowledgement, accountability, and the addressing of systemic racism to the extent we are now seeing.

There have been many prior well publicized instances of police bias and abuse and while they have been the catalyst for the birth and growth of the Black Lives Matter movement Floyd’s murder has toppled monuments and has citizens examining police budgets and policing itself.

Organizers have acknowledged the uncertainty of the pandemic in creating this moment. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University, echoed this in a recent interview with NPR where she brought up the number of young white people at the protests, “I think it says something about their own lack of security in their future and, really, what is happening in this country because of the ways that the pandemic has exposed deep, deep and ingrained inequities.”

There is a sense of unity in how the importance of care and community has been undermined in our governance. With many leaders seeming far more focused on productivity than the health and safety of the people they serve. But a sense of unity doesn’t resolve a sense of uncertainty.

Will there be democratic reforms and a serious reexamining of our institutions? Or authoritarian pushback followed by widespread ambivalence? Here “uncertainty of the future” is not limited to the specifics of personal situations; “will my job/relationship/bank account survive this?” but to the future of governments and countries.

So our sleep will probably be affected. And I didn’t come away from my study with a solution for this. There are the reasons I listed earlier which are within our control to mitigate. We can, for the most part, control having a healthy diet and exercising, as well as sticking to as consistent a schedule as possible. These are small things, but with so much out of our control in terms of outcomes, controlling what we can is crucial.

I intend to get back into more consistent Covid journaling (which I was keeping at the start of the pandemic). If you’re having strange dreams journaling may help process what you’re feeling or untangle meaning from the surrealist clues that the subconscious drops. Meditation also has value as mindfulness will ground you to the present moment, which helps ease feelings of doubt stemming from an unpredictable future.

In the midst of our collective uncertainty a healthier sense of self can be gained and a healthier night’s sleep earned.

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