Home Mental Health & Well-Being The Past Isn’t Dead. It’s Not Even the Past

The Past Isn’t Dead. It’s Not Even the Past

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I had a dream last night that took me all over the world.

A short trip to the African continent with my first boyfriend, followed by a long plane ride back to New York so I could make a therapy session. On the plane and back in New York, I was wearing sleep attire, not the slightest bit appropriate for use outside the bedroom. While on the plane, I lost a valuable Cartier bracelet the old boyfriend had bought me on the trip. I needed to call the airline to see if it had been recovered, but I was rushing to the appointment and couldn’t make the call. I was aware that each lost moment made getting it back less likely and I wanted to sell it because it had zero sentimental value and I needed the money. The therapy session was to take place in a hospital setting and prior to our appointment, my doctor, one I haven’t worked with in years, was being honoured for exemplary service. When I arrived at the building, celebrations were underway, and the time for my session came and went, ignored in the presence of all the festivity, so I left. My old doctor was dressed like a circus performer and the celebrants were families with young children. Songs were being sung, candles were ceremoniously blown out to sounds of applause, and I’d sat observing it all dressed still in the ‘only to be worn at home’ item. 

This one was bizarre enough for reflection this morning.

Some therapists I’ve had over the years suggest writing down my dreams in a ‘dream journal,’ kept on a nightstand for easy access. They suggest doing so first thing, while it’s all still fresh in my mind.

Others are agnostic, of course, willing to listen if I want to relate a nocturnal experience, but no real encouragement to record or dwell too intensely on analysis.

I’ve adopted the second philosophy, with the exception of recurring dreams that contain the same people, themes, and settings. Persistent dreams contain a message that must be processed.

For at least two years, I would intermittently have a nightmare about giving birth. In each dream, I was pregnant, though no one else knew and doctors couldn’t give me a due date or final confirmation. Then at some point, I would feel the need to deliver, rushing to a hospital, getting hooked up to an IV, and bracing for excruciating pain. But it wasn’t to be – the baby wasn’t ready to be born. I was left with a feeling that I was going to be carrying around a partially developed fetus forever.

Disturbing – that one I did work on with a therapist and, through understanding and discussing the feelings provoking the dream, it ended.

Last night gave me some hints about where I am now. Like all of us, I’ve been feeling anxious about the future at the one year mark of pandemic lockdown. The inability to pursue new avenues of experience has drawn my attention to the past.

The first boyfriend relationship ended badly (we were only 18), but in the dream I’d initiated this trip, hoping to bring it back to life, Our affection had dried up decades ago and nothing had happened to make me think anything had changed, but knowing the futility of the effort did not prevent me from doing it. I think my initiation of a doomed mission reflects a concern for potential mistakes now, even though I’m more secure and happy than ever.

The bracelet came from a movie I watched last night, On the Rocks, though that first boyfriend did buy me a piece of jewellery once for Valentine’s Day before either of us probably knew what Cartier was. Wanting to sell it reflects my current financial anxiety.

Being at the hospital without proper clothing while the therapist was being honoured by a ‘respectable’ institution, containing ‘respectable’ families, indicates present feelings of inadequacy. Modelling in my 20s sometimes included lingerie work that made me feel not so good. Those feelings kept me from pursuing academic and career goals during that period – I walked around feeling less accomplished than essentially every other human being.

Those days are long gone. I’m in graduate school, with years of professional experience behind me. I’m confident in my abilities and have stopped measuring my value against others based on superficial metrics.

But the past lives inside us always, doesn’t it?

Friedrich Nietzsche’s words on this have always resonated. He wrote: ‘When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.’

What are you dreaming about these days? Ideas conquered? If so, you’re in good company with Faulkner and the king of nihilism. And me, too.

Elsie Ramsey was born in California and moved all around the country growing up. She runs the website, What’s Your Story?


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