Sunday, November 3, 2013
This summer, I got a concussion. Now, considering how many dangerous and life-threatening things I’ve done in the past, the story of how this happened is rather silly, and I’ll leave it for another day. But what happened in the days after the concussion wasn’t silly at all—at least not to me. You see, I forgot how to dream, and it’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced. It shook away my confidence, and briefly took away many of the things I know to be true about myself. In short, the truth is that I forgot how to be me, and I had to wait—uncomfortably—for my imagination to rescue the self I’ve taken so long to grow into. Thankfully, it did, and this is that story.
Let me back up. Once upon a time, I wrote a story about a man who forgot how to dream. For so long, he dreamed of the same basic things: a good car, a lovely loving wife, and a job he enjoyed that provided a good paycheck. But then, once all those things were found, he missed the dreaming. And he realized that ne no longer remembered how to dream because he’d spent so many years dreaming about only those same few things.
The story came from many places, but especially from the discovery that I spent much more time daydreaming than many of my colleagues and friends did. For me, daydreaming was a way of life. I couldn’t imagine a day going by without my imagining what Might be instead of what Was. Now, this isn’t to say that I was living for tomorrow—I just loved telling myself stories in down-time. While sitting in traffic, while trying to go to sleep, while killing time between classes or waiting for friends, I’d tell myself stories. If I was bored, or feeling down, or sick, or lonely, I automatically resorted to daydreams. And, maybe just as significantly, I’d always imagined that everyone around me was doing the same, carrying on a life in their minds just as they carried on their wonderful lives on the ground. Suddenly, I found out that my friends’ daydreams weren’t nearly so involved as mine were, that theirs were often repetitive or short lived, whereas mine might continue from one day to the next in installments—one afternoon, I’d pick up where I’d left off the night before, and so on and so on. My dreams were never simple, and rarely even based in reality, and never complete. They didn’t have happy endings because they never ended.
Now, saying all that, it may sound like I live my life daydreaming the world away from my couch, but the truth is that most of my daydreaming occurs when I’m telling myself stories to go to sleep at night, or sitting in traffic on the bus. Otherwise, I’m working, writing, reading, and spending time with family and friends. I never get bored because I can resort to those daydreams at any given moment, but I don’t spend significant chunks of any given day lost in my mind. Unless...and there must be an ‘unless’ after all...I’m ill. I’m lucky enough, admittedly, that this rarely happens. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve spent more than one day home from work in the last few years, and only twice before this summer have I missed two or more days in a row—once for my wisdom teeth, and once with an inner ear infection. In both cases, I went into a semi-hibernation-mode, daydreaming constantly and spending all of my time with my pets, sipping hot tea and watching favorite re-runs in between daydreams. And, in this fashion, I recovered. And, in all truth, this is how I am whenever I’m sick—I get better with the help of medicine, but what keeps me sane when I’m stuck at home sick boils down to two key ingredients: my pets and my daydreams. And, if more than a day or so goes by with me being stuck on a couch, re-runs of favorite shows for human company, seaQuest in particular.
Well, fast forward to this summer. I manage to get a concussion when I’m teaching at a boarding school twelve hours away from my animals. And, to make things worse, the concussion makes it impossible for me to gain enough focus to sustain any sort of daydream at all. Adding insult to injury, any sort of attempt to tell myself a story gets me no result but a headache, and there’s no television at hand to allow me to listen to that old comfort, seaQuest (my dvds were twelve hours away, anyway, along with my hounddog and cats). For two days, I was in that hibernation-mode I spoke of, waking long enough to drink some water or eat a banana before going fast back to sleep, doing little more (I think) than grunting a hello to anyone who might stop in. After those two days, though, I was awake. And terrified. Why? Because I couldn’t daydream. Any attempt to call up those old characters and story-lines stalled out at the first picture I could create, leading to either headaches or exhaustion. I couldn’t explain the problem to my colleagues, and the furred companions who might have provided some relief were too far away to be of any help. For a full day and a half, it felt as if I couldn’t remember how to be myself at all, and as if that bump on the head had stolen away far more than a few days of work--instead, it had stolen my imagination as a whole. Mentally, I was in more of a panic than I’ve ever felt in my life, and I was utterly terrified that verbalizing the panic would only make the loss more real. Plus, how on earth do you tell your colleagues that you've forgotten how to daydream, and are now living in terror as a result?
Then, three days after getting the concussion, and a day and a half after realizing I couldn’t muster a dream, I went to sleep to discover that my imagination had been concocting a solution.
Now, this may seem an odd way of putting it, but you have to understand: my nightdreams are very different from my daydreams. My daydreams are continuous, fairly linear, and peopled by consistent characters. My nightdreams are the same, but far less realistic. Rarely do I have a simple conversation or any sort of sustained calm scene in my dreams at night. Somehow, though, my imagination changed habits for some few days to help me heal.
In my dreams, I suddenly found myself surrounded by animals and friends, curled in their apartments for long conversations and time with creatures. Most especially, I was surrounded by the friends I’ve had over the years who are allergic to animals, some of whom I’ve seen as recently as this summer and some who I haven’t seen in more than a decade. In the dreams I had on and off over the next forty-eight hours of recovery, I kept on closing my eyes to find myself in the homes of those friends I’ve known who couldn’t be around animals—dogs or cats or both. In the dreams, I’d be sitting by, surrounded by their animals as they relished the discovery that they were no longer allergic, and adopted countless animals as a result. In my dreams, I saw my friends’ apartments and houses covered in animals, I held countless cats and dogs, and I discovered the comfort of animals all over again while catching up (in my mind, at least) with old friends. Each time I slept, my dreams were continuous, calm, and more linear than any (night)dreams I've ever known. I’d wake up feeling refreshed from conversation with friends and from creature comfort, and knowing I was healing, finally. For a few days, I still couldn’t dream when awake. But my nightdreams were so different from those I’d normally have, and what I needed so clearly gifted to me by my imagination, that I suddenly didn’t doubt I was returning to health, and that all would be well.
Always, I’ve thought of my imagination as my self—it is so much a part of me that I’m simply not anything at all without it. This summer, I lost it briefly and learned otherwise (in a way), but I also grew to be ever more thankful for my imagination, and for the daydreams that wait to greet me whenever I happen to need them, or simply want them. And meanwhile, I’m back with my animals, fully recovered, and rather thankful for that terrifying week, strange as it seems. After all—now I know that my imagination is there to come to the rescue, as needed, as I always somewhat suspected.