DREAM ADVICE COLUMN: DREAMING OF THE PAST
First, congrats on completing your high school degree and finding your own path to do it. It sounds like you accomplished a major life milestone despite feeling estranged from both your outer and inner life. Depression and isolation feed each other cyclically — social disconnect can lead to low self esteem and feelings of ineffectiveness, which can lead to anxiety and depression. Then those mood states create an even bigger gap between oneself and the world, thus reinforcing your isolation and making depression more chronic. It can feel like your spirit is being eroded, your self-image losing color. Research has shown that perceived social isolation affects health just as negatively as cigarette smoking and obesity. However, the good news that’s also illustrated by research is that one need not become Ms. Popular to find social connectedness — one single connection to one person is enough to heal from isolation.
I keep having this recurring dream about people I went to high school with. I never really had close friends in high school and I often felt lost and forgotten about. Due to a deep depression that was affecting my school work, I decided to leave my high school and enroll in an online high school in the 11th grade. In the end, I graduated, but I constantly still think about the people I used to be around all of the time. I feel like I’m stuck in the past. What does this recurring dream mean?
The picture you painted of the high school chapter of your life is a bleak one. I don’t know what your circumstances are like now, yet it sounds like you have unfinished business with this past lonely life. As I picture this “past life,” feeling lost and forgotten in high school, the image of a ghost trapped in a land of the living comes to mind for me. Then, as you transitioned to a virtual school, you could connect to others, but only through the screen, so another form of disconnect endured. Now you’re returning to your original school, but only in your thoughts and dreams. It’s seems disconnect itself follows you, like a ghost! I wonder what it wants from you?
Your dream allows me to continue with themes I wrote about last week on recurring dreams and ancient approaches to dream interpretation. Contemporary thinking regards dreams as taking place inside the psyche of the dreamer, revealing unconscious conflicts, compensations from waking life, and “more real” feelings. Ancient dream ideologies, on the other hand, regarded dreams as taking place outside the dreamer. From this perspective, dreams were understood as a prophecy, as visit from a god, as the soul wandering in a spirit world, as a way to go be cured by a healing god, as a way to visit other dimensions of reality or the afterlife, or to communicate with the dead. I’d be curious to know what you think, but when I reflect on your dream, the image of soul wandering stands out to me. Many cultures believed that because the soul is wandering in dreams, you must not wake a sleeping person as the soul could get lost and won’t know to where it must return. This could result in illness or psychosis, as the person had literally “lost her mind.” Maybe this is an apt image to describe what you’re going through. It’s like you’re awake, but a vital part of you is still lost in another realm.
There is a lovely quote written by acupuncturist Dianne Connelly in her book, “All Sickness is Homesickness,” that says, “All sickness is homesickness. All healing is homecoming. Sharing moves me homeward.” Maybe part of your soul is lost, homesick, and has been for some time. Your dreams are providing you a window to travel back to the place where your soul is stuck, perhaps to retrieve it and bring it home. Yet maybe your soul doesn’t feel welcome to return, and is challenging you to find greater self acceptance or forgiveness. I wonder if you’re angry with yourself for how things went down in school, or regret any decisions you made. Maybe you’ve taken a “don’t look back” attitude, and your psyche is saying “easier said than done.” I can really only guess as I don’t know you, but these are the kinds of emotional explorations that could be safely explored and held in therapy.
Your inner house is being challenged to welcome home the part of your soul you left back in high school. Like any good haunting, the ghosts won’t rest until there is some kind of permission or acceptance of what occurred. Perhaps through connecting to your story and sharing it with even just one trusted person, the ghost of disconnect that haunts you can become a thing of the past and you can finally be free to wake up.
So why does this happen? Like many other of our nocturnal experiences, the research is only speculative. Sleeping and dreaming still contain
*DISCLAIMER: Dreamwork is a collaborative process that relies entirely on the associations of the dreamer to create a dream meaning. Without the dreamer’s input, I can only describe my personal associations and amplify the dream images as they exist symbolically on a cultural level.