I Think My Dreams Are Telling Me Something

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by Brianna Albers |

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The romantic in me wants to believe that dreams are portents, or windows to the psyche, or invaluable self-knowledge tools. But the therapist in me, who dabbled in clinical psychology for a time, is suspicious of anything resembling psychoanalysis. (I despise Sigmund Freud, but that’s a topic for another day.) I believe that while we ascribe meaning to dreams, weaving them into our life narratives, they are ultimately the product of randomly firing neurons.

But there are exceptions.

My cousin passed away last November. We were close as kids, but drifted apart as we grew up. But her death still hit me hard. I wrote her eulogy. I dried the flowers from her funeral and used them to decorate the photo grid on my gallery wall — a reminder to live every day like it’s my last.

I often dream of her, alive and radiant. At first, I thought it was a manifestation of grief, but the dreams have persisted for almost a year. I like to think it’s Amber’s way of telling me she’s safe and happy, and always watching over us.

Like everyone else, I have the occasional “I’m back in high school and suffering greatly” nightmare. I can never remember my class schedule. Somehow, miraculously, my grades never seem to reflect the fact that I consistently skip Spanish and math. I wake up buzzing with adrenaline, convinced that I’m behind on schoolwork.

I have one recurring dream. The details change, but the plot remains roughly the same. I’m me — disabled girl, lover of pasta and fairy tales, obsessed with mental health and the stars — with a single monumental difference: I can’t talk. I’ve lost my voice, and people are asking me questions, and I’m trying to pretend everything’s OK, because I don’t want to come across as overly crippled, but my mouth isn’t working right, and I’m drooling all over the place, and the guy I like is looking at me with a question in his eye that sends my anxiety into overdrive.

The therapist in me isn’t surprised by this brand of dream imagery. I hate my voice. I’ve built entire complexes around my voice — it’s weak, I can’t project it in a noisy room, and no one can understand what I’m saying, so what’s the point in talking?

The therapist in me recognizes that I’m deeply humiliated by my voice. I’ve gotten pretty good at camouflaging the evidence of disability. The wheelchair used to bother me, but now I see it as a conduit for self-expression. It’s the physicality that betrays me — the crooked fingers, the jutting teeth, the malformed skull. And of course, the voice, the one thing I can’t hide or brush off or jokingly deflect from.

I’ve forgiven myself for having SMA. But my voice is stubborn. It’s not easily forgotten. It persists and gleefully takes the spotlight; it pokes and prods and pulls at my heart until I’m crying in the back of the van because my friends couldn’t hear me over the hubbub of the theater lobbyagain.

The romantic in me wonders if there’s a lesson to be learned in recurring dreams. Losing my voice is a valid fear. But maybe, in light of my current project, losing my voice is a metaphor for losing my ability to tell stories — my story, my version of events, my epic battle with ableism.

Around this time, the therapist in me enters the conversation. Metaphors are all well and good, but where’s the conflict? Maybe my voice is a metaphor for my words, and the person responsible for stealing my voice — the culprit, the two-bit thief — is me. Do I believe in my words? My story? Myself? Am I sabotaging my storytelling in some way, and my brain is processing contextual clues through the randomly firing neurons that are the vehicles of my dreams?

The romantic in me is tired of hypotheses. She wants to believe in dream symbolism. She wants to journal about her experience and move on.

The human in me, who is equal parts the therapist and the romantic, is tired. She wants a steaming bowl of pasta and an episode of “Call the Midwife.” She wants her friends in California to stay safe, her friends in the U.S. to fill out the 2020 census, and her cat to redeem the Rey Palpatine legacy.

She wants stillness. Softness. And maybe to believe in herself when the stars align.


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