When writing a personal essay, I lean toward overwriting. The first draft is for me and subsequent drafts are for the dear reader. Once the excess is simmered off, the resulting flavour is more intense. It’s tempting to pour in every memory levied and fact gleaned from research rabbit holes. Alas, I’m kept in check by a desire to serve the essay and by publication wordcount requirements. Some personal details and research remain on the cutting room floor.
Such is the case with my personal essay Waking Up which now appears in the sixth anniversary issue of Blank Spaces Magazine.
Waking Up is about grasping the relevance of dream content as a mental health red flag. During the collective trauma of COVID 19, increasingly vivid and troubling dream narratives have a value that extends beyond water-cooler chitchat and points to our vulnerability. The piece includes my personal experience of dreams sparked by post traumatic stress.
The following paragraph and rough research note were left behind.
“In 1998, when my youngest child started first grade, I embarked on a university degree. Among my favourite lectures were those from a professor whose lab studied sleep patterns and dream lives. The final term assignment required that I keep a dream journal for self-analysis. I held the same opinion as Anton Chekov who wrote in his short story The Cart, that dreams are “vague and formless”. Once asleep, my mind fogged over like a maritime coastline. I didn’t dream. How would I dredge up enough material to scrutinize?”
“Perceived stress levels increased in the majority (56%) of respondents…Stress levels increased in more females than males…The pandemic’s impact on sleep patterns was assessed in terms of sleep duration, sleep latency, awakenings, the regularity of sleep rhythm, and the frequency of nightmares. Females were more likely than males to report increased sleep duration and more frequent nightmares. An increase in perceived stress levels was associated with progressively shorter sleep duration, more frequent awakenings, irregular sleep rhythms, more nightmares.” (Sleep & circadian problems during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, 2020)