I believe I’ve mentioned before that I have a rather, uh, active dream life. My nights are often filled with deeply archetypal storylines, heavy with symbolism and metaphor, which, I suppose, is probably part of why I’m drawn to creating images along the same lines.
Sometimes my dreams are quite silly upon waking, like the dream I had where I was aboard Star Trek’s Enterprise (the original show) and Spock and I had to beam down to an alien planet so I could find my gold bikini (ah la Leia, in Return of the Jedi) which we needed in order to defeat the attacking alien army (different aliens than the ones who lived on the planet my bikini was on) and save the world. I don’t think I was ever clear on how my gold bikini would do this, but it made sense in the dream.
Sometimes my dreams are very serious and are clearly working through problems and fears, current or past. I had a whopper of a dream a week or two ago which I’m going to tell you about, as it relates to my most recent image.
This dream was set in the world of The Hero And The Crown, by Robin McKinley, one of my very favorite books; one of those comfort-food books I turn to again and again, especially in times of trouble. If you haven’t read it, go and do so. I’ll wait.
I was Aerin, the heroine of the story. Geoff was Tor, whom I was betrothed to. We lived in Tor’s parent’s castle (which doesn’t make sense with the book, but never mind) and nobody in the entire kingdom liked or understood me. My only friends were Tor and Talat, my horse, along with the rest of the castle’s horses. They had an entire army of war horses who would fight in formation on their own, without the aid of any human riders. I took great comfort in visiting the stables frequently to get away from the nastiness of all the people and be with creatures who loved me.
The great dragon Maur, easily as big as the castle and made of pure evil, had come back and was laying siege to the castle along with numerous other giant, pure-evil dragon friends of his. We were hopelessly outnumbered and everyone knew there was really no chance of winning this battle, but we had to try. The dragons could only attack us at night, but in this world it became fully dark at about 1 in the afternoon and stayed dark until the regular sunrise of 5-6 in the morning. This meant each night was very long.
Interestingly, Tor already possessed the Hero’s Crown, which ought to have given him the ability to fight the dragons off, but it wasn’t working. It held them off a little, just barely, but it wouldn’t survive another night.
I visited the stables after the first night, thanking the horses, some of whom had been greatly wounded or killed, for their bravery in battle. Quite a lot of them were also pregnant and foals kept popping out every time I turned around. We had a good talk and I felt encouraged after I left them.
I found Tor and told him that I had to travel back to my family’s castle to retrieve two magic rings. If we both wore them, then we would be strong enough to vanquish the dragons. The thing was, I could only tell Tor where I was going and why. I had to keep it a secret from absolutely everyone else. At the end of the dream, I was riding off on Talat to my castle to get the rings, knowing that everyone hated me because they thought I’d just deserted them when they were most in need. Dusk was falling as Talat and I galloped along and I knew I had to really hurry to get the rings and return to Tor’s castle in time to help everyone survive.
A couple things I should point out right away; Tor’s family in the dream is NOTHING like Geoff’s actual family. His family embodies that friendly, easy-going, pull-up-a-chair sort of Midwestern charm you always hear about. They’re truly all wonderful people, so don’t think that that part of the dream had any resemblance to reality! Also, as far as I know, there aren’t any large groups of people who hate me. I suppose I could be wrong about this, but again, the dream is not representing real life in this way.
After mulling it over a lot, talking to my mom (who is especially gifted at dream interpretation), Geoff and my therapist, I came to a few conclusions.
The dragons = ME. Now, to be fair, I actually like dragons, but my brain often uses them as a symbol for big, bad, evil things. (It also often uses Calantha to represent my inner child in dreams, which is just full of Freudian symbolism.) Fighting ME every day often really does feel like you’re besieged by dragons. You’re trapped in your castle (house/body) while an unrelenting assault of badness attacks (all of my ME symptoms; pain, fatigue, etc).
I was confused about the nights being so long until I remembered something I’d said to Geoff a few days before the dream. I had realized that most days I spend 11-12 hours a day in bed sleeping, or at least trying to sleep. If I can get a solid 11 regularly, I feel much better, but since my sleep is so poor, I’m often trying to make up for the bad sleep, so the time spent in bed creeps up higher. I was startled when I realized just how much time I spent every day just trying to sleep. I’d been getting frustrated, feeling like my days were so short and there were never enough hours… and while I know that pretty much everyone feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day, I suddenly knew why it seemed like my days really were getting much shorter.
ME also really messes up your sleep. And if you do find yourself up at 4 am, watching TV, taking a cocktail of pills to try and get back to sleep, as I often do, nights can feel especially long and lonely.
I think that the Hero’s Crown was all the stuff I’ve tried already to feel better, all of which promise to work and cure you, but none ever has. The rings were a hope of future treatments or cures. Going off to get them while things were most dire represented the typical path of trying a treatment, which usually involves over-exerting yourself in some way first (going to the doctor’s office, my several-times-a-year nerve-blocking injections).
I suspect that the crowd of people who disliked and misunderstood me is my fear of people not understanding that I actually am sick, even if I don’t look like it outwardly. This is an extremely common worry from anyone with an “invisible illness;” any sort of sickness which does not manifest in outward signs. I often feel the need to make sure new people in my life know that I have ME and have a basic understanding of what it is so that they don’t think I’m lazy, or that I just didn’t want to go to their party, or have dinner with them. It’s a pretty big fear, to be honest. Almost without exception, everyone who is in my life knows what my deal is and while they invite me to things, they’re all very understanding if I can’t make it, especially if I have to cancel last minute. I really, really hate to cancel at the last minute, but sometimes your body leaves you no other choices. The secrecy of my mission to get the rings was mirroring the invisibility of my case of ME.
As for the more pleasant things about the dream, Geoff as Tor believed me, and he also supported me even though the entire rest of the kingdom wished he wouldn’t. That’s 100% Geoff. He will love and support me, in a fantasy battle with dragons, or in the real world battling insurance companies. He is a fearless protector and someone I can always count on. I also liked that for the magic rings to work, we both needed to wear them. I think that speaks to the importance of having someone caring for and supporting you through this stupid disease. I can fight it on my own, but it’s a million times better to have an ally.
And lastly, the animals will always be with me. I have had a special kinship with animals of all kinds, since before I can remember. My dad likes to tell the story of how there used to be a couple of huge Great Danes in a house behind ours and how they would bark and bay and snarl ferociously through the small gap in the fence if they saw you. One day I came inside and said, “You know those big dogs out there? They’re really friendly!” Alarmed, my dad checked to make sure I still had all my fingers, then came outside with me where he realized that the Danes were causing a fuss because they wanted attention, not because they were aggressive. Then for a while I collected snails in a bucket and kept them as “pets,” which I believe led my parents to get my first dog because it was just so pathetic that I was gathering snails to be my friends. Animals have always been a big part of my life, creatures I can trust and rely on, who are as unchanging and solid as a mountain.
As I was meditating on the dream, I kept being reminded of a few big scenes from the biggest battle in last season’s Game Of Thrones. You don’t really need a lot of context for it, just that the good guys are trying to keep the very bad guys out, and they’re horribly outnumbered and outmatched.
(Sorry, YouTube won’t let you play the videos here, but if you click the little “YouTube” button near the bottom of the video screen, it will take you directly to the videos.)
It may seem silly to those who have never experienced ME, but this is what it feels like to me. Like you’re outnumbered 1000 to 1, the other side has mammoths and giants and all you’ve got is a fairly useless sword to try and fight them all off. There is no end in sight, and barely any hope that you’ll succeed. This is also the way a lot of The Hero and the Crown goes, which is part of why it’s one of my favorite books.
It may sound silly to those who have never know chronic illness’s cruel touch, but I’m willing to bet that everyone who has dealt with it will understand at once. It’s exhausting to fight an enemy every day, who you can’t see or touch. And even more so when some people don’t believe the enemy exists.
So, as I do, I had to take a self portrait to work through my feelings on this dream. What could be more DreamWorldy than an image inspired by an actual dream? I can imagine this being a snippet of DreamWorld’s rich history, perhaps during the Yellow King’s grab for the throne. I edited it with both The Hero and the Crown and Game of Thrones in mind, lending visual inspiration.
We sick will keep fighting. We will hold the gate.
I’ll hold the gate.
My lighting setup for Hold The Gate:
My tripod it balanced on the mattress and the camera would shift slightly whenever Calantha, also on the mattress, moved. There was just enough room between my bed, the closet and all the other things in that part of the bedroom to make this work. Who needs a studio?? 😉